Reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo made a blistering start to the 2016 MotoGP campaign by topping the timesheets at the end of the opening official winter test in Sepang today.
The Spaniard will be sharing the headlines though with Australian Casey Stoner, who ended his debut at Ducati’s test rider as the fastest rider on board a Desmosedici machine on the final day of the three-day showdown in Malaysia.
A brilliant late lap of 1.59.580 on a rain-hit final day ensured first blood of 2016 went to Lorenzo, who has made a seamless transition from Bridgestone to Michelin tyres, while Yamaha has also coped better than rivals HRC with the move to controlled Magneti Marelli software this season.
Lorenzo was almost a second clear of his rivals and his pace beat his own race record of 2.00.606 that he set in last October’s controversial Malaysian Grand Prix. Track conditions were much more favourable today though with surface temperatures some 11 degrees less.
What made Lorenzo’s pace even more impressive was the fact that the entire field today were denied access to Michelin’s soft option rear tyre. It was withdrawn from the allocation yesterday as a precaution after French rider Loris Baz suffered a 180mph crash on the start/finish straight in a tyre related issue that is still under investigation.
Lorenzo, who captured a third premier class crown last season, finished a massive 0.976s clear of Movistar Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi.
The Italian, who narrowly missed out on claiming a 10th world title in Valencia last November, had briefly led on the final afternoon before Lorenzo put in his best pace on the 34th of the 36 laps he completed today.
Yamaha dominated the 2015 title chase to claim its first Triple Crown in five years and it the new YZR-M1 was in ominous form again in Sepang, with Rossi’s bitter rival Marc Marquez third fastest but over 0.3s behind the Italian.
HRC is struggling to tame its aggressive RC213V engine and it’s a task complicated further by Honda’s struggle to adapt to the new unified software.
Marquez and Pedrosa have found wheelie and rear pumping an issue with the aggressive engine character.
Top Brit was LCR Honda rider Cal Crutchlow, who logged a best time of 2.00.992 in the final five minutes to briefly jump into third before Marquez struck back late to reclaim a place in the top three.
Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa found himself down in 15th place today going into the final hour when he climbed up to sixth with 2.01.161. That still left him almost 1.6s off Lorenzo’s red-hot pace.
Stoner made a stunning return to MotoGP action in his first ride for Ducati since the final round at Valencia in 2010.
Riding last year’s GP15 machine for the final two days in the official test, Stoner was fifth fastest overall with a best time of 2.01.070. That was almost 0.2s clear of factory Ducati rider Andrea Iannone, while Andrea Dovizioso was over half-a-second adrift in a lowly 13th place.
The 30-year-old said yesterday that he had no intention of making a full-time return to MotoGP after retiring in 2012, but at one stage this morning he was as high as second in the rankings.
Italian Danilo Petrucci was fastest on the second day and finished in a respectable seventh spot to finish second best Ducati on last year’s GP15.
On combined times the British Grand Prix runner-up finished second fastest behind Lorenzo, while Avintia Ducati rider Hector Barbera’s best of 2.00.387 on day two on the GP14.2 Desmosedici put him third overall. Petrucci and Barbera both set their personal best times on Michelin’s soft tyre shortly before it was withdraw,
In a frantic final hour today, Petrucci’s Pramac Ducati teammate Scott Redding climbed up from 15th spot to ninth.
Suzuki duo Maverick Vinales and Aleix Espargaro continued to put in more development miles on Suzuki’s new more powerful motor and seamless shift gearbox to finish 10th and 12th respectively.
Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Bradley Smith finished down in 16th place and Baz was back on track today after his big crash on day two and the 23-year-old set a best time of 2.02.541 to finish 17th.
Aspar Ducati rider Eugene Laverty was also back in action today after two big crashes on Monday.
It was initially feared he’d broken his right hand in the second of two high-speed crashes at turn four on the opening day.
But the 29-year-old decided to ride with heavy swelling on his right hand today and completed 16 laps.