World Champion Stoner Leads MotoGP Preseason Testing At Sepang
Whether on an 800cc or 1000cc motorcycle, Casey Stoner remains the man to beat in MotoGP.
Reigning MotoGP World Champion Stoner led a three-day preseason test Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at the Sepang Circuit in Malaysia, turning a top lap of 1 minute, 59.607 seconds on his Repsol Honda machine.
This was the first preseason test of 2012 for MotoGP, which is switching to heavier, more powerful 1000cc motorcycles after featuring 800cc machines from 2007-11. The season opens April 8 at Qatar, with the Red Bull Indianapolis GP on Aug. 17-19 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
2011 Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Stoner dominated at Sepang, leading the last two days of testing after missing day one with back spasms.
“I’m still not feeling great with my back, but the bike is OK,” Stoner said. “We’ve made progress in reducing the (tire) chatter a little more and trying a few different things, some small settings on the shock that we haven’t tried before among other points. So far it’s been pretty positive. We’ll just have to wait and see what we have for the next test and hopefully improve a little more.”
Former World Champion and Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Jorge Lorenzo was second overall at 2:00.198 on his Yamaha. Stoner’s Repsol Honda teammate, 2010 Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Dani Pedrosa, was third at 2:00.256.
American Ben Spies was fourth at 2:00.495 on a Yamaha, and 2008 Red Bull Indianapolis GP winner Valentino Rossi rounded out the top five at 2:00.824 on a Ducati.
“It’s been a good test,” Spies said. “We’ve got a lot of things accomplished; we’re definitely moving in the right direction with my bike. I tried the Yamaha test rider’s bike today which had a slightly different set up to make a fair comparison with mine.”
The form of seven-time MotoGP World Champion Rossi was a major storyline of this test. Rossi went winless for the first time in his 16-year Grand Prix career in 2011 after a high-profile move from Yamaha to renowned Italian marquee Ducati.
Ducati replaced its carbon-fiber GP11 chassis with a more traditional aluminum frame for its GP12 bike at Rossi’s request. Rossi was 1.2 seconds off Stoner’s leading pace, but “The Doctor” insisted the new bike has much more predictable front-end grip than the stiff, recalcitrant GP11.
“The two Hondas and the two Yamahas are still ahead of us, but we consider this test to be a starting point,” Rossi said. “The most positive things we’ve achieved are that the front now lets me ride a little more as I’m able, that the bike reacts well to changes and that we have very clear ideas on what’s still missing. In particular, if we manage to improve the bike’s behavior on acceleration, we’ll be able to take a consistent step forward.”
Americans Nicky Hayden and Colin Edwards produced mixed results in the steamy heat of Malaysia.
2006 World Champion Hayden turned limited laps the last two days of the test due to pain in his shoulder, injured along with his ribs in a dirt-bike training accident in late December at home in Owensboro, Ky. Hayden still managed to produce the 10th quickest lap overall, 2:01.729.
“Obviously, I’d like to have done more,” Hayden said. “I can’t really say it was a real test for me, but I did a few laps each morning in order to at least get a feel for the new bike, get a little data and understand a couple of things. Even in that limited time, I was able to make small improvements and go quicker each day.
“Ducati did an amazing job with this bike in a short amount of time. It’s smoother than any other Ducati I’ve ever ridden, it looks slick and it’s good to work on.”
Edwards moved this season to Forward Racing, which is fielding a MotoGP entry using the Claiming Rule Teams formula that allows teams to use less-expensive, production-based engines and customer chassis.
CRT bikes still need plenty of development, especially in the vital area of electronics. Edwards ended up the quickest CRT machine at Sepang with a top lap of 2:04.722 on his Suter-BMW, more than five seconds behind Stoner. But his times improved every day as the team ironed out wrinkles with electronics and tire chatter.
Aprilia’s CRT bikes tested last week at Valencia, Spain, and rider Randy de Puniet was only about three seconds off the 2011 pace of the top prototypes. So the stated goal of CRT machines challenging bikes from satellite teams – which use prototypes with less factory support – appears to be attainable.
The next MotoGP preseason test is scheduled for Feb. 28-March 1, also at Sepang. Hayden may turn laps his Ducati GP12 during a CRT test session Feb. 20-22 at Jerez, Spain, because he missed most of this Sepang test and all of the postseason test last November at Valencia due to injury.
2012 tickets: Tickets for the 2012 Red Bull Indianapolis GP MotoGP event, scheduled for Aug. 17-19 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, are on sale now at www.imstix.com, by calling (800) 822-INDY or (317) 492-6700 or by visiting the IMS Ticket Office at the IMS Administration Building at the corner of Georgetown Road and 16th Street between 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday.
Tickets for groups of 20 or more also are on sale. Contact the IMS Group Sales Department at (866) 221-8775 for more information.
Information on camping at IMS during the Red Bull Indianapolis GP is available at www.imstix.com. Hotel package information can be found at visitindy.com/redbull.