Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) led the way in MotoGP’s first-ever visit to Thailand, topping a three-day preseason test at the Chang International Circuit, exactly one month before the 2018 World Championship commences in Qatar. His fellow RC213V riders Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL RC213V) finished the outing a close third and fourth fastest to underline Honda’s superb preseason form.
Honda riders led each day of the tests, with Crutchlow fastest on day one, then Marquez and finally Pedrosa, who was able to better the entire MotoGP grid, despite spending much of the time focusing on assessing new parts and perfecting his race set-up. The trio’s pace underlines HRC’s excellent offseason work as Honda goes for a hat-trick of both MotoGP Riders and Constructors World Championships.
MotoGP machines saw action in Thailand for the first time on Friday morning, ahead of the inaugural Thailand Grand Prix to be staged at Chang on October 7th. These three days were a chance for riders and manufacturers to get acclimatized to the 4.6km (2.83 miles) circuit, while MotoGP tyre supplier Michelin was able to assess the venue’s demands on tyres. Riders were thankful for three days of perfect weather that featured searing heat and high humidity.
Interest in motorcycles and in MotoGP are booming in South East Asia, so much so that Chang’s main grandstand was full almost to capacity on Saturday, even though this was only a test.
The circuit’s 12 corners offer a mix of high-speed straights, low-speed hairpins and a sinewy final section that demands high corner speed and maximum commitment. The 2018 RC213V proved to be strongest of all around the lap, with Pedrosa, Marquez and Crutchlow all happy with progress.
Pedrosa, who is set to contest his 13th season with the Repsol Honda Team, confirmed his initial feelings with Honda’s 2018 engine from Sepang, and worked on set-up while evaluating a number of new parts; including a carbon-fibre swingarm, which provides a different feel at the rear of the bike.
The former 125cc and 250cc World Champion’s speed was impressive – a full three seconds quicker than the circuit’s World Superbike lap record. Quickest here and second-fastest at Sepang, there’s no doubt that the 32-year-old is looking forward to the final preseason tests in Qatar at the start of next month.
Marquez set his fastest lap on day two – the first sub-1 minute 30 second lap ever seen at Chang – and ended the three days just 0.188 seconds behind his team-mate. No one can accuse the six-times World Champion of resting on his laurels – he rode a mammoth 97 laps on Saturday and another 96 laps today.
Marquez celebrated his 25th birthday on Saturday but didn’t let that distract him from the task of evaluating important parts, including the 2018 engine he first tried at Sepang and more new aerodynamic bodywork. He now feels sure which engine he will use for the 2018 season.
The youngster could have been even faster today but didn’t use a new tyre at the end of the afternoon to go for a time attack. Most importantly the Spaniard knows that his consistency was a match for anyone.
Crutchlow backed up the Repsol Honda riders with another fine showing, his best time over the three days just 0.283 seconds behind Pedrosa. The 32-year-old Briton was also delighted at the potential of Honda’s 2018 engine. He rigorously stuck to his task of testing and re-testing a number of new parts each day, before launching a time attack. And he might have been even faster if he hadn’t made a small mistake at the end of today, which put him off the track.
For the second consecutive test, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU RC213V) was the quickest of MotoGP’s five 2018 rookies. The two-times Moto2 race winner was one of the sensations of the test, ending up tenth fastest, only 0.675 seconds behind Pedrosa.
The Japanese youngster, who has experienced bigger capacity machinery in the Suzuka 8 Hours, continued to make small adjustments to his riding style, and acknowledges that he still needs to hone his technique during the vital corner-exit phase.
On Saturday, Nakagami received a helping hand from the reigning World Champion, when Marquez instructed the IDEMITSU Honda rider to follow him on track. That helped Nakagami get closer to the leaders. Today he did his time alone.
Reigning Moto2 World Champion Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda RC213V) also continued his adaption to the MotoGP class. The Italian believes he has made good progress since his previous outing in Malaysia. He is optimistic about his pace on used tyres and his best lap was also impressively quick for a rookie, less than a second off Pedrosa’s fastest.
Throughout the tests Morbidelli was keen to keep things simple, never making radical set-up changes, instead focusing on adapting his riding technique to the bike. The 23-year-old feels that his pace on new soft tyres still needs work – something to work on at the final preseason tests.
Honda’s third MotoGP rookie Thomas Luthi (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS Honda RC213V) was pleased to gain more time aboard a MotoGP machine. The Swiss rider is playing catch-up after missing what should have been his first MotoGP tests with Honda at the end of last year, due to a painful injury sustained during the final stages of his Moto2 campaign.
Luthi, who won the 2005 125cc World Championship with Honda, managed to improve his personal best by more than 1.3 seconds from Friday to Sunday, so he was content with progress at the end of each day.
MotoGP teams and riders gather for their final preseason tests at Losail, Qatar, from March 1st to 3rd, when they will add the finishing touches to their 2018 machines. The Losail International Circuit hosts the first race of this year’s 19-race season on March 18th.