Cal Crutchlow

2012 IRTA MotoGP Jerez Test Day 3 Round Up: The Preseason's Over

The preseason is finally over. The final day of the final test at Jerez saw a familiar pattern unfold, with the factory Hondas and factory Yamahas fastest, the rest some way behind. Jorge Lorenzo led the session for seven hours and fifty minutes, until Casey Stoner stepped up the pace. Was it so important to stage a last-lap dash and steal top spot, one journalist asked? "Nope, just trying to be cheeky!" The World Champion responded.

Despite sitting just off the top of the timesheets for much of the day - until he decided to make his point rather forcefully, that is - Stoner is blisteringly fast. In the middle of the day, the Australian posted a run of 10 laps, all but one of which were in the 1'39 bracket, the only aberration a low 1'40. Both Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo also posted long runs, but their pace was all low 1'40s, the 1'39s only coming on shorter runs with new tires. But for all three, what is most impressive is the metronomic rhythm of the lap times, Jorge Lorenzo being the most robot-like of the trio.

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2012 IRTA MotoGP Jerez Test Day 1 Round Up: On Fast Factories, CRTs, Tires, and Ducati's Travails

The first day of the final test ahead of the MotoGP season, and normal service has been resumed. The factory boys - well, the factory Hondas and Yamahas - are top of the pile, and fairly comfortably ahead of the rest. In bright, sunny, but very windy conditions, it looked like Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa would battle it out for top honors, rather as they did at last year's race, but just as everyone in the press room - your humble author included - was trotting out the old "Jerez is Stoner's bogey track" chestnut, the Australian turned up the wick and took half a second off his best time, propelling him to the top of the timesheets, and well under race lap record pace.

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2012 IRTA MotoGP Jerez Test Preview - No Place Left To Hide

With the Moto2 and Moto3 trucks all departed from the paddock, the Jerez circuit is now the domain of the MotoGP teams for the final test ahead of the season opener at Qatar. Thursday, the eve of the test, saw a massive amount of pit lane activity, but mainly among the photographers as they chased up and down the track shooting the riders in their full season livery for publicity shoots and the official MotoGP.com website.

Jerez is the first time that all of the bikes, both the CRTs which have tested in Spain and the factory prototypes which have tested in Sepang, hit the track at the same time. The difference was immediately obvious, from a mosey up pit lane with a camera. At the CRT end of pit lane, garages were open, and mechanics were working on their bikes in full public display. I strolled past bare chassis with engines standing separately waiting to be fitted, bikes in various stages of undress, and stood taking photographs as mechanics worked on their bikes, undisturbed by my presence.

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2012 Sepang 2 MotoGP Test Day 3 Round Up: Of Mercury And Sisyphus, Or Speed And Hard Labor

At last a full day of testing: though Thursday started out overcast, the rain that threatened through the final day of the Sepang MotoGP test never really came in earnest, with only a few drops of rain keeping the riders off the track for an hour or so in the afternoon. After two days which were largely lost to the weather, worked was stepped up to an almost frantic pace to make up for lost time.

The name of the fastest rider of the day was as unsurprising as the direction the sun rose in the morning. Casey Stoner has established himself as the man to beat, realistically from the moment he left Ducati to join Honda. After yesterday's hiatus - forced on the Honda riders by HRC, after an engine warning light on Dani Pedrosa's RC213V saw the bikes confined to their garages as a precautionary measure - Stoner was back in charge, topping the timesheets comfortably once again.

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2012 Sepang 2 MotoGP Test Day 2 Round Up: The Mystery Of The Disappearing Hondas, And Some Happy Yamahas

It never rains but it pours. That old proverb applies both literally and metaphorically to the MotoGP test at Sepang, with rain - a solid, heavy, tropical downpour - once again confining the riders to their garages at the Malaysian circuit, for the second day in a row, and severely limiting track time. A couple of good dry hours in the morning, and that was it. From then on, the only testing that went on was in the wet, and though useful, it is not what the MotoGP field came to Malaysia for.

For Honda, the poor weather came as a blessing in disguise. All four RC213Vs were sidelined on Wednesday, after Dani Pedrosa's Repsol Honda suffered a mysterious engine problem at the end of Tuesday. An engine warning light came on, and Pedrosa pulled in the clutch and rolled into the pits to have his bike checked over. The HRC technicians took the warning light very seriously, flying the engine back immediately to Honda's racing HQ in Japan for further examination. There, the engine was inspected to see whether the problem could create a safety issue if it happened again, and finally given the all clear.

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2012 Sepang 2 MotoGP Test Preview: Now, The Hard Graft Starts

Where the first MotoGP test at Sepang at the end of January was an emotionally-charged affair - returning to the Malaysian circuit for the first time since the tragic death of Marco Simoncelli, and with massive anticipation of the brand new GP12, designed and built in record tempo over the winter break - the second test there seems almost humdrum in comparison. With just four weeks between the first and second tests for the MotoGP class, there has been no time for radical changes to the bikes that rolled out here in January, the focus instead being on the hard grind of crunching the numbers on the massive quantities of data that are gathered at every test, analyzing and testing the setup of the new machines, and finding out exactly how to go fastest with the bikes.

But if the glamor of the first test is missing, these will be a far more telling and a far more important three days than the first run out of the year in January. The easy improvements, achieved by grinding off the rough edges of the machine, have been found, and now the teams will focus on polishing, polishing and more polishing, looking for hundredths where previously they sought tenths of a second. The data from this test will form the basis for the bikes in race trim.

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2012 Sepang 1 MotoGP Test Day 3 Round Up: Taking Stock After Sepang 1

The MotoGP bikes have been back in action for three days now - four, if you count Randy de Puniet and the other Aprilia ART (as Aprilia's CRT bike is called) riders' outing at Valencia - and fans and followers now have some real meat to chew over. The days of endless speculation based on nothing more than ill-informed gossip and rumor is over; the days of endless speculation based on slightly better-informed gossip, rumor and lap times are here.

So what preliminary conclusions can we draw from the test at Sepang? Has the Ducati really been fixed? Are the 1000s going to provide more exciting racing? Will the Honda be as dominant this year as it was last? Can Jorge Lorenzo take the fight to Casey Stoner? Do the times set by the CRT bikes mean that the project is a failure? Wouldn't it be nice if we could provide a simple yes-or-no answer to all of these questions?

The big question over the winter is what has happened at Ducati, and whether Filippo Preziosi and his band of laboring engineers could come up with a bike that Valentino Rossi could be competitive on. That question is incredibly hard to answer from the lap times: Rossi ended the test over 1.2 seconds behind Casey Stoner, and a good six tenths behind Jorge Lorenzo; in 2011, the Italian was just a second behind Stoner on the Honda, suggesting that Ducati may have gone backwards instead of forwards.

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2012 Sepang 1 MotoGP Test Day 2 Round Up: Work Starts In Earnest, And Ezpeleta Talks 2013

With the excitement of MotoGP bikes being back on track subsiding to more manageable levels, the riders and teams were back hard at work again on Wednesday. The track had improved sufficiently to see times start to drop to where they might reasonably be expected to be. At Mugello in July of last year, Ducati Corse boss Filippo Preziosi had told the press that the simulations Ducati had run comparing their 1000cc bike - now radically changed since then - to the 800 showed that the 1000s should be about half a second faster round Mugello than the 800s, and that prediction proved to be just about spot on at Sepang.

The name of the rider at the top of the timesheet should surprise no one, Casey Stoner returning from a back problem - though still clearly stiff and not back to full strength - to post a scorching lap time, clear of the two Yamahas of Ben Spies and Jorge Lorenzo. Stoner did only a relatively few laps on the RC213V, concentrating on getting the parts tested he had on his work list, rather than working on a setup for the 2012 season. He compared the two chassis he had been given - and asked for the best parts of both chassis again, unsurprisingly - and concentrated on the big stuff.

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