story by MotoGP and Tim Hailey, photos by MotoGP.
With most sprouting some form(s) of fairing winglets, the 2018 MotoGP bikes were bullied about in the first three days of open testing at Sepang International. Here’s the rundown of who ran best.
Pedrosa, Dovizioso, Lorenzo: the fastest three on Day 1
The first day of Official 2018 action began wet at Sepang International Circuit, with the majority of the field setting some laps but then waiting it out as the track began to dry. So the season began on wets, before slicks began to appear up and down pitlane. Fastest by the end of the session was Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, as the pole lap record holder at the track ended the day more than three tenths clear of 2017 runner up Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team). Dovizioso’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo was third quickest, just 0.032 in arrears.
The tyres available for the test are the same as were allocated during the 2017 race weekend: a soft, a medium and a hard front, and a soft, medium and hard asymmetric rear. In addition, Michelin have brought two new front compounds for the field to evaluate – as well as a rear with a small evolution in the compound.
Timesheet-topping Pedrosa and teammate Marc Marquez had 2018 protoype machines as well as 2017 spec R213Vs in the Repsol Honda garage. Pedrosa put in 56 laps and blasted ahead on his final run, with the reigning Champion on the other side of the garage doing 51 and moving up to P7 late in the day. LCR Honda Castrol’s Cal Crutchlow was also testing for HRC with 2018 protoypes and the Brit had three machines in the pitbox. He earned the honour of first crasher of the season, but did also play guinea pig by heading out first on slicks. Crutchlow did 38 laps with a best of 2:00.522 to take ninth on the timesheets.
Hot on their heels over in the Ducati garage, and following test rider Casey Stoner’s positivity on the new GP18 after private tests, Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo had both the GP17 and the GP18 with which to put in their laps. Dovizioso spent some time on top before being deposed later in the day, but the Italian charged back up to second overall by the end of action. 35 laps saw the 2017 Malaysian GP winner put in a best of 1:59.770, with teammate Lorenzo also a late mover and catapulting himself from outside the top ten to P3 on his final run. The five-time World Champion did 38 laps. Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) made it three Ducatis in the fastest four as he took P4, just ahead of new teammate Jack Miller, who made it 80% Borgo Panigale factory machinery in the top five as he impressed once again.
Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi and teammate Maverick Viñales, meanwhile, began the day with new fairings – but not the new full carbon-black aero package seen on test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga’s machine. The two men were forces to be reckoned with on the timesheets until a final time attack from some competitors. With the new chassis based on 2016 and the 2018 engine, an optimistic ‘Doctor’ put in 50 laps. The quickest clocked in at a 2:00.233 to put him P6, with teammate Viñales P13 on Sunday after 72 laps. The first man out on wets in the morning, meanwhile, was Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) as the lights went green, and the Frenchman had some new – to the Tech 3 team – aero to test. He ended the day in eighth after 62 laps.
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing impressed once again as they head into their second season. Pol Espargaro was on the pace from the off and completed the top ten, with teammate Bradley Smith in P17. The Spaniard did 39 laps and the Brit matched the count exactly. Test rider Mika Kallio was also on track.
After taking a wrong turn with the engine in 2017, Team Suzuki Ecstar were forced to develop around the problem – but now think they’re in a much better direction with their 2018 engine specification. Ex-rookie Alex Rins was their top rider on the first day in P11 after 63 laps, with Andrea Iannone taking P16 but only four tenths further back. Aprilia, meanwhile, were working on weight distribution and improving the power over the winter, re-evaluating their findings with riders Aleix Espargaro and Scott Redding from now on. Espargaro put Aprilia Racing Team Gresini in P14 after 40 laps, with Redding starting to settle in in P21 – taking the lap counter over the half century mark.
It was Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) who emerged from the first day as the fastest rookie, riding a 2017 Honda this season and putting in a good amount of laps on Day 1 – 64. He was twelfth overall. Reigning Moto2™ Champion Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) was next up in terms of debutants, in P18 after 62 laps and half a second off the Japanese rider. Fellow rookies Xavier Simeon (Reale Avintia Racing) and Tom Lüthi (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) were also on track, with Swiss rider Lüthi now having successfully completed his first day in the premier class after being forced to sit out the Valencia test through injury.
Viñales and Rossi reign on Day 2
Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) went quickest on Day 2 at Sepang International Circuit, just beating teammate Valentino Rossi to the top late on as the Yamaha duo put in some timeattack laps. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) was third quickest, with the top three split by less than a tenth as the timesheets were close once again.
It was Red Bull KTM Factory Racing’s Pol Espargaro who led the way early on Day 2, with action slow to get in gear following some overnight rain. But soon, times began to tumble – and a good number of late movers shook up the timesheets in the final hour. Espargaro also took a tumble, tipping off at Turn 4 and heading to the medical center. Largely ok, the Spaniard will nevertheless head to hospital in Kuala Lumpur for further checks.
Some of the biggest headlines on Monday were aero-fairings, with Honda and Yamaha riders all trying some of this year’s evolutions. Crutchlow had the carbon-black Honda version to try out on HRC test duty, before Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa both tried the innovation at Repsol Honda. At Yamaha, some of the new changes previously seen on test riders’ machines were on show, too – with both Viñales and Rossi trying them out. Rossi also tried out a new testing lid – but it wasn’t technically an innovation; the rider from Tavullia instead opting to wear an updated replica of his 1996 helmet.
The Yamaha duo at the top did a 1:59.355 and a 1:50.390 respectively, with Viñales putting in 68 laps and Rossi 39. Crutchlow, meanwhile, managed a 1:59.443 as his best of 65 laps – keeping the top three within 0.088 seconds.
Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) was the next man on the timesheets. The five-time World Champion did a 1:59.498, and was only a further half a tenth back after 44 laps. Another Borgo Panigale machine completed the top five, with Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) impressing once more – and only 0.011 off Lorenzo. Miller managed to break into the 1:59 club and did 44 laps.
Behind that top five, there was a slightly bigger gap back to sixth. Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) ended the day 0.193 off the top five after putting in 48 laps – just ahead of reigning Champion Marc Marquez and settling into life on the 2017 M1.
Marquez put in exactly the same lap count as compatriot and expected Championship rival Maverick Viñales – 68 – and ended the day with a 1:59.730 as his quickest; just 0.002 ahead of another big rival in the form of Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team). Marquez was another crasher on Day 2, but it was a very minor tip off early in the lap just before some rain began to fall.
The reigning Champion explained he would be working through their programme – going from engine to setups to aero – on Days 2 and 3, and the Spaniard showed that to be true as he tried the aero-fairing in the afternoon. Dovizioso, meanwhile, is concentrating on a deeper evaluation of the new GP18 after initial positive reports coming from the Ducati Team camp after the opening day. Another Ducati was just behind him, with Danilo Petrucci putting the second Alma Pramac Racing machine in P9.
(Team Suzuki Ecstar) was tenth quickest on the second day as Suzuki look to move forward with their changes made for 2018, saying their engine last season had been a mistake in direction. The Italian suffered some early drama however when his GSX-RR caught fight and caused him to pull over, but got back out soon after and put in a total of 57 laps. Teammate Alex Rins was P13, with a similar lap count.
Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) was tantalizingly close to the top ten as the Noale factory continue to evaluate their winter mission for, amongst other things, more horsepower. He did 47 laps, with teammate Scott Redding putting in 51 further down the timesheets as he gets to grips with his switch to the RS-GP.
Dani Pedrosa was the only rider who didn’t improve and he was P12 after topping Day 1, but his fastest lap from the first day is the third fastest overall on combined times.
Pol Espargaro was P14 and did only 22 laps due to his crash, with Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) splitting the two Red Bull KTM Factory Racing riders to take 15th; two tenths ahead of the second Austrian machine as Bradley Smith ended Day 2 in P16.
Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) struck back in the battle of the rookies on Monday despite two crashes, with the intermediate class reigning Champion P17 on the second day and managing to stay three tenths clear of fellow rookie Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu). The Japanese rider was P21.
Lorenzo below lap record pace to dominate Day 3
Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati Team) decimated the competition on the third and final day of the #SepangTest, setting the fastest ever lap around the Malaysian venue with a 1:58.830. His closest challenger was Repsol Honda Team’s Dani Pedrosa – the fastest man on Day 1 of the test – who was just over a tenth and a half behind his compatriot. The number 26 is also the holder of the pole lap record. Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) took P3, only half a tenth behind the RC213V of Pedrosa ahead of him.
It was a day without the rain that had affected Sunday and Monday’s action, and Lorenzo put in 48 laps overall, topping the timesheets on Lap 21. The Spaniard had also crashed earlier, but then went out and set his best effort. The 1:58.830 lap will not count as the official record due it having been set outside a race weekend, but it is the quickest recorded lap on two wheels. The previous best belonged to Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and was set during testing in 2015. Lorenzo said there were marked improvements in the GP18 when compared to last year’s machine.
Pedrosa did 58 laps and similarly set his quickest lap early, on Lap 9. Only 0.009 away from breaking into the 1:58 bracket, the ‘Little Samurai’ was the quickest Honda of the test. He was working with one bike in the garage sporting Honda’s new aero fairing and one without, whereas teammate Marc Marquez opted to go aero-fairing free on Day 3, saying the innovation needs bigger setup changes to be evaluated. The reigning Champion ended the third day in seventh and got through a long workload of 75 laps; his best a 1:59.382 after opting to forego a timeattack lap.
Behind Crutchlow in third – the Brit another who did a lot of laps, completing 65 – was the second Ducati Team rider of Andrea Dovizioso. ‘DesmoDovi’, like teammate Lorenzo, took a tumble but escaped unscathed. The Italian ended the day just over a tenth off the top three, and completed 51 laps. Just behind him was another impressive performance for another Borgo Panigale machine; that of Alma Pramac Racing’s Jack Miller. Switching from Honda, the Australian proved his adaptation once again with a 1:59.346 as his best after 36 laps – completing the top five despite proving the first crasher of the day.
Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) was the rider who broke the Ducati and Honda stranglehold on the timesheets first, going sixth quickest but only 0.002 off Miller and the top five. Rins, who struggled with injury in 2017, has had a rapid start to his sophomore season and put in another half century of laps at Sepang. Teammate Andrea Iannone, after suffering a number of technical issues in testing so far, was twelfth fastest but managed an increased 62 laps for the Hamamatsu factory as they aim to reset after a more difficult 2017.
The top Yamaha was nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi, with the ‘Doctor’ slotting into eighth and one of the late improvers. A 1:59.449 on Lap 52 of 54 saw him just pip Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Johann Zarco in the last few minutes of track action, after the number 46 had been second fastest on Day 2. Teammate Maverick Viñales – fastest on Monday – was P18 on the third and final day, but is within the top six overall with his previous best. Both Yamaha riders had their new aero-packages on track, and Independent Team rider Zarco also tried the fairing on Tuesday.
Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) made it both Pramac machines in the top ten on Day 3 as he ended Tuesday 0.017 seconds off Zarco. ‘Petrux’ was also the fourth Independent Team rider within that quickest ten, and just pipped fellow Independent Ducati rider Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) to the honour. Rabat was a crasher on Day 3, but was unhurt. He did 35 laps and was just 0.019 off Petrucci in an incredibly tight midfield on the timesheets. The next quickest Independent Team Ducati was Angel Nieto Team’s Alvaro Bautista, who was P15.
Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) led the charge for the Noale factory in P13, and put in his quickest lap on his final exit – the last rider in the 1:59s on Day 3. One of Aprilia’s key focuses has been increasing their horsepower and reconfirming their work over the winter with Espargaro and Scott Redding. Redding continued his adaptation with another 56 laps in the bank.
Meanwhile, at Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, it was test rider Mika Kallio leading the way on the timesheets for the Austrian factory. They debuted a new aero package, and Kallio did a best of 2:00.464. Bradley Smith did a 2:00.969, with Pol Espargaro sitting Tuesday out following his big crash on Monday. The Spaniard has no fractures but the crash, at Turn 4, was a fast one.
Of the four rookies, it was Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) who was the quickest once again on Day 3. The Japanese rider was fourteenth quickest overall with a 2:00.71, tantalisingly close to the 1:59 bracket. Reigning Moto2™ Champion Franco Morbidelli was around half a second off that and second fastest of the new riders in the field – but the number 21 was 0.021 ahead of Viñales for an impressive scalp. Xavier Simeon (Reale Avintia Racing) was a further three tenths back, with Tom Lüthi (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) the final rookie on the timesheets. It is, however, the Swiss rider’s first test on his new machine, having been sidelined for Valencia due to injury. He crashed at Turn 4 in a slow incident, but picked the bike up and continued.
That’s a wrap on the first action of the year, but MotoGP™ will be back before you know it – getting a first taste of Buriram in Thailand ahead of the 2018 debut of the Thailand GP. The test there begins on the 16th February.