Day 2 of the Sepang test saw HRC pick up where they left off yesterday: with five of the top six on Honda RC212Vs, and Repsols in first, second and fourth. Wednesday saw Dani Pedrosa take top spot, getting within a couple of tenths of the pole record. The Spaniard setting the time very early, on just his 4th lap out of the pits when temperatures were still bearable. Yesterday's fastest man, meanwhile, waited until the end of the session to set his fastest time, Casey Stoner jumping from fifth into second as the track began once again to cool.
If the competition is worried now, things could get even worse: Pedrosa tried Honda's new engine at Sepang, which provides even more top-end power than the current one. It is also more aggressive, something that all of the Honda riders have complained about for the past few years- all except Casey Stoner, that is, who describes the Honda's power delivery as "smooth". With a high-power engine underneath them, and a chassis that is working very well except for a little chatter mid-corner, Hondas riders are already the hot favorites for 2011.
Further proof of Honda's supremacy comes in 5th and 6th position, Marco Simoncelli just edging his San Carlo Gresini Honda teammate Hiroshi Aoyama, three quarters of a second off Pedrosa's time, and a tenth or so behind Stoner. Simoncelli's time is less surprising, given the fact that he is a factory HRC rider, albeit in a satellite team, but Aoyama's time is a strong indication, the Japanese rider sat aboard a genuine satellite bike.
Most worryingly of all, though, is the position of Kousuke Akiyoshi: 11th fastest on day 1, 14th fastest on day 2, and consistently on the pace with the Ducatis. Akiyoshi is HRC's test rider, and was decidedly mediocre when he subbed for Aoyama during the 2010 season. He should be down with the Yamaha test riders about three seconds off the pace, but instead, he's two seconds off the lap record. The 2011 Honda RC212V is fast. Really, really fast.
The exception to all this Honda joy is poor Toni Elias. The reigning Moto2 champion is once again suffering with the Bridgestone tires, complaining he has no confidence in the front end, and no feeling at the rear. In the days before the spec tire, Michelin brought a special front tire for Elias, with a much softer carcass to allow it to deform more. The Bridgestones merely seem to get stiffer every year, making Elias' job of adaptation ever tougher. It could be a long year for Elias.
Over in the Yamaha camp, matters proceed apace, with Jorge Lorenzo testing a new chassis and Ben Spies working on electronics and a few engine configurations. The new chassis clearly needs some work, Lorenzo complimenting the added traction, but complaining of vibration and a lack of stability under braking. Yamaha will probably be bringing another version of the chassis to the next Sepang test, in three weeks' time, which should help solve some of the problems.
But the bike is already pretty good as it is. Ben Spies posted the 3rd fastest time, with Lorenzo 7th, though there were just five hundredths of a second separating the pair, and Spies was less than a tenth behind 2nd place man Stoner. Monster Tech 3 Yamaha's Colin Edwards was close too, a little over a tenth off the pace of Lorenzo, and effusive in his praise of the engine, which pulls better. If it wasn't for the wall of Hondas ahead, Edwards would be very close to the pointy end.
As for Suzuki, the GSV-R continues to perform well in the heat of Sepang, Alvaro Bautista setting a highly competitive pace. The true measure of the bike will come when the bike reaches cooler climes, traditionally the tracks where the Suzuki has struggled. Bautista has a mountain of work to do, as the only man on a Suzuki, but the fact that Suzuki have brought a lot of developments to the track is itself a hopeful sign. Still, where Suzuki really stand will likely first be seen at Qatar: when temperatures start to drop in the desert night, a cooler track will provide a better yardstick by which to measure the Suzuki.
The Ducatis continue to struggle, though almost all of the Ducati riders made a big step forward on Wednesday. The problem that all of them complain of is getting the bike turned once the brakes have been let off, the bike unwilling to change direction, and an echo of complaints by Casey Stoner from the 2010 bike. Then, Stoner complained that the front would let go without warning once the brakes were released mid-corner. Now, Ducati appears to have solved that problem, but replaced it with another. The grip is back, but now the bike won't turn.
The other major problem for the Ducati is chatter, both Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden complaining of chatter at the front. Much work has gone on to soften up the front and provide more lateral flex, but clearly more work is needed to solve the issue. One of the downsides of the minimal subframe which the Ducati uses at the front is the lack of material means there is little room for using mechanical leverage to engineer flex into the front end. Carbon fiber mitigates some of that problem, but the shortness of the subframe remains a problem. The benefits of CF, however, far outweigh the downsides, as with the old trellis frame the Ducatis used, stiffness could vary from frame to frame by significant amounts.
Rossi's shoulder is still a worry, though the Italian told the press that riding is actually helping, adding flexibility and motion that was lacking, though strength remains a problem. Rossi quipped to his mechanics that he was like an old mobile phone: "charge for half an hour and then I only work for a few minutes!" Rossi feels he is able to provide development input for the bike, but not post a really fast lap. A 2'03 is comfortable, he told the press, but pushing into the 2'02s requires more strength than he has at the moment.
Rossi also revealed an interesting detail on those winglets. The Italian had been testing aerodynamics all day, and told the press that he much preferred the fairing without the winglets. The winglet version, he said, required significantly more force to turn in than the plain fairing, pushing the effort required well above his pain threshold. Unless the winglets really do provide more cooling (or in the official version, provide more stability at high speed), they could disappear at a lot of tracks this year.
Testing continues tomorrow, much of which will be given over to testing the new Bridgestone tires. With several riders complaining that they can't get the softer Bridgestone to work properly, it will be interesting to see whether the new tires are an improvement. Doubtless everyone will be going out for a fast lap too, to end the test on top, for the sake of pride if nothing else. Tomorrow's timesheet may prove a guide to qualifying grids, but how much relation it bears to race results remains to be seen.
Combined times from both days can be found here.