Aleix Espargaro continued his pre-season giant-killing act in MotoGP tonight when the Forward Yamaha Open class rider beat a host of factory prototypes in Qatar.
Fourth fastest in both Sepang tests last month, Espargaro headed the timesheets at the Losail International Circuit in Doha.
A best lap of 1.55.386 put the 24-year-old 0.253s clear of Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Bradley Smith in a battle of Open and Factory class Yamaha machinery.
Espargaro is racing an Open class YZR-M1 for Forward Racing, which means he can use four litres more fuel and use softer tyres than Smith.
The key advantage for Espargaro has been his speed on the extra soft compound Bridgestone rear tyre, and he used that spec again tonight to fend off Smith and younger brother Pol Espargaro.
One pleasing aspect for Espargaro tonight though was his pace on the hard compound tyre, once he’s ironed out early turning issues.
Speaking to MCN at the Losail International Circuit tonight, Espargaro said he was delighted to have set the benchmark pace and he said: “This a problem because after Malaysia and tonight, if I am not in the front in every session it will be a disaster (laughs). I am happy because in the beginning I struggled a little bit. I didn’t feel really fit and I didn’t sleep too well and I didn’t have a very good feeling with the bike. The front wasn’t turning and I was in a bit of a crisis until the last two hours. We made a modification and immediately I felt good like in Malaysia and I could push. Tonight I was also really fast with the hard tyre on this bike and I am really happy about that. My best time was with the soft, but only Smith was faster than me with the hard tyre, so on this track my feeling is that I will race with the hard.”
The Qatar test isn't being attended by the likes of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Cal Crutchlow, who all took part in a special Bridgestone tyre test at Phillip Island earlier this week.