Ducati rider Danilo Petrucci marked the start of his career as a factory rider as the surprise name at the head of the timesheets for 2019’s first official MotoGP test, held last week at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia.
The burly Italian led a Ducati top four after three days of testing, going under the lap record and trying out a new fairing before ending the day with a crash. Despite his off-track excursion, Petrucci ended the three-day test fastest, just 0.063 seconds ahead of fellow Italian and Moto2 world champion Pecco Bagnaia. MotoGP rookie Bagnaia gave a stunning performance on the Pramac Ducati, and with team-mate Jack Miller third and factory racer Andrea Dovizioso fourth, it was an impressive start to the season for the Bologna factory.
“Today we started off on the right foot: I was supposed to try two ‘time attacks’ but one attempt, done with a medium rear tyre, was enough. When I saw the lap time on the dashboard, I was really happy. After that, we resumed our work on some new items. Unfortunately, however, I crashed while I was trying a new fairing around midday. Given the fact that I was also experiencing some issues with blisters in my hands, we decided to stop a bit ahead of schedule to recover and make sure we’re at our best in the next tests in Qatar. Overall, it’s been a really positive test.”
While Ducati’s performance was undoubtedly impressive, the Sepang circuit has been one of the Desmosedici’s strongest over the years. Honda found themselves without big name winter signing Jorge Lorenzo, recovering from a wrist injury sustained during winter training, while world champion Marc Marquez took to the track despite not having fully recovered from his off-season shoulder injury, completing just 39 laps to end the test in 11th. Honda’s third factory rider, Britain’s Cal Crutchlow, made his return to the track for the first time since badly breaking his ankle in October and the testy Coventry man gave a typically gritty performance to end as the top Honda rider, sixth overall and just over half a second behind Petrucci.
“I’m happy at the end of the third day, not only with how the test has gone, but to be finished with it too! My ankle by the end was getting sore, hot, and swollen. I feel in good shape however, and the ankle feels good on the bike. It doesn’t bother me on there, it bothers me when I stop” said Crutchlow..
“I kept the length of the runs quite minimal today, because we didn’t need to go long – we were testing items rather than testing for race pace. I was really pleased with my pace all day. On the used tyres we were consistent and fast which is good. It’s good going into Qatar and especially after a three-month lay-off – to ride again and to be competitive with it.
“I should have gone faster in terms of overall lap time, but I crashed. It was completely my own fault, I went into turn two over-excited! I lost three-tenths in the first sector on my fastest lap, compared to a normal good lap. So, the next lap I pushed like a madman thinking I needed to go half a second faster than I had the previous lap. I had some chatter, tried to save it, and crashed. That was with the really soft, test tyre. On average I think you could take at least six-tenths off with that, so I’m confident we could have gone a lot quicker, and then we didn’t use that tyre again all day.
“I think the 2019 bike is definitely better, but my feeling is I just need to adjust it a bit more. I ride quite a neutral bike, but I haven’t found the perfect setting with the front end just yet. Overall HRC has done a great job with the package. I think it can be competitive for the championship, and it’s one I’m looking forward to riding this year.”
Completing more laps than any other rider on day three (79) Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales was the best of the non-Ducatis in fifth, with evergreen team-mate Valentino Rossi in 10th.
The test was really good. I actually missed one time attack in the morning which I planned to make in the afternoon, but finally it was so hot that the tyre was sliding a lot, so I couldn‘t improve my lap time from the morning,” added Vinales. “Anyway, I‘m happy because on the race simulation I felt really good. I was really tired, but I felt good on the bike. Day by day the bike was working pretty similar, as in the last test. You always get positives and negatives testing new items. Now we have to come to a conclusion to see if we should bring the new fairing to Qatar. I also made some laps behind our rivals, so I could compare how our bike is working, and it‘s not bad. There are just some small details left and that‘s the most important. Last year they were some steps ahead, and now we are closer.”
Testing resumes in Qatar from 23 – 25 February, with the second pre-season test of the year.