Gordon Hatch, MotoGP correspondent
New 1000cc Era ready to get underway in Sepang, Malaysia
The MotoGP testing schedule gets underway on Tuesday January 31st until Thursday February 2nd at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia. The first winter test of the 2012 season heralds a new era of MotoGP with the introduction of the new 1000cc machines in the premier class.
While the teams and riders prepare themselves for the three-day test at the track where Marco Simoncelli tragically lost his life in a racing incident less than five months ago, the spotlight will be firmly fixed on the Ducati Marlboro team and its heavily anticipated all-new GP12 machine. The Italian manufacturer has worked through the winter to produce the 1000cc bike for factory riders Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden.
When Ducati attended the test directly after the final round of 2011 in Valencia, Spain the bike that the team rolled out was a hybrid GP11.1 that Rossi was working on throughout the season in a desperate effort to keep in touch with Repsol Honda and Yamaha Factory Racing. Ducati went into the winter trailing the factory teams by 1.5s.
There has been constant focus on the Bologna based team and it has been highly secretive with its new GP12, so much so that the machine was not unveiled at the annual Wroom Ski Press festival that takes place in early January as was customary in previous years. When asked about the bike at the festival, Rossi and Hayden spoke of their expectations of the machine while creator of the machine and General Manager of Ducati Corse Fillipo Preziosi was very tight lipped about its specifications.
Ducati have one again been seen to play down the expectations of the MotoGP paddock and the world's media after recent reports have said that the team would be content being within 1.5s of the other factory teams. Speaking to Italian press recently team boss Vito Guareschi said the target was a realistic one. Guareschi was also keen to play down any rumours and would not speak about the recent shakedown test the team held at the Jerez circuit in Spain with 2011 World Superbike World Champion Carlo Checa and Ducati test rider Franco Battaini.
Meanwhile, in a last minute change of fortunes for two riders, Italian Mattia Pasini has been drafted in and signed in place of Australian Anthony West for the Speed Master squad's CRT project this year after West failed to find the necessary budget for the ride.
Pasini was a race winner in 125cc and 250cc, but the 26-year-old Italian has had two difficult seasons in Moto2 over the past two years. Speed Master is graduating to MotoGP under the CRT system this year after taking Andrea Iannone to third in the Moto2 standings in both 2010 and '11.
The Sepang test will see all the factory teams present as well as satellite teams, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, Cardion AB Motoracing, Gresini Honda, Pramac Racing as well as CRT teams NGM Forward Suter BMW who are in the capable hands of MotoGP veteran rider Colin Edwards), and the BQR FTR Kawasaki team with their riders Ivan Silva, Robertino Pietri. The remainder of the CRT teams will remain in Europe for their testing.