MotoGP is back at last, and while the factory bikes are being unveiled in the tropical heat of Malaysia, ready for the first day of test at Sepang on Tuesday, the Aprilia CRT bikes of Aspar and Speedmaster took to a much colder track at Valencia. By the end of the first day, Randy de Puniet - who has experience of the bike, having ridden it at Jerez at the end of last year - set the fastest time, with a lap of 1'35.3, his Aspar teammate Aleix Espargaro 1.4 seconds behind de Puniet, while Speed Master's Mattia Pasini was 2.5 seconds off the pace of the Frenchman.
In a news update posted on the Aspar team's Facebook page, Randy de Puniet said that the bike had changed a lot since he last rode it at Jerez. That bike was basically an Aprilia RSV4 Factory World Superbike machine with Bridgestone tires and carbon disks, but with the data taken from that and previous tests, Aprilia have built a revised chassis package better suited to the Bridgestone tires, and now badged as the Aprilia ART machine (where ART stands for Aprilia Racing Technology). Compared to the old bike, de Puniet said, the ART bike has a lot more grip. That was the area where Aprilia had made huge steps forward, the Frenchman explained, saying that there was still a lot of potential left in the bike. Both De Puniet and Aleix Espargaro had spent the day working on the electronics - especially the traction control and anti-wheelie systems - and had not spent much time working on chassis setup. Tomorrow, the team will turn their attention to the chassis, and hope to make more progress towards finding a base setup.
Though it is tempting to make comparisons - so tempting, we went right ahead and did just that - there are a lot of factors complicating such a task. Matching times against the times set during November's post-race test at Valencia is an obvious thing to do, the temperature and track condition are rather different. Air temperatures were 7ºC warmer during the November test, providing more grip for the riders, while the fact that that test took place after a full weekend of racing by three classes also meant there was a lot more rubber on the track, also increasing grip levels. On a colder, greener track, being 3.5 seconds off the pace of Dani Pedrosa on the Honda RC213V is not quite as big a margin as it seems. On the first day of testing after a long layoff, it takes time to get up to speed, and so there is still plenty left to come.
But it is also clear that the CRT bikes will not be challenging for the podium any time soon. With 7 more days of testing before the Aprilias line up alongside the factory bikes at Jerez, De Puniet should at least be able to get within a couple of seconds of the factory Hondas. That would put him at the very tail end of the satellite machines; De Puniet set a time of 1:33.743 during FP3 at Valencia on the 800cc Ducati GP11, the 3rd fastest time, and today's 1'35.3 would have qualified him in 15th, under half a second behind Hiroshi Aoyama, during QP at Valencia. The initial goal of the CRT machines is to trouble the satellite bikes, and when possible, get into the top 10. With riders of the caliber of De Puniet, that is a realistic objective, though the top 5 - territory occupied by the factory Hondas, Yamahas and Ducatis - is completely out of reach for the moment.
It is far too early to be drawing conclusions from the results of one day of testing by the CRT machines; the doommongers have not seen their worst fears realized, but the optimists cannot claim victory either. The CRT project has started reasonably, a long way back but making clear progress. We will only be able to make any real judgments during the second half of the season, but until then, there will be plenty of premature jumping to conclusions by those on both sides of the argument. It is definitely going to be interesting.
Unofficial times from Day 1, courtesy of the Valencia Circuit Twitter feed:
|Randy de Puniet||Aprilia ART||1:35.3|
|Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia ART||1:36.7||1.4|
|Mattia Pasini||Aprilia ART||1:37.8||2.5|
|Dani Pedrosa||Honda RC213V||1:31.807||1000 test|
|Randy de Puniet||Ducati GP11||1:33.118||1.311||1.311||Valencia QP|
|Randy de Puniet||Suzuki 800||1:33.544||1.737||0.426||1000 test|
|Randy de Puniet||Ducati GP11||1:33.743||1.936||0.199||Valencia FP3|
|Randy de Puniet||Aprilia ART||1:35.300||3.493||1.557||CRT test|
|Carmelo Morales||Suter BMW||1:35.911||4.104||0.611||1000 test|
|Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia ART||1:36.700||4.893||0.789||CRT test|
|Mattia Pasini||Aprilia ART||1:37.800||5.993||1.100||CRT test|