Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa topped the time sheets in the first ever MotoGP test at the Buriram circuit in Thailand this weekend, with satellite team riders Johann Zarco and Britain’s Cal Crutchlow suggesting that they could provide a real upset in 2018, in second and fourth place respectively.
Despite only being a test, huge crowds of bike mad Thais turned out to see racing’s elite at the new venue, which was opened just under a year ago when the world superbike championship visited.
Honda riders featured strongly in the results, while the factory Yamaha still appeared to lag behind, as they worked on various engine and aerodynamic options, as well as a development swingarm made from carbon fibre, ahead of next month’s opening round, which is to be held under the lights of the Losail circuit in Qatar.
Pedrosa’s best lap time of 1:29.781 was a clear three seconds faster than the previous best ever lap, set by Jonathan Rea during the world superbike round, and the experienced Spaniard was in high spirits, saying: “We leave Thailand with positive feelings. The test was quite tough as the temperatures were high, and we worked really hard over the three days. In the end we didn’t have many tyres left, so we had to carefully manage the planning of our work. We worked on many aspects of the bike’s setup, and step-by-step we improved our speed and pace. Among other things, today we tested a carbon swing arm that’s a new area for us to work on, so we’re still in the process of learning and of finding the feeling. I’m very happy with the job my team is doing at the track, and with what the engineers are doing back in Japan. They’re really helping us to improve, and this is good and gives us confidence. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue this trend at the final test in Qatar, which will be very interesting as conditions will be different.”
While the factory Movistar Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales ended the three day test in lowly 10th and 12th positions, Frenchman Zarco was hugely impressive as he finished just 0.086 seconds behind Pedrosa in second. He added: “We had a really great third day, good tyres to use, and it was planned to try to do a better lap time today, so we fully achieved our goals. I stopped early today, because we did a lot of work and have enough information on this new track. I’m happy, that I was able to control the bike better and better with each lap and I have truly an amazing feeling. I understand the tyres, found out what happens, when we undertake changes on the bike. Everything is good, I’m satisfied and sure we can prepare the first race in October here well, even if we will have different tyres. Compared to Malaysia I finished the test here in Thailand with a very high pace, which is a fantastic sign for Qatar.”
World Champion Marc Marquez ended up third in terms of his fastest overall lap and put in some impressively consistent lap times during his race simulation, while Crutchlow looked back to his best after a hit and miss 2017 campaign.
The Coventry rider was fastest on day one of the test, and ended up fourth overall, having made a mistake when trying to go for top spot on a soft tyre late on. “It was a good enough day today and we are happy with our pace,” he added. “We were lucky to get a full day’s testing in and get through our plan. At the end of the day we wanted to put a ‘lap-time’ in but unfortunately we had the soft rear tyre in at the time and I pushed too hard and ran off the track. I stayed on the bike but it would have been a good lap and another morale boost.”
Although early days for the 2018 season, the Thai test threw up some interesting stories. Suzuki rider Alex Rins ended up fifth overall, suggesting that the Japanese factory may be more competitive this year, while Australian Jack Miller was consistently impressive on his Ducati. After three seasons struggling on a Honda, the 23-year-old has turned the corner after switching to the Italian brand. He ended up one place ahead of Andrea Dovizioso on the factory machine, while British riders Bradley Smith and Scott Redding struggled for pace in 18th and 20th place respectively.
Get Motorbike Insurance through Carole Nash.