SEPANG, Malaysia – Repeating his dominance of the first two days, Marc Marquez concluded the first MotoGP test of the 2014 preseason at the Sepang Int’l Circuit ahead of his rivals, thanks to a rapid early best time.
Marquez, the 2013 MotoGP World Champion, wasted no time on the final test day at the Malaysian venue, laying down a superb 1:59.533 marker in the cooler temperatures of the morning. His pace-setting lap was marginally quicker than the previous best Sepang test time of 1:59.607, registered by Casey Stoner on the Honda prototype in 2012.
Marquez later produced a strong performance in a race simulation with 15 consecutive laps under the 2:01 mark.
The early running had seemed more like a qualifying practice than a test session with the top riders battling each other for top spot in a time attack.
Nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi set his own personal best Sepang test time of 1:59.727, whilst Jorge Lorenzo clocked the third best time of the day with a notably quick 1:59.866 effort on just his second lap.
Like Marquez, both Yamaha Factory riders later produced longer runs as they too worked on tyre durability and fuel consumption in preparation for their battles this year with the incoming ‘Open’ class machines – which will have a 24 litre fuel limit compared to the 20 litre capacity of the Factory entries.
Showing the potential of the new ‘Open’ bikes was the consistently impressive Aleix Espargaro on the FTR Yamaha of NGM Mobile Forward Racing, with his 1:59.998 best time coming on the second of 43 laps. The older Espargaro brother’s pace is one of the talking points of the week and he was able to lap nearly two seconds quicker than his teammate Colin Edwards who concluded Thursday’s session 14th.
LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl (+0.579) was close behind Forward Racing’s Espargaro in fifth, despite falling at turn one early on Thursday. That was of course the corner where he fractured his ankle in October’s Grand Prix, but on this occasion he was unhurt and immediately remounted.
Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa made a slower start and also had an off track excursion early in the morning, but later moved towards the business end of the timesheet, going up to sixth place with a 2:00.223 lap in the afternoon.
A decent time for Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso (2:00.370) put him seventh on Thursday, the Italian producing one of Ducati’s best ever Sepang test times. Indeed Dovizioso’s time was a .776 of a second improvement on his Wednesday best and was .7 of a second faster than his new teammate Cal Crutchlow’s final time, as the Englishman ended up 12th.
Both Ducati riders expect machine upgrades for the second Sepang test later this month.
Like his older brother Aleix, rookie Pol Espargaro also impressed, finishing as the faster of the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 riders in eighth place, 1.122 seconds down on Marquez’ best time.
Fellow Tech 3 man Bradley Smith was 11th overall, though he may not have been shooting for out and out pace on Thursday and will hope to improve his competitiveness if the team can secure access to the Yamaha seamless shift gearbox early in 2014.
The top ten was completed by Pramac Racing’s Andrea Iannone and GO&FUN Honda Gresini’s Alvaro Bautista, with both riders just over a second off the pace. Drive M7 Aspar’s Nicky Hayden and GO&FUN Honda Gresini’s Scott Redding were 13th and 21st respectively and will both hope to go faster on the new RCV1000R before the season starts.
Suzuki Test Team rider Randy de Puniet will also continue his work throughout the year in testing as he looks to close a three second gap to the front with the evolving Suzuki machine. He was 17th on the timesheet.
The majority of riders broke for lunch shortly before 2pm local time as the heat increased, with more race simulations and longer runs a key focus after the initial morning runs. The data from those longer runs are crucial for fuel economy calculations for the ‘Factory’ bikes in particular, as they have one litre of race fuel less than 2013.
A new Bridgestone tire was also tested by the riders this week – a similar construction to that used in Valencia testing in November, with a compound slightly adapted to suit the Sepang heat. The Japanese tyre supplier will therefore hoped to have gathered useful data for improved performance in 2014.