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Randy Mamola assesses the latest MotoGP tests

Randy Mamola assesses the latest MotoGP tests

Randy Mamola assesses the latest MotoGP tests

Picking up from where I left off in my last Expert Eye, you may remember that we discussed Valentino Rossi's debut with the Yamaha M1 in Sepang, and tried to put into context the information we were able to ascertain from the test – in terms of lap times, comments from Valentino and the pictures and video footage we have seen. There was no doubt that it was an excellent effort from Valentino and the team, but there was also no doubt that this test last week, alongside Honda and most of the other MotoGP contenders, would give us a much clearer picture of how the land really lies. That has certainly turned out to be the case and it is no surprise to me to see four Hondas ahead of Valentino on the time sheets – with Alex Barros fully fit you can basically make that five and, at some circuits, Tamada will also be on the pace.

Perhaps what has surprised me has been the pace of Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards. Nicky is starting to show why he won that Rookie of the Year title last year and why Honda are putting so much faith in him. The new swingarm and rear suspension from HRC seem to have worked for him but Nicky's main strength is his talent and enthusiasm for racing motorcycles – he just loves to ride and he is going to be a big asset to our sport for a long time. I think Colin realised at the last test that he needs to be in top shape and he seems to have been training hard recently riding motocross and so on. To be quite frank he was a little off the pace at the January test but he has stepped his game up and the lap times have followed.

As far as Sete Gibernau is concerned, he reported that he felt very comfortable during a 21 lap race simulation and it seems to me that he has been focussing heavily on race set-up. I have heard Sete mention that he believes a lot of races will be won this season from three-quarter distance to the end, and he is clearly working towards being ready for that scenario. His chief mechanic Juan Martinez spent many years working as a suspension technician for Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi under the supervision of Jeremy Burgess, and he is a very smart character. Juan helped Sete to four wins last season and to me it seems that his crew are going quietly about their business and making sure that they are 100% ready for that first race in South Africa.

So, with Max Biaggi also setting good lap times and Honda making good progress all round, what is going on at Yamaha? Well, from this distance it is hard to tell but certainly the lap times have not come down too much. In fact, Rossi barely improved at all on his fastest lap from the first test, although that doesn't necessarily mean to say that he hasn't made progress. We know that one of the problems with the M1 is that it doesn't have enough power, and that is something that they are trying to address. Valentino said that they have moved the torque down a little bit to make it easier to ride, but that is taking away power from the top end and causing a whole new set of problems. Hopefully they will have made some steps forward in that area with the new engines they had in Malaysia but for the time being at least they are still a long way from the Honda RC211V.

Sepang was also a very interesting test for Ducati, who will be very encouraged by the performance of the new Desmosedici. If I am not mistaken, Ducati are saying that 65% of the 2004 bike is completely new, but straight away the boys have got on it and gone faster than they previously had at Sepang. Both Loris Capirossi and Troy Bayliss struggled there during the Grand Prix last October and the circuit definitely didn't seem to suit the bike, which really struggled under hard braking, but they were much closer to the Hondas this time around. Considering they are effectively one test behind and have not had chance to properly test the new 16.5 inch Michelin front tyre then you have to say that they were impressive and should be a real force at the next test which starts tomorrow at Phillip Island.

The same can be said for Neil Hodgson and Ruben Xaus, who both had a tough time at Sepang but came out of the test with creditable results. Neither of them had ridden there before and, as I said, the 2003 version Desmosedici which they are riding was not suited to that circuit. The step up from WSB to MotoGP is a big one but they just need time on the bikes and the opportunity to get as many laps in as possible before the season starts. They will look forward to riding at Phillip Island, a track they both know and which favoured the Ducati last season. Good progress there will no doubt give them the necessary encouragement and confidence to build on in the future.

As far as the others are concerned, I think Kawasaki are finding the right way forward now and, in Shinya Nakano, they have a good rider with the right experience after so many years working for Yamaha. So far they seem to be responding quickly to what he wants and if they can continue to do that then they will keep making progress. Suzuki have suffered a terrible blow with the loss of both their riders through injury at such a crucial part of the preseason and now they are relying on Gregorio Lavilla and a Japanese test rider to carry them forward. Without taking anything away from these two riders, Suzuki really need to get Kenny Roberts Junior and John Hopkins back on board as soon as possible.

Like Hodgson and Xaus, British Superbike Champion Shane Byrne paid his first visit to Sepang on the Aprilia and put in a lot of laps, which is the best thing he can do at this point of the steep learning curve which a rookie season in MotoGP represents. His team-mate Jeremy McWilliams had a couple of crashes and doesn't seem to be getting to grips with the bike at all. He is used to riding a Proton, which has struggled for horsepower whether it be the two-stroke or the four-stroke, whilst the Aprilia has more than enough horsepower in a place where it is very difficult to control. Perhaps Jeremy just needs to take a step back and approach things a little slower.

Tomorrow the tests begin again at Phillip Island, and I am very much looking forward to seeing how things pan out. We know that the Honda and the Ducati both went well there last season, with Rossi and Capirossi finishing first and second respectively, whilst the first Yamaha was Olivier Jacque back in sixth place. Jacque finished 28 seconds behind Rossi, which would have been 38 seconds if it wasn't for the ten second penalty, so it will be an interesting marker to see how far Rossi and Yamaha have come in comparison. Meanwhile, the man to watch again has to be Nicky Hayden, who finished third at Phillip Island behind Rossi and Capirossi in his best performance of the season and heads to Australia on top form and full of confidence.

MotoGP, 2003

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