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The MotoGP™ Sepang Test is always an intriguing three days. The work done by the teams and riders over three gruelling days in Malaysia will help decide who is victorious in 2020, but what have we learnt ahead of the Qatar Test and beyond?
After the Flag - Day 3 at the Sepang Test
Ahead of the first Official Test of the season, there were plenty of questions waiting to be answered. motogp.com briefly delves into 10 talking points from the Sepang Test, and what might be in store in the forthcoming weeks and months for certain riders and factories.
1. Marc Marquez and his recovery from shoulder surgery:
Just as it was last year, one main talking point ahead of the opening round of the season is the reigning World Champion’s condition. Marquez wasn’t able to complete a full testing program because of his shoulder and the Spaniard admitted he “felt worse than what I expected on the bike.” The number 93 completed 131 laps over the three days at “60-70%” fitness, so it’ll be interesting to see how the eight-time World Champion gets on at the Qatar Test.
Will Marquez' condition hinder testing & risk 2020 chances?
Fellow Honda man Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) also returned from surgery at the Sepang Test. The Japanese rider admitted he needed to take pain killers on the second and third day as he now looks ahead to the next test in Qatar to try more new parts and settings. Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) impressed upon his return to MotoGP™ action, it seems the Portuguese rider isn’t feeling the effects of his surgery after finishing P12 on the combined times.
Will Repsol Honda be ready in time for 2020?
2. Lorenzo’s Yamaha return:
It’s a sight that whets the appetite of most MotoGP™ fans. Jorge Lorenzo was back on board a YZR-M1 at the Sepang International Circuit and having initially had a day on the 2019 machine during the shakedown test, the number 99 took part in the final day of the Official Test on Sunday. The five-time World Champion finished just 1.348 off Fabio Quartararo’s (Petronas Yamaha SRT) fastest time, and that was without going for a one-lap time attack. It seems Lorenzo slotted straight back into the groove on board an old friend, and speaking to Simon Crafar on Sunday evening, Lorenzo expressed how pleased he was – both on the Yamaha and in general life.
Inside the mind of Jorge Lorenzo
3. Quartararo and the 2020 M1:
Well, judging by the timesheets, the 2019 Rookie of the Year’s transition to 2020 YZR-M1 machinery was seamless. A 1:58.349 from Quartararo on the final day was just shy of Danilo Petrucci’s outright lap record set at the test last year, and it was 0.192 faster than the next-best Yamaha – Valentino Rossi. However, it’s not an instant perfect fit according to the man himself.
Quartararo fastest across all 3 days of Sepang Test
“Today (Day 3) was not an easy day for us. It was difficult to get on the pace. Ok, we made a good lap this morning but we need to work in a good way. We are still looking for a better solution but overall I’m really happy. We did the long run, let’s say, of 12 laps in the hottest conditions when there was no one on track and the grip wasn’t the best. So we will see in Qatar and I’m really happy about the first test of the year.” It seems an already electric Frenchman has more to come with the 2020 bike…
4. Zarco’s acclimatisation to the Ducati:
We now take a look at another Frenchman’s progress – Johann Zarco. The new Reale Avintia Racing man began life as a Ducati rider in Sepang and made impressive progress from Day 1 to Day 3. On the opening day, Zarco was 1.5 off the pace – certainly not a disgrace. On Saturday that gap was cut to 1.2 as the double Moto2™ World Champion improved his time from a 2:00.464 to a 1:59.825. Then, on the final day, Zarco set a 1:58.951 to sit just 0.602 off Quartararo’s pace – a time that was less than a tenth slower than Andrea Dovizioso’s (Ducati Team). Overall, a solid start to Desmosedici life for the number 5.
Ruben Xaus and the transformation at Reale Avintia
5. The rookies:
Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team), Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Iker Lecuona (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) all enjoyed at least five days of hard graft at the Sepang International Circuit, with the new rules allowing premier class rookies to take part in the shakedown test. Reigning Moto2™ World Champion Marquez finished as the fastest rookie in Sepang, albeit just 0.062 ahead of Binder. Repsol Honda Team Manager Alberto Puig was impressed with Marquez’ Malaysian action as the number 73 ended just 0.693 off the quickest time.
Honda: Alex Marquez "better than we expected"
Binder’s progress was also impressive. The South African cut his Day 1 2:00.519 down to a 1:59.104 by the end of the three days, with Lecuona finding around 0.7 seconds from Day 1 to 3. And with the KTM machines looking strong, don’t be surprised to see both Binder and Lecuona challenging for top 10s from the off in Qatar. All in all, it was a very promising display by all three MotoGP™ rookies.
6. Eye spy a new holeshot device…
We’ve seen it on the Ducati, we’ve seen it on the Aprilia. And now, we’ve seen it on the Yamaha. Sepang saw YZR-M1 test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga debut the Iwata factory's version, before Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP’s Rossi and Maverick Viñales got to give it a go. Listen to what Rossi said about it here:
Rossi happy with "positive three days"
7. Aprilia and KTM – did they confirm their impressive shakedown speed?
Yes, in simple terms. Aprilia’s brand-new RS-GP looks like the real deal, both over a qualifying lap and in race-spec. Aleix Espargaro’s 13-lap race simulation on the final day was about as good as anyone’s, while the Spaniard’s 1:58.694 meant all six factories finished just 0.345 apart at the end of play in Sepang.
Aleix Espargaro shows the Aprilia 2020 is race ready
And over at KTM, things are also looking bright. Pol Espargaro’s (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) hard work at both the shakedown and Official Test saw him set a 1:58.610 to perch himself only 0.261 off Quartararo. Test rider Dani Pedrosa also slammed in a 1:58.6 on the new Michelin soft compound to display KTM’s continued improvements. It’s really looking good for both the Austrian and Italian factories in 2020.
KTM keep the dream alive after Sepang Test
8. Where does Ducati stand?
It’s a good question. Ducati Corse General Manager Gigi Dall’Igna explained how he was “quite happy” with how the Sepang Test went, with the Italian confirming the 2020 bike “for sure improved in comparison to last year’s bike.” However, it seems where Ducati are struggling most is with the new Michelin tyres, despite Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) saying the feeling with them has improved.
The only way is up for Ducati
The leading Desmosedici was Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) in P4, with Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) and Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) finishing inside a compact top eight. 15th place Dovi also said that both he and Miller did their fastest laps with the medium Michelin, so the Qatar Test will be a very interesting one for the Bologna factory.
9. Have Suzuki and Yamaha conquered their top speed deficits?
Both factories tested new engine specs at the Valencia and Jerez Test and have continued using their new engine at Sepang, but have they managed to cut their top speed deficits to the likes of Ducati and Honda? If we take a look at the top speeds attainted by each manufacturer across the three days at the Sepang Test, then it makes for positive reading for the Hamamatsu and Iwata outfits.
1. Jack Miller (Ducati) – 337.5 km/h
2. Pol Espargaro (KTM) – 331.3 km/h
3. Cal Crutchlow and Marc Marquez (Honda) – 330.3 km/h
4. Maverick Viñales (Yamaha) – 329.3 km/h
5. Joan Mir (Suzuki) and Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia) – 328.3 km/h
A successful Sepang Test for Suzuki
10. How close is the competition in 2020?
The top speed argument brings us nicely to our final talking point. With KTM and Aprilia’s improvements, the aforementioned gap between all six factories was a slender 0.345 seconds. This time last year, it was 1.401. This year, the top 24 riders – the entire grid plus test riders Bradley Smith and Jorge Lorenzo – were split by 1.549. With the rookies shining and improvements still to be made, the class of 2020 look set to put on a mouth-watering show, and we’ll learn even more across the three days at the Losail International Circuit on the 22-24 February.
2020 really has arrived in style.
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