Simoncelli Leads Honda Sweep in Sepang

Cycle News Staff | February 3, 2011

San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Marco Simoncelli was the fastest rider at the three-day pre-season test in Sepang, the second year MotoGP rider making good use of his full factory Honda RC212V to lead a Honda sweep of the top three overall spots.Simoncelli got out to a lightning fast start in the morning, setting the fastest lap of the test (2:00.757) on only his second tour of the 3.45-mile track on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.The Italian continued to work into the afternoon when he validated the test’s work by doing a simulated race run of 20 laps, plus in and out laps.The two Honda riders who’d topped the previous day’s time sheets finished second and third, respectively. Second overall, and sixth today, was second day leader Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) on the strength of his Wednesday fast lap. The Spaniard might have improved his Thursday time, but instead concentrated on testing the endurance of the left collarbone that he’d fractured towards the end of last season. Pedrosa declared himself satisfied after completing a 12-lap run later in the day.”I am very, very happy about how the test went in general,” he said. “The best news we could have is that recovery of the arm has been effective and cramps have disappeared and the lack of power which had me so worried.”This afternoon we did a long run of 12 laps and we have done well. As for the work on the bike, I am also satisfied. We tried many things, step by step, and we leave Malaysia with clear ideas regarding suspension and some more things to confirm about chassis and engine when we come back here. I have concentrated more on the 2010 machine, and the second test we will have more time to test this year’s bike.”Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner crashed early in the day when his front tire touched the paint in the left hand Turn 12. Stoner was unhurt and continued his testing regimen, which concluded with him finishing the test only .054 of a second from Simoncelli and third overall.”Today was definitely the best day, despite the crash,” Stoner said. “In general we made some nice steps forwards, alternating between the different chassis, trying to get a good feeling for them. We managed to make the bike work a lot better with used tires and a different traction control system that catches the tires a little quicker when they start to spin – which assisted with our corner speed. I’m really pleased with what I’ve found in this test, in fact it’s a little better than what I expected. I’m happy with the overall package, just to be able to focus with such a good base set-up has been really important for us.”World Champion Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) finished the test fourth overall and third on the day. The Majorcan concentrated on a number of short runs and kept up his pace in the afternoon when the temperatures rose into the low 90s. His best lap of 2:00.811 was just .088 of a second  from Simoncellli’s best.The vibe in the Yamaha garage was also more relaxed than last year, when tension between Lorenzo and teammate Valentino Rossi was constant. Lorenzo made a point of complimenting new teammate Ben Spies, who replaced Rossi on the factory squad.”I’m very happy after the three days; it has been one of the best winter tests, normally we have more issues to feel good,” Lorenzo said. “The bike feels better but we still need to improve some points. I think the next test will see us take the next step. This afternoon when it was really hot on the track I still managed to put in a few fast laps which has given me the confidence that we are heading in a good direction. Ben [Spies] is doing a very good job, I spoke with him yesterday and we discussed many things about the bike. He’s a good teammate.”Repsol Honda’s Andrea Dovizioso was fourth on the day and fifth overall on the strength of a morning lap on a soft tire of 2:00.945, his only lap under 2:01 mins. and his best ever at the circuit.Dovi spent the morning working on his clutch set-up and traction control, but didn’t get the results he’d hoped for.”This morning we tried a different bike set-up and we improved in the middle of the corner,” he said. “We worked on some electronics, in particular on the traction control and we found some good solutions. We also tested a different set-up of the clutch, but unfortunately the feedback was not as we expected.”This morning the track conditions were very good, so I used the soft tire and I could lap in 2:00. It was the first time that I set 2:00 on this track so I’m very happy.”Yamaha’s Ben Spies was fifth on the day and sixth overall at the first test where he had his full technical crew, led by longtime crew chief Tom Houseworth. The second year MotoGP rider was less than a quarter second from Simoncelli at the end of the day after a consistent final two days.”For the second and third day we did very consistent times so I’m very happy with it, it shows the consistency of the bike,” he said. “There are some things we still need to work on. We tested two configurations of engine and we know which direction we want to go in now which is great. We also worked on some electronics for fuel consumption without compromising lap times and we found a good solution for that as well. We’ll come back with some different goals in two weeks to look at being a bit faster and also test some different tires. We’ve definitely done what we needed to do here. It’s been good riding alongside Jorge (Lorenzo). We’ve both worked hard to deliver important information which the team can now take away and work with.”Riding his satellite Honda RC212V, San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Hiroshi Aoyama finished with seventh fastest time, equalling his 2010 finishing position here, which was a season best. Aoyama had a minor spill in the morning, but it didn’t slow him down.Ducati Marlboro’s Nicky Hayden made it into the top ten for the first time during the test and closed the gap to the top, while taking top Ducati honors. Hayden lapped in 2:01.534 mins., putting him .777 sec. slower than Simoncelli overall.”It’s great to be back here, and to be back on the bike,” Hayden said. “We had three important days with a lot of work to do. Of course I don’t like to still be so far away from the leaders, but we’ve reduced the gap every day. Today it looked like it could rain at any time, so we did a lot of laps in the morning and found some stuff we like. We chased the chatter a lot, which cost us time trying to figure out what’s going on. Last year, that was something we only had a problem with at this one track. We don’t want it anywhere, but it could be a problem that’s not related to the GP11 in general and is specific just to this track. We also tested some tires for Bridgestone and gave them some information that can help down the road. We realize there’s still a lot of work to do, and that starts with the rider. When we come back, we’ll keep reducing the gap to the front guys.”With Ben Spies moving on to the factory team, Colin Edwards resumed his leadership role on the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team. Edwards assumed an even greater burden of testing since new teammate Cal Crutchlow was recovering from shoulder surgery similar to what Valentino Rossi has undergone. Crutchlow finished 16th overall and 15th on the day.”It was good to get back to work with the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team and I am really happy with the development that Yamaha has done on the bike for 2011,” Edwards said. “It has improved in every area and it was great to get back up to speed so quickly and post consistent and competitive lap times on each day. The engine is a big improvement in terms of power and the chassis helps me turn much better than I could before, so in all aspects I am happy and confident that I can have a strong season.”Valentino Rossi was encouraged by improving his time by .75 of a second from Wednesday to Thursday to end with the eleventh fastest time overall and tenth on the day. Rossi continued development of the Desmosedici GP11, while still hindered by his surgically repaired right shoulder. Rossi and Hayden are expected to get a boost for the next test, February 22-24, when a new front subframe and new Ohlins fork should be fitted.”I’m very happy because before coming here, I expected to do 20, 30 laps per day, and as it turns out, I did around 40 each of the first two days and over 50 today,” he said. “Of course I was really finished by the end, in part because the rest of my body has to work differently; my left arm has to do extra work, so it’s very tired. But I’m really happy with my shoulder because it’s improving day-by-day, and even after the stress of having ridden a MotoGP bike at the limit, I don’t have any problems: now it’s just a question of strength. My mobility has improved a lot, and I no longer think my physical limitations cost me a second; let’s say I lose five or six tenths, especially on braking and in corner entry.

“Anyway, we worked well today too, and we were able to collect a lot of data and solve the chattering problem we were experiencing. Obviously, there’s still a lot to do, but compared to the start of the test, we’ve definitely gotten closer to the base setup we’re looking for. There’s no need to change the Desmosedici’s character; we need to take advantage of its best characteristics-its stability and its engine-and improve the other areas, especially the in-corner behavior, to make it turn better. In any case, the overall evaluation of the test is definitely good; today we’re a second off the top riders, and also in the afternoon, riding with race tires, the distance stayed around seven or eight tenths. I still have to do more kilometers in order to understand other aspects of the GP11 but, although I have to change my riding style a little, I now feel much more at home with the Ducati.”Rizla Suzuki’s Alvaro Bautista retired with severe stomach cramps after a brief on-track appearance. His testing duties were taken up by test rider Nobu Aoki.

Overall Results:

1. Marco Simoncelli (Honda) 2:00.757

2. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 2:00.770

3. Casey Stoner (Honda) 2:00.811

4. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 2:00.845

5. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) 2:00.945

6. Ben Spies (Yamaha) 2:01.002

7. Hiroshi Aoyama (Honda) 2:01.353

8. Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 2:01.534

9. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 2:01.651

10. Alvaro Bautista (Suzuki) 2:01.687

11. Valentino Rossi (Ducati) 2:01.842

12. Hector Barbera (Ducati) 2:02.030

13. Loris Capirossi (Ducati) 2:02.057

14. Randy De Puniet (Ducati) 2:02.159

15. Karel Abraham (Ducati) 2:02.645

16. Cal Crutchlow (Yamaha) 2:02.717

17. Toni Elias (Honda) 2:02.916