Posted: 10 Mar 2014
With the MSMA factory teams resting after almost back-to-back tests at Sepang and Phillip Island, the remaining Satellite and Open MotoGP teams took to the track at Qatar for one final pre-season test ahead of the first round at the Losail International circuit on March 23rd.
The test was somewhat overshadowed by debates about MotoGP Open Class regulations following Ducati’s decision to race in the spec-ECU category, with many open teams concerned about the Magnetti Marelli ECU Ducati is set to use.
Ducati plan to use the second version of Magnetti Marelli’s spec-ECU, which happens to be based on the Bologna factory’s 2013 ECU, as Ducati was the only manufacturer to offer help in the development of the spec-ECU last year. The problem lies with the other Open teams, who, as privateer outfits, are unable to afford the man-power required to set up and run a factory-style ECU.
In short, it looks like it might be resolved by creating a third class, called ‘Factory 2’. Ducati will be moved into this class should they achieve three podiums, two seconds or a victory and this will see the team restricted to 22.5 litres of fuel (compared to 24 in open) and nine engines rather than twelve.
The biggest revelation of the Open Class during pre-season testing has been Aleix Espargaro, who set the fourth fastest overall time at both tests at Sepang. It’s therefore unsurprising that the Spaniard topped the overall timesheets at this final pre-season outing in Qatar, despite strong efforts from the technically superior satellite machines.
Espargaro’s fastest time was just two tenths off Jorge Lorenzo’s 2013 pole position and towards the end of the final day of testing he put in a run of 20 laps on his Open specification Yamaha M1 faster than Lorenzo’s race winning pace from last year.
Throughout the test Espargaro had his younger brother, Pol, snapping at his heels. The younger Espargaro set the second fastest time just 0.033 seconds from his sibling on just his fourth outing on a MotoGP machine. Whilst he was fast, it wasn’t all great news for the 2013 Moto2 champion, falling at turn six within the final hour of testing he suffered a broken collarbone. Due to undergo surgery today, the Tech 3 Yamaha rider is expected to be fit for the first round in just under two weeks time.
Third on the overall timesheets was Tech 3’s other rider, Bradley Smith. The Brit enjoyed a positive test, with a strong race simulation at 10pm last night, the exact time at which the race would kick off two weeks later. He probably won’t be too thrilled to have been outpaced by his younger, inexperienced team mate though even if it was only by a tenth.
The satellite Hondas of Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista were inseparable throughout the test, with just seven thousandths separating the pair come close of play on Sunday. Bradl’s fastest time of 1’55.187 saw him take fourth fastest, just three tenths from Espargaro’s fastest time with Bautista in tow.
Andrea Iannone set the sixth fastest time on his Pramac Ducati, sixth tenths from the fastest time while MotoGP veteran Colin Edwards found improved feeling with the Forward Racing Yamaha to set the seventh fastest time, albeit over a second from his team mate.
Nicky Hayden was the fastest Honda production racer in ninth place, 1.3 seconds off the pace set by Yamaha’s open class offering. Hayden was followed on the timesheet by team mate, Hiroshi Aoyama who finished seven tenths back on the American. Go&Fun Gresini team’s Scott Redding was three thousandths off the 2009 250cc World Champion’s pace and 1.4 seconds off Hayden’s time but claims he was happy with his overall pace and impressed by a race-run late Sunday evening.
The MotoGP riders will now spend the next week or so resting, before the season kicks off in Qatar next Thursday evening.
Combined Qatar Test Times
1) A. ESPARGARO – Forward Yamaha OPEN – 1’54.874
2) P. ESPARGARO – Tech 3 Yamaha – 1’54.907
3) B. SMITH – Tech 3 Yamaha – 1’55.027
4) S. BRADL – LCR Honda – 1’55.187
5) A. BAUTISTA – Gresini Honda – 1’55.194
6) A. IANNONE – Pramac Ducati OPEN – 1’55.518
7) C. EDWARDS – Forward Yamaha OPEN – 1’55.978
8) Y. HERNANDEZ – Pramac Ducati OPEN – 1’56.056
9) N. HAYDEN – Aspar Honda OPEN – 1’56.273
10) H. AOYAMA – Aspar Honda OPEN – 1’57.006
11) S. REDDING – Gresini Honda OPEN – 1’57.009
12) H. BARBERA – Avintia Racing OPEN – 1’57.142
13) K. ABRAHAM – Cardion AB Honda OPEN – 1’57.342
14) M. DI MEGLIO – Avintia Racing OPEN – 1’57.669
15) B. PARKES – Paul Bird Motorsport OPEN – 1’57.730
16) M. LAVERTY – Paul Bird Motorsport OPEN – 1’57.860
17) D. PETRUCCI – Ioda Racing Project Aprilia OPEN – 1’58.086