The first pre-season MotoGP test at Sepang, Malaysia, is complete. Important questions have been answered, and fresh ones have taken their place. First, Valentino Rossi is back, having finished the three-day test third-fastest overall on a factory Yamaha behind Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo and ahead of stunning newcomer Marc Marquez. Here are the top 10 times:
|1. Dani Pedrosa||2:00.100|
|2. Jorge Lorenzo||2:00.429|
|3. Valentino Rossi||2:00.542|
|4. Marc Marquez||2:00.636|
|5. Cal Crutchlow||2:00.734|
|6. Stefan Bradl||2:01.003|
|7. Alvaro Bautista||2:01.502|
|8. Bradley Smith||2:02.093|
|9. Nicky Hayden||2:02.184|
|10. Andrea Dovizioso||2:02.277|
It’s easy to be carried away by lap times, but Lorenzo’s third-day simulation impressed everyone more. His race times were very fast and consistent and unmatched by the other riders. Pedrosa emphasized that many of his laps were “a functional test” of where best to put the mandated 3-kilogram weight increase, improved engine longevity and, in his words, “something with the brakes.” Speed is a tool for winning races, but Lorenzo won the title in 2012 with consistency.
Rossi and crew chief Jeremy Burgess were photographed laughing. Their mood is good as Rossi is back on a Yamaha and clearly fast and comfortable. “After two seasons [on the Ducati],” he said, “I have a lot of question marks—a lot of doubt. Am I still a top rider? Am I still able to arrive at the limit with the bike? For me, it is a great relief today.”
The other major news is Marquez, who has adapted quickly to the Honda RC213V, its carbon brakes and series-spec Bridgestone tires. And so he should: Even with its limited electronics, his championship-winning 2012 Repsol Honda Moto2 bike was monitoring 117 variables. Further, the Repsol rider’s team even had computer programs that simulated how the changes to setup were expected to alter performance and show what consequences they would have for riding the bike.
This revelation of Honda’s “expert system” setup technology (which first surfaced in the 1990s of the 500cc two-stroke era) takes nothing away from Marquez, who adapted to bike and tires with astounding speed. It merely shows that Honda is very serious about Marquez.
Sepang requires a durable, stable front tire for its three episodes of maximum braking from high speed. Marquez noted that slowing a heavy, fast motorcycle with carbon brakes is one of the hardest things to master.
Cal Crutchlow, back on a Tech3 Yamaha, said, “We need to keep the rear tire more on the floor at corner entry.”
The lower the machine-and-rider center of mass can be, the harder the rider can brake without lifting the rear tire. This requires using enough rear brake (whose caliper is fixed to the swingarm) to slightly compress the rear suspension. The game is lost if the rear comes up, as the rise of c of g forces the rider to release some braking. Class new boys Bradley Smith and Andrea Iannone both overshot Turn 1, and Marquez crashed, uninjured, on the third day.
Ducati is starting with 2012 machines, so little was expected. Yet Audi, Ducati’s new owner, has stated rather ominously that the GP bike “will be fixed within one year.” Ben Spies, newly on Ducati, sat out the third day to rest his recently operated shoulder.
Crutchlow made it clear that he, too, is riding a 2012 bike. For Lorenzo, there was reportedly an improved engine and a chassis designed to fight “pumping” (the slow 2-to-3-cycle weave oscillation). Was Lorenzo using Yamaha’s expected “seamless-shift” transmission? Honda’s 2013 engine is said to make “more than 228 horsepower,” to have reduced internal friction and fuel consumption and increased durability. Why so little power, in comparison with the 260 hp of the most powerful 990s? Those 990s were allowed 24 liters of fuel per race, but today’s 1000s must go the same distance on just 20 liters.
Honda MotoGP chief Shuhei Nakamoto also revealed some basics about the “production racer” expected next year. “We’ll make a factory-spec bike,” he said, “but the engine is a bit different with a valve-spring system and a standard transmission. The chassis we are trying to make a little bit cheaper, but to keep the performance is not easy.”