It must have been a marvellous sight at Sepang: no fewer than 28 bikes on the Malaysian track to herald the start of the preliminaries for the 2013 racing season.
There were four test riders among those, two each from Honda and Yamaha, but that still leaves 24 – the healthiest number we have seen in MotoGP for several years.
The big question: how many of those 24 will be truly competitive?
Question #2: how will Australian rookie Bryan Staring fare as he tries to grasp the chance to follow in Casey Stoner’s two-wheeled tracks?
Question #3: will the CRT class get any closer to the works brigade in 2013? They will enjoy, for the first time, a CRT-specific rear tyre from Bridgestone, one step softer than those available to the factory and satellite bikes.
DANI AT THE DOUBLE
Judging by the times from Sepang on the opening day of the test, the same faces will still be at the front – with the addition of at least one welcome newcomer.
The new face belongs to Marc Marquez, the Moto2 World Champion making the big step up to fill Stoner’s boots alongside Dani Pedrosa in a new-look Repsol Honda squad which also has the respected Livio Suppo as its Team Principal.
“Like a kid with new shoes” was how Marquez, who turns 20 this month, described himself when the RC213V was launched with its new livery. Once he got on the bike he used his Bridgestone boots to good effect at Sepang, finishing third on the opening day behind Pedrosa and – you guessed it – Jorge Lorenzo on the Yamaha.
Pedrosa set his best time of 2 minutes 01.157 seconds on the second-last of his 49 laps on the day, with World Champion Lorenzo posting a time of 2:01.165 to be just eight-thousandths slower than his compatriot. Those times compare to Lorenzo’s existing lap record from 2012 of 2:00.334, by the way.
With Marquez next on 2:01.201, Lorenzo’s ‘new’ teammate Valentino Rossi rounded out the big-name quartet in fourth place on 2:01.584 and pronounced himself “very happy” with his return to action on the Yamaha.
Stefan Bradl confirmed the potential he showed last season with fifth place on his LCR Honda ahead of Cal Crutchlow’s Tech 3 Yamaha and Alvaro Bautista’s Honda Gresini entry.
ROOKIES ROUND OUT THE 2013 NUMBERS
Six riders are new to the senior class this season – that’s 25% of the enlarged field.
Aussie fans will look most closely for Bryan Staring’s results as he makes the huge leap to the World Championship stage.
The surprise news came towards the end of last year, when Staring, 25, was in the FIM Superstock 1000 category. Three race wins in Spain, the Czech Republic and Portugal cemented Fausto Gresini’s faith in Staring, a three-time national champion in 125cc, Supersport and Superbikes.
“In all my racing years I never expected to be in the MotoGP paddock as it seemed unreachable to me," said Staring when his move to replace Michele Pirro was announced.
“To have the opportunity to race in this championship with a team like Go&Fun Honda Gresini is something incredible.
"This is my biggest challenge now and I'll approach it as I have all my other challenges, I'll give it everything I have. I realize I have a lot to learn and I look forward to taking it all in.”
To give you some idea of the task facing Bryan, he was 27th of the 28 riders on track on the opening day – and his best lap of 2:07.044 was a tad over five seconds off the pace set by Bautista on the sister machine...
As well as Staring and Marquez, Bradley Smith makes his long-awaited move into the top category despite his relative lack of success in Moto2. The 22-year-old joins Cal Crutchlow in an all-English Monster Yamaha Tech 3 pairing and was 12th at Sepang in his opening sortie on the bike.
‘Crazy Joe’ gets the chance to strut his stuff among the big boys: that’s the all-action Andrea Iannone, of course, the 23-year-old Italian now riding as teammate to Ben Spies on the Pramac Ducatis. Then there’s Claudio Corti at Forward Racing and another Brit, Michael Laverty, with Paul Bird Motorsport. But there’s still the Big Four at the front...
Further MotoGP tests are scheduled for Sepang on February 26-28 and Jerez from March 23-25 ahead of the season-opening race in Qatar on April 7.