Francesco Bagnaia is relishing the chance to spearhead Valentino Rossi's new VR46 Moto2 team this season with fellow rookie Stefano Manzi.
Bagnaia returns to Rossi's Sky Racing-backed squad on the back of two successful seasons at Mahindra in the Moto3 class, during which time he made history for the Indian marque by clinching victories at Assen and Sepang.
The 20-year-old Italian admits the move up to Moto2 in 2017 will provide a stern test but Bagnaia feels he has matured as a rider and is ready to take the next step on the Kalex.
“The jump to Moto2 will be a big innovation, but I decided to deal with this important step in a team which for me is a family,” he said.
“I'll be a rookie, in the first few races I have to pick up the pace, and have by my side trusted people. In these two years I have matured, not only as a rider and I'm curious to get back on track.
“We started on the right foot in the first test: although the completely new bike and team, I was able to be fast and competitive in all conditions. The goal is to close the gap with the top positions as soon as possible.”
Manzi, meanwhile, only made three Grand Prix starts last year following a full campaign with San Carlo Team Italia in 2015, but the 17-year-old showed enough during some wild-card outings for Mahindra – including fourth place at Silverstone – to earn himself a seat in Rossi's new Moto2 team.
“At the end of the summer had not yet certain projects for 2017, then in September, everything has changed in just a few days,” said the Italian teenager.
“I joined the VR46 Riders Academy, then the Sky Racing Team VR46. It seems obvious, but this is a great growth opportunity for me. I know that I expect a lot of work, I will give my 100 per-cent, but I have the support of the whole team. Between tests and the first races it will be crucial to take the pace: the goal is the top 15 from mid-season.”
Rossi's VR46 team unveiled their new colours for 2017 live on Italy's X Factor TV show in December.
Nicolo Bulega and Andrea Migno will once again compete in the Moto3 class on the Sky-backed VR46 KTM machines with new sponsorship from Oakley.