Analyzing the Valencia Moto3 Preseason Test: The Threat of a Spanish Fairy Tale, The New Engine Manufacturer, And Real Hopes for a Shy Girl
A new Moto3 season is about to start and, even if it is obviously too soon to talk about favourite contenders for the final crown, watching the fastest riders on the track and examining lap times can give an idea of how 2013 may play out in the smallest class. After three days of testing at the Ricardo Tormo racetrack -with nicer weather everyday- it is clear that KTM is a step ahead again. But lap times are not everything and these test sessions brought some other interesting facts. Preseason is always a time for hopes, wishes and nice words, as you can conclude from the quotes of riders and teams. Spanish riders have finished as the three fastest on lap times, but we cannot forget, as many of the Spanish sports newspapers do –fortunately not the motorcycle magazines-, Valencia is a home track for them, and things may turn out quite differently at a track outside of Spain. As experience has proved in the past, the start of a season may be quite different to its end.
As many expected, Maverick Viñales looks like being the strongest rider for the upcoming season. The Spaniard was the fastest rider in almost every session and his compatriots Alex Rins and Luis Salom followed him in the final standings. However, does this mean the season will be doomed to be a Spanish fairytale? Of course, it won't be necessarily that way. There are some other quick riders, such as German Jonas Folger, new Aussie hero Jack Miller, last season's biggest Italian surprise Romano Fenati or Great Britain's youngest hope John McPhee. If we talk about technical surprises, the newborn Mahindra-Suter project has showed a great potential on its first serious outing.
Viñales proved last season that his riding talent was inversely proportional to his politics skills but, after leaving the Blusens team at the end of 2012, he may have found the best option possible to start a new life in the class with the Laglisse KTM team in 2013. He was a clear favourite contender for the crown in 2012, as he seems to be now on the KTM. The difference between both moments may be found on his most recent quotes: "This preseason start is going very well because we are riding immediately fast, even faster than my last fastest time from last season's race. Anyway, I think I haven't ridden the bike to its limit yet. I'm happy because of this and also because KTM and the team are working at hundred per cent. The bike itself seems to be a step ahead over the rest, but you never know how the season is going to be", said the Spaniard on Thursday. "We haven't got the best set up yet, but I still feel a big difference compared to the FTR Honda. We still have a lot to improve on settings because we have just started working on it. I also have to adapt myself to this new bike in order to ride it at its best, but I feel we are on the right road. The KTM has better acceleration, that's one of its strongest points and it is quite fast on top speed too. My tasks for 2013 season are just the same as last season's. I'll try to perform as well as possible in every race".
Second fastest in Valencia, Álex Rins, was also riding the new-to-him KTM. He was fifth in the final 2012 standings on a Suter Honda and this time the Estrella Galicia team rider was immediately among the fastest riders at the Ricardo Tormo racetrack. However, far from putting any pressure on himself for 2013, he was clear on the up coming season: "These winter tests have been quite positive for me and my team. I quickly got a good feeling on the KTM. I did not expect to be this high on the lap times. Now, I must keep working hard without any illusions because there will be a lot of fast riders at Jerez next week. Everything with my bike seems to be better than last season. I do not feel any pressure for the championship. In my opinion Viñales and Salom are the real title contenders. I will look just after myself and, if there is a chance to win a race, it will be very welcome".
Third fastest on the time sheets, Luis Salom was quite satisfied about his performance in Valencia: "Despite two crashes on these three days, I feel quite happy because the team and I made a great job. I knew I could set a fast lap time with a low 1'39, but I still set a 1'39.6 lap time with a well-used tire for a couple of consecutive laps. After that we came back to the track using a new tire in order to set a faster lap time, but I made a mistake in the last corner, lost the front end and crashed. Then we tested some different parts without looking at the lap times. I would have loved to set the fastest lap time, but we are still very happy at how things have worked out. Joining the KTM team is a great step forward for me because I have been racing in the World Championship since 2009 and have never had such a good preseason. I could never set fast times without following someone else's rear wheel and now I can set them on my own".
After the three Spanish riders, Jonas Folger had a great start too. He became a Kalex KTM Aspar team rider last season after a painful experience riding the unreliable Ioda and got on the rostrum at Indy as soon as he got on his new bike, victory finally coming at the following race in Brno. In Valencia Folger qualified as first Kalex rider, also using a KTM engine. With such a good background at the end of 2012, there some high expectations of him for 2013: "Last year I had a bad experience and a happy end with the new team and bike", said the German. "Now I am riding a similar bike that allows more combinations for setting up. We have tested some new parts that worked well. I know I need to be more constant riding at the front, being quicker in the few first laps of every race and staying more calm at the end, because last year many riders were faster than me in the last few laps. I need to be not only faster at the start, but also clever for the whole race". Having seen Folger's performance in 2012, we asked him about his main goal for 2013, maybe even becoming world champion, but he did not want to hear about such a big task: “I'm not even thinking about that. First I need to know where I am and maybe, at the end of this preseason, I'll be able to have an idea of what I can do".
We have talked about the fastest riders in Valencia, but we cannot forget about some other fast riders like Jack Miller –fifth in Valencia-, Italian rising star Romano Fenati –sixth fastest-, Alex Márquez –who suffered a painful near-crash on the last day of testing-, or Efrén Vázquez. The Basque rider will be riding for the all-new Mahindra, using a Suter frame with an engine from the same Swiss manufacturer. Mahindra was one of the biggest surprises of these tests. Suter objectives for becoming competitive with the new engine are being met much faster than expected and Vázquez ended eighth, just 1.1 seconds slower than Viñales in Valencia: "It has been a big surprise for all us", said Vázquez. "Suter has already made some positive race simulations on the dyno, but we did not ride a race full distance on the track yet. There are lot of things to improve and the chassis and we are not using the engine at full power either but, of course, this is a great start".
If a new engine manufacturer is always welcome in the class, what we can say about a really competitive girl on the grid? That's the case of the 15-year-old rider Ana Carrasco, Viñales' new teammate in the Laglisse Moto3 squad for 2013. Carrasco got faster in every session and "she" –doesn't that sound good?- finished 16th, ahead of more experienced riders such as Danny Webb, Niklas Ajo, Isaac Viñales, Jasper Iwema and many more in Valencia. Carrasco grew up racing production pre-GP bikes prior to spending two seasons in the CEV (Spanish National Championship), racing 125 and Moto3 classes. 2013 will be her first season in the World Championship and, unlike Elena Rosell last year in Moto2 class, we see a Spanish girl rider with real chances of developing a strong racing career at the World Championship level. We all dream about seeing Carrasco fighting for victory as Taru Rinne did at the 1989 125 German Grand Prix against Álex Crivillé, Ezio Gianola and Julián Miralles. A curiously sad memory, as on the same day, Venezuelan hero Ivan Palazzese died in the 250 class.