The 2018 Sepang Official MotoGP Test was an exciting premise to the season.
The bikes are much faster this year.
The results has a good mix of different bikes.
Three exciting days of the 2018 Sepang Official MotoGP Test is over.
Maybe the word “exciting” would be a stretch for those following reports from their offices or homes, since there’s no telecast except if you subscribed to the crazily expensive Videopass package on the official MotoGP website. But to us following from the trackside, paddock and Media Centre at the Sepang International Circuit, it was evident that we will have an exciting 2018 MotoGP season ahead of us.
First of all, the Top Three manufacturers of the series had their satellite teams running at almost, if not faster, times as the factory teams. If counted in Alex Rins, who’s making a return to Suzuki after being sidelined from much of 2017, that makes four different manufacturers in the Top 10.
There was certainly drama over the three days, especially in the afternoon sessions. While they ran race simulations earlier in the day (long stints out on track at race pace), the later sessions were when the teams and riders go out en masse for qualifying test runs. This was when most of the best times were recorded for the first two days: Dani Pedrosa’s penultimate lap on Day One, Vinalez’s and Rossi’s on Day Two.
It was a different story on Day Three, as eight of the top ten riders posted their fastest times earlier in the day when the track was cooler. This goes to show that the Michelins work around a certain track temperature range and start to “go away” when the heat picks up.
Indeed, Valentino Rossi who finished eighth fastest on the last day and ninth in combined times went on to say, “First of all, we tried everything and we have pretty clear ideas, but today was the most difficult day. We suffered a bit more because of a lack of grip and that made us lost a bit in positions.”
Rossi is 38 this year and still chasing that elusive 10th title. There’s been much talk if the flamboyant racer will continue beyond 2018.
The story of the 2018 Sepang Official MotoGP Test, of course, went to Jorge Lorenzo in his second year at Ducati. While many pundits claimed that the Majorcan will fail miserably in his new team, he had already started to show his prowess toward the latter part of the 2017 season.
With his fastest lap of 1:58.830, Lorenzo absolutely blew everyone away on the GP18 on Day Three, as being the first rider to ever head below the 1:59 mark. Has the Majorcan adapted to the machine or has Ducati made changes to fit his riding style? “The bike has improved and it’s more suited to my riding style and I can take profit of my strong points,” said Lorenzo. Unfortunately, the time will not be recorded as the fastest lap, as it happened during the off-season. Let’s hope he repeats it during race weekend.
Lorenzo is one of the only riders who still ride the “long arc” style compared to the “V-shape” line most MotoGP riders adopt.
The latter style was effectively used by Marc Marquez to guide his Honda RC-V to four MotoGP championships. He’d brake hard all the way to the apex of a corner, lift the bike up quickly onto the fatter part of the rear tyre and blast his way out, utilizing the Honda’s power. This was also because the Honda has a short wheelbase and taller centre of gravity.
Lorenzo’s style is the traditional out-in-out style used by many 250cc riders. Brake early, release and carry more corner speed. The Yamaha had suited Lorenzo’s style from the outset, being long and low. This was why he suffered initially when he moved to Ducati.
Dani Pedrosa had been giving Lorenzo and Ducati a run for their money throughout the tests. He did well to record his fastest time of 1:59.009, just 0.179 off Lorenzo’s. SIC has always been one of his favourite hunting grounds, having won here three times in the past. Will he challenge for the top throughout the season?
Cal Crutchlow has been doing well in the tests and finished third fastest with a time of 1:59.052. The Englishman had been testing the new Honda aerodynamics package alongside Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa.
Andrea Dovizioso came close to winning his first title and Ducati’s since Casey Stoner in 2007 last year. He had suffered a crash earlier in the day but still managed to pop in his fastest time of 1:59.169.
One of the biggest news was Jack Miller. Having had a couple of dreadful seasons (although he had one win in Assen, The Netherlands in 2016), Miller surprised everyone including himself at Sepang. Now riding the Ducati GP17 for the Alma Pramac Racing team, “Jackass” been in the top five of each day and posted a great time of 1:59.346. “The more I ride the bike, the more I understand it and get the feel for it,” he said.
Alex Rins was another welcomed sight in the top ten, finishing sixth fastest (1:59.348) on the Suzuki. Sidelined for much of 2017, he kept putting that blue bike in the top ten for the three days.
On the other hand, Maverick Vinalez seemed to have been inconsistent, apart from posting the fastest time on Day Two just ahead of his teammate Rossi. He ended Day Three eighteenth fastest, but seventh overall in combined times by merit of this 1:59.322 time from Day Two. He lamented, “Today it’s been difficult. I don’t know why we lost time, especially in the afternoon – in the morning it went quite well.”
What about Marquez? The defending champ had been testing everything that needed to be tested. The 2017 bike with the 2017 engine, then with the 2018 engine; the 2018 bike with and without the new aerodynamics. He came away eighth fastest but remains positive from the data gathered.
Rounding out the top ten on combined standings is Johann Zarco. Zarco had fired the first shot in the wet during the first day’s morning session. He had also tested the same aerodynamics package as the factory boys. But his fastest time of 1:59.511 clocked on the last day was only good for ninth of the day and tenth overall.
However, if we compared to the previous years’ results, 21 of 26 riders (excluding the four test riders) went faster than Jorge Lorenzo’s fastest race lap of 2:00.606 in 2015 (2016 was a wet race, 2017 was a dry race on a drying track.) Karel Abraham was the 21st rider on the timesheet with 2:00.574. The 26th and final rider, Yonny Hernandez who’s sitting in for Jonas Folger in the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team, clocked his fastest lap at 2:01.223.
The off-season tests head to Buriram, Thailand starting from 16th February, which is incidentally Valentino Rossi’s 38th birthday, and Chinese New Year. Buriram is a circuit with long straights preceding the corners, somewhat akin to Motegi, placing great importance on hard acceleration and hard braking.