It's been a busy time for motorcycle racing in the south of Spain. With the winter test ban about to commence, and now in force for both MotoGP and World Superbikes, the teams are heading south to get some development work done while they still can. For the World Superbike and MotoGP Open class teams, their destination is Jerez, while Moto2 and Moto3 are at Almeria, in Spain's southeastern corner.
At Jerez, Suzuki has just wrapped up a test, and Yakhnich Motorsport are taking the MV Agusta F4RR out for its first spin. The Jerez test was Eugene Laverty's first opportunity to ride the GSX-R1000, after the Irishman had signed for the Crescent Suzuki team, who have swapped title sponsors from Fixi to Voltcom. The move is a step down from the full factory Aprilia team for Laverty, but it is a long-term investment for the Irishman. Speaking to German language website Speedweek.com, Laverty explained that he believed that it was easier to move development on a project forward with a smaller group of people than inside a large organization.
Also making their debut at Jerez are the Yakhnich Motorsport team, which is now the full factory MV Agusta squad. The team will be fielding Claudio Corti on the F4RR in World Superbikes, while Jules Cluzel and Vladimir Leonov will be campaigning the F3 675 Supersport machine. For Corti and the F4, it is a real shakedown, with the bike not having been raced in World Superbikes before. Corti is returning to the WSBK paddock after a couple of years in Grand Prix, first racing in the Moto2 class, and last year racing the FTR Kawasaki CRT bike in the MotoGP class.
The Ten Kate Honda team is another team testing at Jerez, continuing work on the CBR1000RR Fireblade. Special focus of the recent tests for Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam is sorting out the HRC electronics, which still need work to be ready for 2014.
The World Superbike squads are also being joined by some of the Open class teams in MotoGP. The NGM Forward team resume testing with the Yamaha FTR the will be running in 2014. Both Aleix Espargaro and Colin Edwards will be at Jerez for three days, to continue work on the bike. Key area for them is also the electronics, as Edwards identified the strategies being used at the previous tests in Valencia as having room for improvement. Meanwhile, the Avintia Blusens team are testing Kawasaki ZX10-R, which they will be using as a basis for their 2014 MotoGP machine. The chassis and bodywork will be much closer to the production bike, after a good test at Aragon after the final MotoGP round at Valencia.
Ducati are also present at Jerez, for both MotoGP and World Superbikes. For MotoGP, only Michele Pirro will be present with the test team, and work will continue testing parts on the factory's lab bike. More important will be the coordination between track test team and factory, as Gigi Dall'Igna continues the work of integrating the two parts of Ducati Corse more intimately.
Over in Almeria, the Moto2 and Moto3 teams take to the track, but the real novelty at the circuit is the first appearance of the new Honda Moto3 machine. Three teams will be racing the bike: the Estrella Galicia team with Alex Rins and Alex Marquez, Racing Team Germany with Efren Vazquez and John McPhee, and the CBC Corse squad of Alexis Masbou and Zulfahmi Khairuddin. From photos of the bike posted by Alexis Masbou on Facebook, and by Speedweek, the bike appears to be more of a radical evolution of their existing NSF250R rather than a total revolution. The engine layout is still back-to-front, the cylinder sloping backwards with the exhausts exiting towards the rear and the throttle body facing forwards. The exhausts now have dual pipes running the full length of the exhaust manifold, rather than the single pipe of the old machine.
Speedweek is reporting that Honda have also changed the bore, going up from 78mm to use the full 81mm permitted by the regulations. That change is an attempt to counter the superior horsepower of the KTM, which also used the maximum 81mm permitted bore. With just six riders to supply, the new Honda is nearer a pure racing prototype than its predecessor, and HRC is bearing much of the financial cost. According to Speedweek, the Estrella Galicia team is receiving the bikes for nothing from Honda, while both CBC Corse and RTG are being heavily subsidized. Despite receiving a fifty percent discount, the two 'satellite' teams will still have to cough up 200,000 euros per rider, however.
Just how competitive the new Honda will be remains to be seen. As the Moto2 and Moto3 tests at Almeria are private, no official timing is present. Whether any times will be released - and just how reliable any such times will be - is very much open to question.