Ducati smashed the records at Sepang, taking the four top slots on the time sheets – with lead rider Andrea Dovizioso only fourth.
It was his new factory team-mate Danilo Petrucci who set the top one-lap time; and amazing class rookie Pecco Bagnaia (Pramac Ducati) second-fastest, in only the reigning Moto2 champion’s third test on a MotoGP bike.
Second Pramac rider Jack Miller was a close third-fastest, unhurt in three crashes, one of which destroyed one of the latest aerodynamic test fairings (the other was also written off, by Petrucci). And Dovizioso was a confident fourth, less than three tenths down.
Times were close, with the top eleven inside one second; and the top six all inside the absolute circuit lap record, set at last year’s tests by Jorge Lorenzo. He had been the first to crack 1’59, at 1’58.830; Petrucci’s one-lap wonder was 1’58.239.
Rival riders were equally impressed, however, by Maverick Vinales, suggesting an important step forward for the factory Yamaha, in new Monster livery. His single-lap time of 1’58.644 put him fifth overall, but significantly he ran a string of 1’59s in race simulations. “I followed the Hondas and Ducatis, and last year we were some steps behind, this year much closer,” he said, an improved mood reflecting a boost in confidence.
The sixth inside the record was Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda), fastest RCV rider, even while still recovering from serious injuries from the Australian GP, and surviving two tumbles over the three days.
Seventh went to Aleix Espargaro, greeting a much-improved Aprilia; satellite Yamaha rookie Franco Morbidelli was next; with Taka Nakagami (LCR Honda) and a “half-happy” Valentino Rossi (Monster Yamaha) completing the top ten.
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) was fastest on day one, but was in fairly frail condition after major shoulder surgery, and cut the next two days short; ending up 11th overall. New team-mate Jorge Lorenzo was altogether absent, recovering from mid-January surgery to repair a broken left scaphoid (wrist) bone.
Alex Rins was 12th on the Suzuki, placed higher on the first days, but concentrating on race pace rather than lap times.
Johann Zarco, preparing for his Red Bull KTM race debut, was 17th fastest, but a lap time just 1.4-seconds off the best found him considerably encouraged after a difficult debut in tests at the end of last year.
New aerodynamic fairings appeared on all bikes, with Yamaha sporting a novel double-loop system; Ducati also ran an intriguing lever-operated cable system on the top triple-clamp, believed to be a “hole-shot device” that locks the front suspension in compressed position on the start line, releasing it automatically when the brakes are applied at the first corner. This keeps the centre of gravity lower and makes it easier to prevent wheelies.
by Michael Scott