MotoGP returns to the track at Sepang in just a few hours, and the second test at the Malaysian circuit offers just as much intrigue as the first did. Interest at Sepang 2 centers on notable absentees, Ducati's plans, and progress made so far. There is much to watch in Malaysia.
One thing we know for sure. Marc Marquez will not be the fastest man at the second Sepang test. The reigning world champion dominated the first test at the beginning of the month, but a training crash saw him fracture his right fibula. Even in adversity, Marquez' luck held, the injury being relatively quick to heal, the bone not being displaced. He will definitely be back in action at the first race of the year in Qatar, and he could possible attend the Bridgestone test at Phillip Island early next week, but he will be forced to miss Sepang 2.
With Marquez out, others will have a chance to shine, though the question of how any times set would hold up if the Repsol Honda man had been present will remain. Nobody had an answer to Marquez' pace at the first test – especially when you compare his race pace on long runs – and his rivals will have to drop well under the two-minute mark to make an impression.
2014 MotoGP Sepang 1 Day 3 Round Up: Marquez' Consistency, Lorenzo's Speed, And Ducati's Open Dilemma
On Thursday, the riders opted almost unanimously to go out first thing in the morning. It was a wise choice, conditions proving ideal to see the fastest ever lap around the circuit set, beating Casey Stoner's time from 2011. The name of the rider that took Stoner's record from him? Marc Marquez, the man brought in by Honda to replace the departing Australian.
Marquez' time was impressive, but he was not the only man to get under the two minute mark. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, and the continually surprising Aleix Espargaro also cracked the barrier, though none were quite capable of getting under Stoner's old record. The first 30 minutes of testing had produced a scintillating start to the day, whetting the appetite of all in the paddock for more.
While Marquez' time is without doubt a fantastic lap, perhaps the most impressive time was set by Jorge Lorenzo. His fastest time, and the fastest time of the test up until that point, was set on his first flying lap of the day. It was, if you like, a simulation of the start of the race: firing off the line from pit lane exit, getting up to speed immediately, and then going on to set a lap record. Normal fare for Lorenzo, whose flying starts have become something of a trademark. What made it truly incredible was the fact that this was done on new tires, on his very first laps of the day. On race day, Lorenzo has the morning warm up to get up to speed, but not today. Fast straight out of the starting blocks, then following it up with another 1'59.9. If you ever needed proof of Lorenzo's metronomic ability, this was surely it.
It has been a fascinating first day of testing at Sepang. And like all fascinating days, it has been long, tiring, and utterly inspiring. There were surprises, disappointments, and rumors confirmed and denied. It was, in short, a good day at the office.
Marc Marquez was fastest – it goes almost without saying – the 2013 world champion picking up where he left off. He was quick from the off, and put in a final burst of speed at the end of the day to open the gap on the rest, finishing with half a second advantage. Braking stability was the watchword for the Repsol Honda team, especially rear grip on braking and corner entry, with both Marquez and Dani Pedrosa working on a slightly revised version of the 2014 RC213V which both men had tested at Valencia last year.
Their main focus – like those of everyone on their first day back on a MotoGP – was just to get used to the speed again. The switchover had been toughest for Cal Crutchlow, the Englishman claimed. He had ridden a motocross bike for exactly one day, he said, spending the rest of his winter training on his bicycle. The speed differential between a 20-speed racing bicycle and a 6-speed Ducati Desmosedici is nothing if not cavernous.
The test ban is over, and the MotoGP season is about to get underway. Bikes are already circulating, as the test riders put the first versions of the 2014 models through a shakedown to ensure that everything is in place, and working the way the engineers intended. In a few hours, we get the first glimpse of what the 2014 season could hold.
The rule changes for 2014, though at first glance relatively small, could have a major impact. For the front runners, the fuel allowance is dropped from 21 to 20 liters, a change requested by the manufacturers to give them the engineering challenge they demand to justify their involvement. All of the Factory Option (the designation for the bikes which have been referred to as factory prototypes for the last two seasons) entries must now use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU, but they retain the ability to develop their own software for the computer which sits at the heart of every modern vehicle. That reduced fuel allowance will place a premium on fuel conservation, meaning the manufacturer who can reduce friction, thermal efficiency and combustion efficiency will hold the upper hand.
It's not just the factory bikes that have a new designation. The CRT category has disappeared, replaced by the Open class. The change is not as big as the renaming would appear. Like the CRT bikes, they have 12 engines instead of 5 to last the season, and 24 liters of fuel to last each race. And like the Factory Option bikes, they must also use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU. The difference, with both the Factory Option bike and last year's CRT machines, is that now they must use the Dorna-controlled software, written by Magneti Marelli to Dorna specifications. The switch to control software means that the claiming rule, which defined the CRT class, has been dropped. Anyone can enter anything in the class, from modified Superbike (as long as, like Aprilia's ART machine, it uses a prototype chassis) to full-fat factory engine, as long as they use the spec software.
We are both proud and humbled to have been honored twice in the 2013 Silverstone Media Awards. MotoMatters.com was named Best MotoGP Blogger for the third year in succession, while our Twitter account @motomatters was also named Best MotoGP Tweeter. The awards are decided by popular vote, with MotoGP and F1 fans voting via the Silverstone Circuit Facebook page for their favorite racing-related publications and broadcasters.
MotoMatters.com was not the only repeat winner. The official MotoGP.com website took best website, British motorcycling paper MCN won best publication, British newspaper The Telegraph took best newspaper, and the BBC took best TV channel.
The one essential tool for any self-respecting motorcycle racing fan goes on sale today, and it's been worth the wait. The MotoMatters.com 2014 Motorcycle Racing Calendar returns once again, featuring the stunning photography of Scott Jones, and a monthly guide containing all of the MotoGP and World Superbike races for the 2014 season. New for 2014 is the inclusion of the MotoGP testing schedule, so you will know when to keep an eye out for news from Sepang, Phillip Island and Qatar on the progress of rookies Scott Redding and Pol Espargaro, Nicky Hayden's return to Honda or Cal Crutchlow's switch to Ducati. The 2014 calendar is the same size and beautiful quality of last year's version, but with another year of MotoGP photography under his belt, Scott's pictures are better than ever.
For years Phillip Island has been a track I'd planned to go to, but for one reason or another, it was a trip I'd not been able to make happen. I was ticking off other top locations such as Catalunya, Mugello, Assen, places that were Bucket List items for me both as a race fan and a photographer. But PI wouldn't cooperate.
As soon as Casey issued his surprise announcement that he was retiring, I knew I had to make it to Phillip Island. This time there could be no excuse: I had to see Casey ride at his home track, and this was my last chance. Fortunately for me, there was still some money in the bank from the Elbow Down edition to pay for airfare and expenses. And my wife, whose patience and kindness seem to know no bounds, agreed to manage the childcare without my help yet again this season. I booked the trip and held my breath.
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