The four major Japanese manufacturers wrapped up three days of testing at Sepang today, in the second of the preseason's testing sessions. Though the Japanese manufacturers and teams were present, a number of notable names were absent. Dani Pedrosa and Marco Melandri both missed the test as a result of minor surgery performed to reduce arm pump, a problem both riders had suffered during the season. The other big name missing was Valentino Rossi, who is currently in New Zealand competing in the WRC New Zealand Rally. After rejecting a move to Formula 1 and Ferrari earlier this year, Rossi is evaluating whether he believes he can be competitive in WRC. Rossi has previously competed in Rally racing at several levels, and is likely to move to WRC after he finally retires from MotoGP.
Testing started with a flashback to the Sepang race weekend: On the first day of testing, all work ceased around 1pm as the track flooded during a tropical downpour. Before the rain came, it was Colin Edwards who had set the fastest time, 1/3 of a second faster than Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen, with the Australian's team mate John Hopkins setting the 3rd fastest time. Kawasaki's Olivier Jacque set the 4th fastest time on the 990cc Kawasaki, ahead of Nicky Hayden on the RC212V.
Day 2 of the tests started dry, but with very high humidity. It started later than planned, as sections of the track still had to dry after the previous day's torrential rain, leaving turn 3 chest deep in water. Thursday saw yet another long-awaited debut, as Kawasaki finally rolled out its 800, making it the last manufacturer to unveil its 2007 machine. Where Yamaha had set the fastest time on Wednesday, Thursday saw Colin Edwards slip to 3rd fastest on the day, though he did improve on his time. At the top of the time sheets were the Suzuki pairing of John Hopkins and Chris Vermeulen, the order reversed from the day before, though still only 0.1 seconds separating the two of them. Nicky Hayden was the first Honda rider once again, with the 4th fastest time.
Day 3 once again started out dry, though the rain returned at the end of the day. By that time, almost everyone had packed up and left, though Nicky Hayden and Toni Elias took advantage of the conditions to test how the RC212V performed in the wet. The morning had started with an interesting absentee, the Kawasaki team having decided to return to the workshop, after suffering too many problems during the previous day for them to continue testing on Friday. And by the end of the morning session, Kawasaki were joined by Colin Edwards, Makoto Tamada and John Hopkins, who decided to call it a day after making sufficient progress over the past few days. Only Chris Vermeulen, Suzuki's test rider Nobu Aoki, and the Honda men kept going for the afternoon, until the rain came with a couple of hours to go. Once again, it was the Rizla Suzuki riders who headed the timesheets, John Hopkins having set a very fast well inside of 2:02. His team mate Chris Vermeulen set the 2nd fastest time, 0.36 seconds slower, while Colin Edwards was 3rd fastest once again, after having tried out a new Chassis for the Yamaha 800. Nicky Hayden was fastest Honda rider in 4th again, less than 0.1 seconds faster than Makoto Tamada on the Tech 3 Yamaha. The Hondas of Toni Elias and Carlos Checa followed, ahead of HRC test rider Tady Okada.
As the initial test season progresses, plenty of surprises abound. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the absolute dominance of Suzuki during the sessions so far, with both Hopkins and Vermeulen consistently heading the timesheets here and at Valencia. The 990 Suzuki's handling has never been in doubt, but since the beginning of the MotoGP era, Suzuki riders have complained about a lack of horsepower. This problem seems to have disappeared entirely with the coming of the 800s, with no obvious explanation.
The other big surprise is the relatively poor performance of the Honda. Everyone expected the RC212V to dominate from the very beginning, as in theory, all Honda needed to do was lose a cylinder from their V5 990. But things have not worked out that way so far, and both Hayden and Elias have complained of a lack of power from the Honda 800. Though it's early days yet, no one expected the mighty Honda to have to mount a title defense coming from behind; the general belief was that Honda would lead right from the beginning. But, as Nicky Hayden said after the tests, "We definitely need to find more power and speed to stay in touch with our rivals". They have a long way to go if they want to hold on to the title.
The times from the tests.
||Honda Gresini Racing
|* aboard the 990cc bike.
Winter testing continues at Jerez on November 28, the final session before the official winter test ban, which starts on December 1 and runs through January 20.
~~~ UPDATE ~~~
For news of the January 22nd - 24th tests, see these stories:
January 22, Day 1
January 23, Day 2
January 24, Day 3