Just short of a full year after he sensationally led his first MotoGP race, independent Monster Yamaha rider Johan Zarco took control of the time sheets on the third and final day of pre-season testing at the same Losail circuit, lapping inside the lap record, and heading second-fastest Valentino Rossi on the factory Movistar Yamaha.
At a track that suits the M-1, which has won five times in the past six years, the second-year Frenchman set a time of 1m 54.029, inside the official lap record and faster than Vinales’s pole last year, though a couple of tenths short of Lorenzo’s best-ever lap, also set on a Yamaha back in 2008.
While times were close behind Rossi, second to rookie Hafizh Syahrin (Monster Yamaha) in 16th covered by one second, Zarco was fully two-tenths ahead of the multi-champion.
But while he was happy to be top, he was also a little disappointed. “I thought I could get under 1m54, and also when I tried longer runs today I was constant, but I think too slow … we still need to do some more work.”
Zarco’s pre-eminence at the final pre-season test came after three strong days for the former double Moto2 champion, using a 2016 chassis rather than last year’s troublesome factory bike, as would be normal for the satellite Yamaha team. The bike however is fitted with the latest aero-body fairing, with boxed wings like the factory bikes.
Rossi was happy with his time, but still had reservations about his potential race pace and tyre wear; while team-mate Maverick Vinales – dominant in all last year’s tests – said that he while “we made a bit step in the last 40 minutes, but I still can’t push like I want.”
The Yamaha pair narrowly eclipsed third-fastest Andrea Dovizioso, whose (wingless) factory Ducati had been strong throughout the three days.
The latest power-up Honda RC213Vs had also been threateningly fast and consistent, with satellite-team rider Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) the best of them, fourth overall.
Vinales’s late set-up improvement moved him up to fifth, ahead of Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda). Marquez was happy with the result and with Honda’s progress, but predicted a competitive season ahead. “The situation is different from one track to another, and even at different times of the day.”
Alex Rins was sixth, his Ecstar Suzuki team-mate Andrea Iannone – fastest yesterday – missing today’s action, suffering from a virus. Then Danilo Petrucci (Pramac Ducati), Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati … with wings), and second Pramac rider Jack Miller rounding out the top ten, ahead of second factory Honda rider Dani Pedrosa.
Eighth-placed Petrucci earned the notice of his rivals, running a full race simulation, almost all at sub-1m55 lap times. He said later it was his first ever such: “Before I always crashed or broke the bike.”
In a reversal of fortunes, Franco Morbidelli (VDS Honda) was top rookie, placed 12th today, while the usual top rookie Taka Nakagami (LCR Honda) was 21st.
Almost all riders were faster today apart from KTM tester Mika Kallio and (marginally) Nakagami, so that combined standings were the same as today apart from absentee Iannone, whose yesterday time slotted him in at sixth, ahead of Marquez.
by Michael Scott