The second Moto GP test of the pre-season, held again at the Sepang track in Malaysia, saw Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa tied for fastest time, a fast 1’59.999 in blisteringly hot and humid conditions – track temperature was measured at 64 degrees late in the afternoon! That was about half a second slower than the track record, held by 2013 world champion Marc Marquez, who missed the test nursing a broken fibula.
A surprising third was Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, with another surprise, Aleix Espargaro on the first “Open” class bike, the NGM Mobile Forward Yamaha a few hundredths back, just pipping Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda for fifth. The 2012 champion, Jorge Lorenzo, could only manage seventh, complaining bitterly that Bridgestone’s new tires were much stiffer in the sidewall, losing edge grip compared to last year’s tires. Lorenzo, who relies for his times on massive corner speed, suffered more than most other riders from the new construction.
One announcement that wasn’t a great surprise was that the Ducati factory is not entering as, well, as a factory … “Factory” rules require a smaller fuel allowance, fewer engines, and a freeze on development during the season, while the Open-class bikes have fewer restrictions in all these areas. The other main difference is that, while all bikes must use a spec Marelli ECU control box, Factory entries can write their own software; Open bikes must use the software supplied by Marelli.
Ducati is in such massive trouble getting their bikes up to speed that their decision to enter the Open class to allow more development experimentation was almost a foregone conclusion, although they didn’t announce it until the last minute.
Ducati’s new signing, Cal Crutchlow, ended up eighth overall, relatively happy with personal improvement since testing started. The hard-nut Brit said, “Obviously for me the situation in these tests at Sepang was different to what I’ve been used to in the past, so I think Dovi managed to benefit more from the three days because he’s on a familiar machine. But that’s the way it goes and I’m generally pretty satisfied with the results we’ve achieved here.”
The top 10 were rounded out by the Tech 3 Yamaha riders, Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro. The Tech 3 bikes got Yamaha’s seamless transmission for the first time, and riders were delighted with the change.
Most disappointed riders were those on Honda’s new customer bike for the Open class. Considering that Espargaro managed fourth overall on his Open Yamaha, a top placing of 15th down for Aspar’s Nicky Hayden makes it look like it might be a long 2014 for the customer Honda riders. The puzzled 2006 world champion said, “We have worked really hard over the last three days here and we have gathered a lot of information … although we still haven’t made the major step we are looking for. We still don’t know why we’re struggling so much to get the bike stopped into the corners so we need to work more with the electronics.”
The factory teams are heading for Philip Island in Australia next week for further testing, in large part to check the new tires against the highly-abrasive track surface to avoid a repeat of last year’s disaster, which required pit stops to swap bikes, as tires were only lasting 10 laps.
First race of the season is under the lights at the Losail Circuit in Qatar March 23.
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