The final day of the Sepang shakedown test has concluded, with a slight changing of the guard. Dani Pedrosa handed the KTM over to fellow test rider Mika Kallio, and Bradley Smith vacated the two new 2020-spec Aprilia RS-GPs to make way for Aleix Espargaro. Meanwhile, Yamaha were out in force, including Jorge Lorenoz, making his return to the Iwata factory.
2019 was a long, hard year for Aprilia. The hiring of new Aprilia Race CEO Massimo Rivola signaled a year of rebuilding for the Italian factory, as Rivola took over the organizational side of the MotoGP project, freeing up Romano Albesiano to concentrate on building a brand new RS-GP from the ground up, and providing Albesiano with the resources to do so. That project forced Aprilia riders Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone to battle on through the 2019 season with a bike which was struggling to be competitive.
The wait came to an end at the MotoGP shakedown test at Sepang, where Aprilia rolled out the new RS-GP, in the hands of test rider Bradley Smith. "Those six or seven months of waiting were worth it," was Smith's verdict after the first full day of testing on the 2020 prototype.
The shakedown test continues at Sepang, in good conditions: track temperatures are staying in the 50s °C, and not venturing into the 60s. KTM Test Rider Dani Pedrosa remains the fastest of the test riders, the Spaniard cracking into the 1'59s along with KTM factory rider Pol Espargaro, though both are a couple of tenths slower than the race record set by Valentino Rossi back in November last year.
The first day of the Sepang shakedown test is in the books, and times have emerged for at least some of the riders. Malaysian photographer Hazrin Cric (famous for That Photo) was at the test, and tweeted out the times at the end of Sunday's session.
KTM test rider Dani Pedrosa was fastest, riding the new RC16 chassis, finishing just ahead of Ducati's Michele Pirro. Suzuki test rider Sylvain Guintoli was third quickest, six tenths behind Pedrosa, and a tenth quicker than Repsol Honda rookie Alex Marquez. The younger Marquez is allowed to take part in the shakedown test because he is a rookie. Marquez was three tenths faster than Brad Binder, on the Red Bull KTM.
In just a few hours from now, MotoGP bikes will roll out onto the track for the start of the 2020 season. They will do so almost completely out of the public eye (prompting the philosophical question of if an RC213V is fired up at a circuit, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?) as three days of the MotoGP shakedown test gets underway at Sepang.
The shakedown test is a private test, meaning it is closed to the media and public. There is no live timing publicly available from the test, and lap times will be both difficult to come by and probably unreliable, as teams and factories release the times they want to make public (if any), rather than a neutral timing system recording every lap.
Yet this shakedown test is extremely important, for a number of reasons. It is the first test for the brand-new Aprilia RS-GP, designed from the ground up, with a new 90° V4 engine. It sees Jorge Lorenzo make his testing debut for Yamaha, back with the Japanese factory after three years away. And it is a chance for the MotoGP rookies to get a little more track time under their belts.
As the world of motorcycle racing starts to get into the swing of things, activity is starting to ramp up. The first of the MotoGP factory launches is due this week, Ducati to present their 2020 livery and (unchanged) rider line up in a 13th Century palace in the middle of Bologna. That event happens on Thursday evening, the 23rd January, and I will be attending to try to find out more about Ducati's plans for the coming season.
The other factories will have to wait. The three Japanese factories will be launching their bikes just ahead of the Sepang test. Repsol Honda go first, holding their launch in the Indonesian capital Jakarta on 4th February. The Monster Energy Yamaha and Petronas Yamaha SRT teams will be holding their launches at the Sepang circuit on the 6th February, as will the Suzuki Ecstar team.
It was hard being a MotoGP rookie in 2019. It was probably the strongest rookie class we have seen in many years: Pecco Bagnaia and Joan Mir, two world champions; Miguel Oliveira, who has runner up in both Moto2 and Moto3; and Fabio Quartararo, the young man they changed the Moto3 entry rules for. Yet even these exceptionally talented youngsters faced probably the most talented MotoGP field in history.
Quartararo's meteoric success dominated the headlines, but it overshadowed some strong debuts by the other three. Ecstar Suzuki's Joan Mir, for example, crossed the line in eighth in his first ever MotoGP race, and went on to become a regular top eight rider. By the end of the season, he was challenging his more experienced teammate Alex Rins, and scoring his best result of the season at Phillip Island, finishing fifth in the group battling for the podium.
Before the Japanese round of MotoGP at Motegi, top Japanese journalist Akira Nishimura talked to Joan Mir about his first thirteen races – Mir was forced to miss two races due to the lung injury he suffered in the huge crash at the Brno test. The Suzuki rider spoke at length about his rookie season, about his rapid progression through the Grand Prix ranks, and about what he learned. He also talked to Nishimura-san about racing against his teammate, and how making your debut on a Suzuki compares to the Ducati and the Yamaha.
It was an insightful and long conversation, and so it has been split into two parts. Part two will be published tomorrow, but here is part one:
2020 is supposed to be a big year for Aprilia. The reorganization instigated by Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola has helped free up lead engineer Romano Albesiano to design a brand new RS-GP from the ground up. The bike is expected to be much more competitive than the 75° V4 which has served them up until now.
But they enter 2020 with every chance of being without an important part of the MotoGP program. Andrea Iannone's lawyer confirmed to Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport that Iannone's B sample from the drug test he failed in Sepang has also come back positive. The Italian now faces a four-year ban for use of the anabolic steroid drostanalone.
The quantities found in the sample were minute, Iannone's lawyer Antonio De Rensis told Gazzetta. "The counter-analysis showed the presence of metabolites equal to 1.15 nanograms per milliliter," De Rensis said. Taking into consideration that the sample was extremely concentrated due to Iannone being dehydrated from the hot and humid MotoGP race in Malaysia, that would point to an even lower concentration, De Rensis claimed. This would corroborate the theory of accidental contamination through food, according to Iannone's lawyer.
Andrea Iannone has been provisionally suspended from all racing activity for violating the FIM's antidoping code. A urine sample taken from Iannone at the Malaysian round of MotoGP at Sepang was found to contain traces of anabolic steroids. Once the findings of the sample, analyzed by a WADA-accredited laboratory, were reported, Iannone was handed a provisional suspension in line with the FIM antidoping code.
Iannone can appeal the result, and request that the B sample (the second sample taken at the same time) is analyzed. He can also appeal to the CDI (International Disciplinary Court) for his suspension to be lifted, but to do that, he would have to be able to provide evidence that the samples he provided had been contaminated in some way, or that he had taken the banned substances accidentally (something which is very difficult for anabolic steroids).
The fallout of qualifying in Sepang is having serious consequences for Marc Marquez. The Repsol Honda rider had a huge highside during Q2, when he was trying to follow Fabio Quartararo. It was plain to see that Marquez banged up his knees and ankles in the crash, but it now appears he also dislocated his right shoulder in the fall.
The injury was serious enough to warrant a full medical examination, and the possibility of surgery to fix the shoulder. At the Jerez test, Marc Marquez told Israeli journalist and TV commentator Tammy Gorali that he would be having his right shoulder examined in Barcelona on Wednesday.
The action was further prompted by Marquez' crash at the Jerez test. On Monday, Marquez crashed in the final corner, and had to be taken to the medical center for further examination. That crash came on top of a highside at Turn 13 during the Valencia test, which also saw him land on his shoulder.