Yamaha riders topped the final pre-season MotoGP tests in Qatar, with Frenchman Johann Zarco topping the timesheets on his satellite YZR-M1, ahead of Valentino Rossi of the latest works bike.
Zarco, two time Moto2 world champion and last year’s MotoGP rookie of the year, stopped the clock with a best lap of 1:54.029 on the third and final day, 0.247 seconds ahead of Rossi and 0.287 seconds inside Maverick Vinales’ pole position time from last year.
“That was a very good third day,” said Zarco “I’m delighted to finish with the top lap time. I think it was even possible to ride inside the high 53s, but we have to accept that we have to understand step by step how to ride at this speed. We did some great work with the team and with everything we did during these three days, I felt more confidence and I could work well on this. When I did a very long run to test the race, it was not too fast. I did 17 laps in a row, but probably a bit tired after these intense days here. Anyway, we are constant and I can relax a lot on the bike. I’m really happy about that and I need to keep this feeling in mind to start the race weekend well in a fortnight.”
Rossi started off the test by suggesting to attending journalists that he was on the verge of signing with Yamaha for a further two seasons, taking him through to the end of the 2020 season, when he will be 41. The Italian legend was extremely upbeat after the Qatar outing, saying: “I’m quite happy after this test, especially after this afternoon, because I think we’ve worked hard in these last few days and also in the first part of today. This afternoon we put it all together and I was able to do a very good lap for second position and I also had a good rhythm, with a good pace. But, we are all still very close in the timesheets, there are a lot of riders that are strong. We continue to suffer with the tyres, front and rear, and I did just half a race distance. We have to try to understand what will happen from that point until the end of the race – we will see in two weeks.”
Third in Qatar was Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso, last year’s runner up, with Brit Cal Crutchlow continuing this impressive pre-season testing programme as top Honda rider, in fourth place overall. Despite his pace, Crutchlow was not too optimistic about his chances over race distance, adding: “Today was the third day of testing and the final one before the season-opener in two weeks’ time, but we are quite positive about the feeling with the bike in the dry. We definitely still have to improve, but at least the team have the information to work with Honda over the next couple of weeks to evaluate the situation. Our front feeling is not perfect yet, but I was able to be consistently fast over the day which is important”.
“Our problem is the front tyre specifications. None of them suit my riding style it seems, so we’ll have to look at this for the race weekend as it will be crucial. But overall we’re happy enough with today’s performance, I did a 12-lap run that I was happy with.”
After the official testing, the track was soaked in order to allow for wet weather testing or, more specifically to check for glare from the Losail floodlights in case of a wet race. Crutchlow was one of the riders taking part, and said: “I thought the vision was ok, but the track was really slippery and I’m sure we’ll discuss this in the safety commission for the first race in Qatar.”
The bikes will now stay in Qatar ahead of the opening race of the 2018 MotoGP championship, which takes place at the Losail circuit on March 18.
Qatar MotoGP test results (combined times after three days)