After the Sepang Test and Fabio Quartararo’s (Petronas Yamaha SRT) full house of fastest laps across the three days, it’s time to get suited and booted for another three-day Official Test – the second and final, at Losail International Circuit in Qatar. Will Quartararo strike again? How will adaptation to the tyres for 2020 affect the likes of Ducati? Are we likely to see some more extreme aero innovations as have often broken cover in the desert before? We’re about to find out.
Yamaha certainly lead the battle on the time-sheets as it stands, thanks to Quartararo. But team-mate Franco Morbidelli had some solid speed too, and Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) was up there as Sepang came to a close. His team-mate Maverick Viñales, the man who won the race in Malaysia last year, was not in terms of the timesheets – but he was also pretty positive and didn’t go for that all-out time-attack lap. Better top speed was something he pointed out, something high on the Iwata marque’s agenda.
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) flew the flag for Honda at Sepang, ending the test less than a tenth off Quartararo. The Briton also took on a huge workload for Honda in regards to testing new components.
“We’re looking forward to this test in Qatar. I think it’s going to be a busy three days with a different schedule to normal with the on-track activities, but it doesn’t really change our plans so much for what we want to feel with the bike and how we want to work. We want to continue to work hard with the LCR Castrol Honda team and HRC over these next three days and get the information to try and improve the bike from the Malaysia test where I felt quite good, but we needed to improve in some areas. Hopefully, I think we can do that here and get ready for the race here in two weeks’ time.”
With reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) – now signed up with Honda for another four years – coming back from shoulder surgery and his new team-mate a rookie in the form of Alex Marquez, Crutchlow had a long list of items to test. And both Repsol Honda Team Manager Alberto Puig and Marc Marquez raised a few questions about how prepared they were – as rumours swirled about how ready the reigning Champion himself was – so Qatar could be interesting.
Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) is keen to test his physical condition further as he comes back from injury.
“So, it’s the second test of the season after the first one in Sepang. Doing the Sepang test was a tough three days for me, the right shoulder was not in perfect condition. But after that we had nearly ten days and it was a good recovery for me, I was back in Japan and every day I was doing rehabilitation to try and improve the shoulder. It was good and it feels much better than last week. We’ll try to improve day by day, but it will be tough as the track condition is normally dirty and you struggle to find grip as it hasn’t been used for a long time. But I feel quite calm and we won’t try to rush things, we’ll just look to keep improving the bike and the shoulder too.”
Suzuki, meanwhile, seemed positively brimming for much of the Sepang Test. And for good reason, as both Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) and team-mate Joan Mir showed serious speed on longer runs and single laps. That caught the attention of many up and down pitlane too – so will we see that transfer into more speed in the desert?
At Ducati, the feedback was more cautious – as is often the case – but Ducati Corse boss Luigi Dall’Igna was fairly satisfied with the improvements they made. The new tyres were something Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and teammate Danilo Petrucci were focused on for a lot of the time – also running in tandem to gain more data. Dall’Igna also said there was more to come from the Borgo Panigale factory in Qatar, which is certainly something we’ve come to expect in recent years.
Jack Miller (Pramac Racing), meanwhile, was less guarded. The Australian was fastest Ducati much of the time in Malaysia and Dovizioso said both he and Miller ended the test without doing a single lap time attack on the softer tyre. So that could be something to watch out for, as is the progress of Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) heading into his second year, and Johann Zarco (Reale Avintia Racing) as he adapts to life on a Ducati, in his case a GP19.
KTM continued their mammoth conveyor belt of new things to try. A new chassis is one key change, and the Austrian factory also brought some interesting aero to Sepang – “serrated” edges on the back of the front fairing. Will there be more to see? After test rider Dani Pedrosa’s impressive performance on Day 2 at Sepang, Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) then bettered that laptime before the end of the test and there were a good few smiles in the pitbox. Brad Binder’s (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) progress will be something to look out for too as he adjusts to the premier class, likewise Iker Lecuona (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) as he begins his first full season in MotoGP. And Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3), so often impressive in 2019, is another coming back from injury – what does he have in the locker?
Arguably one of the biggest headline stealers at Sepang, however, were Aprilia. Straight out the box with their new V4 RS-GP, the Noale factory impressed. Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) was so positive about it he got emotional.
Although it wasn’t a perfect start free of teething problems, it was a big news within and without the garage – as was Espargaro’s long run pace at Sepang. What will we see from him and test rider Bradley Smith in Qatar? Will the positivity that begun at the shakedown test keep that incredible momentum?
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