Stoner, Pedrosa, Simoncelli Tops in Sepang

Henny Ray Abrams | February 24, 2011

Hondas were fast, Ducatis weren’t, and Yamahas were somewhere in the middle. That was the takeaway at the conclusion of the second three-day pre-season test of the year in Sepang, Malaysia.The Hondas were more than fast, they were exceptional. Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner lapped the 2.76-mile Sepang Circuit faster than anyone ever had on only his second morning lap. The Australian was the first rider ever to go under two minutes, and his lap of 1:59.664 mins. was unassailable.Teammate Dani Pedrosa joined Stoner in the under two-minute club with his second lap of the day before lowering his time to 1:59.803 mins. with his third. Both riders spent the rest of the day evaluating their chassis options, with Stoner clear on his direction while Pedrosa won’t make his final decision until the last pre-season test of the year the week of the Qatar season-opener.”We had a good day comparing the chassis’ again and I’m happy we have made our decision on which one we’ll use for the season,” Stoner said. “We also tried a lot of electronics with engine braking and found improvements in a few areas, and some losses in others so we need to rectify these. The chassis we’ve chosen always behaves in the way we want it to; no matter what set-up we use, we are also able to adapt it fairly easily. So when we get to Qatar in a few weeks we’ll be able to test different set-up’s at the same time and get more track time on it. Some changes can be quite time consuming to do, so having the two bikes with identical chassis will be useful. The test here has been very productive for us; we did a long run here today – almost race distance – and gathered some key information. I’m feeling more and more comfortable on the RC212V and I can’t wait to get to Qatar.”Said Pedrosa, “We did a very good three days testing; both tests here in Sepang have been very positive. We improved the braking and worked a lot with different chassis configurations and electronics. It’s been a much better winter test than last year, even if we know that everybody will improve for the first race. I’m leaving Sepang satisfied and I think testing in Qatar will give further opportunity to check our work at another circuit, with a different layout and track conditions to what we have had here. I’ve spent more or less the same time with last year’s chassis and the modified 2011 chassis and my best lap time was with the 2011 version, but it will be nice to check it again in Qatar and take there the final decision.”San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Marco Simoncelli rode his factory RC212V to the third fastest time, just above the two-minute mark, but under the previous outright lap record of 2:00.518 mins. set by Valentino Rossi in 2009. “Super Sic” set his fast time early in the day, then did a race simulation on the harder Bridgestone rear tire, which he felt was a mistake. Still, he wasn’t worried and left the test happy with the team’s progress.The third factory Repsol Honda rider, Andrea Dovizioso, was fourth overall, while lapping not quite as fast as he’d done a day earlier; the difference was only .010 sec. Dovi found a small problem with mid-corner grip with a full fuel tank, which he and his team will work on in Qatar.Texan Ben Spies ended the Honda domination at four, while fronting the three fastest Yamaha riders in surprising order. Not only was fifth fastest Spies quicker than world champion Jorge Lorenzo, but so was Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Colin Edwards. Lorenzo finished seventh fastest, though only .037 sec. slower than Edwards.Spies finished the day early, wrapping up after completing 32 laps in the morning session.”It was a productive test, we got through a lot,” Spies said. “I had one small mistake, but on the plus side we had a lot of stuff we accomplished, so it’s all good. We still have some work to do, obviously, but we’re not too far off race pace. We need to figure out how to get the bike a little bit quicker for a few laps, definitely for qualifying and the beginning of the race. It wasn’t the most ideal conditions today for a quick lap. I did go to put in a few this morning and was pretty pleased with the time.”As was Edwards, who said he was working for a base set-up, rather than a single fast lap time.”I’ve figured out a lot of things with the new bike and the Bridgestone tires and I’ve also learned that for an old guy, I’m not finished yet,” he said. “I spent most of the test working on the new chassis, mainly experimenting with geometry and we made a lot of progress. My team is really smart and together we played around with a few ideas and got the bike to a point where I’m really satisfied. We improved front feeling compared to the last test and we can finish the corner a lot better. I’m really happy with the progress with rear traction too.”Lorenzo completed 48 laps with a best of 2:01.002 on his ninth. The time was 1.338 secs. off Stoner’s pace and the world champion knows he has to improve if he hopes to keep his crown.”I feel quite tired,” Lorenzo said. “After two and a half days of testing I’ve finished with a long 20-lap run. The results have been quite good, we had a very consistent pace and I was happy to have improved some things with the bike. I think we’ve made some big steps forward with traction and feel, although we still need to improve our lap time.”Between the Yamahas and the Ducati Marlboro teammates were Rizla Suzuki’s Alvaro Bautista, San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Hiroshi Aoyama, and Mapfre Aspar Ducati’s Hector Barbera. After a day in the sick bay-Rossi missed Wednesday with a severe flu-Rossi returned to finish tied for the 11th fastest time with teammate Nicky Hayden. Both rider lapped in 2:01.469 mins., which was 1.804 secs. slower than Stoner.”We can’t be satisfied with this test because we didn’t reach our goals, which were to finish close to the top six and especially to reduce the gap to the front,” Rossi said.  “Instead, we’re 1.8 seconds back, and our rhythm is also lacking.”After the first day, we thought we could do it. We had started well and were able to make the bike work with the hard tires, which is good. After that though, we didn’t take steps forward. Although we have some good ideas for the electronics that I’m optimistic will solve those problems relatively easily, I’m not as confident about the chassis set-up. We tried hard, but we haven’t yet managed it. I’m able to brake hard, but I’m still having trouble in mid-corner. It was definitely a disadvantage to only ride two days instead of three because we had to rush at the end and try many things in order to understand as much as we could. We were prepared for that possibility, but it started to drizzle, making it impossible to push. There could be some good solutions for the future, but we weren’t able to confirm them. This circuit hasn’t traditionally been favorable to the Ducati. The next test is in Qatar, where the track is different, so we’ll see if we can go faster there.”Added Hayden, “We’ve tested a lot of options over the course of this test, like different geometry and electronics. We’ve just been trying to improve the feeling and eliminate stuff that didn’t work, focusing mainly on finding a base set-up that could work for this season. We’re still behind, not because of any major problem, but a combination of little details that prevented us from getting the results that we’d hoped for. I’ve got a good bike and team, and we definitely need to do better than this. We’ve got a lot more work to do, but we’ve made progress this week, and we’ve still got some options we can try at the next test. It’s going to be a competitive season, no doubt. A lot of guys are going fast and pushing hard. We’ll have to work hard to try to take full advantage of this bike’s potential. It’s been three long days, and our team-everybody from engineers to mechanics to tire guys to suspension guys-has worked really hard the whole time.”


1. Casey Stoner (Honda) 1:59.665

2. Dani Pedrosa (Honda) 1:59.803

3. Marco Simoncelli (Honda) 2:00.163

4. Andrea Dovizioso (Honda) 2:00.541

5. Ben Spies (Yamaha) 2:00.678

6. Colin Edwards (Yamaha) 2:00.966

7. Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) 2:01.003

8. Alvaro Bautista (Suzuki) 2:01.194

9. Hiroshi Aoyama (Honda) 2:01.328

10. Hector Barbera (Ducati) 2:01.346

11. (TIE) Valentino Rossi/Nicky Hayden (Ducati) 2:01.469


Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.