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Rookie report: Nakagami fastest debutant at Sepang

What did the four new kids on the block have to say about Sepang?

Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) was the top rookie at the Sepang test, finishing 15th on combined times after having fought for that same honour from the off at Valencia. The Japanese rider put in a 2:00.71 as his best lap, a tiny margin off the 1:59 bracket containing some serious veterans - and only a second off the best time set by Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team), who was the fastest RC213V rider. He also did his first race simulation, or longer run.

MotoGP™ rookies on the #SepangTest

“I can say it was a really great last day, on Monday I had a small crash but on the last day it’s quite a good laptime,” says Nakagami. “Just one tenth to the 1:59s and it’s good pace. And I’m happy about the race simulation, it’s quite good and many laps were quite consistent. It was the first time I’ve done a race simulation with a MotoGP bike, and it was in these tough conditions at Sepang! But the first priority is to understand how my body condition is, and also the bike, the Michelin tyres, how they lose grip…but everything is going well and a it’s good laptime, so I’m happy about the three days in Sepang.”

His closest rival for the honour of fastest newcomer so far has been reigning Moto2™ Champion Franco Morbidelli at EG 0,0 Marc VDS, who is another rider making his debut on a Honda. Morbidelli was around half a second off Nakagami at Sepang, but again put in a satisfying long run.

“In the morning we did many laps, we didn’t have any crashes or anything so we were able to make a good work program,” said the Italian-Brazilian at the close of action. “I think we improved the bike a bit and improved our pace a bit so I’m happy about that. We improved corner speed a bit in the morning too, so we’re going in a good direction.”

Finally, Xavier Simeon (Reale Avintia Racing) and Tom Lüthi (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) slotted into the rookie table in that order. Simeon, the only rookie debuting on a Ducati, had still been recovering from injury when he rode the bike at Valencia. He put in a 2:00.784 on Day 3 as his best, and was happy to get into that bracket; very positive overall.

“I’m very happy about the test, the progression has been exactly what I was hoping for,” says Simeon. “We’ve been making a step every day and we finished the test in 2:00 bracket. We did a very good job with the team, after every change we made on the bike I felt it was better. On Monday we made a big improvement but the laptime with the new tyre wasn’t what I was expecting. But on Tuesday, when I put in a new soft tyre, I could improve quite a lot so I’m happy. I think we can be satisfied. We’re not in front but we know we won’t fight at the front this year.”

Meanwhile for Lüthi, the Sepang test was a different occasion to the other rookies. It was at the Malaysian venue that the Swiss rider crashed and injured his foot during Moto2™ qualifying in 2017 – ruling him out of the title fight and subsequently preventing him from testing his MotoGP™ machine in Valencia, too. So for the EG 0,0 Marc VDS rider, Sepang was the very first taste of his Honda, and he put in a 2:01.126 as his best. Not so far away at all – and after a big improvement throughout each day.

“It’s good,” grins the Swiss rider. “I got a lot of impressions and so much information for these three days! But overall very positive. Trying the GP bike for the first time in the wet was quite difficult, not that easy but I went out and got the first feeling for the seating position and stuff like that…but over the three days we kept working, and I kept trying to understand how to ride it, tried to sometimes follow some riders, learn and see...I tried to be careful to take it step by step, which I think is still really important.”

And as for the differences between the two classes, Lüthi points out the power – and says he is having to change his style, but the voyage of discovery is an interesting one.

“Handling the power in the trickiest thing,” he admits, “especially coming from Moto2. You have to adapt. I had that Moto2 style for many years and you have to change that, but it’s interesting to play with your weight on the bike and see the difference it makes.”

Next time out, MotoGP™ attacks the brand-new venue of Buriram in Thailand – where everyone will be a rookie to some extent. That will make it interesting for the four newcomers in the premier class, with a clean slate and another different track to attack.