On the final day of testing at Qatar, Casey Stoner did his usual trick of trouncing the field, his fastest time of 1'55.744 just 6/10ths off his own lap record, and nearly a second faster than his nearest competitor. Stoner did relatively few laps, and is still in some pain from his recuperating scaphoid, but declared himself happy with its progress, calling his wrist "almost OK", although he did tell GPOne.com that he was unhappy with the number of laps he had put in on the Ducati. The only worry the Australian had was in areas which involved heavy braking for left handers with the bike tipped over. Stoner had been testing electronics settings to match the new carbon fiber swingarm Ducati is using on the GP9, and decided to call it a day at 11pm, after the track began to lose grip as it cooled.
Stoner's nearest competitor was a bit of a surprise: Jorge Lorenzo was second fastest on the final day of testing, after complaining in previous days that he was struggling to cope with the Bridgestone tires. He obviously found some kind of solution, though his time still left him just under a second slower than Stoner.
Lorenzo may have been slower than Stoner, but he was also nearly a quarter of a second faster than his Fiat Yamaha team mate. Both Lorenzo and Rossi had been focusing on race simulations, putting in long runs to test how the bike ran on the spec tires. Lorenzo's times were impressive: a long run of 1'57s, finishing with a few laps in the 1'56s.
Chris Vermeulen finished the day 4th, the Suzuki clearly improved over the winter, raising hopes that the bike may show a return to its 2007 form. But the form of the Suzukis was perhaps not the biggest news of the night.
For race fans all over the US will be breathing a collective sigh of relief at the times set by Nicky Hayden. Hayden's hard work is starting to pay off, as the American is finally closing the gap on the front runners. Hayden's fastest lap was just 0.001 off Vermeulen's time, and a quarter of a second slower than Valentino Rossi. More importantly, he improved his own times by over a second, leapfrogging over a bunch of riders who had been ahead of him. Hayden could finally be getting to grips with the difficult but fast Ducati.
Further down the field, James Toseland continued to struggle, clearly still not completely recovered from his big crash at Sepang less than a month ago. But at the very bottom of the pile sits Marco Melandri, on The Bike Formerly Known As Kawasaki. Melandri had previously declared himself satisfied with the feeling and feedback from the Hayate, and told GPOne.com that he was close to finally agreeing to ride the bike this year. It remains to be seen whether this is still the case if the progress Melandri has described continues to be much slower than the rest of the field.
The MotoGP pack return back to their respective homes again, to train and prepare themselves for the final test of the preseason, the official IRTA test at Jerez at the end of March. Then it's back to Qatar again, but then, racing starts in earnest.
Final times from testing:
|Pos.||Rider||Bike||Time||Fast Lap||Total Laps|
|7||Randy de Puniet||Honda||1'57.401||44||77|
|10||Alex de Angelis||Honda||1'57.591||57||61|
Current lap record held by Casey Stoner, 2008 race, with a lap of 1'55.153