Rookie Marc Marquez drew first blood on the new Circuit of the Americas in Austin yesterday when the Repsol Honda rider led the timesheets at the end of the first day of a private test session for Honda and Yamaha.
The reigning Moto2 world champion clocked a best time of 2.04.619 to finish ahead of HRC teammate Dani Pedrosa in the first serious MotoGP action at the spectacular Circuit of the Americas.
Cool and slippery conditions saw lap times of around 2.12.00 being set in the early stages before temperatures increased and more rubber was laid down, which enabled times to drop dramatically.
Marquez recorded his best lap on the 54th of a 55-lap stint and the 20-year-old said: “The first day in Austin went pretty well. It is a fun circuit, because there's not a single bump on the track.
"There was no grip at the start and we were sliding around a lot, but gradually the lines were cleaned up and we could tackle it better. In the first part of the track, where the flowing chicanes are all linked up, it is a very tricky section.
"It is a physically demanding part of the circuit where you have to use a lot of strength to change direction quickly. It is definitely a key point of the track.
"There are three right-handers later on, all linked together, making it hard to find the ideal line. We are finding our way steadily though. Today was all about learning those lines, rather than trying out too many things with the bike.
"Tomorrow we will start to adapt the gearing and the electronics, as we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Pedrosa was second quickest with a best time of 2.05.047, which he set in a 59-lap data gathering exercise on the new track, which was designed with major input from 1993 500cc world champion Kevin Schwantz.
Pedrosa, who was fastest in the first Sepang test in Malaysia last month, said the new track was difficult to learn and he said it was vital that Honda had decided to come to the Austin track to as prepared as possible for the forthcoming race in Texas on April 21.
Pedrosa said: “It is a new circuit – and a very different one at that. This makes it important to put in plenty of laps, to get your reference points established: braking markers, gear changes, finding out whether you are best off in second or third gear – things like that. It was good to ride a lot of laps today, and also to see how the tyres faired.
"The track has a lot of tight corners – above all Turn 1 – but there are also flowing chicanes and some long straights. The pace and direction changes from section to section, which is a little strange at first.
"However, after so many laps, you get the hang of the track. Even if the grip levels aren't especially good, the overall feeling is positive"
Reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo was third fastest ahead of LCR Honda rider Stefan Bradl, while Valentino Rossi was fifth with a best time of 2.06.507.
Lorenzo said: “I think it’s very important to come here and learn the track. I haven’t learnt 100% of it, I need more laps to learn my lines, but for the moment it’s a very beautiful track, which is very complete with every kind of corner.
"In the beginning it was difficult to understand the lines but I have improved three seconds from the first lap today, that means it's a hard track to learn and a difficult track to go to the maximum on. I think it helps more than some other places to have this extra time.
"I think three or four practices before the race will not be enough to understand it so some of the riders who didn’t come here will have a little disadvantage. The wind has been a little bit of a problem, especially on the longer straight where you arrive over 340km/h, you feel a lot of unstable feelings.
"Almost all the track is tricky, there’s some very hard braking and also tight hairpins. The first sector is flowing but it is very hard to find a good line because it’s blind.
"We’re getting used to the track but also trying to solve a problem at maximum lean where we don’t have full confidence. We have to change the setting a bit to make it better.
"The tarmac is not perfect with only four bikes on it to clean it so it’s difficult to understand if it’s very grippy or not. It’s hard to know if it will be much better at the race weekend or just a little bit.”