The penultimate day of MotoGP pre-season testing saw Suzuki's Maverick Vinales surge to the top of the timesheets at the Losail circuit in Qatar, strengthening claims that he has the speed, smarts and daring to become one of the premier class big guns in 2016.
Vinales' best lap around the floodlit desert circuit on day two of the three-day test was 1:55.436 on the Ecstar Suzuki, just under Jorge Lorenzo's benchmark (1:55.452) from day one.
The top 12 riders on day two were all within a second, with Vinales followed by Andrea Iannone (Ducati), Lorenzo (Movistar Yamaha), Scott Redding (Octo Pramac Yakhnich Ducati), Hector Barbera (Avintia Racing Ducati), Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati), Dani Pedrosa (Honda), last year's Losail winner Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha), Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda), Aleix Espargaro (Ecstar Suzuki), Pol Espargaro (Monster Yamaha tech 3) and Loris Baz (Avintia Racing Ducati).
Australia's Jack Miller (EG Marc VDS Honda) sat in 19th position after completing only 20 laps on day two, the third lowest output behind Bradley Smith (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha — who was saving his tyre allocation for a big day three — and Stefan Bradl (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini).
Vinales, last year's top-ranked rookie when he finished the season in 12th position, set his flyer on the 2015 GSX-RR chassis and with the standard gearbox — the new seamless one left in the garage for another day, although Espargaro did try it out.
“This was another positive day, not only for the fastest lap but also for the huge job we have done,' said Vinales. "The step-by-step approach is paying back and my lap-times are good also in terms of pace.
"I’m still working to decide the chassis, we’re still trying both the 2015 and 2016, because we still have issues to verify and room for improvement. The positive is that although my best lap came with the 2015 chassis, the lap times are very close between the old one and the new one, leaving us with many options.
"There was not time to try the new seamless gearbox, as we want to check things within all our configurations. Tomorrow may be the right chance to test it, even though we have also planned a race simulation to verify our consistency on the long distance. For now I’m positive, the leading position is a good feeling although I’m aware there is still a lot to do.”
Aside from their own testing plans, the MotoGP pilots were also tasked with testing new tyres from Michelin. Many riders were also able to do race runs, with Jorge, Dovizioso and Baz all putting in their longest consecutive runs of the test so far.
Marquez made an explosive start to day two, almost immediately improving his best time by half a second during his opening laps. Unfortunately a fast crash at turn one dented his confidence and saw him unable to improve his time.
Action resumes on Friday for the third and final day of MotoGP pre-season testing.