Who’s Quickest in Qatar?

Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) leaves the #QatarTest as the fastest man on track, with the Frenchman just over a tenth over Jorge Lorenzo’s 10-year-old pole lap record to top the test with a 1:54.029. Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) shot back up into the higher echelons on Day 2 to get closest to the Frenchman as he was 0.247 further back – with Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) completing the top three as he was once again a constant presence to be reckoned with.

Lorenzo’s record that Zarco was hunting down is a 1:53.927, set in 2008 when the now five-time World Champion debuted – a longstanding mark of pace at the venue to add some extra lustre to the Tech 3 rider’s laptime. Behind that show of outright pace from the Frenchman’s Yamaha, Rossi’s two and a half tenth deficit was nevertheless enough to put the Italian into P2 despite a crash earlier in the day – and Dovizioso was just 0.055 off his compatriot.

Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP)

In fourth, Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) was the fastest Honda with a 1:54.457 – continuing his fantastic preseason form – after putting in 57 laps, which was the most of the top five. It was incredibly close between the Brit and the third Yamaha Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP), however, with the Spaniard – fastest in testing at the venue last season and the race winner – just 0.014 off after he made a late attack.

The top five were the same as the combined times on Day 3, but the man who leaves the desert sixth overall set his best laptime on Day 2 – Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar). The Italian, whose 1:54.586 was the fastest lap on Friday, was sidelined on the third and final day of the third and final preseason test, suffering with illness.

Slotting behind the ‘Maniac’ and his Day 2 assault, Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) was seventh overall as he guns for his seventh title – and by another tiny margin, with only 0.005 in it. The reigning Champion also showed impressive pace on a long run, and did the most laps of anyone as he racked up 75. He ended the day sandwiched between the Team Suzuki Ecstar machines, as Alex Rins took P8 and ended preseason on form and fully healthy ahead of his sophomore season.

Two Ducatis locked out the top ten overall, with Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) just 0.009 off Rins ahead of him and 0.033 ahead of the Ducati Team machine of Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo, who went fastest in Sepang with the quickest ever lap, put in a 1:54.692 in Qatar for P10. Second Alma Pramac Racing rider Jack Miller, who headed out late with a soft tyre for a time attack, was P11 overall and another tiny margin made the difference – just 0.057.

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) big crash on Day 1

Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team), after a big crash on Day 1 and having been affected since by some pain in his left hand, did the least laps on Friday of anyone but put in 44 more on the final day, ending the test in P12 overall after having topped the #ThaiTest.

Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS)

Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) was the fastest rookie by the end of action in thirteenth, with the Italian-Brazilian leaping up the leaderboard to set a 1:55.132 and take back the honour of fastest rookie from Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Indemitsu), who has largely been the man to watch in preseason. And the second quickest rookie was the newest kid on the block, Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), as the Malaysian – who debuted in Buriram as he steps in to replace Jonas Folger – took P16 and was only just over a tenth off Morbidelli. Nakagami was four tenths further back on Saturday, with fellow rookies Xavier Simeon (Reale Avintia Racing) and Tom Lüthi (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) another half second in arrears.

Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing)

Behind Morbidelli, Bradley Smith (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was the fastest rider for Austrian factory KTM in P14, just over a second off Zarco at the top, with teammate Pol Espargaro still affected by injury. Espargaro did, however, get back on track on Day 3 after sitting it out on Friday, and the Spaniard was three tenths off his teammate.

The man completing the top fifteen was Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini), after an early foray much further up the timesheets. The elder Espargaro brother did a 1:55.232 on the last day, with the Noale factory having four 2018 RS-GPs in Qatar for the first time ahead of the first race of the year.

After the end of the dry track time, there was one last thing on the preseason agenda – a wet test. After everyone was back in pitlane, crews around the venue set about getting the track wet in order to test Losail both in the wet and under the floodlights. After another, shorter session in those different conditions, the curtain then came down on the preseason.

So that’s it. Decisions are made, programmes worked through and components compared – so all that remains now is to race. But there’s not long to wait, with the Qatar GP getting underway on the 16th March.

Day 2

Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar)
Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) went quickest on the second day of the third and final preseason test at Losail International Circuit, blasting to the top late on to take over from compatriot Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team). Despite some early rain in the desert, the field got in some good running on Day 2 – and it was Dovizioso and reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) who ended the day closest to the ‘Maniac’ on the timesheets.

Iannone, who was also a key presence on Day 1 as he moved up the ranks from some more difficult tests at Sepang and Buriram, has been within the top five much of the time – and the Austria 2016 GP winner made a late attack to set a 1:54.586 and pull just 0.041 clear of Dovizioso, largely now confirming data and then working on race setup. Teammate Alex Rins, who has impressed so far in preseason, also made it two Hamamatsu factory machines in the top five on Day 2 – taking P5 and 0.288 off his teammate.

Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team)

Dovizioso, meanwhile, ended his test slightly early after completing a program of 41 laps and having led for much of the latter part of the day. 0.041 off the top, the 2017 runner up was overwhelmingly positive about his bike and his bike at Losail – having also completed a longer run on the newer chassis, but there tempering the reaction with positives but some negatives. Teammate Jorge Lorenzo, who was in the top echelons on Day 1, was P14 on Day 2 – putting in 53 laps and less than a second off Iannone.

Marky Marc Marquez

Marquez, who was just 0.167 off Iannone, did make some headlines with a new aero update that was spotted on his Repsol Honda Team machine – as well as a crash. But the reigning Champion was quotable as ever: “Even the crash was good – because we tried the other bike with a different setup.” He put in a long run – as did many – and despite a more difficult day, was fastest Honda. LCR Honda Castrol and HRC test rider Cal Crutchlow was the second quickest Honda in P6, a tenth and a half off Marquez and locked out of the top five by just 0.025. Marquez’ teammate Dani Pedrosa, meanwhile, took it a little easier on Friday after a big crash on Day 1 – some pain in his hand meaning he didn’t push; tenth after 35 laps.

The fastest Yamaha was once again Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) after Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) had taken back the honour on Day 2. Zarco said it was a great day on track and was fourth overall, making a big improvement on new tyres. “Found what we were missing” was the Frenchman’s most telling soundbite, and after 49 laps that was evident on the timesheets.

Viñales, on the other hand, ended Friday in P7. Continuing to look for solutions to some issues plaguing the Iwata marque, the Spaniard did 52 laps and went fastest on his penultimate effort. Teammate Valentino Rossi was P11 and only 0.034 off the top ten and Pedrosa in P10, and the ‘Doctor’ explained he was having some problems with the front tyre that put paid to a time attack. But the rider from Tavullia said his pace “wasn’t bad”, with that front tyre – especially over race distance – a key focus for his side of the garage.

Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing)

Alma Pramac Racing were the third Independent Team represented in the top ten and their pairing of Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller took P8 and P9 to end the day just behind Viñales. The two men were split by less than a tenth and it made for another impressive test performance for Queenslander Miller as he settles into life on Ducati machinery – as well as podium challenger ‘Petrux’. Both men did also crash, however, with tumbles into T1 happening almost in unison, but riders ok.

Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini)

Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) was the top Aprilia man on Friday and is “confident and curious” to compare his race simulation planned for the final day of testing, with the Spaniard just under nine tenths off the top in P12. His teammate Scott Redding was fifteenth, after having headed the charge for the Noale factory on Day 1.

Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu)

The final man in the fastest fifteen was early pacesetter in the battle for Rookie of the Year Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu), who slotted into thirteenth despite a small crash. A 1:55.539 put the Japanese rider within a second of the top after 61 laps, around half a second quicker than fellow rookie and reigning Moto2™ World Champion Franco Morbidelli (EG 0,0 Marc VDS). Hafizh Syahrin, jumping in at the deep end with Monster Yamaha Tech 3 after getting signed up for the season after Buriram, was less than two tenths off Morbidelli, and just ahead of both Tom Lüthi (EG 0,0 Marc VDS) and Xavier Simeon (Reale Avintia Racing), who also debut this year.

The final day of preseason is now just around the corner, with Saturday set to bring down the curtain ahead of the first race weekend of the year. Is everybody ready? Only time will tell…

Day 1

Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP)

Maverick Viñales (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP) opened the #QatarTest on top of the timesheets, with last year’s victor at Losail putting in a 1:55.053 to narrowly beat Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) to the top by less than half a tenth. Even closer than that, Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) took third and was just 0.003 off Dovizioso ahead of him.

Action was a little sluggish to get in gear on Day 1 as some waited for conditions to become more similar to those that will prevail during the race weekend, but by the end of running the majority of the field had racked up half a century on the lapcounter. At this test, there are three choices of front and rear from Michelin, with the soft and medium front tyres the same as the allocation for the race last year and the harder front the one new for this season used at the Sepang and Thai tests. The rear allocation is the medium and hard from the race weekend at Losail in 2017, plus a new soft option to test.

That’s in addition to each individual agenda – with Qatar now proving final decision time ahead of lights out. For Viñales and the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team, it’s important track time after the Iwata marque struggled at Buriram, with much to test. One thing that is defined for Yamaha, however, is aero – with electronics and grip issues the key focus. Back on top on Day 1, Spaniard Viñales put in 64 laps, with teammate Valentino Rossi not far behind on lap count or laptime. The ‘Doctor’’s best was a 1:55.432 to put him in P7, but with exactly the same fastest lap as Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) ahead of him. Rossi was positive after Day 1, as was Viñales.

Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar)

Rins was the fastest Suzuki machine at Buriram, but at Qatar, teammate Andrea Iannone turned the tables on Day 1. Iannone was third fastest and so close to Dovizioso ahead of him, with his best a 1:55.107 and Rins a couple of tenths further back. The ‘Maniac’ put in 58 laps, with Rins racking up 67 and a late mover up the timesheets. Team Manager Davide Brivio says the package for the Hamamatsu factory is largely now defined in terms of engine and chassis, with time now allocated to final confirmations – but mainly, it’s mission: race day as they get set up for the first Grand Prix of the year.

Meanwhile at Ducati, ‘DesmoDovi’ showed more of his hand on Day 1 as he blasted up the timesheets and was top Borgo Panigale machine. And teammate Jorge Lorenzo, who set the fastest ever lap at Sepang and then struggled in Thailand, shot back into contention on Thursday at Losail as he ended the day in P5; a 1:55.423 his best effort and around half a second off his own race lap record.

Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) was the man who just beat Lorenzo to the top four, fastest Independent Team rider and once again a presence in the top echelons of the timesheets after going second fastest in Buriram. His new teammate Hafizh Syahrin also put in a good performance once more, going P22 and mixing it up with his fellow rookies. Of those, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) was the quickest once more – ending Day 1 in P14.

Nakagami’s teammate Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) was the fastest Honda overall on Day 1 as he took P9, with Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa just 0.009 and 0.010 further back respectively as the three men lined up in a row on the timesheets. Marquez concentrated on electronics on Thursday and was positive, with teammate Dani Pedrosa making some different headlines with two tumbles, but rider ok.

Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing)

Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) slotted into eighth on the first day as the top Independent Team Ducati rider, with teammate Jack Miller not quite as far up the timesheets so far in Qatar on Day 1, taking P12. Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Team) was only a tenth and a half of Miller in thirteenth, with Scott Redding (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) completing the fastest fifteen just behind quickest rookie Nakagami. Redding was the fastest Aprilia as another who, like Iannone at Suzuki, turned the tables on his teammate on Day 1 – with fellow Noale machinery rider Aleix Espargaro two positions further back.

Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing)

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, meanwhile, were glad to have Pol Espargaro back in action alongside Bradley Smith, working on smaller updates to the chassis and engine, as well as defining their aero package. Espargaro ended the day in P19 but only just over 1.2 seconds off the top, with Smith for close company just behind – and both riders put a combined total of more than 100 laps on the counter for the Austrian factory as their progress keeps rolling on. Sadly, however, Espargaro will definitely be sitting out Friday’s track action as he continues his recovery.

story and photos courtesy of Dorna/MotoGP

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