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Honda sign off as tests continue in Sepang

Honda sign off as tests continue in Sepang

Honda sign off as tests continue in Sepang

Honda packed up at the end of the third consecutive day of testing at the Malaysian Sepang circuit today but Kawasaki and Suzuki will stay on for another day tomorrow, in order to continue with their rebuilding programmes. Temperatures were cooler than the previous two days, with a slight breeze around the circuit throughout the day, although the thermometers still recorded around 32ºC. The day was rather incident packed, with many riders going out to set their best laps of the test, and push their bikes to the limit.

Makoto Tamada was at the heart of the most dramatic incident, suffering a rear tyre blowout while travelling down the front straightaway in top gear. The Japanese rider was lucky to stay on board, and as the rubber shredded away from his Bridgestone tyre he made it to the first turn without even crashing. He declined to comment on the incident later, but was clearly relieved, and joked around with journalists.

It ended his day early, and Sete Gibernau also had an engine problem which threatened to send him back to the hotel to pack his bags. Having just started on a new engine first thing this morning, Gibernau didn't return after setting out on a run of laps. It later transpired the engine had blown, but undeterred he used his engine from the previous day and set about smashing his best lap of the circuit.

His unofficial 2'02.7 was just a shade slower than Max Biaggi's time, and having used an older engine and having had to readjust the set-up of his bike to do endurance tests on race tyres for Michelin, the Spaniard left the circuit content. His team-mate Colin Edwards wasn't so happy, and only managed four laps in the afternoon, conceding that he "just wasn't with it," as he reached confusion point about his preferences over front tyres, and severe problems with ‘clutch chatter' which hindered his progress.

Other Honda riders were pleased with their efforts though, Biaggi having set the fastest time and Tohru Ukawa having beaten his race time from October by around 15-20 seconds in a full 21-lap race simulation. Nicky Hayden also made progress as he got to grips with the new parts he received from Honda at this test.

Today should have been a rest day for the Team Suzuki riders, but the team felt it would be more beneficial spent at the track, and while they didn't cover as many laps as they would normally with their two riders Kenny Roberts and John Hopkins, they were present at the circuit all day. "We've not been able to solve an electrical problem with the clutch and it's been causing us problems every day so far," explained Hopkins. "We can't test anything until it's done. We had the same problem when we came here before Christmas. We've got a massive list of things to test and we can't do any of them until we sort this out. I think it's just because there are a lot of electrics on the bike and its hard to pinpoint tiny problems."

There was even a chance for Mat Mladin to make a few laps on the GSV-R. The AMA Superbike champion has been here with his Yoshimura Suzuki team and after talking with Roberts, was let out on the development machine. Meanwhile Erv Kanemoto has been in the Suzuki box all week alongside Roberts. While he is here simply as a visitor and guest of the 2000 World Champion, the assembled press here in Sepang remain suspicious, with Roberts looking for a replacement for his former chief mechanic Bob Toomey.

Kawasaki also return tomorrow to test, Harald Eckl seemingly pleased with his team's performance so far, especially the work of new rider Shinya Nakano. In the garage next door, Moriwaki made big advances with their rider Andrew Pitt, and improved considerably on yesterday's disappointing results.

Unofficial lap times

Max Biaggi - 2'02.585 (50 laps)
Sete Gibernau – 2'02.7
Tohru Ukawa – 2'03.2 (76 laps)
Nicky Hayden - 2'03.2 (68 laps)
Colin Edwards – 2'03.3 (38 laps)
Makoto Tamada – 2'03.5 (30 laps)
Shinya Nakano - 2'04.84 (51 laps)
Alex Hofmann - 2'05.28 (56 laps)

MotoGP, 2003

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