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Honda riders turn up the heat at Sepang

Honda riders turn up the heat at Sepang

Honda riders turn up the heat at Sepang

It was another action packed day at the Sepang circuit, with over twenty riders out on track battling against the constantly searing conditions, and more seemingly each other. The mind games have begun already between the top riders regarding their lap times. Yesterday it was Rossi who declined to use the transponders supplied by the circuit, today it was the turn of Biaggi, whilst Gibernau appeared to occasionally have the telemetric timing device removed. Max Biaggi claimed the fastest lap of the day, although his was the only time not confirmed by the circuit's timing chief. In any case a clutch of other Hondas, Yamahas and Ducatis were all within touching distance of his claimed 2'02.7, as the countdown to what should be a fantastic new season reduces itself to just nine weeks.

Biaggi was joined under the two-minutes three-seconds barrier by Honda colleagues Colin Edwards, Sete Gibernau and Nicky Hayden, whilst top Yamaha was once again Valentino Rossi, who narrowly missed out on that particular benchmark by just 0.001 seconds. Riders lapped consistently throughout the day with the usual break for lunch as the high sunshine made conditions particularly tough. The Honda men are mainly working on tyres, whether Michelin or Bridgestone, although Nicky Hayden and Alex Barros are both in possession of the improved rear suspension linkage and swingarm seen at the last test on Tohru Ukawa's test bike, which aims to improve rear grip and power delivery through the rear tyre.

Yamaha in turn seem to be focusing on the new engine and chassis combination, which by all accounts is a much improved situation this year with the factory's reorganization, although Abe and Melandri are both finding things difficult at the moment and trail the factory team pairing of Rossi and Checa quite considerably. Ducati are running in their new bikes in the respective garages, the 2004 GP4 Desmosedici for the Ducati Marlboro Team, and the GP3 for Ducati D'Antin. Both teams have had their technical glitches today, with Xaus seemingly the worst stricken having only been able to string five laps together on one occasion – as was the case yesterday.

Suzuki are making progress even without their main riders out on track. Kenny Roberts Junior kick-started the process yesterday after riding well in the morning before falling foul of a tyre problem and suffering a breathtaking accident. Today he was nursing a bruised collarbone and chest and it remains to be seen if he will ride tomorrow. Gregorio Lavilla and Kousuke Akiyoshi suddenly find themselves thrust into the spotlight for Suzuki, and are both performing well, with Lavilla at the track for only the second time and debuting on the GSV-R, whilst Akiyoshi improved his lap times considerably today.

Kawasaki are also on the up and continued work with Shinya Nakano and Alex Hofmann, whose daily development appears to be paying dividends. Meanwhile in the Aprilia garage work continues apace, despite the setbacks of a couple of crashes for Jeremy McWilliams. The British rider injured his back in the second of his falls today as the bike hit him on his way down, sending him back to the hotel before time. Team-mate Shane Byrne was constantly in and out of the garage throughout the whole day, even trying McWilliams' machine in the process, and is positively gelling with his Italian team.

Work continues tomorrow for the final day of tests at Sepang with more good weather predicted.

Unofficial lap times supplied by the Sepang International Circuit

Colin Edwards (Honda) – 2'02.845
Nicky Hayden (Honda) – 2'02.855
Sete Gibernau (Honda) – 2'02.914
Valentino Rossi (Yamaha) – 2'03.001
Carlos Checa (Yamaha) – 2'03.317
Makoto Tamada (Honda) – 2'03.490
Troy Bayliss (Ducati) – 2'03.748
Loris Capirossi (Ducati) – 2'03.914
Shinichi Itoh (Honda) – 2'03.936
Kousuke Akiyoshi (Suzuki) – 2'03.943
Shinya Nakano (Kawasaki) – 2'04.318
Alex Barros (Honda) – 2'04.427
Alex Hofmann (Kawasaki)– 2'04.568
Norick Abe (Yamaha) – 2'04.577
Marco Melandri (Yamaha) – 2'05.137
Gregorio Lavilla (Suzuki) – 2'05.290
Neil Hodgson (Ducati) – 2'05.524
Ruben Xaus (Ducati) – 2'05.628
Jeremy McWilliams (Aprilia) – 2'05.934
Shane Byrne (Aprilia) – 2'06.255
Andrew Pitt (Moriwaki) – 2'06.416

MotoGP, 2003

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