The Sepang MotoGP test is underway, and the first hour and a half has already seen a very busy track, with everyone Mika Kallio, Bradley Smith, and Takuya Tsuda turning laps, taking advantage of cooler conditions in the morning.
Though bikes have been circulating at the Sepang circuit already, the MotoGP season only really gets underway once the full field of full-time contracted riders takes to the Malaysian track on Wednesday. After the long winter break, we finally get to see where everyone stands as the 2019 season approaches.
Well, almost everyone: injuries always play a smaller or larger role, as riders recover from surgery, or suffer new injuries while training for the coming season. Injuries have hit Honda hard so far this year, with Jorge Lorenzo absent after breaking his left scaphoid just three weeks before the test, Marc Márquez still recovering from major surgery to fix a shoulder with a tendency to dislocate, and Cal Crutchlow coming back from a massive crash at Phillip Island which shattered his ankle.
The Sepang test will be a little different this year, as a result of the tweaking of the testing rules. With two official tests in November, at Valencia and Jerez, rather than the official Valencia test and a private test elsewhere, all of the factories have followed the same preparation in late 2018. What's more, with them all having ridden at Valencia and Jerez, they have a clearer idea of how their engines will react on tighter circuits in colder conditions, where more horsepower is more difficult to contain. November has become engine preparation month, with Sepang now being used as a verification.
After a day of prevarication, Yamaha (with the blessing of the other factories) finally cracked down on the media presence at Sepang, locking the gates to pit lane as well as the side of the track. Anyone who wasn't a member of a team wasn't getting in, and the factories could work in peace. All except Honda, who had packed up on Saturday, giving Stefan Bradl an extra day's rest ahead of the official test starting on Wednesday.
Aleix Espargaro joined the action, riding the Aprilia RS-GP alongside test rider Bradley Smith, though Andrea Iannone sat out the day with what was reported to be a minor health issue with his teeth. Jonas Folger also took to the track for Yamaha, but as he and Yamaha's other test rider, Katsuyuki Nakasuga, swapped between the two test bikes, it was hard to tell who was setting which times. Both riders looked pretty fast, and Nakasuga was doing so with the benefit of an extra day's experience. Jonas Folger had a crash in the middle of the day, causing a red flag, though Folger continued testing after the flag appeared.
The final day of the Sepang shakedown test saw more action, with Aleix Espargaro joining the fray for Aprilia, and Jonas Folger resuming his role as Yamaha test rider. Stefan Bradl didn't ride, his work being done, and Andrea Iannone was also absent for Aprilia.
The second day of the MotoGP shakedown test at Sepang was a busier affair than the first, with a Yamaha and the factory and satellite KTM riders joining the testers who had seen action on Friday. Hot, dry weather made life relatively easy, the riders able to get a lot of laps in with no interruptions for rain.
The honors for most laps during the day were shared by Johann Zarco, Bradley Smith, and Pol Espargaro. Zarco topped the endurance charts with a grand total of 67 laps on the Red Bull KTM, Aprilia test rider Smith racked up 62 laps spread between four different bikes, while Pol Espargaro bagged the fastest time in the process of lapping Sepang 60 times. To put that into perspective, it is three times race distance, in temperatures of over 30°C, and track temperatures rising to over 50°C in the middle of the day.
All six factories took to the track on Saturday, with Katsuyuki Nakasuga finally turning laps on the Yamaha M1. Stefan Bradl was there for Honda, as was Bradley Smith for Aprilia, Michele Pirro for Ducati, and Sylvain Guintoli and Takuya Tsuda for Suzuki. KTM had the biggest contingent, with factory riders Pol Espargaro and Johann Zarco, and Tech3 riders Miguel Oliveira and Hafizh Syahrin joining test rider Mika Kallio on track.
Despite the fact that normally, there is no timing at the Sepang shakedown test, timing screens appeared in the media center on Saturday, giving some sort of insight into what is happening on track. And thanks to screenshots posted to Twitter by Crash.net's Peter McLaren, the times have been shared publicly. Not all riders and bikes were lapping with transponders, however, so the times do not show the full picture.
Pol Espargaro is the fastest rider on the second day, the KTM rider leaping ahead of Stefan Bradl at the end of the day. Aprilia's Bradley Smith was busy, setting the third fastest time, while Katsuyuki Nakasuga made a late appearance on the Yamaha to set the fourth quickest time ahead of Michele Pirro on the Ducati.
The first day of the shakedown test at Sepang is over, and it was very much a shakedown as it is meant to be. The MotoGP bikes shared the track with the factory Superbike machines being readied for the Suzuka 8 Hour race in July, but all of the factory test riders bar Yamaha got some laps done in preparation for the official test which starts on Wednesday.
It was Ducati's Michele Pirro and Aprilia's Bradley Smith who were busiest, both riders paving the way for their factory riders. The urgency is highest for Smith, as Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone are set to take the track on Sunday, the last day of the shakedown test.
Mika Kallio was paving the way for KTM, the Finnish rider forced to switch numbers from 36 to 66, Suzuki's Joan Mir having taken precedence for #36 as a full-time contracted rider. Kallio had a lot of work to do, ensuring that the bikes were ready for all four KTM riders at the test. In the end, he rode seven different bikes on Friday, including test bikes and the factory Red Bull and satellite Tech3 machines, he told Crash.net's Peter McLaren.
Stefan Bradl was turning laps for Honda, while Sylvain Guintoli was busy for Suzuki. Bradl was mostly running short exits, according to Italian website GPOne.com.
With two WorldSBK tests under our belts, we are now just days away from the 2019 MotoGP preseason starting. The entire MotoGP field, minus the injured Jorge Lorenzo, will take to the Sepang circuit on 6th February for three days of testing.
But before that, from 1st to 3rd of February – that's Friday through Sunday – the MotoGP factories will be present at Sepang for the first shakedown test of the year. Test riders from all six factories will take to the track, and will be joined by the riders for the factories with concessions, who are allowed unlimited testing.
The original point of the shakedown test was to allow factories to ensure that all of the parts they have brought for their contracted riders (e.g. full-time entries in MotoGP) to test are actually working, and do some preliminary preparation ahead of the official test. After all, the full-time riders cannot afford to waste a day while engineers and mechanics try to figure out why something which worked at the factory has ceased to work at the race track, for example.
Jorge Lorenzo has had successful surgery to fix his fractured scaphoid, but the surgery means he will miss the Sepang test. The Spaniard had a titanium screw inserted to hold the broken scaphoid together, but the recovery period needed means he will not be fully fit in time for the start of the Sepang test, and Repsol Honda and Lorenzo have decided to skip Sepang and focus on the Qatar test at the end of February.
Despite the surgery, Lorenzo will be present at the launch of the Repsol Honda team in Madrid, to be held on Wednesday, 23rd January.
The FIM today officially confirmed the 2019 MotoGP calendar. There were no changes made to the provisional calendar released in September last year. There will be 19 races, starting in Qatar on 10th March, and ending in Valencia on 17th November. There will be tests after the race at Jerez, Barcelona, and Brno, while the first test of 2020 is expected to take place after Valencia.
There could be an extra test in the schedule, to be held directly after Silverstone. If the new Kymiring circuit in Finland is finished on time, the riders will head to Finland at the end of August to try the new circuit, and generate important data for Michelin.
The official calendar appears below: