The first test of the 2013 MotoGP season is completed, and Dani Pedrosa has completed a clean sweep, topping the timesheets on all three days. The Repsol Honda man confirmed his role as title favorite by posting a fast lap under the existing pole record set by Jorge Lorenzo last year. He also opened up a serious gap to the trio who have been chasing him all test long, putting nearly a third of a second on Jorge Lorenzo, the Yamaha man falling just short of his own pole record. What may worry Lorenzo more is the fact that Pedrosa declared at the end of the day that his objective was not to be fastest, but test the bike.
Valentino Rossi closed the gap to his teammate, ending the test a tenth from the time set by Lorenzo, though still four tenths from Pedrosa's best lap. Rossi also leapfrogged over Marc Marquez, finally finishing ahead of the Repsol Honda rookie after ending the first two days behind him. Marquez finished as 4th fastest, six tenths behind Pedrosa, and the young Spaniard also had his first crash of the season, losing the front end on the way into the final corner. Marquez walked away unhurt, his Repsol RC213V did not fare quite so well.
So what are we to make of the times posted after the second day of testing at Sepang? The order in which the four 2013 aliens finished was roughly as expected: Dani Pedrosa just edging Jorge Lorenzo, with Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi close behind. But did this tell the whole story? Were the times down to a single fast lap by one rider, while the others were grinding out race simulations? Or is the order in which the top four finished an accurate reflection of what we can expect for the 2013 season? Is this just a testing anomaly, or is this a preview of the 2013 Championship standings at the end of the year?
Predicting the championship is a little premature on the basis of just a single day's testing, but there is still sufficient data to start trying to interpret what it all means. Thanks to the fact that the full timesheets of every lap are now available on the MotoGP.com website, we can start to dig into the numbers, and see what patterns emerge.
Just as a reminder, here is how the top four finished:
When Suzuki left MotoGP at the end of 2011, it was with a promise to return in 2014. Since then, there have been a string of news stories pointing to an imminent return, with reports gaining a massive boost once (clearly leaked) 'spy shots' of the brand new inline four MotoGP bike Suzuki is working on emerged.
But bringing Suzuki back into the fold has not proved to be easy. Hamamatsu bigwigs visited the Brno round of MotoGP in August last year to talk to Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta about a possible return, and also to clear up confusion which then existed about the rules. The outcome of those talks was not as Suzuki had hoped: Suzuki had told Ezpeleta that they were only interested in signing a one-year contract, Ezpeleta refused, saying Suzuki must sign up for a minimum of three years, to ensure some kind of continuity; the Japanese factory also stated categorically that they would not make a return if a spec ECU with spec software were to be implemented, Ezpeleta reiterated his position that the Grand Prix Commission would implement rules as they saw fit, regardless of what Suzuki felt about it. The spec ECU - at least in terms of software - was later dropped, removing one obstacle, but Suzuki have still to commit to a return to MotoGP.
Times dropped for the MotoGP men on the second day of testing at Sepang, much as you might expect once the riders have had a night's sleep to assimilate what they have learned from the previous day's testing. Comparing the times between the first and second days of testing provides an interesting view of where improvements were found, and who had gained the most between the two days.
The average improvement for all of the riders was around seven tenths of a second between the first and second days, but there were a few truly notable exceptions. The gains - or in some cases, losses - are shown in the two tables below, the first sorted in order of the fastest times set on the second day of testing, the second table sorted by improvement.
Biggest winners of the day are Ben Spies and Colin Edwards, both gaining over two seconds over their times from Tuesday, but as both are suffering with injury - Spies is still coming back from major shoulder surgery at the end of last year, while Edwards suffered a recurrence of a neck problem - there are extra factors at play here.
Press releases after the second day of testing for the MotoGP teams at Sepang:
Dani Pedrosa topped the timesheets once again on the second day of testing at Sepang, the Repsol Honda man getting off to a flying start and cracking into the 2'00s early in the session. He was joined there by Jorge Lorenzo, the Factory Yamaha rider once again shadowing Pedrosa, ending the day just two hundredths behind the Repsol rider. Marc Marquez confirmed his first day times were no fluke, the only other man to post a lap in the 2'00s, though the rookie was a quarter of a second slower than his teammate on Wednesday, losing a fraction of the ground. Valentino Rossi once again took 4th spot, the Italian still just under half a second off the two title favorites. The Honda men continued to work on engine durability, while Yamaha riders Lorenzo and Rossi had new engines with more acceleration to test, and a new chassis aimed at curing the pumping from the rear wheel of the bike.
It would be one of the larger understatements of the decade to say that the first MotoGP test of the year at Sepang was eagerly anticipated. After the anti-climactic washout that was Valencia, many big questions of the 2013 season had been left hanging in the air over the winter. Given that motorcycle racing fans hate a vacuum even more than Nature does, they filled it, with speculation, conjecture, hyperbole and not a small amount of vitriol.
Would Valentino Rossi prove he still has it, or was his switch to Ducati merely the start of his downhill slide to retirement? Is Marc Marquez the real thing, or were his results in Moto2 deceptive, and down only to skullduggery on the part of his former team? Can Yamaha match the Hondas, or does the advantage which Dani Pedrosa had over the second half of the season mean it will be impossible for Jorge Lorenzo to defend his title? What of Ducati? Will Andrea Dovizioso succeed where Rossi failed, and will the Italian factory be able to claw back some of the ground they have been steadily losing to the Japanese factories since 2007?
After nearly 8 hours of track time - more than many expected, with rain forecast for the period during the test - we have answers to replace the speculation, and data to fill the gaping void created by the winter testing break. Were the answers found a surprise? That depends on your perspective. Did anyone seriously think Rossi wouldn't get closer on the Yamaha to the front runners than he did on the Ducati? No. But does the gap to Pedrosa - 0.427 seconds - mean he is fast enough to compete for the championship, or will it leave him running round in third all year? Was anyone surprised by Marquez running up front right from the off? Surely not. But who predicted he would get within a few hundredths of his teammate on just his second proper test? Did anyone seriously expect the Ducatis to have closed the gap to Honda and Yamaha? That would be crazy. But to be two seconds down?
Press releases issued by Honda, Yamaha, some CRT teams and Bridgestone after the first day of testing at Sepang:
With the first full day of MotoGP testing behind us, we can start to compare times between this year and last year. Conditions were broadly similar, though as the CRT bikes had done a few laps over the past couple of days, there was slightly more rubber on the track than at the end of January in 2012. But discarding the difference in conditions between the two tests, a pattern emerges from the relative improvement or decline of the various riders.
The rider who improved most between 2012 and 2013 is a bit of a surprise: Honda test rider Kousuke Akiyoshi made a huge leap of over 4 seconds between this year and last, but other than the occasional wildcard, Akiyoshi will take no part in 2013, and so not too much should be read into those times.
Stefan Bradl made a huge leap forward: unsurprisingly, given that Sepang in January last year was the first time the German got to ride the 1000cc version of Honda's RC213V, having only tested the 800cc bike at Valencia three months' earlier. Much of the improvement comes from Bradl himself; the LCR Honda man has learned a lot in his rookie year, and will clearly be a factor in 2013. Cutting nearly 1.9 seconds off his time between 2012 and 2013 is a very positive achievement.
2013 MotoGP Sepang 1 Test, Day 1 Times: Pedrosa Leads, Marquez Impresses, Rossi Returns, Ducati Disappoints
Dani Pedrosa has ended the first full day of MotoGP testing at Sepang at the top of the timesheets. The Repsol Honda man was fast throughout the day, finally setting a time that would not be beaten with an hour left of the test.
Though Pedrosa's best time would not be beaten, it was challenged, Jorge Lorenzo using the final minutes of the session to post his fastest lap of the day, falling just eight thousandths short of Pedrosa, but still right on the pace. Most impressive performance of the day goes to Marc Marquez, who was fast out of the box, led the session at one point and finished the day less than five hundredths of a second behind his teammate. Marquez had been expected to make a strong start, and be within a few tenths of Pedrosa and Lorenzo, but getting within a few hundredths can be classed as exceptional.
Valentino Rossi's return to Yamaha was a happy one: the Italian was fast and smooth, leading the session at one stage and ending the day in touch with the leaders, four tenths behind Pedrosa, just under four tenths slower than Jorge Lorenzo. Stefan Bradl also impressed on the LCR Honda, now in factory spec, taking 5th spot behind Rossi, and just under a tenth ahead of Monster Tech 3 Yamaha man Cal Crutchlow, who ended the day in 6th. Alvaro Bautista was the last man within a second of Pedrosa, the Gresini Honda man eight tenths off the pace of the Repsol rider.
It's nearly time. In a few short hours, the full MotoGP field will roll out onto the track for the first time this year, and the 2013 MotoGP season will officially get underway with preseason testing.
That, at least, is the hope. For testing to truly get underway, MotoGP needs the weather to cooperate, something it has been reluctant to do for the past couple of days during the two days of extra testing laid on for the CRT teams using the new Magneti Marelli ECU. Part of Sunday and just about all of Monday were lost to rain, and the forecast for the next three days is for more rain than usual in this part of the world. Fortunately, the mornings look like being dry, so the fans will at least get to see some action on track.
And there is plenty to look forward to. The biggest topic of conversation among fans, unsurprisingly, is Valentino Rossi's return to Yamaha. The Italian got off to a false start upon leaving the Ducati garage and heading a few doors down to Yamaha, when the weather at the Spanish track made conditions tricky and comparisons difficult. Yamaha then decided to up sticks and head to Aragon, in the hope of finding some dry track time. They were disappointed.
So Sepang should be the first real test of just how competitive Rossi still is once he is back on a bike which he understands and has a front end which provides him with the feedback he relies on to go fast. Rossi has seen his career come to a standstill for the past two years at Ducati, while the men he will have to beat this year have grown in stature and experience, and are now at the peak of their careers. The Italian will have to hit the ground running if he is to catch Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, and it will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination.
The second day of the special CRT test at Sepang, laid on to allow the teams using the brand new Magneti Marelli spec ECU, was as beset by problems as the first day. If technical problems and a lack of parts had been the bane of day 1, it was the weather which dogged the teams, though technical problems persisted. Heavy rain in the morning meant that only Danilo Petrucci went to put in a few laps before running into an electrical issue with a coil left the engine running on two cylinders. The rain stopped in the afternoon, but the track remained wet, leaving the riders present to do only a few laps.
The first day of the extra two-day test for the CRT teams laid on to allow the teams using the new Magneti Marelli spec ECU has been almost entirely wasted. A lack of parts and above all, a lack of data with the new system meant that the day was spent mostly in the garage, with very few laps turned out on the track.
Only CAME Ioda's Danilo Petrucci got in any serious track time, the Italian posting a total of 27 laps. All of those laps were set without any assistance from the electronics, however: with no data, the team had no base set up to work from, and Petrucci was lapping without any electronic aid. "It's really hard to ride a bike without any electronic controls," Petrucci posted on Twitter afterwards, a fact that is borne out by his times. Petrucci's fastest lap was a 2'06.841, two seconds slower than his best time from the race weekend at Sepang, and four seconds behind the best CRT time set back in October of last year.
Bridgestone issued the following press release, explaining their strategy for 2013, and the tires to be tested for possible use in the upcoming MotoGP season:
Bridgestone rolls out new rubber for the first MotoGP™ group test of 2013
Saturday, February 2 2013
Bridgestone heads to Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit to support the first MotoGP™ group test of 2013, as the world’s largest rubber goods manufacturer begins its fifth season as the official tyre supplier to the class.
In keeping with Bridgestone’s philosophy of creating safer race tyres with superior warm-up performance and rider feel, tyre development over the winter focused on creating a suite of softer rear slicks specifically for the CRT class. Bridgestone has also recently developed a new, more user-friendly hard rubber compound.
The CRT-specific rear slicks represent the first time Bridgestone has made different specifications of tyre for the CRT machines, that use production-based engines, and the ‘works’ bikes – the factory and satellite entries from Ducati, Honda and Yamaha. The slicks developed for the CRT class will feature the same construction, though they will utilise compounds one step softer than those provided to the ‘works’ bikes.
With the first full test for the World Superbike class behind us, and the first test of the MotoGP grid about to get underway at Sepang at the end of this week, it is time to take a look at motorcycle racing's preseason, and evaluate where we stand so far. Just what is the state of play for both MotoGP and World Superbike in 2013?
The question is even more pertinent now that both series have been taken under the wing of Dorna, much to the consternation of World Superbike fans and, to some extent, the WSBK paddock as well. It was feared that Dorna would either kill off World Superbike entirely to strengthen the position of MotoGP, or impose such stringent technical regulations on the series as to dumb it down to Superstock spec.
Fortunately, neither of those options looks likely. World Superbikes will continue as a separate series, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta was keen to explain when quizzed about the takeover at Ducati's Wrooom launch event early in January. The aim is to build a strong WSBK series to stand alongside MotoGP, preserving the unique identity of the two series - WSBK as a place to race production bikes, MotoGP as the series for racing prototypes.