Two-and-a-half weeks after they departed, the MotoGP riders are back in Malaysia, and it's almost as if they had never been away. The Hondas and - to a lesser extent - the Yamahas are dominating, with the Ducatis further back, and Valentino Rossi still a second off the fastest man, who, once again, is Casey Stoner on the Repsol Honda.
Despite the resemblances to the first Sepang tests, there are some subtle differences, however. Casey Stoner is clearly fast, but just how fast only becomes clear when you look at the Australian's lap chart. While a group of riders, including Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, Ben Spies and Andrea Dovizioso had managed a handful of laps in the 2'01 bracket, Stoner set fully 17 laps in 2'01, two of those within a tenth of cracking into the 2'00s. And he was on that pace all day, in the cooler morning and evening, as well as the heat of the day.
Here's the final round up of press releases from the teams and Bridgestone after the final day of testing at Sepang:
That a Honda topped the timesheets at the end of the three-day test at Sepang should surprise exactly nobody. Hondas have dominated the timesheets throughout the Sepang test. That a satellite Honda should be fastest would perhaps be a little more surprising, were it not for the fact that Marco Simoncelli's RC212V is a full-fat factory machine with HRC backing.
But it was not all machine: Simoncelli has been impressive throughout the test, and has obviously matured after his rookie MotoGP year. The Italian told the press that he was feeling much calmer this year than last, and much of that is down to the fact that he isn't looking at a 2 second deficit to the leaders. HRC's decision to field four factory bikes is clearly paying off, as a different rider finished top on all three days.
All is not entirely sweetness and light in the Honda garage, though. It goes without saying that the bike is fast, and pretty good with it. But both Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso complained the bike was still moving around too much, though braking stability is greatly improved. Pedrosa is still switching back and forth between the 2010 and the 2011 bike, and is yet to be convinced that the 2011 bike is better. All three Repsol Honda riders will be testing the two chassis back-to-back at the next Sepang test, which starts in 19 days' time.
Here are the press releases issued after the second day of testing at Sepang:
Day 2 of the Sepang test saw HRC pick up where they left off yesterday: with five of the top six on Honda RC212Vs, and Repsols in first, second and fourth. Wednesday saw Dani Pedrosa take top spot, getting within a couple of tenths of the pole record. The Spaniard setting the time very early, on just his 4th lap out of the pits when temperatures were still bearable. Yesterday's fastest man, meanwhile, waited until the end of the session to set his fastest time, Casey Stoner jumping from fifth into second as the track began once again to cool.
If the competition is worried now, things could get even worse: Pedrosa tried Honda's new engine at Sepang, which provides even more top-end power than the current one. It is also more aggressive, something that all of the Honda riders have complained about for the past few years- all except Casey Stoner, that is, who describes the Honda's power delivery as "smooth". With a high-power engine underneath them, and a chassis that is working very well except for a little chatter mid-corner, Hondas riders are already the hot favorites for 2011.
The teams had plenty to say after the first day of testing. Here's the press releases we've received after Day 1 of Sepang 1:
At last, the MotoGP bikes have taken to the track, and to the surprise of absolutely nobody, Casey Stoner was the fastest man at the end of the first day of testing, and by a comfortable margin. But Stoner's time is a little deceptive: set at the end of the day, as the track started to cool, making life a little easier on the tires and quickening the track. At 5pm local time, Stoner was 5th fastest, four tenths off Jorge Lorenzo's time, but four laps later, the Australian had lopped well over three quarters of a second off his best time and had taken over top spot.
Before Stoner stormed to the top of the timesheets, two Spaniards spent their time contending the top slot. Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo came out on top in the fight, just edging out Stoner's Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa. Both Spaniards have stay put this year, and 2011 already looks like seeing a continuation of the battle which unfolded over the 2010 season, once Honda got Pedrosa's RC212V sorted. Pedrosa's shoulder does not appear to be troubling the Spaniard, as he put in an impressive total of 62 laps of the Sepang circuit, in typically hot and humid Malaysian weather.
It's been a long winter. And the lack of action on the MotoGP front has made the anticipation of the fans even worse by the many questions left hanging after the last test the MotoGP bikes participated in, after the season finale at Valencia.
Back in November, thousands watched Valentino Rossi make his debut on the Ducati (and Casey Stoner make his debut on the Honda, though it was clear where the attention of the fans was focused), and the results were a huge surprise. That Jorge Lorenzo was fast at the test surprised nobody, nor the fact that Casey Stoner was fast out of the traps, though quite how fast the Australian was after just a few laps on the Repsol Honda for the first time did raise a few eyebrows.
The big surprise from the Valencia test was Valentino Rossi's times on the Ducati. The Italian ended the test with the 15th time, with only Moto2 returnee Toni Elias and MotoGP rookie Karel Abraham behind him. There was no doubt that Rossi's injured shoulder - hurt in a training accident early in the year - played a significant role; the Valencia test came at the end of a long season, and after a full weekend of racing, at a track Rossi dislikes intensely. But Rossi (speaking through Filippo Preziosi, as he was contractually unable to speak directly to the press) also complained of a lack of feel from the front end, and a general lack of confidence in the bike.
Below is the "provisional" MotoGP entry list issued by the FIM. Given the cost and complexity of a MotoGP entry, it should be regarded as anything but provisional, as all of the names are confirmed, and no new entries are expected, despite rumors that other manufacturers may make a surprise return.
Just as we did yesterday, here's the round of press releases from the official test at Valencia, the final day of the test. As both Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner are under contract to teams other than the ones they were riding for, there's no rider quotes from them. Stoner spoke to the press separately afterwards (more on that later), while Filippo Preziosi reported on Rossi's feeling on the Ducati Desmosedici. Below are the press releases, and a full list of times is here:
LORENZO AND SPIES WRAP UP SUCCESSFUL VALENCIA OFFICIAL MOTOGP TEST
Day two of the Valencia test started under better conditions than yesterday, allowing Yamaha Factory Racing riders Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies a full morning's riding in the Spanish sunshine. Both riders had completed their testing schedule by the lunchtime break, giving the Yamaha engineers enough data to work over the winter break for the first of the 2011 tests in Sepang at the end of January.
Final line up for the 2011 MotoGP season:
Here at MotoMatters.com, we have never been keen on posting press releases without any commentary to explain the background to them. But the circumstances of the first MotoGP test of the 2011 season at Valencia are so extraordinary - Valentino Rossi's long-awaited Ducati debut, for example, as well as the first outing for Casey Stoner on the Honda - that we are prepared to make an exception. Here are all today's press releases, featuring expertly massaged opinions and heavily doctored ride quotes:
LORENZO AND SPIES FIRST AND THIRD AT VALENCIA TEST
Yamaha Factory Racing Team riders Jorge Lorenzo and new team-mate Ben Spies completed a successful first day of the official MotoGP test at the Ricardo Tormo circuit in Valencia today, topping the timesheets as only two of five riders to dip below the 1.33 minute mark . Rain in the morning saw the day's session delayed until the track had dried with all riders waiting until the afternoon before venturing out onto the circuit.
The withdrawal of the Interwetten Honda team from MotoGP has been an open secret for some time now, after title sponsor Interwetten decided against renewing funding for the MotoGP team again next year. Team boss Daniel Epp had been holding off on an official announcement until all of his options to replace Interwetten had been exhausted. That happened a few weeks ago, and now, the Interwetten team has officially announced the demise of the team.
The disbanding of the Interwetten team leaves former 250cc World Champion Hiroshi Aoyama without a ride, but that situation is unlikely to last for long. Aoyama is currently being linked to the second Gresini Honda ride, alongside Marco Simoncelli, but team boss Fausto Gresini has been reluctant to sign the Japanese rider, citing a lack of money to run a second team. Gresini has been hoping that Dorna and HRC will stump up the cash to pay for Aoyama's seat in the Gresini garage, as both the TV rights holders and Honda are keen to have a Japanese rider in the series. Gresini argues that an Italian rider would be much easier to find sponsorship for.
MotoGP's silly season is almost at an end, with only a few loose ends left to tie up. The names of the riders are all known now, though contracts remain to be signed and announcements to be made, as the final details of deals are hammered out among the various parties.
While Honda's factory line up has been known for a couple of months now, the exact line up and organization has remained unclear. HRC had three riders under contract to ride in the factory team, with Casey Stoner joining Andrea Dovizioso and Dani Pedrosa for 2011, but there was some doubt about the way the trio would be organized. At Aragon, HRC Marketing Director Livio Suppo told MotoMatters.com that there would be four factory Honda riders for 2011: Stoner, Dovizioso, Pedrosa and Gresini rider Marco Simoncelli, who also has a contract with HRC directly. After talks failed to tempt another sponsor in to run Casey Stoner in a separate team, Honda put pressure on Andrea Dovizioso to take a seat in the San Carlo Gresini Honda team alongside Simoncelli, with the promise of full factory support in the Gresini squad.
As the season winds towards its conclusion, the effect of the engine rules is starting to become clear. With 15 out of 18 races already having been run, reliability problems have been given plenty of time to rear their head, and what's been remarkable is the fact that there's been so few problems in this regard - with the exception of the Suzukis, who will will be glad that they got their permitted engine allocation expanded to 9 engines instead of 6.
In the reliability stakes, Honda rather unsurprisingly comes out on top, with just three engines withdrawn from a grand total of 36 allocated to the six riders on an RC212V. What's more, the Hondas have a lot of spare engines unused, and engines with just a few sessions on them. The inevitable dark murmurings of that the engine rules were drawn up at the behest of Honda will be further fueled by these numbers, but whether there is any truth in them or not, there is no doubt that HRC has done a fantastic job on engine reliablity