Photography By: Gold & Goose.
SEPANG, MALAYSIA, JAN 31 - The 2012 MotoGP testing season got underway with a few surprises. Not surprising was the fastest rider, Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo. The 2010 MotoGP World Champion enjoyed being back on his Yamaha and made the most of his time. Surprising was the absence of Repsol Honda's Casey Stoner, the 2011 MotoGP World Champion. Stoner had wrenched his back stretching prior to practice. The 26-year-old Australian made a handful of exploratory laps, but determined he was better off retiring for the day and getting treated by a physiotherapist.
Teammate Dani Pedrosa was left to fly the Honda flag and he did it well; Lorenzo had him by .346 of a second, but the Spaniard was a model of good health and eager for the season to start. After Pedrosa came Monster Yamaha Tech 3's Cal Crutchlow, the Englishman returning to one of the MotoGP tracks where he has the most experience. Next was Yamaha's Ben Spies, back in the saddle after a winter tending to his new burger joint and cycling team.
"Yeah, I mean visually it looks pretty similar, but I think the base package, they definitely did quite a bit of work," Spies said. "It's hard for me to see and I don't get into the questions of what exactly changed. It's definitely... they've done work and we've got a lot of stuff to test and a lot of stuff to test at the next Sepang test. So they're definitely working hard, they're definitely putting in the effort for sure. So not everything we're going to test is going to work, but we're going to get quite a few things to test and hopefully everything adds up to what we need in Qatar. So we just, it's nice knowing that we have stuff we've got to look at here. Also at the next test we're going to have even more stuff. So it's not a shortage of effort from Yamaha, so it's nice knowing that."
Ducati Corse also put in the effort and Valentino Rossi showed that after a year in the doldrums he was ready to return to the ranks of the elite. Rossi was fifth fastest, but only .7 of a second from Lorenzo and confident that the gap could be lowered.
Confidence in the front end is one issue that Rossi is now enjoying. The 2011 GP11 gave little feeling and warning before sliding away. The front end works much better.
"Now I can squeeze the front tire, I can use the front," Rossi said. "I have a quite good temperature and also the tire works well, so is a big, big step compared to last year. And also about the position on the bike, last year I never feel confident, also with the position. With this one I am okay, and I have enough room on the straight, I am in a good position in the corner. Now we have to work, but the first day is positive."
Having suffered through such a dismal 2011, Rossi was asked if he expected the new bike to erase those memories.
"Why not? Yeah, I mean, but you never know," he said. "Like we said before, make a new bike in three months is a great big question mark. But, first the bike is beautiful. I like. Also if you see compared to the old bike, it is a big step but especially is a lot faster. Our engine is good, I think. Now we have to work, but the base is good."
Nicky Hayden, Rossi's teammate, only got the okay to make the flight a little over a week before the test. He knew he wouldn't be at full strength, but he also knew he didn't want to miss another testing opportunity.
"The shoulder is very important, so much in the change of direction here," he said. "The braking is not a problem for the shoulder, too bad. It's more in the change of direction. More side to side, especially lifting the bike."
Hayden wouldn't speculate how he'd feel for the next test, 26 days after this one ends.
"Sometimes that soft tissue shoulder stuff you don't know. I mean, you know, actually sometimes probably bones are easier. They know when a bone is going to heal. So I'll see how I feel in the morning. That's the big thing. I didn't go crazy with the laps today. Hopefully, I'll wake up in the morning and not worse than I was, so I'd say I'll know more after that."
Even in a diminished state, Hayden could tell that Ducati, "Definitely did some good stuff. On the brakes was very good. Turning was good. Had some good feedback in the front. But, of course, it's only the first day on a brand new bike, so we need to understand more, especially with the electronics. I have a lot of work to do there."