The first day of testing with the official Honda engine is over for the Moto2 class, and finally we have some kind of indication of both what the lap times and what the relative strengths of each rider, team and chassis are. And those indications are throwing up some very interesting surprises.
The name at the very top of the timesheet is very far from a surprise: Ever since it was clear that Toni Elias would be returning to MotoGP's middle class, he has been favorite to take the title. Elias got his campaign off to a good start, lapping in the mid 1'37s, a respectable pace which would have put him in 12th on the grid for the last ever 250cc race here just over 4 months ago. The name of Julian Simon, reigning 125cc World Champion is no real shocker either, the Mapfre Aspar rider also being hotly tipped by both fans and insiders.
Places 3 through 5 are more of a surprise, though they range from an insiders' tipped rider to a complete wildcard. Kenny Noyes in 3rd may come as a surprise to MotoGP fans, but anyone who has kept half an eye on the Spanish CEV Formula Extreme championship in recent years will know the American's name, and will know that he is fast. Noyes has had some experience on Moto2 bikes already, having tested immediately after the race at Valencia.
The waiting is over, and the Moto2 bikes are finally out on track at Valencia on equal terms, with equal engines. At last we can start comparing times properly, as everyone is now using the official standard Moto2 engine. Using the spec Honda engine, Kenny Noyes is so far quickest, confirming the form the Antonio Banderas Racing rider has shown at all of the Moto2 tests so far. The American - son of US journalist and Spanish TV commentator Dennis - leads the Gresini squad, with Russian newcomer Vladimir Ivanov surprisingly ahead of the championship favorite, Toni Elias. Yuki Takahashi, who has also been fast throughout Moto2 testing, sits in 4th, the Tech 3 rider currently about eight tenths off Noyes' pace.
But the times so far don't mean too much, as no one has put in a great many laps yet, and a sizable group of riders are still in the pits waiting to get underway. Some of the teams are suffering the consequences of - unsurprisingly - the economic crisis: One such is Scot Honda, who according to GPOne.com were forced to wait until this morning before receiving their Moto2 engines, as the team still has unpaid back payments for their MotoGP adventure last season. The team, which is to field Alex de Angelis and Niccolo Canepa, has been given a reprieve for this test, but could still be in trouble before the season starts.
Once they got over the tragedy of losing the 250cc two-stroke, motorcycle race fans have turned their gaze to the Moto2 class. So little is known, and so much is up in the air for the class that fans are poring over photos in minute detail trying to work out the crucial differences between the different bikes. Cue the outstanding Italian website GPOne.com, who shot some close up video of six of the bikes due to contest the Moto2 championship next season. The video below gives a brief tour and explanation (albeit in Italian) of the RSV used by the Aspar and Cardion AB teams, the Moriwaki to be used by Gresini, the Holiday Gym team and Interwetten, the Blusens BQR bike, the Kalex Pons machine, Tech 3's Mistral 610 bike designed and built by the team's engineers, and the most popular choice on the grid, the Suter MMX.
The gods have not looked kindly on the advent of the Moto2 class. Nearly every time the new bikes have taken to the track for testing, the elements have intervened, throwing wind, rain and even snow into the paths of the CBR600-engined prototypes. The final day of testing at Barcelona was no different, the day starting wet and the track only drying out some time after 2pm, leaving precious little time for the riders to work further on developing and setting up their brand new Moto2 machines.
Despite the conditions and the lack of track time, the majority of riders still at the circuit did manage to improve their times. Once again, it was Shoya Tomizawa who was fastest, sharing the honor on Friday with Julian Simon and Yuki Takahashi. In the unofficial standings, Jules Cluzel was awarded the 4th fastest time, ahead of Ant West on the MZ.
But twelve riders finished the test within a second of each other, though being unofficial and self-reported, the lap times need to be treated with an artery-clogging helping of salt. A potential lead group seems to be appearing, but given the well-reported difference in engine tune being used, it is hard to judge just how much difference in time is being disguised by superior engines.
The second day of testing for the Moto2 class at Barcelona took place under far better conditions than the first. The day started off relatively sunny and dry, but damp patches and a cool track made for a treacherous track, which caught many riders out. The main victims were Roberto Rolfo and Alex Debon, two of the men tipped for success in the class, who both suffered serious shoulder injuries. Rolfo dislocated his shoulder and will be out for four weeks, while Debon fractured a collarbone and is likely to be out for a similar period. The Spaniard was taken to Valencia in the afternoon to undergo surgery to set the collarbone. Rolfo's injury came at a time when the Italian was doing well. He had just set the second time of the day behind American Kenny Noyes when he went down on a damp part of the track. In addition to Rolfo and Debon, the list of fallers included Thomas Luthi, Fonsi Nieto, Raffaele de Rosa and Julian Simon, though these riders came away relatively unscathed.
At the end of the day, it was the Japanese rider Shoya Tomizawa who reported the fastest time on a Suter MMX, ahead of Frenchman Jules Cluzel, also on a Suter, with the Colombian Yonni Hernandez in 3rd aboard a Blusens BQR. But while the teams are still using a mixture of engines - with a power difference of over 15 horsepower in some cases - the times need to be taken with a very large helping of salt, especially as these times have been released by the teams, rather than recorded by the official timekeeping.