The point of selecting Jerez as the location for the official Moto2 and 125cc test is to escape the worst of Europe's winter, but the trouble is that sometimes, you can run, but you can't hide. That was very much the case on the first day of the three-day test, with cold temperatures and heavy rain making riding a very tricky affair, and one which a number of riders chose to sit out altogether, most notably last year's championship runner up Julian Simon.
But between - or more accurately, before - the showers, the vast majority of riders took the opportunity to give their Moto2 machines a shakedown run, using the official Moto2 engines supplied by Geo Tech for the first time, the engines which the teams will be using for this test, and the following three races. Despite the fact that everyone is now on equal equipment - at least in the engine stakes - the conditions meant we were still denied a realistic look at the comparitive strengths of the field.
So what can we extract from the fragmentary data available to us at the end of day 1? For the Moto2 class, very little we didn't already know. Thomas Luthi ended the day at the top of the timesheets - and nearly a second faster than last year's race lap record - just ahead of Marc VDS Racing's Scott Redding. But both Luthi and Redding put in what passes for a reasonable number of laps under the circumstances, Luthi posting 13 laps while Redding put in 17. Yuki Takahashi, on the other hand, bagged 3rd spot on the timesheets with just 4 full laps, while hotly-tipped youngster Marc Marquez ended the day in 7th spot, having put in only 6 laps.
There were still one or two surprises, though: Kenan Sofuoglu, the double World Supersport champion who made such a strong debut at the end of the 2010 season, ended the day down in 15th, 2.75 seconds behind Luthi. The Technomag CIP rider put in a full 22 laps, so his mediocre time is not down to a lack of track time, though again, the difficulty comes in judging the conditions that Sofuoglu raced in. Elsewhere, the internal battle in the MZ camp has been won by Max Neukirchner, the former World Superbike star ending the day 1.5 seconds ahead of his teammate Ant West. Neukirchner is riding a 2010 version of the FTR chassis, while West is aboard the evolution of MZ's own steel trellis frame chassis. Again, comparisons are difficult because of the conditions, but so far, it looks like MZ's bike designer Martin Wimmer has a lot of work to do.
Conditions for the 125cc class were, if anything, even worse, but here too, a familiar pattern is emerging. Nico Terol continues his domination of 125cc testing, posting the fastest time of the test once again, with Spanish newcomer Maverick Vinales hot on his heels. Vinales is once again impressive, the reigning Spanish CEV and European 125cc champion proving his pedigree, though the question remains how the 16-year-old will fare at tracks outside of Spain, which he has yet to learn.
The big surprise in the 125cc class is how hard the returnees are struggling to adapt. Both Sergio Gadea and Hector Faubel have dropped back to the 125cc class after a difficult year in Moto2, neither man being particularly happy with riding a four-stroke. But so far, Gadea and Faubel have both failed to make any impact at all, a fact underlined by the fact that Faubel, as fastest of the pair, could manage only the 15th fastest time, while Gadea was 15 sconds off the pace after running just a handful of laps.
One final bit of news gave cause for concern: Terol's Aspar Team rolled their new livery out on track for the first time at Jerez, the bike bearing the colors of a new - well sort of new - title sponsor. No longer are they the Bancaja Aspar team, but Bankia Aspar instead. Bankia is the new name for the amalgamation of seven Spanish savings banks or cajas, institutions very similar to US savings & loan banks, or British building societies. The merger has been forced by the Spanish government, in an attempt to stabilize the Spanish banking sector, as the cajas have a lot of capital invested in the Spanish construction industry, and hold the mortgages on a lot of Spanish properties. Now the construction boom is over, the financial stability of these cajas have come under severe threat, and the mergers are an attempt to prevent their collapse and the undermining of the entire economy.
But the merger of all of these local cajas is also bad news for bike racing. The Spanish cajas have traditionally been big backers of motorcycle racing, especially in the lower race classes where they have supported local riders in Spanish teams. With so many cajas merging, the pool of potential sponsors is shrinking, which in the medium or long term could mean a decline in the number of Spanish teams.
The Aspar sponsors are a case in point: the creation of Bankia swallowed up Bancaja and Caja Madrid, two banks which had previously sponsored separate teams. Bancaja have been associated with the Aspar team for the past few years, while Caja Madrid backed Jorge Lorenzo when the 2010 MotoGP champion was still racing a Derbi in the 125s. With two banks now merged into one, the business case for backing two separate teams disappears, with a smaller total budget going to just a single team.
How this plays out remains to be seen. But the 2008 credit crunch has had a serious impact on motorcycle racing, and its after-effects are still being felt. The Bankia team is just a single example that it isn't all over just yet.