MotoGP 2013: Sepang Winter Test Grades for All Factory and Satellite Teams
As the cold air of winter persists in preventing many of us from getting out on our bikes, to witness the MotoGP fellas back in action at the first 2013 test in Sepang provided a heartening affect for this rider and served as a reminder that warm, motorcycle-friendly days are not too far off in the future.
There were old faces on new machines and incredibly young-looking faces making their premier class debuts.
Most importantly, there was sunshine, clean asphalt and fast motorcycles.
Let's take a look back and grade each of the factory and satellite team riders on their performances in their first action of the 2013 calendar year.
Go & Fun Honda Gresini: Alvaro Bautista
Alvaro Bautista: D
The only team to have one rider on a factory bike and another on a CRT machine, Go & Fun Honda Gresini's Alvaro Bautista is heading into his second season with the formerly San Carlo-backed squad.
Bautista is also the only satellite or factory team rider using Showa suspension, the rest choosing Ohlins.
The majority of the grid uses Ohlins because it is superior, plain and simple. Bautista has recently expressed his unhappiness with the Showa suspension on his RC213V, but his complaints fell on deaf ears.
It is possible that team owner Fausto Gresini truly believes the Showa suspension puts his rider on a level playing field with the rest of the bikes or maybe even gives him an advantage.
It is also possible, considering Honda owns a controlling interest in Showa, that Bautista is being put at a distinct disadvantage in the interest of perpetuating the Showa brand.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Bautista's three days in Sepang were largely spent focusing on suspension set up (per Speed.com):
[W]e continued with the job of setting up the Showa suspension. We are making progress, but we still have a lot of work to do and our aim remains to have everything ready for the season start in Qatar. We have gathered a lot of data that we will use at the next test here in Sepang at the end of the month.
He finished the weekend seventh fastest, 1.4 seconds behind pacesetter Dani Pedrosa. In the coming tests, we can use those 1.4 seconds as a benchmark to gauge his team's progress in setting up the Showa suspension, or the ability of said suspension to compete with Ohlins.
If that number doesn't get considerably smaller by the time the first race of the season rolls around, it will lend some credence to the Honda/Showa conspiracy theory.
LCR Honda: Stefan Bradl
Stefan Bradl: B+
The 2011 Moto2 champion had his best result on the first day of the test, finishing in fifth place, one spot ahead of the man who bettered him in both of the final two sessions, Cal Crutchlow.
Bradl's times steadily decreased throughout the three-day test, just not as much as his competitors. His best lap on Day 1 was a 2:01.789, Day 2 was 2:01.369 and Day 3 was a 2:01.003.
Those numbers represent sizably significant improvements considering the LCR team focused mainly on electronics and suspension set up.
Despite failing to reattain his fifth-place finish in either of the final two days, Bradl's ability to steadily dwindle his lap times made it a solid start to the 2013 campaign for the German rider who figures to spend most of the season fighting for fifth place.
Yamaha Tech 3: Cal Crutchlow
Cal Crutchlow: B
Cal Crutchlow finished session three exactly where everyone thought he would, right behind the four factory bikes.
Satellite teams don't have the latest generation of hardware or factory software for their electronics. This being the case, it will take a little luck for Crutchlow to find his way onto the podium this year—either good luck for him or bad luck for one of the factory riders.
It will happen; Crutchlow is going to stand on the box, but the factory machines are just too good to allow him to get there with regularity.
He has proven his ability to get the most out of his machine. One of the highlights of the 2013 season is sure to be Cal Crutchlow scratching and clawing to ride down those factory Hondas and Yamahas.
Yamaha Tech 3: Bradley Smith
Bradley Smith: B+
Bradley Smith, in his rookie MotoGP season, is the second half of the British duo riding for the French Tech 3 team.
Smith has been racing Grand Prix motorcycles (albeit in much smaller, less scary incarnations) since 2006.
In 2011, he entered the newly formed Moto2 class and scored a total of three podium finishes—one second place and three thirds—on his way to finishing seventh in the overall championship.
In 2012, he regressed, finishing ninth in the Moto2 championship and not scoring any podium finishes.
The Tech 3 team, for whom he had been riding in Moto2, saw something in him and decided to give him a crack at their Yamaha M1 in the premier class.
Not many would have been bold enough to predict Smith's performance in his first MotoGP test.
After Day 1, in which he placed 12th with a time of 2:03.460, he finished less than a second behind nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi with a time of 2:01.931 on the second day, trimming 1.5 seconds off of his best lap in just 24 hours.
Cal Crutchlow was in a similar situation in his rookie season just two years ago. If Crutchlow has the desire to share the vast amount of knowledge he has gained in the last two years, and Smith has the wisdom to listen, the two teammates could end the season fighting neck and neck for fifth place and even the occasional podium.
Pramac Ducati: Andrea Iannone
Andrea Iannone: C
The good news for the Pramac team is that the line between factory and satellite has never been less easily distinguished now that Ducati has decided to equip both with full factory machinery.
The bad news is that they are still riding a Ducati. If you're not sure what that means, this will get you caught up.
Andrea Iannone is another rookie. He started his Grand Prix career in 2005 on a 125cc machine before finishing third overall in the Moto2 championship for three consecutive years (from 2010 through 2012).
Iannone will struggle along with his fellow Desmosedici pilots to figure out an answer to the front-end issues that have plagued all those bold enough to give the Ducati a try in the last four years.
For his first three days aboard the finicky machine, he performed well. He ended Day 1 languishing in 16th position with a cringe-worthy lap time of 2:04.500, finishing behind two CRT machines and three factory test riders.
But Day 2 saw a marked improvement; he only moved up one spot in the standings but trimmed his best lap time by 1.331 seconds with a mark of 2:03.169.
The third and final day saw Iannone finish in 13th position with a time of 2:02.864.
As Iannone gains more experience on the Desmosedici, his lap times will continue to drop—but only so far until someone in the Ducati garages can figure out how to get some feeling out of the front end.
Pramac Ducati: Ben Spies
Ben Spies: C
If anyone in the MotoGP paddock is due for some good luck in 2013, it is Ben Spies.
After a disastrous season that saw the Texan lose his factory Yamaha ride because of a run of misfortune that would rival any hard-luck story for the sheer number and ridiculousness of tribulations, Spies has nowhere to go but up.
The problem is that he is on the absolute worst bike for someone looking to turn his luck around.
Add to that the recovery process from major offseason shoulder surgery, and his lackluster performance in the first test of the season was not totally unexpected.
After placing 17th and 13th in the first and second days of the test respectively, Spies opted to sit out Day 3 in order to rest his surgically repaired shoulder.
From Matthew Birt of Motor Cycle News:
I woke up this morning (Thursday) and was just a little bit sore from the two days of riding. It was only three weeks ago I started rehab and it's just difficult.
Not just my shoulder but my general physical fitness just isn't nowhere near where it needs to be and it's definitely taxing on the body. We need to be smart right now and do things the right way.
We've already had enough setbacks in the last few months and I think it's important to do the right stuff and not go over the limits and do anything silly or make any mistakes and dig ourselves in a hole physically for the next couple weeks instead of building forward for the next test.
After a truly epic run through the AMA championship and the World Superbike series, Spies' transition to Grand Prix racing has been a rough one. If he can change his fortunes on a notorious machine, it will define his career; his 2011 and 2012 failures will fade into a foggy, distant memory.
Factory Ducati: Nicky Hayden
Nicky Hayden: C
Hayden's decade-long streak of achieving at least one podium in every season came to an end in 2012.
Having been with Ducati since 2009, it is a testament to Hayden's skill that the streak was able to stay alive for as long as it did.
"We obviously can't be happy when our times are that far off of the top guys, but we knew it was going to be tough...We found a couple little things over the course of the test, which allowed us to improve our consistency on day three, but I think we need something big.
"I'd say we've pretty much tried everything on this bike. They've got some ideas for electronics at the next test, but in terms of the actual bike we've been most places.
"We need some help," Hayden added, underlining the need for new parts rather than set-up changes: "A couple of clicks of rebound and a bit of pre-load off the front is not going to be two-seconds!"
If Ducati are able to get their bike sorted in the 2013 season, we should all be happiest for their longest-tenured sufferer, Nicky Hayden.
Factory Ducati: Andrea Dovizioso
Andrea Dovizioso: C
Dovizioso's decision to join the factory Ducati team was perhaps the most puzzling development of the 2012 season.
The strongest asset of his style is late braking when heading into corners. The guy is an absolute demon on the brakes.
The picture above—with the bike's fully compressed forks and rear tire lifting off the ground—is the perfect illustration of what Dovizioso does best.
To be able to fully utilize a bike's braking capabilities, feedback from the front end is essential. But front-end feedback is the Desmosedici's biggest weakness; Dovizioso matched his strength with a bike incapable of allowing him to fully utilize it.
And it showed in the time sheets of the Sepang test.
Dovizioso's times did get progressively better in each of the three days, but in smaller increments than most of his competitors and never enough to get him inside of the top 10.
His best lap of 2:02.277 on Day 3 placed him behind every non-CRT bike in the field.
At this point, one has to wonder if Dovizioso dreams of Repsol Hondas and Yamaha M1s when he closes his eyes at night. More likely, he wakes up in a cold sweat while slowing dissipating visions of the Desmosedici recede from his consciousness.
Repsol Honda: Marc Marquez
Marc Marquez: A+
Things could not have gone better for the most highly touted MotoGP rookie since Jorge Lorenzo.
On Day 1 of his first official test, Marquez finished third overall, a mere .036 seconds behind reigning world champion Lorenzo and .044 behind session leader and Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa. Marquez's time: 2:01.201.
Day 2 saw his gaps to the two leaders shrink even further, as he posted an improved best lap of 2:00.803.
That he had his first crash aboard a MotoGP machine on Day 3 was also a good thing. The 1000cc prototype machine is new to Marquez. If the only way to find the limit is to go over it, his Day 3 crash was an invaluable learning experience that will only help him in the future.
Marc Marquez appears to be the real deal.
Repsol Honda: Dani Pedrosa
Dani Pedrosa: A+
Marc Marquez's performance was the best that could be expected from a rookie. Dani Pedrosa's was the best that could be expected from anyone.
The latter half of the 2012 season saw Pedrosa finally realize the potential that nearly everyone had seen in him since he first swung a leg over a MotoGP bike in 2006, as he won six of the final eight races.
That bears repeating: He won six of the last eight races.
Some of his late-season success may have had to do with championship leader Jorge Lorenzo riding more not to lose races than to win them. Valentino Rossi languishing deep down the field on his accursed Ducati and Casey Stoner's injury also surely played roles.
Still, up to that point, the biggest thing missing from Pedrosa's style was tenacity, a willingness to fight back when pushed, to refuse to lose.
It is impossible to say where it came from or why it took so long to arrive, but Pedrosa displayed dogged determination in spades over the last half of the season.
That he led all three sessions of the first 2013 practice showed that, despite Lorenzo's position as reigning champion, Pedrosa will be the man to beat in many people's eyes when the red lights go out in Qatar to start the season.
Factory Yamaha: Jorge Lorenzo
Jorge Lorenzo: A
The 2012 champ finished in second place behind Dani Pedrosa in every one of the three sessions.
But, unlike Pedrosa, Lorenzo used the final minutes of the third day to perform a race simulation, a long succession of laps used to determine his race pace.
Although rain cut the simulation short, the Factory Yamaha star put together 13 consecutive fast laps - all of which were under the official lap record and got faster as he went on.
Lorenzo's first eight laps were in the low 2m 1s, already comfortably below the 2m 2.1s race lap record. But Lorenzo then increased his pace to break into the high 2m 0s for the last five laps!
Granted, it's not really a fair race-lap comparison because there was no traffic on track, but his consistently fast times are impressive nonetheless.
At this admittedly early stage, Lorenzo and Pedrosa have established themselves as the cream of the crop. However, Marc Marquez and a certain nine-time world champion look well suited to join them in competing for race wins.
Factory Yamaha: Valentino Rossi
Valentino Rossi: A
After spending two failure-ridden, confidence-crushing years mired in the doldrums of the Ducati garage, Rossi's belief in himself had begun to waver.
He wasn't the only one doubting his abilities.
The Desmosedici's difficult nature already considered, many observers wondered if The Doctor had lost his ability to compete for a world championship. Was it that these newer, younger riders had raised the bar to a point heretofore unseen, or had age sapped the speed out of the 34-year-old former world champion?
It didn't take long after swinging a leg over his old friend, the M1, for Rossi to dispel all doubts.
At the end of Day 1, Rossi sat comfortably in fourth place, a mere .427 seconds behind the leader.
Day 2 saw Rossi drop his time by over half a second as he moved into third position.
He then shaved off another half second on the final day, though he was unable to move up the standings, the riders in front of him having equally gainful improvements.
The news could not be better for MotoGP: Valentino Rossi is back.