Jorge Lorenzo backed up his 2015 MotoGP World Championship by dominating the first test of 2016.
A damp track early on Wednesday morning delayed track action for over two hours on the final day of the Sepang test. It was Yamaha test rider Katsuyki Nakasuga who was the first out on track, testing conditions for the rest of the field.
Slowly more and more riders joined the action and with just over five hours of testing remaining the majority of the field were on track. Andrea Iannone was an early leader as the conditions continued to improve. The Italian suffered a small fall and was unhurt.
The first benchmark lap came from Jorge Lorenzo, the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP rider one of the last to join the action on track but setting a 2’00.882 on just his fourth lap. With five hours to go Lorenzo led from Casey Stoner, the Australian impressing many as he continued to test the GP15 for Ducati.
As Jorge Lorenzo improved his time to a 2’00.016, Valentino Rossi also improved to a 2’00.556 to make it a Movistar Yamaha one two, the pair split by 0.540s. Third was Marc Marquez, just over a second slower than Lorenzo.
During this period of dry conditions there were falls for Yonny Hernandez at Turn 1 and an off for Tito Rabat at Turn 5, his Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS machine suffering damage but the rookie walking away unhurt.
After a stellar Tuesday, Wednesday proved to be more difficult for Octo Pramac Yakhnich’s Danilo Petrucci as the Italian suffered an engine freeze when shifting from fourth to first at T9. This forced his team to change the engine, a process taking two hours.
With over three and a half hours of testing remaining rain started to fall yet again, quickly sending riders into the pits.
The rain eventually lifted and the final hour saw a flurry of activity as riders pushed for one last quick lap.
It was Jorge Lorenzo who topped the Sepang test with an incredible 1’59.580 set on a hard rear and new Michelin front, the factory Yamaha rider dipping under the 2’00 barrier with two laps in the 1’59s. This was not only the fastest lap of the day but of the test as a whole, over half a second clear of anyone else.
Interestingly, all of Lorenzo’s best times from each of the three days would have placed him inside the combined top five.
“The lap times speak for themselves, they were very good lap times set with new electronics and a hard rear tyres, because we can’t use the soft rear because of what happened yesterday. I’m very happy with Michelin, because they made a very big step with the feeling with the new front tyres. They did a great job, because now the feeling is closer to what we had with last year. Anyway, I felt very comfortable and fast during these three days, I’m still recovering from this illness that I have and for sure in Phillip Island we will be stronger and able to do a race simulation.”
Second on combined times was Petrucci, with his 2’00.095 set on the soft tyre on Tuesday.
“First of all I would like to thank my team. Yesterday afternoon, half an hour from the end of the session, we decided to try a different set-up and the boys have rebuilt the bike in 10 minutes: something really impressive. Also today in a few minutes they managed to send me out to do this nice crono. This makes us happy even though the day was difficult. If luck has helped us yesterday to find the right time to place the fastest lap, today we suffered a lot. In only 8 laps I experienced two problems that forced me to stay many hours in the garage. I was disappointed because today was the day when we would have to make progress especially on race pace. All things consudered I’m happy because the test result is very positive. I can’t wait to go to Phillip Island, a circuit I really like.”
Avintia Ducati’s Hector Barbera was another to benefit from an early soft tyre run on Tuesday, ending the three-day event in third and just over 0.8s off Lorenzo’s time.
“I’m happy because we finished well last season and have started equally strong. The summary is that during the three days I’ve been in the top ten will be the goal for the season. We must be realistic and go step by step. Three years ago we were quarreling of 15 to 20 last year from 15 to 10 and it would be great to be from 10 to 5, and everything that comes over is welcome. The team worked very well all three days we know the bike pretty, it’s a bike with two seasons and many kilometers, so we have a lot of information for all circuits. Electronic same for everyone will think things over tighten. Tires do not think things vary much because before it was already the same for everyone, so I think the key is in electronics. I’m already looking forward to Australia to continue working.”
As with Lorenzo, Rossi’s best time came on the hard tyre on Wednesday as the Italian cemented the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team well inside the top five on combined times and ended 0.976s back on his teammate.
“I’m happy about the test and about today because, first of all, we did a good job and tried a lot of different stuff that gave some good information on how to improve the bike. I also set a 2’00.5s, I think we can work on it and do better, but I’m in second place so that’s not so bad, it was a good test. We still have to work a lot, the question mark that remains is if we go with the bike that’s more like the 2015 or the 2016 model. We will try them another time in Phillip Island, because the new one was not so bad at the end. I think all the engineers did a good job with the electronics and Michelin did a good job with the front tyres. We tried other tyres that also improved more, so I feel good about the first test. I tried the winglets, they are very interesting, they change the airflow, but I don’t feel a difference. I prefer the bike without the wings, it’s more beautiful!”
Repsol Honda’s Marc Marquez completed the combined top five, his 2’00.843 the fastest lap by a Honda rider.
“The last day went quite well because we improved every day here in Sepang. We are still far from where we’d like to be, but I think we have taken a good step forward and slowly we’re getting there. We are working hard and there is room for improvement, which is what we have to focus on. Today I worked a lot on the electronics and the chassis, understanding what setup for the bike is best for the new tyres. We also tested various types of front tyres with different profiles. Overall, these three days have been positive.”
Sixth overall was LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow thanks to his 2’00.899.
“It’s not been a bad day today and I’m pleased with the progress over the Sepang test. It was another different day trying various electronics settings on the bike, and Honda were very generous to give us a newer version of the engine. It wasn’t the latest spec, but the one in the middle and we worked really well with it. We gave Honda the information they needed for some testing materials, keeping the same chassis, but overall we were quite pleased. We never pushed too much because we didn’t want to make any mistakes at this test, and I think we come out of it in quite good shape. Now we go to Phillip Island and I look forward to testing out there; the LCR Honda Team have done another great job and I can’t wait to see all the guys out there in another two weeks’ time.”
It was the Ducati of Scott Redding who ended the test seventh overall, his fastest time coming on Tuesday, although the Brit showed solid pace in the closing half hour of Wednesday.
“I am very pleased to have been faster today. We tried many solutions on the bike and we were able to get a good result. I think today is the most productive day of the tests. The goal was to find speed and continuity with the used tires and if yesterday I often lapped in 2’03”, today I was able to stay constantly in 2’02 ” and this makes me very happy. I had confidence coming here in Malaysia even though this is a circuit where usually I struggle. After three days of work I feel really good and I’m looking forward to going to Australia.”
Andrea Iannone was only 0.003s behind the satellite rider and was the leading factory Ducati, his best time coming on the new 2016 Ducati.
“In the end this test was a bit unusual because instead of concentrating only on the bike, we gave priority to the work with the new tyres that Michelin had brought and I am satisfied with the progress we made in this area. It was however an important test because it helped us to get to know the new bike but also find out a few teething problems that emerged with the Desmosedici GP. Today we had a positive day even though, at the end, I was unable to do a quick lap because I was slowed by minor issues. We’ll shortly be in Australia for the next test and I am confident that the data we gathered here will help us to improve the bike even more.”
Meanwhile Casey Stoner made it three Ducatis in a row as the Australian set a 2’01.070 on the final day and ended ninth.
“All in all it’s been a very good few days for us, and I’m surprised myself that I was able to do three days of testing. Physically I feel great at the moment, but I’m sure I won’t tomorrow! It’s been a really positive test, not only because we worked well with the bike, but also because I was able to get back up to speed right away. Today wasn’t too bad, even though we didn’t get to do a lot of laps. Two exits this morning comparing two different geometry settings, but then the rain came so we weren’t able to complete the tests. After the rain we finally got a bit of dry track time but struggled a bit with rear grip and spent too much time trying to find a balance again to move on. But as I said I’m really happy with the way things have gone, and working with Gigi (Dall’Igna) and the team has been really fantastic!”
With over 150 laps across the three days of testing, Bradley Smith leaves satisfied and inside the top ten, 1.5 seconds behind Lorenzo’s lap and ahead of Dani Pedrosa, the Repsol Honda rider having a mixed test overall.
“It’s been a good three days and we completed 99% of what I wanted to test which is a positive conclusion. I set a lap time that I was happy with yesterday, so today I decided to focus on race simulations and the handling of the bike when on a full fuel load. This was important as this season we are going to 22 litres of fuel that, of course, makes the Yamaha behave a bit differently compared to last year. We also thoroughly worked on the electronics in order to keep as much grip as possible when the tyre drops and by doing a race simulation today, I got to sample this first hand as well as learn the tyres behaviour in more depth. The results have given the team a clear indication of what they need to improve, and obviously, Yamaha can look at the data I’ve gathered so I am sure we can take advantage of this before we go to Phillip Island. I also tried the intermediate tyre today, which I had done in Brno as well, but this one was a different spec and it was closer to a full slick tyre. It obviously worked better in the wet conditions, but it’s no solution for real rain. It’s a bit of a gamble at the moment but I gave some information to Michelin and it will be interesting to see what happens in the future. Altogether it’s been a great three days and we leave Sepang with a clear direction of where to go next in order to progress. Already, I feel as comfortable as I did last year from a setting point of view and there’s still six days left to test.”
“It’s been a hard test, because we had to do a lot of work and maybe this isn’t reflected in the results; they don’t show the potential that is there. At the end of the day we went out on track with the best combination we have found, we tried out some tyres and we were able to improve our times a little. The good point is that, step by step, we are growing and are doing our best to be ready for the first race.”
Maverick Viñales led the Suzuki pair in 12th with Aleix Espargaro just behind. Team Suzuki Ecstar are planning to debut their fully seamless gearbox in Australia with their test team before the Spanish duo get their hands on it in Qatar.
“After today I must say that I am really confident. The first two days didn’t leave me feeling so easy, but today, especially after the last two hours of testing, I would say I feel good. Today I could be performing both on a single lap and on the pace, although we have rolled only with hard tyres. We also had some troubles but it is normal since we are at the first test with so many new items. We did some improvements with the electronics but we still have room for improvement, if we will find a good way to interpret it we will be much closer to the top. There are some riders who really made the difference here, but also some other Factory riders who are not so far from us. I had really good impressions from the seamless but also importantly I feel happy with the new engine. We still need to better finalise the electronics to exploit its full power, but already at this point the power delivery and overall power makes me very happy. Now we go to Australia, Phillip Island is a track I like a lot and will be in summer, so there will be a lot of grip. The conditions will be very hot and we were pretty competitive there last year, it will be a good chance to test more things even though we know that the places where we have to improve on are those like in Malaysia, with less grip.”
“Today it’s been a difficult day because of the rain but I also had some positives. This morning we used the new engine with 2015 chassis and I had very positive feelings. We were very competitive and close to the top. In the afternoon we switched to the 2016 chassis but I couldn’t find a proper feeling, we need more testing to find a more effective configuration. At the beginning I would have liked to have continued with last year’s, but we must keep in mind that we are here for testing all news things and to send feedback to Japan so that they can further improve. The new chassis is still young, it’s normal it has some troubles and we need some more time to finalise it. I feel we have made positive improvements with the seamless and the electronics, as well as with the tyres. The confidence with the front-end has improved a lot and also the corner speed is faster. This was only the first real test, it’s true that we have had some troubles, but it’s part of the game and this is exactly the purpose why we are here. Tomorrow we fly to Japan to do some testing in the wind tunnel, they will probably help me to find better protection from the air since I am a pretty tall rider; and then we go to Australia where we will still have many things to try. The Factory is working really hard to deliver us improvements and updates, we keep working on pretty much all aspects; chassis, engine, gearbox, electronics and there is much room for improvement, but I feel totally positive about this.”
Yonny Hernandez impressed in 14th, ahead of Andrea Dovizioso who set a best time of 2’01.675.
“I am happy with the changes we have made to the bike and with the steps forward we have taken with the electronics. Over the past three days we have done a lot of work with thew traction control, I have worked hard to adapt my riding style to the new tyres and the new electronics. The relationship with the team is building every day and that allows us to quickly deal with any problems that do spring up. Everything we have tried over the past three days has been positive so hopefully we can continue to move forward like this in Australia. We are planning to work on some different traction control mappings and also the power delivery. The Ducati has a lot of horsepower and sometimes it is difficult to control the hard rear tyre. So in Australia we will also be trying to find more grip.”
“Today was more difficult than yesterday, because we had a few issues that unfortunately we could not resolve here and which slowed us the entire day. In the morning I didn’t do many laps because I had to wait for the track conditions to improve, and then it began to rain. In the afternoon we started right away, and soon set a good time. We did some tests with used tyres and the bike improved but we encountered another problem towards the end of the session. We stayed in the box until the final part, but I was unable to make any more improvements when I went out. I didn’t put in as many laps as I would have liked, which was important for me to adapt to the new Michelins. It’s a pity, but I feel sure that in Australia we will be able to carry out our programme better once we’ve solved the problems back home.”
Pol Espargaro had suffered two crashes on Tuesday at Turn 5 but was able to improve his time on the final day, placing him 16th overall as the flag came out.
“Today our main focus was to increase our knowledge about the new electronics, especially in combination with the hard tyre as the grip level was quite low. In this situation, it’s really important to understand how to set up our package in order to make the bike as ridable as possible for me. However, when you try a lot of different options, it’s quite easy to get a bit confused because some are benficial and others seem to be a step backward. So we now have to analyse the data that we collected in the last three days and then design a clear plan for the upcoming test in Phillip Island. I’m already looking forward to trying the bike on another track and in different conditions, plus I’m confident that we will be much closer to the front.”
MotoGP rookie, Tito Rabat, ended his second official MotoGP test in 17th and within three seconds of the top.
“Yesterday we struggled to find a good feeling with the hard rear tyre, so that was the focus for today. We made quite big changes to the bike and the feeling was better, which was reflected in the lap time. The crash at turn five was strange, because I was on an out lap, not pushing, but the front just went away and down I went. We returned to the track with the spare bike to test a few more things, but the track conditions had deteriorated and I went down again in the final turn. After that we decided to stop, because the conditions weren’t going to improve. I am physically tired after three days on the MotoGP bike, but already I’m looking forward to getting back on the Honda RC213V at Phillip Island, where I hope we can continue to improve.”
Despite not having access to a new bike or new parts, Stefan Bradl managed a respectable 18th.
“These were some intense tests, spent above all on trying to improve the electronics package. Progress was made although we know that there is still plenty of room for improvement. This was the last test with the 2015 bike, so gathering as much data as possible was fundamental to facilitate the racing department’s job. My mind is already on the next tests in Qatar where we’ll have a completely new bike on which to apply everything we’ve learned thus far. By analysing the data and crunching the numbers on what we’ve tested I think that we’ll be able to start from the best possible base electronics settings and then improve on it race after race.”
After falling at 290km/h on Tuesday, Loris Baz improved his time on Wednesday to end the test inside the top 20 and ahead of Yamaha test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga.
“The first is that I am very glad I was able to ride today after yesterday’s crash. I woke up with pain in the neck and my right arm, but once on the bike I missed everything. As the track was a bit damp in the morning we went out later, but still the weather has been good with a tire with ten laps, when the weather gets here in the first, so I’m happy. We have also improved a little grip we needed Monday and overall I’m satisfied, because it is a circuit where I go the easy things and times have been pretty good. To be the first test of the year with everything that happened yesterday and the time we lost, I think the result was positive. I really want to go to Australia, I love the circuit and also let in summer so the track will be perfect.”
Alvaro Bautista was 21st with a 2’02.876 as he prepares to debut the new Aprilia during a private outing in Qatar.
“We did a lot of work over these three days, especially on the electronics. We put in a lot of short sessions to give our technicians a change to analyse a large quantity of small changes, gathering information which will then be analysed at home. There is still a lot to do. For the tyres I’m beginning to learn the characteristics and the feeling has greatly improved. After riding for my entire MotoGP career on a certain type of tyre it took some time to adapt. I can’t wait to get to Doha where there will be more days of hard work but with the important motivation of the new bike.”
Eugene Laverty was also back on track on Wednesday, missing Tuesday due to a heavily sprained right wrist suffered in a Monday crash and ending just behind Michele Pirro.
“Unfortunately it hasn’t been the best test for us, with a crash on day one that ruled me out of day two. I was ready to ride on day three but there was rain in the morning so we waited for the track to dry and then had a problem with the clutch, which meant that I couldn’t complete a full lap. Then the rain came back so it’s been really unfortunate for us! On the positive side I was able to complete some laps and at least check my hand. At first there was some pain but the more I used the hand and kept the glove on it the better it felt. At the end of the day the pain increased again so I decided to stop because I wasn’t able to ride comfortably. Now I need to rest it and hopefully it will be 100% for the next test in Australia.”
While the combined times are displayed in the first table below, a better indication of outright race pace is perhaps the day three timesheets further down the page, where no riders had access to the soft tyre. Here Lorenzo was clearly the pacesetter, to the tune of a full second over Rossi, who in turn had three-tenths on Marquez. Next best was Crutchlow ahead of Stoner, Pedrosa, Petrucci, Iannone, Redding and Vinales rounded out the day three top ten.
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