At last, the MotoGP bikes have taken to the track, and to the surprise of absolutely nobody, Casey Stoner was the fastest man at the end of the first day of testing, and by a comfortable margin. But Stoner's time is a little deceptive: set at the end of the day, as the track started to cool, making life a little easier on the tires and quickening the track. At 5pm local time, Stoner was 5th fastest, four tenths off Jorge Lorenzo's time, but four laps later, the Australian had lopped well over three quarters of a second off his best time and had taken over top spot.
Before Stoner stormed to the top of the timesheets, two Spaniards spent their time contending the top slot. Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo came out on top in the fight, just edging out Stoner's Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa. Both Spaniards have stay put this year, and 2011 already looks like seeing a continuation of the battle which unfolded over the 2010 season, once Honda got Pedrosa's RC212V sorted. Pedrosa's shoulder does not appear to be troubling the Spaniard, as he put in an impressive total of 62 laps of the Sepang circuit, in typically hot and humid Malaysian weather.
Marco Simoncelli also continued his strong form from the latter half of the 2010 season, HRC's promises of equal equipment for the Gresini Honda rider being honored, at least this early in the season. Simoncelli headed up a gaggle of riders, all within a few tenths of one another, including Yamaha's Ben Spies, Suzuki's Alvaro Bautista, Simoncelli's new teammate Hiroshi Aoyama, Repsol's Andrea Dovizioso and Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider Colin Edwards. Spies' 2011 season got off to an embarrassing start, the Texan destroying his factory Yamaha M1 after just four laps, though Spies came away unhurt from the incident, soon picking up the rhythm again, once his crew had patched up his handiwork.
As expected, the Suzuki was fast in the heat of Sepang, temperature always the GSV-R's Achilles' heel. When it's hot, the Suzuki responds, and Bautista posted a very respectable 6th fastest time. Another impressive time was that of Hiroshi Aoyama, the Japanese rider posting the 7th fastest time, just nine tenths off the (blistering) pace of Casey Stoner, and half a second off World Champion Jorge Lorenzo. Last year's crop of rookies all seem to be maturing well, with Simoncelli, Bautista and Aoyama all showing strong form so far.
If anyone doubted that Honda are taking the 2011 championship seriously, they merely need to glance at the time set by Kousuki Akiyoshi. HRC's official test rider - who had a rather disappointing spell as a substitute for the injured Hiroshi Aoyama in the Interwetten team last year - ended the day in 11th spot, just 1.6 seconds off the time set by Stoner, and a second and a quarter behind reigning World Champion Jorge Lorenzo. The RC212V is clearly a rocketship, and there is still work to do.
The contrast with the 2011 Desmosedici is painful. Fastest Ducati rider was Randy de Puniet in 10th, over a second and a half behind Stoner. The Frenchman was still two tenths quicker than the nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi, the Italian's shoulder still clearly causing him trouble. Rossi put in half the laps that Stoner did, and was never on the bike for more than a few laps at a time. The Italian was pessimistic about the state of his shoulder, telling reporters that he feared it could be May or June before he is fully fit.
So where does that leave the development of the GP11? Judging by Nicky Hayden's times, worringly behind schedule. Hayden could manage only the 13th fastest time on the first day of testing, and complained afterwards of continuing problems with the front end of the Ducati. The bike has already undergone significant changes since last year, and it is clear that a lack of testing time is making it difficult to test such radical changes. While there are still two days of testing left to go, Ducati obviously has a lot of work to do.
Testing continues on Wednesday, before concluding on Thursday. There is no live timing nor live video of the event available, but the official MotoGP.com website will have video interviews from the tests, and MotoGP.com's Azi Farni will be providing live updates from the track on Twitter. You can also follow our MotoGP list on Twitter, which includes several people who are at the track, or our Riders list, which includes most of the MotoGP riders who are on Twitter.