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22 days ago
By motogp.com

Comparing Sepang: what changed in 2018

Testing gives us our first glimpse of the season – and what’s changed

The fastest ever lap of Sepang was set this season, as Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) blasted around the Malaysian venue in a 1:58.830. But whilst that stole the headlines, there’s more to see when comparing this preseason test and the last.

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What do the riders think about Lorenzo's flying lap at Sepang?

Lorenzo, of course, leads the way for the highest-profile improvement. But despite gaining nearly a second on his 2017 best, the five-time World Champion on the GP18 wasn’t the man who gained the most. Of those who didn’t change machinery, that was Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing).

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Pol Espargaro discusses heavy crash in #SepangTest

Espargaro missed the final session of the Sepang test after a crash on Day 2, but the former Moto2™ World Champion had still made more than a second on his 2017 laptime before the incident. That rate of progress for KTM is further underlined looking at teammate Bradley Smith, who was just over eight tenths faster and the made the third biggest gain amongst those who didn’t switch manufacturer.

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KTM: Year 1

Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) makes sure the top four remain solely Ducati and KTM riders, as he gained 0.782 seconds to slot in behind Espargaro, Lorenzo and Smith. It was Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins who broke that monopoly, as he gained seven tenths going into his second season; as well as now fully fit. Teammate Andrea Iannone, meanwhile, was a sliver slower than in 2017.

Sepang was good reading for Honda. LCR Honda Castrol’s Cal Crutchlow was just under seven tenths quicker, and Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa – second quickest overall – only a tenth off the Brit’s improvement. Reigning Champion Marc Marquez also improved, but only by a tenth.

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New Honda aerodynamic fairing breaks cover in Sepang

The man who took him to the wire for the Championship last season was another, like his teammate, who was significantly faster. Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) gained nearly four tenths on his 2017 best, which bodes well for the Italian and the Borgo Panigale factory. But it wasn’t all perfect reading for Ducati riders, as Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Team) and teammate Karel Abraham were both slightly slower. Bautista lost the most time, over half a second slower changing from the GP16 to the GP17 as he adapts.

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How do MotoGP™ teams prepare for a new season?

The GP17, however, was a positive change for two riders, both of whom switch manufacturer: Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) and Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing). Rabat made the biggest leap as he gets acclimatized to life on a Ducati, a stunning 2 and a half seconds quicker in the Sepang test this year. And Miller’s impressive performance since switching to Ducati continued, with the Australian making a gain of a full second. Scott Redding, however, moving to Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, lost out slightly – but teammate Aleix Espargaro, now in his second year on Noale factory machinery, gained two tenths.

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Testing talk: Team Managers assess Sepang

Finally, Yamaha made for interesting reading. After positive reports, that was largely borne out – but it was Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi getting the edge on his teammate this year. The ‘Doctor’ was two tenths quicker this season – and a lot happier – with Maverick Viñales the rider with the most static change. The Spaniard gained only 0.013 as he set almost the same laptime in 2017 and 2018. Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), on his part, gained two and a half tenths – but was also a rookie last season.

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Independent Team crew chiefs chat about the #SepangTest

Now the grid will take on Buriram in Thailand as the second preseason test gives the premier class their first taste of the venue ahead of its debut on the calendar this season; another clean slate and another look on who could be gunning for the front in 2018.