It’s that time of the year—in Britain anyway—that bike enthusiasts just cannot stand.
The temperature outside makes riding unpleasant at best, the salt on the roads makes a mess of our engines and to top it all off there is no two-wheeled racing action to keep our biking fix under control.
It is an utterly miserable time of the year for us.
So, it will be some sort of music to our ears to know that Moto GP testing is well and truly under way and we get our first chance to see what sort of shenanigans await us for the upcoming 2014 season.
The first Sepang test has seen most riders complete over 100 laps since Tuesday.
Whilst it does not present us conclusive results, it does give us just a slight indication as to where riders and manufacturers are up to.
It’s also the first chance to gauge how the new “Open” class of riders will compare to the “Factory” class.
So here are four things we learnt from the first Sepang Moto GP test.
Reigning world champion Marc Marquez broke all sorts of records in 2013—not least the one that made him the youngest person ever to win a world championship.
He set a new record during the first Sepang test as well—the fastest lap ever round the circuit during a Moto GP test breaking Casey Stoner’s record from 2012.
It looks like this year he will be the man to beat.
It took him next to no time to find his feet in 2013 and a bit of mid-season luck, including injuries to his nearest rivals Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, saw him storm to glory and fulfil his potential before anyone had really expected him to.
This most recent test only goes to reaffirm Marquez’s quality and assure the rest of the Moto GP paddock that he is the man to beat, and that he is odds-on favourite to retain his title for a reason.
As mentioned in the introduction, there’s a new class in Moto GP—known as the “Open” class. They will replace what has been the CRT class in the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
For a simple guide to what this means follow the link, via redbull.com.
What this test has proved—or more to the point what Aleix Espargaro has proved—is that this “Open” class of bikes has the ability to challenge the established teams and manufacturers.
He, somewhat impressively, finished the weekend as just one of four to post a sub-two minute lap time and finish fourth overall in the timings.
He was the standout CRT rider, qualifying in an incredible fifth position for the German GP in 2013 and even finishing 36 points ahead of Pramac Ducati rider Andrea Iannone.
But his performance during testing on his new “Open” class Yamaha is a surprise—especially as he finished over half a second ahead of Yamaha Tech 3 riders Bradley Smith and his own brother Pol.
For Tech 3, as an established Moto GP team—with Smith having a year’s experience under his belt, and the fact they are running “Factory” conditions, therefore being limited to five engines and 20 litres of fuel—these results could be a little worrying.
They will also be worrying for the rest of the field, particularly Ducati.
With Qualifying 2 only catering for the 10 fastest riders in the opening three practice sessions, as well as the two fastest from Qualifying 1, a more competitive “Open” class will see riders from “Factory” class teams missing out on Qualifying 2 and being forced to start from at least the fifth row of the grid.
Therefore, Ducati need to sort out their problems quickly—which brings us nicely to our next slide.
Ever since Casey Stoner won the world championship back in 2007 the Ducati factory team has been on a well-documented decline.
Not even former-world champion Nicky Hayden or Moto GP legend Valentino Rossi could turn the Desmosedici into a race-winning beast.
With the manufacturer's takeover by Audi the world of Moto GP is expecting to see a slow but sure revival of the famous Italian firm, steeped in motorcycle history.
2013 showed nothing had changed—factory riders Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden finished eighth and ninth in the championship and Pramac Ducati’s Andrea Iannone in 12th.
This year, they have highly rated Brit Cal Crutchlow to partner Dovizioso with Iannone again on the Pramac machine along with Yonny Hernandez running an “Open” rules Pramac.
Whilst the first two days looked business as usual, the third suggested there could be a bit of a breakthrough.
“Dovi” said after testing that forward steps were happening in all the right places and progress was being made in areas they have previously struggled in, as he told motogp.com:
I am really pleased with these three days of testing because we managed to do a good job and improve a lot.
Now we can brake harder, corner entry is easier and quicker, we can accelerate a bit earlier and therefore use more power in the early acceleration phase. We also managed to set some quite fast lap times. In fact, I recorded a time that I had never before managed to do here in Malaysia on any bike, and this makes me happy.
We also improved our race pace and so this test was really positive. I didn't expect to be able to improve so much, but we must remain with our feet firmly on the ground because the gap is still far too high for the objectives we wish to achieve.
Crutchlow will be keen to improve his time further when they return to Sepeng for testing at the end of February, but he will be pleased with the progress he's made in his first real opportunity to test his new machine properly.
The one question everyone wants to know is will Valentino Rossi ever produce the world-class racing he did before he moved to Ducati?
I can’t answer that now but his first Sepang test results are promising.
He set his all-time lap record in a Sepang test this weekend and finished ahead of team-mate—and world championship runner-up—Jorge Lorenzo on all three days.
What will be pleasing for Rossi—who has a new crew chief for 2014—is that he’s closer to the leaders than he was after testing last year.
Any VR46 fans will be pleased to know their hero sounded rather upbeat after he had finished testing on Day 3, per motogp.com.
The test has been very good, I'm very happy, especially for the second position and more than that for the lap time which is the best of my career in Sepang. It’s the first time under 2’00 for me and just one tenth from Marc and the overall record of the track.
I found a good feeling with the bike, we found some good solutions and it’s been very positive.
We tried a simulation in the afternoon that was very good to understand any problems. We suffered a bit to keep a good pace but it wasn't so bad. For the first test the balance was good.
Will 2014 be the year Rossi returns to his best?
Probably not—but when it comes to the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) you can never rule anything out!