Three and a half tenths. That was all that covered Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki, Ducati, KTM and Aprilia at the Official MotoGP™ Sepang Test as we witnessed the closest preseason test since KTM joined the premier class in 2017.
And it wasn’t just the factories that were split by barely anything. Every rider down to 24th fastest Iker Lecuona (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) dipped below the two-minute Sepang International Circuit, and the gap between those top 24 was just 1.549 – Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was 1.512 off P1 in 2019, the Spaniard just 0.261 adrift a year later. Moreover, the top 19 at the 2020 Sepang Test had a margin of 0.755 between them – 0.783 split the top seven last year…
The competitiveness of the Sepang Test is testament to all the factory’s hard work, especially KTM and Aprilia who seem to have cut the gap to Honda, Ducati, Suzuki and Yamaha twofold. We only have to take a look at recent previous years to see how close each factory is looking in 2020.
During 2019 preseason testing, the gap between each factory at the Valencia Test was 0.871, at the Jerez Test it was 1.199, at Sepang it sat at 1.401 and in Qatar it was 0.965. Ahead of the 2018 campaign, the MotoGP™ circus travelled to Valencia (1.067), Sepang (1.432) and Qatar (1.203) again, while in Buriram the gap sat at 1.140.
Harping our minds back to 2017, KTM’s first preseason testing programme in the premier class, the gap in Valencia was 2.593. Sepang saw the margin sit at 1.970, in Qatar it was 2.021 and around Phillip Island the gap was 1.308. Of course, the time difference between the fastest factory and KTM in their first season was always going to be higher than it is in 2020 preseason testing. But it goes to show what a great job the Austrian factory have done – and continue to do – to close the deficit.
The Qatar Test on the 22-24 February will give us a few more answers in terms of how the teams and riders are shaping up for the start of the season under the floodlights. But, for now, it certainly looks like we’ve got one cracking MotoGP™ show lined up for 2020.