Gordon Hatch, MotoGP correspondent
Repsol riders lead the way after first head-to-head 1000cc test
Factory Honda riders Dani Pedrosa and 2011 MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner topped the timing sheets in front of their main Yamaha and Ducati rivals at the first head to head 1000cc test of the year at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit in Valencia, Spain.
Both Stoner and Pedrosa gelled well with their new RC213V 1000cc machines and saw their lap times grow consistently faster throughout the two-day test ahead of Ben Spies on the new Factory Yamaha and Cal Crutchlow on the Monster Yamaha Tech 3.
Track conditions were good on both days of the test, which allowed the factory Honda riders to make adjustments to their machines with Stoner focusing some chatter he experienced on both days while Pedrosa worked on engine mapping and the rear shock on his RC213V. The MotoGP riders were also getting to grips with the new Bridgestone tyres that will be used next year.
I'm leaving Valencia in a good mood, more for the improvements we've made than for the lap times.
Leaving both days on top, Pedrosa is happy with the steps he has made ahead of the next test that takes place in Sepang, Malaysia at the end of January 2012. Speaking after setting a best time of 1m 31.807s Pedrosa said, “We had another good day of testing today. Basically we've been working on the engine mapping, to better manage the power of the bike, and with the rear shock. The changes we've done on the bike from Brno to here have been positive and we finish the year with a good feeling. It will be interesting to go to Sepang and continue working under very different conditions, with harder tyre compounds and a much higher track temperature. In general, I'm leaving Valencia in a good mood, more for the improvements we've made than for the lap times, which are not so important for me in winter testing.”
Newly-crowned MotoGP Champion Stoner was happy with his test and is also glad for the upcoming winter break. “Everything has gone pretty well to be honest, on the first day we just needed to compare the bike to the one we tested earlier in the year. There have been a few small improvements especially in terms of the bike working with the new 2012 tyres. The front tyre gives us quite a lot of chatter so this is something we are trying to improve and the new bike helped with that slightly but we'd still like to improve that point a little more. Something we've had since last season with the 800's is a lack of feeling and some chatter coming from the rear on the way into the corner, which is something we still need to improve with the RC213V but we believe we know the direction to go in to improve this situation.
Stoner also spoke about becoming a father for the first time, “Overall it's been a positive test and it's the end of a long season! I'm looking forward to going home now and having some rest, enjoying time with family and friends and preparing for the arrival of our child in February, then we'll be back in Sepang revitalised and ready for 2012.”
Spies was without his teammate Jorge Lorenzo who wasn’t able to test due to a finger injury he sustained at Philip Island. Setting a best time of 1m 32.338s Spies said, “It’s been a long two days,” said Ben Spies. “We had a lot of work to do with Jorge not being here but we’ve got through everything. I think we got the guys working in the right direction, we’re still quite a way from Qatar and what we’ll be racing with but we’ve got a good idea of what we need to work on. There’s a lot of potential in what we have so they’ll go back to Japan now to work on it for a couple of months and we’ll see what we have as a package next year. The team and engineers have worked really hard for the last couple of days so a big thank you to them.”
Following Crutchlow into 5th place was his newly-signed Monster Yamaha Tech teammate Andrea Dovizioso who lapped consistently on his new YZR-M1 machine to set a best time of 1m 33.256s. Ducati Marlboro rolled out a new twin-spar aluminium frame on the GP12 to much publicity on Tuesday morning and Valentino Rossi used the new machine to set a best lap of 1m 33.332s. Sitting in 7th on the timing sheets was Cardion AB Motoracing rider Karel Abraham with a best time of 1m 33.433s.
Newcomer to the Pramac Racing Squad, Spanish rider Hector Barbera managed a best lap of 1m 33.648s to end day two of the test in 8th place. Speaking at the announcement of his new contract for 2012 Barbera said, “This will be my third year riding a Ducati and I want to thank the Pramac Racing Team and Paolo Campinoti who have given me this opportunity. In the last two seasons I have not conquered the results I wanted and I hope that now, after the experience I gained, I can get better results. Both I and Pramac Racing have high goals. I am coming from one of the hardest moments of my career and I want a change."
"The Ducati is working hard, this was a difficult year but I am sure that with tomorrow and Wednesday tests and especially with the winter break, where they will have time to work, they will be able to give us a very competitive bike at the beginning of next season," Barbera added.
Alvaro Bautista has also made a switch for 2012 from the Rizla Suzuki Squad to the San Carlo Honda Gresini team who tragically lost Marco Simoncelli in a fatal crash at the Malaysian GP at Sepang. Bautista’s best time of 1m 33.814s was good enough for 9th place and new boss Fausto Gresini is very happy with his signing. “I am particularly satisfied that Alvaro Bautista will ride a Honda RC213V in the colours of Team San Carlo Honda Gresini next year. He is a very fast rider and I also hold him in high regard for his personality and pleasant nature. I am sure that he will integrate swiftly into our group and that we will enjoy some pleasant experiences together in the future,” Gresini said.
The final place in the top ten went to this year’s Moto2 Champion Stefan Bradl who got to grips with the Honda over the two days to set a best time of 1m 34.142s. Speaking about the test Bradl said, “First of all I want to thank Honda and LCR Team for this great opportunity. I really enjoyed riding a MotoGP bike and I was impressed by Lucio’s team know-how and high level: we made a very good job together exploring the potential of this bike. I learnt a lot from this experience and I want to thank everybody for their support.” LCR Boss Lucio Cecchinello still hasn’t made a decision on who will campaign next season for his team but is expected to make an announcement within the net few days.
Kousuke Akiyoshi was put on the third Repsol Honda machine for the test and set a best lap of 1m 34.546s to finish in 11th. Franco Battaini is filling in for an injured Nicky Hayden who injured his hand in a first lap incident at last weekend’s final round of the 2011 season at the same track and the Italian rider managed a best lap of 1m 34.840s
The 2012 MotoGP season will also see a new Claiming Rule Team (CRT) category on the grid alongside the pure-breed MotoGP prototype machine. CRT Teams can purchase an engine from anywhere and the engine can then be used with a prototype chassis and race in the MotoGP class. There are 8 CRT teams officially listed to race next year but only four teams were present at the test.
First of the CRT riders on the timing sheets was Spanish rider Carmelo Morales on the Team Laglisse BMW setting a best lap of 1m 35.911s who was followed into 14th place by Spain’s Ivan Silva for the BQR Inmotec team with a best time of 1m 36.695s. Finishing in 15th place was Columbian rider Yonny Hernandez for the BQR FTR Kawasaki team on a time of 1m 37.279s. The final place in the test saw Italian Federico Sandi and the GAPAM Grillini Team some way off the pace with a best lap of 1m 38.680s.
MotoGP now moves into the Winter break and the next test will be at the end of January in 2012. The full rider line up for next year’s season is expected shortly.