The second MotoGP IRTA test at Sepang has been completed, and it looks increasingly as if we are in for another season of head-to-head combat between Spanish aces Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo.
Pedrosa, on his new-look Repsol Honda, finished the second test by topping two of the three days – which means he has been on top five times out of six in the two Malaysian sessions.
On the other hand, it was Yamaha’s Lorenzo – with an even more radically-changed livery on his YZR-M1 – who set the fastest time of the test overall, topping day two with a best lap of 2:00.282 – which is 0.052 faster than the official Sepang lap record held by Jorge himself.
Against that, Pedrosa can point to his best time at Sepang 1 of 2:00.100 and claim top spot with some legitimacy.
… OR IS IT?
We might be in for a real treat this year as both Pedrosa’s and Lorenzo’s teammates did enough in Sepang to suggest they will be right on the money when it comes to racing.
Marc Marquez, who spent the first Sepang test simply getting the feel of his new Repsol Honda RC213V, took what the team called “a step forward” on his second trip to Malaysia.
On the third and final day of the second test the youngster was second overall to Pedrosa – but more significantly, he was just 0.081s off his vastly experienced partner’s pace.
Over the three days Marquez had three minor ‘offs’, spreading them evenly between the wet and dry conditions but always able to walk away with both himself and his mount unharmed. He put in 141 laps overall, the big day being day two when he fired in no fewer than 64.
“Today we did something that is a little harder for riders,” he explained, “which is trying out a lot of things to give information to the technicians. It’s tough, but it’s an important job when it comes to deciding which way to go with the set-up.”
By his own admission Marquez was “forcing things a bit too much” when he came off on the final afternoon but he will be buoyed by his progress from Sepang 1 to Sepang 2.
Will Valentino Rossi? Maybe not quite so much – after all, the combined times put the Italian in fifth spot overall behind Cal Crutchlow on the satellite Yamaha.
On the other hand, Rossi was less than a second slower than Lorenzo on the other factory M1, and Rossi’s had all the problems through Sepang 2: he had to abandon running on his new bike on day one because of ‘technical issues’, on day two he was hindered by a recalcitrant coil in the bike’s electrics, and overall he was working hard to dial out some difficulties with the rear grip and traction.
“We found something,” he said on the second day, “but we are not 100% happy as we lose a little balance of the bike.” In the end he confessed he felt he was struggling a little more than at the first test.
BRITS BEST OF THE REST
With Crutchlow in a fine fourth place overall on the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 machine, fellow-British rider Bradley Smith also did a lot to reassure his fans as he tries to bridge the gap from Moto2 to the big league.
Working hard – he had a minor off on day one – to adjust to the Yamaha’s braking and acceleration, Smith posted a best time of 2:02.023 to finish the three-day work-out in 10th spot and will be mightily encouraged by that effort.
So will Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl. The Spaniard’s Gresini Honda shows up in sixth overall, with Bradl’s LCR Honda just one spot behind him. Which means...
... Ducati still has work to do! Andrea Dovizioso caught the eye on the final day, but it was really only because he took to the track on a new chassis with an all-black livery. Maybe the colour was a warning... At 2:01.650, the Italian’s best lap overall was almost a second and a half off Lorenzo’s front-running pace and good enough only for eighth, one place better than a frustrated Nicky Hayden on the other factory Duke.
More satisfactory, maybe, was Andrea Iannone’s consistent effort on the Pramac satellite Ducati, the Italian running in 11th place for most of the test – five higher than teammate Ben Spies, whose efforts were again hampered by that worrying shoulder.
RANDY RULES THE CRT ROOST
France’s Randy de Puniet emerged from a three-day internal battle with Aspar teammate Aleix Espargaro to post the best CRT time overall, a 2:02.863 which suggests the gulf between the classes may not be quite as wide as it was in 2012.
There was mixed news for the popular Colin Edwards: the Texan turned 39 on the middle day of the test, which may or not be a good thing, but claimed that the second test was “way better” than the first, which he ended in pretty downbeat vein.
“Our biggest issue right now is the electronics,” said Edwards. “We’re trying to figure out how to get it to be consistent. The bike is good, we just need to refine it a little bit.”
It looks as if Avintia Blusens will be the hounds to the Aspar hares: Hector Barbera was 17th overall with a best mark of 2:03.155, two slots higher than teammate Hiroshi Aoyama, while Karel Abraham, who has switched to the CRT ranks for Cardion this year, was next up in 20th slot.
Michael Laverty had to play a waiting game as Paul Bird Motorsport worked feverishly to ready his in-house machine, the Irishman getting a total of just 43 laps’ running over the three days.
And Bryan Staring? Well, the learning-curve looks just as steep as it did in Sepang 1: the West Australian rider’s Gresini Honda propped up the rest of them in 28th slot (there were four test riders from Honda, Yamaha and Ducati as well as the 24-strong main field).
Bryan fired in a best lap of 2:05.313, just over five seconds slower than Lorenzo’s benchmark lap, so clearly there is still some work to be done before Qatar on April 7.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN...
Lorenzo’s best lap, by the way, was achieved on a combination of Bridgestone’s Hard front and Medium rear tyres.
“I could be strong from the start,” said the double World Champion. “We improved the settings on the bike and I feel stronger than the first Sepang test so I’m quite satisfied.”