British rider Bradley Smith delivered the final shock of 2013 in Valencia today when the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team rider finished a three-day MotoGP test with the second fastest time.
Running a soft tyre and low fuel load experiment on new Yamaha YZR-M1 upgrades that included a 2013-factory spec chassis, seat unit and fuel tank, Smith clocked a personal best of 1.30.598.
That put him just 0.311s behind new MotoGP world champion, who topped the timesheets on the new 2014 factory Honda RC213V prototype.
The new parts, which former Tech 3 teammate Cal Crutchlow struggled to adapt to when he raced the upgrades from the Indianapolis round in August, were a massive boost for Smith.
The 22-year-old, speaking exclusively to MCN, said: “The general balance of the bike is better. The Bridgestone tyres work well when the front and rear are both loaded at the same time and this bike does that immediately. This new bike gives me the confidence to carry more corner speed and go into the corners faster. To do that lap time and be that close to Marc is very nice for me. I wasn’t sure how good the 2014 bike is but I am sure it is better and that allows me to push and up my game as well. We have seen a double progression in just two days. I’m a lot more relaxed going into the winter break knowing I have a package now that I need to take full advantage of.”
Smith got his first chance to test the new parts, which Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi have raced throughout 2013, in perfect conditions yesterday.
His main focus today was on set-up tweaks to see how modifications changed the behaviour of the bike and he said: “I just spent most of today trying to figure out the new bike. We just tried a few different setting combinations to see if it was similar to what I’ve been using and how much of a change you have to make to actually feel it. It has just been a case of learning how to use the extra grip and change my line and style a little bit to maximise the bike’s performance. I knew I could carry more corner speed and I didn’t have to worry so much about picking up the bike. I could actually use the side grip and use the Yamaha style a little bit more. I could trust it a little bit more and carry more corner speed.”
Smith said he had not expected to be so close to the best pace set by Marquez and he added: “I didn’t really expect that lap time. I knew when I put in that tyre with a low fuel load I could be fast and I was hoping for 1.30-lap. But I didn’t expect to do a mid-30 and I am really happy how the season ended and happy to get this package now because it is everything I have been searching for throughout the season. We are able to not only improve but also unlock the key to the bike at another level. Although it is a one-off lap it is nice to be able to do the lap time and give us a platform leading into 2014.”
Smith's standout display was matched by rookie teammate Pol Espargaro. The reigning Moto2 world champion was sixth quickest today and eighth fastest on the combined leaderboard after he improved to a 1.31.533 in a short stint of 28-laps this afternoon.