MotoGP winter testing began on Tuesday in very wintry conditions, which isn’t the idea of winter testing.
The weather was so grim at Valencia that Yamaha packed up and headed 150 miles north to Aragon, pursued by rent-a-cars full of journalists and photographers anxious for their first glimpse of Valentino Rossi and his new Yamaha getting down to it on slicks.
They needn’t have bothered – the weather wasn’t much better at Aragon – so Rossi and new/old team-mate Jorge Lorenzo learned nothing. In fact Lorenzo did learn something – that it’s very easy to crash in the wet, but then he knew that already. Yamaha should’ve gone south, to Jerez, or even north, to Brands Hatch, where the autumn sun shone beautifully.
I’ve never been a fan of testing for the new season starting just two days after the old season. It just doesn’t seem right. And it’s had a disastrous effect on Sunday night parties at Valencia. It was even worse for Moto2 riders who started their testing on Monday – less than 24 hours after their last race of the year – and if there’s anything a Moto2 rider needs at the end of a long and bruising season it’s a bloody good drink or three. But it’s the professional way to go racing, I’m told. More’s the pity.
Anyone who watched Marc Marquez win the Valencia Moto2 race from the back of the grid won’t be surprised to learn that he was also the star of the first few days of winter testing. Two days after he rode his 125 horsepower CBR600-powered Suter, the Spanish teenager looked totally at ease and entirely unafraid of his new machine – a 250 horse factory Repsol Honda RC213V.
After just 27 laps on the bike – that’s about 45 minutes – Marquez was just over a second down on the fastest lap of the day, set by Pedrosa. When HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto announced a few weeks ago that he expects Marquez to make the podium in his first MotoGP race I thought he was being a bit hard on the kid… talk about pressure. But in fact I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he makes the podium in Qatar. He really is that good.
No wonder Marquez is already getting some stick from a few MotoGP riders, even though it’s five months before they have to race against him.
The criticism at Valencia came from Andrea Dovizioso and Valentino Rossi, who weren’t happy about Marquez’s latest maniac move – dispatching Simone Corsi into a gravel trap during practice.
Dovizioso compared Marquez to Marco Simoncelli, saying “if you are too dangerous, you have to change”. Rossi added, “I like Marc a lot. I like his skill, his style and his aggression, but he risks too much”.
Only Cal Crutchlow – a man who likes a fight – stood up for the Moto2 champ. “People have it in for him because he’s the best,” said the Brit. “He’s won the title and whether he’s aggressive or not, that’s the way it is.”
I’m with Crutchlow. I think Marquez will shake things up in MotoGP just like Simoncelli did, though hopefully with a happier outcome.
Anyway, back to testing. Until the 2013 season begins you should read between the lines of every testing report.
Some riders like to announce their speed with blistering, on-the-edge lap times, just possibly sowing the seeds of doubt in their rivals’ minds. Others prefer to keep their counsel and just don’t bother letting it all hang out on a qualifying-style lap. Thus winter testing lap times don’t necessarily tell the truth.
When Rossi graduated from 125s to 250s at the end of 1997 he ordered a special one-off, super-sticky rear slick from Dunlop, so he could blitz the Jerez lap record in his first ride on a 250 and torment his new rivals. But a decade and a half later he knows that it’s not so easy to fool anyone in MotoGP.
Last February Casey Stoner blitzed preseason testing at Sepang, making him favourite for the 2012 title. In other words, the first time we’ll get any real answers to what’s really going on is when the red lights blink off at Qatar. Like they used to say in the old days: flag drops, bull stops.