- Jorge Lorenzo - 99 - Ducati Team - Sepang MotoGP Test 2018 -
All 23 confirmed race riders were present this week, plus a sprinkling of test riders, but as play closed, it was Jorge Lorenzo who managed to finish the test having shaved a few hundredths off Marc Márquez’s previous lap record around the Malaysian circuit in 2015, setting a new unofficial fastest lap in the process. Showing promise for Bolognas 2018 iteration of the GP machine, both factory riders seemed happy with the new chassis, and bar a technical gremlin affecting both Dovizioso and Petrucci in the later stages of testing, signs look good for the boys in red.
Similarly Pramac’s new wheelie enthusiast, Jack Miller seems to have transitioned seamlessly to Desmosedici life, finishing 5th fastest after an impressive all-round performance.
Hondas in-house Spaniards also had positive feelings for their new even more powerful engine and freshly designed aerodynamic package, positive, albeit with a pinch of caution. The engine was predominantly the focus of testing for the Hondas, which Márquez, Pedrosa, and Crutchlow all spent the majority of track time taking through its paces. All three were in agreement that the new power plant was an improvement, although excess oomph was the primary concern as wheelieing was such a troublesome issue for the Hondas in 2017, only time will tell if HRC’s monster can be kept under control utilising some clever electronic wizardry.
- Marq Márquez - 93 - Repsol Honda - Se[ang MotoGP Test 2018 -
Over in the Factory Yamaha corner, all appeared peachy as testing began, with both Viñales and Rossi seemingly delighted with a newly framed M1, the feel and feedback apparently missing from 2017s machine had all but vanished, and into the second day, the lap times showed it. Viñales finished fastest, Rossi second fastest. Job done. Goodnight Sepang.
But not quite…
In the final day, the Yamaha’s hit a wall; neither rider was able to get even close to the previous day's times, and although pleased with the new performance of a new aero-fairing, further progress failed to materialize. As stern faces descended over the Movistar garage, the number 46 rider went on in great detail to elaborate: "We are a little bit worried".
- Valentino Rossi - 46 - Movistar Yamaha - Sepang MotoGP Test 2018 -
Zarco also bore the brunt of a similar dilemma, with the 2017 chassis immediately not agreeing with the Frenchman, the Tech-3 team has already taken the initiative to switch back to the 2016 chassis, which was used to great effect to harass the full-fat factory Yamaha’s last year. Confirming, in a way, that Yamaha's engineers took a wrong turn with the 2017 bike.
After a promising first couple of test days for KTM Factory Racing, Pol Espargaro was forced to sit out the final session after a bad crash, however, Bradley Smith and test rider Mika Kallio stepped up to collect as much data as possible for the engineers back in Mattighofen. With the British rider putting in more laps than any other rider on the final day of testing.
Last season, the orange obsessed Austrians, astounded the paddock with their entry into the MotoGP melee, amplified by their astounding progress and despite their focus on refining the bike rather than results, made even more impressive by their persistence to use their own beautiful steel trellis frame and in-house WP suspension.
- Pol Espargaro - 44 - Red Bull KTM Factory Racing - Sepang MotoGP Test 2018 -
In less than a season the gap to the front-runners was slashed from a couple of seconds to just a few tenths, but with a lot of development work still left to do, they will now find themselves pushing to chase the final fractions on the clock. As team boss Pit Beirer confidently affirmed. “We will never slow down as long as we’re racing.” and you’ve got to respect the hell out of them for that.
This year also saw a flock of MotoGP rookies join the fray, most notably for Team E.G 0,0 MarcVDS who’s full rider line-up composed of premier class newbies. Promoted up to the GP pit box, reigning Moto2 World Champion Franco Morbidelli managed to put in a full three days of satisfying runs, improving both the bike and pace consistently in the right direction. He was joined by teammate, Thomas Lüthi who made his MarcVDS debut after missing the end of the 2017 season due to injuries sustained at the same track back in October. Despite having his first taste of the Honda he quickly adapted, and managed to make the largest improvement of any rider during the test.
- Franco Morbidelli - 21 - Team E.G 0,0 MarcVDS - Sepang MotoGP Test 2018 -
There’s a lot to say during testing, but when viewed in the context of an actual race weekend, an awful lot that can (and should) probably be ignored. Much will be said for particular areas of R&D by certain manufacturers, and the controversial re-emergence of wings acronymically styled fairings can attest to this, but when we have teams turning down factory fresh machinery for the comfort of familiarity, it makes you remember that once those lights go out, all bets are off.
And let’s not forget it’s close, very close. The top twelve riders, representing four different manufacturers, were all within 0.7s of each other on the final day of testing. And as the Malaysian sun dipped below the horizon, Valentino Rossi left us with this teasing note: “It looks as though six, seven, eight probably even more riders have the same pace. So if the race started tomorrow, you can see a Moto3 race!”
Now there’s something we can hope for!