Valentino Rossi made a brilliant return to Yamaha’s factory MotoGP squad in Malaysia today, the nine-times world champion ending the first day of 2013 pre-season testing with the fourth quickest time.
Rossi showed a disastrous two-year spell with Ducati has not blunted his confidence or skills and the 33-year-old topped the timesheets for a period in the early part of the eight-hour session at the Sepang International Circuit.
Returning to the factory where he won 46 races and four world titles, Rossi made an immediate impact and his best time of 2.01.584 put him just behind Dani Pedrosa, who topped the timesheets with a 2.01.157 on the Repsol Honda RC213V.
Today was Rossi’s first chance to show his potential on the factory YZR-M1 he will race with bitter rival Jorge Lorenzo in dry conditions after rain disrupted mid-Novembers tests in Valencia and Motorland Aragon.
And he said it was a big relief to understand he is still quick enough to challenge Spanish duo Lorenzo and Pedrosa after he completed 56-laps today.
Pedrosa finished fastest and his best time edged out reigning world champion Lorenzo by just 0.008s. Lorenzo clocked a best time of 2.01.165 to finish just 0.036s clear of impressive Repsol Honda rookie Marc Marquez.
The current Moto2 world champion had topped the timesheets too earlier in the day as just 0.044s split the Spanish trio on an intriguing first day of the pre-season.
German Stefan Bradl finished fifth with a quickest pace of 2.01.789 that put him just 0.092s ahead of British rider Cal Crutchlow.
The Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider was constantly in the top six throughout and he ended with a best time of 2.01.881 in a 64-lap stint that saw him working on improving his braking technique.
It was a deflating return to the track for Ducati as the post-Rossi era started with a stark reminder of the gulf in performance between the Honda and Yamaha.
Best Ducati was Nicky Hayden in 10th but the American was slower than Yamaha test rider Katsayuki Nakasuga and HRC development rider Kousuke Akiyoshi.
Hayden set a best time of 2.03.336 to finish 2.179s off the second on the bike that is essentially Ducati’s 2012 Desmosedici.
Hayden was only marginally faster than impressive British rookie Bradley Smith, who enjoyed a solid start to his second MotoGP test by clocking a personal best of 2.03.460.
Smith finished ahead of Andrea Dovizioso’s factory Ducati, with the Italian toiling 2.378s off the pace in a lowly 13th. Andrea Iannone was 16th and over 3.3s behind Pedrosa, while Pramac teammate Ben Spies was a further 0.586s back in 17th.
The Texan did struggle though with a lack of strength and pain in his right shoulder that is still not 100% recovered from surgery he required after a heavy crash in last October’s Malaysian Grand Prix.
Michael Laverty was 25th on his MotoGP debut and he set a best time of 2.06.507 on the Paul Bird Motorsport Aprilia ART machine. That put him ahead of Lukas Pesek, Bryan Staring and Colin Edwards.