This morning was a very big start to the next stage in many riders careers as testing got underway at Valencia ahead of MotoGP season 2019.
For Moto2 graduates such as Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha), Francesco Bagnaia (Alma Pramac Ducati) and Miguel Oliveira (KTM) the first opportunity to get a taste of the mind-bending performance that a 1000cc MotoGP machine making almost twice the horsepower that a Moto2 can muster had to wait. Fellow debutante Joan Mir (Team Suzuki) had already thrown a leg over the GSX-RR earlier this year in Japan so he has a little head start on his fellow class of 2019 newcomers.
Early morning rain had left the circuit damp when pit-lane opened and it was a couple of hours before any machines turned a Michelin around the 14-turn, 4.005km Circuit Ricardo Tormo, also known as Circuit de Valencia.
After a stellar year for KTM in Moto3 and Moto2 the Austrian brand double up their efforts in MotoGP for season 2019 with now four riders astride the KTM RC 16. Their testing program will also receive a major boost with Dani Pedrosa will joining KTM as an official test rider next year.
Both Tech3 Yamaha riders have moved over to KTM with Johann Zarco and Hafizh Syahrin in orange for 2019. It was Zarco that first braved conditions as he turned his initial familiarisation laps with the KTM RC16. The track now dry, but a moment for the 28-year-old showed that grip was still at a premium. After a couple of laps Zarco was back in to the pits for some adjustments, this first day will largely be spent getting the Frenchman comfortable on the Austrian machine. Of course the KTM is quite unique, it utilises a steel trellis frame to house its V4 engine and runs on WP suspension, so the RC16 will certainly feel very different to the Tech3 Yamaha he is familiar with.
Pol Espargaro continues with the KTM squad he rode with in 2018 while KTM’s Portuguese Moto2 rider Miguel Oliveira graduates to the premier class. With Espargaro already holding the #44 plate in MotoGP, Oliveira elected to double his regular number from Moto2 to #88 for MotoGP.
Yamaha had their troubles in season 2018 and a lot of people suggested that Yamaha’s lack of a European test team was a contributing factor to their problems. Today marks the start of a new Yamaha Factory Racing European Test Team with rider Jonas Folger. Despite a one-year absence, the 25-year old German is familiar with the YZR-M1 as he rode a Tech3 Yamaha throughout the 2017 season.
“It is no secret that Yamaha has had a challenging season in 2018. Though we made progress towards the end, we are convinced that the extra support from a European test team will be greatly beneficial to the development process of the YZR-M1. Jonas Folger will be Yamaha’s new European MotoGP test rider and he will start his duties here in Valencia during the official IRTA Test. We are very pleased to welcome him back to Yamaha‘s MotoGP programme. Jonas showed great skill and excellent speed when he was a Yamaha satellite rider in 2017. His past experience with the YZR-M1, as well as his youth and drive, will surely make him a great asset to our 2019 campaign. We look forward to having him working closely with our four MotoGP-class riders and our development engineers to further improve the YZR-M1.”
With Tech3 making the switch to KTM machinery Yamaha have partnered with the new Sepang International Circuit Racing Team which will race under the banner of Petronas Yamaha SRT. 2018 MotoGP Rookie of the Year Franco Morbidelli and MotoGP debutante Fabio Quartararo at the controls of latest spec YZR-M1 machinery for the Malaysian funded team.
Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales both continue with the existing Movistar MotoGP Yamaha squad but the Spaniard has switched to a new crew chief. Vinales has poached Esteban Garcia, Bradley Smith’s crew chief from KTM. The pair had previously worked together when Vinales was in Moto3 back in 2013.
Vinales’ previous crew chief Ramon Forcada has switched to Yamaha’s new SIC Racing satellite team to work with Franco Morbidelli. The 23-year-old Italian starts the test on the YZR-M1 Maverick Vinales rode at last weekend’s Valencia MotoGP.
Vinales made the decision to split with Forcada back in July after a frustrating season, but the Spaniard then got the monkey off his back late in the season and started scoring results, thus it will be interesting to see if he regrets his earlier frustrations that caused him to jettison the very well regarded Forcada.
Over at Honda of course the big news is Jorge Lorenzo joining the Factory Repsol squad alongside World Champion Marc Marquez.
It is without doubt that Lorenzo will achieve success on the Honda, it is just a matter of how long it takes him to adapt and achieve it. We all witnessed his turn-around in form when he found a solution at Ducati, from zero to hero in one foul swoop. How long will it take him to find form on what seems to be a very difficult to ride Honda…?
As Repsol Honda fired up their machines this morning at Valencia in their first warm-up procedures it was humorous to see senior Ducati and KTM technical personnel crowd around as close as they could get to the new Honda. HRC boss Tetsuhiro Kuwata came out and made some friendly gestures suggesting that they piss off somewhere else but it all seemed in good humour, for the cameras anwyay…
At Ducati Danilo Petrucci makes the step up from the satellite Alma Pramac squad to take over Lorenzo’s spot in the Factory garage.
Joining Jack Miller at Alma Pramac Ducati is debutante Francesco ‘Pecco’ Bagnaia. The Australian was on 2017 machinery in 2018, and will jump straight to the latest 2019 spec’ machine for next season, bypassing the 2018 model altogether. A much smoother power delivery has been promised by Ducati for 2019.
Andrea Iannone has moved from Suzuki to Aprilia where he joins Aleix Espargaro, while previous incumbent Scott Redding heads to British Superbike with Ducati. Bradley Smith has joined Aprilia as an official test rider for next season and is expected to make up to five wildcard appearances throughout season 2019.
Taking Iannone’s spot at Suzuki is 21-year-old Spaniard Joan Mir. Alex Rins seems to be particularly excited about the prospects of the 2019 iteration of the GSX-RR with a big boost in engine performance expected for the new season.
Tito Rabat and Karel Abraham will ride for Reale Avintia Racing Ducati.
Takaaki Nakagami and Cal Crutchlow continue with LCR Honda while at today’s test Honda test rider Stefan Bradl is also on an LCR machine.
With all of the high profile changes and the new blood coming into the category MotoGP season 2019 has plenty of promise. The absolutely stellar season we enjoyed this year though will certainy take some beating.
Today’s test will finish up at 0300 AEDT Wednesday morning and we will be here to report what went on tomorrow morning. At the time of publishing the piece, 2200 AEDT, there was five hours remaining on the clock, and still only Zarco had been on track to turn a couple of laps. All other riders remained in their pit garages awaiting better conditions.
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