Wednesday, November 21, 2007

MotoGP: Sepang Testing Roundup

The 3-day test at Sepang is over, and has produced one or two surprises. Not everyone was present. Ducati skipped the Malaysian test, as they did last year. Dani Pedrosa didn't come as he tested at Valencia after the season ended and the improvements he asked for weren't ready yet. Valentino Rossi is still crocked after his bike viciously spat him off in qualifying for the final GP, breaking his hand.

Of those who did show up, Li'l Nicky Hayden was fastest, y'all. However, his best times were on the 2007 Honda. The 2008 model was slower. It has a new chassis and air-sprung engine, so HRC have gone back to the drawing board, pretty much admitting that their first attempt at an 800cc bike was a dog. Hopefully the new chassis, engine and tyres will suit the Kentucky Kid next year.

The big surprises were with the other Honda riders present. Andrea Dovizioso took to the 4-stroke machine like a duck to water, and even complained that the MotoGP bikes have too many electronic aids. Dovi is well used to holding corner speed, as his 250cc Honda was dog slow down the straights, and it looks like this will serve him well in the top class.

Randy de Puniet was the other Honda surprise, in that he was pretty quick and didn't chuck the bike at the scenery all the time. At least the customer Honda teams will receive the same model of bike that Dani Pedrosa won the Valencia GP on, which was a pretty decent machine.

John Hopkins was kwik on the Kwaka, impressed that improvements he had requested at the Valencia test were already on the bike. He comfortably out-paced Ant West, but that doesn't necessarily mean much as they may have been testing different parts. For instance, one rider might be testing the engine mapping and leave the suspension unchanged, while the other will do the opposite. The green team will use the same bike rather than producing an all new one for next year. This means that it will constantly evolve through the winter. It looks like Hopper's decision to hop over to Kawasaki might have been a good one.

Loris Capirossi got close to the pace of his new team-mate Chris Vermeulen. The little Italian was actually quicker on the Suzuki than he had been on the Ducati at the Malaysian GP, which is an excellent start.

Colin Edwards did well on the Yamaha, but is he just flattering to deceive yet again? At least he was a help to his new oppo James Toseland, who got steadily closer to the pace of his fellow 800cc Yam newcomer Jorge Lorenzo. The Spanish 250GP champion, who is either amusingly arrogant or obnoxiously arrogant depending on your viewpoint, wasn't a great deal faster than Toseland on race tyres. The gutsy Englishman doesn't have Lorenzo's knowledge of Sepang, making his progress all the more impressive.

All in all, the test doesn't tell us that much about the season ahead. The really interesting stuff starts when we see Rossi on Bridgestones, and Marco Melandri on the Ducati. Can The Doctor get close to the Bologna Bullets when he has the same tyres? Can Marco "Tough as Old Boots" Melandri burst Stoner's bubble? We'll find out as testing season trundles on.

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