By Gordon Hatch - MotoGP correspondent
- Qatar night race opens 2011 season
- Honda has dominated testing
- Motegi postponed to October
Honda dominate final test in Middle East By the look of t Honda rounded out the MotoGP winter testing schedule on top in Qatar at the Losail International Circuit with factory riders Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner and Andrea Dovizioso fighting for the top positions ahead of this weekend's race that signals the beginning of the 2011 MotoGP season.
The first night (Sunday) saw Pedrosa edging out the rest with a best time of 1m 56.271s that was less than .200s faster than Stoner in second while the satellite San Carlo Gresini Honda team's Hiroshi Aoyama in third position.
Monday night's test saw a role reversal somewhat with Stoner taking over at the top of the timing sheets while Pedrosa focussed on race pace but the two were still nearly inseparable with Stoner's time of 1m 55.681s just .100s on front of Pedrosa.
2007 Champion Stoner comes into this year's championship a four-times winner at this track and is in better form this year compared to previous years. 2011 is looking more and more like a year of Stoner dominance only this time its on the 800cc RC212V.
"I'm really happy, I didn't think we would get any laps in tonight [Monday] judging from the weather earlier in the day, it was a little tough but the wind seemed to settle and the track conditions improved a lot and we got some good test time in tonight," said Stoner who continued, "By the look of the lap times everyone seems to have taken a big step forward, but we're happy with what we've achieved again here and we can enter the race weekend with confidence but at the same time everyone else will be improving their set-up so we can't relax."
By the lap times everyone seems to have taken a big step forward.
The first day of testing saw the Australian experimenting with his position on the bike in the search of more traction from the rear Bridgestone. Stoner also worked on a number of other areas ahead of this weekend's race.
"We found a good rider position which I'm really happy with, having moved my position more towards the rear in Sepang - to try and find more grip, here we can run a more neutral position and everything seems to be working well. We did some more work on electronics tonight and also on the tyres, but generally worked on set-up for the weekend," he said.
While Stoner spoke about changes to his bike, Pedrosa also worked on a number of items on his bike in the hopes of making the already super-fast Honda even more of a competitive package for the whole season.
"The conditions seemed very difficult when we arrived at the circuit. It was very windy out on track and quite difficult to ride at maximum, but the grip was not so bad. Today we tried the new front fork, we have continued to work with electronics and have tried both the hard and the softer tyres.
"We kept the good feeling we had at Sepang, the test here in Qatar also went well in general and we go to the first race with a competitive bike, but for the Grand Prix we will have to keep working hard because nobody will give away anything," said Pedrosa.
Dovizioso continues his impressive pre-season form and remains in good spirits ahead of this Sunday's race on 20th March. The Italian set a fastest day two time of 1'56.439s to put him in fifth position behind San Carlo Gresini's Marco Simoncelli in fourth (1m 56.433s) and Yamaha's Ben Spies third.
"It's been a good test, I'm happy with it. We've now got a couple of days to look over the data ready for the four day weekend, there'll be plenty more riding opportunities before Sunday," Spies said while adding, "I was pretty confident coming here after Sepang, hopefully we can make the bike even better before the race. Last year we saw that the M1 worked well at every track, it's Yamaha's strong point and I think it's the same this year."
While Randy de Puniet heavily impressed on his Pramac Racing Ducati in sixth position, Jorge Lorenzo had a day to forget on his Yamaha with the Spaniard finishing the test in seventh, somewhere he didn't want to be at the beginning of the week.
Posting a best time of 1m 56.707s Lorenzo said, "Today wasn't the best day for me. It was not because my riding is bad, I always admit when it is, we struggled with the set up of the bike during the session and unfortunately we didn't make a step forward. We also tried a different swing arm today but it didn't make an improvement. We will work over the next few days to be ready to improve in the next sessions on Thursday."
The other big story of the day was that seven-times MotoGP champion, Ducati Marlboro's Valentino Rossi could only manage a 1m 56.988s on his Ducati GP11 with the Italian's shoulder still not back to full fitness after having it operated on before Christmas after a motocross accident early in 2010.
Rossi's time earned him just 13th position and he also crashed twice - once on each day. This has left him behind a lot of riders not deemed to be of his calibre but the pace of the rest of the field leaves no doubt the the standard of riding within MotoGP has been raised up a few notches.
Completing a total of 50 laps before his shoulder lost power Rossi said, "I'd say that today was pretty challenging: the weather conditions were much tougher than yesterday, and I had another crash when I slipped on a white line. Fortunately, I just fell over on the ground-it was nothing serious.
"The real problem was that at about an hour and a half from the finish, I started to lose strength in my shoulder, and I just couldn't push anymore. It's a shame, because I had just done my best time, and I may have been able to drop it a little more from there. Instead, we didn't even mount the two soft tyres that we had.
"I started on a long run, but I stopped because I was losing tenths lap after lap. Let's say that we're not as far back as it looks, although we still have a lot of work to do, regarding both the bike and myself, because the shoulder is evidently not yet able to bear two such intense days of testing. Between now and Thursday, I'll do some light exercise and have it massaged, and then we'll see," The Doctor added.
Rossi's teammate Nicky Hayden finished up in ninth spot posting a best time of 1m 56.726s. While Lorenzo was unhappy with seventh and Rossi disappointed with 13th, Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Gresini) on a 1m 56.740s and Colin Edwards (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) with a 1m 56.716s were both pleased with eight and tenth respectively.
Next up in 11th place came the Mapfre Aspar Ducati of Hector Barbera (1m 56.798s) who was just over one second off the pace along with Suzuki's lone rider for this year Alvaro Bautista (1m 56.931s) finishing just below 'Barberix' in 12th.
Trailing Rossi was fellow compatriot Loris Capirossi (1m 57.345s) on the second of the Pramac Racing Ducatis finishing in 14th while rookies Cal Crutchlow (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) set a 1m 57.730s just ahead of Cardion AB Motoracing's Karel Abraham in 16th with a 1m 57.846s.
The final place in the timings went to the sickly Toni Elias on his LCR Honda who set a best time of 1m 58.536s but his team are confident that last year's Moto2 champion will be fit for the race.
The news that Honda is doing so well in the MotoGP preseason will be of some comfort to the millions of Japanese who are this week struggling to come to terms with the sheer devastation that last week's Earthquake and Tsunami has done along with the threat of a meltdown at one of the country's nuclear plants.
Subsequent to the natural disasters occurring for the second year in a row the Japanese MotoGP round, that was scheduled for Sunday 24th April has been re-scheduled with the race now to take place on 2nd October, two weeks after the Aragon GP and a fortnight before the Australian GP - last year the race date at the Twin-Ring, Motegi had to be moved because of Iceland's volcanic ash saga.