SEPANG, MALAYSIA, FEB 2 - Repsol Honda's Casey Stoner picked up where he left off last year by clocking the fastest-ever time by a motorcycle on the steamy final day of a three-day test at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia.
On the second of 21 laps, the 2011 MotoGP World Champion lapped in 1:59.607, lowering the mark of 1:59.666 from his dominating performance here almost a year ago. The previous best lap was set in the second Sepang test. This year's version of that begins on February 28.
Stoner might have gone faster if not for two factors, a recurrence of the back problems that kept him off track on the first day and sky-blackening showers that shut down the test about an hour early. Still, it was clear that the extra 200cc hadn't changed the balance of the field.
"Yeah, I'm very surprised, to be honest, that we were able to be competitive," he said. "After what happened on Tuesday, we went out Wednesday and tried to do everything we could and get as best a set-up as we possibly could in a short time. We just tried to make the test as productive as possible without doing more laps than necessary.
"We would've liked to have tested a couple more things, but they weren't really necessary and they weren't really going to make a huge difference on what we've got now. So I think the best thing we could do is compare back-to-back the chassis. A few suspension changes today, a couple of different modifications and then a clutch yesterday, as well, so we just had to try and weed out what was good and what was bad and try and go in the right direction for the next test."
Now Stoner returns to his home in Verbier, Switzerland to be with his wife Adriana as they await the birth of their first child. The child is expected to arrive between this test and the next three-day Sepang test.
Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo was the closest to Stoner and not very close. His best lap was .561 of a second slower, though he said, "To be honest I wasn't worried about the lap time at all. It is not important so much in the tests, but even less so at the first test. But the feeling is very good because I have never been so close to the fastest lap time so many laps together. I was only doing four and five lap runs though because I was getting very tired."
Stoner's teammate Dani Pedrosa took advantage of the slightly cooler morning temperatures to set his fast lap early. His best of 2:0256 was done on the third of 26 laps and was only .058 of a second off the time set by Lorenzo. More importantly was that Pedrosa improved his time by 1.252 seconds from Wednesday and by nearly two seconds from the start of the test. Having run 109 laps over the three days in searing heat, Pedrosa admitted that the testing had left him exhausted but happy.
The bigger problem was chatter. The Hondas had it worse than anyone and they couldn't find a way to get rid of it.
"We did some tests in general so we could do some parts tests, also some general tests of the engine and the chassis and tires, so overall it's a biggest test we did on this bike and we have some data so we can now start to build up in the points we need," Pedrosa said.
Yamaha's Ben Spies finished his testing program early in the day after setting the fourth fastest time, and surviving a spill on the team's test bike.
"Really just worked more with the bike and back to back a couple different set-ups we had had from yesterday," he said. "Found really just kinda some weight distribution things, stuff like that. I can honestly say this whole test we changed the front spring and the rear spring. Geometry-wise, we didn't touch anything. Did a lot of work with the just the electronics; kinda fine-tuning it because it's definitely a bit different with the 1000. And that was pretty much it. We just worked on some different stuff. Tried a tire for Bridgestone and nothing too easy. We did all our work yesterday, pretty much. We just wanted to back-to-back two things today and that was it. We're done."
Ducati Marlboro's Valentino Rossi was encouraged by finishing with the fifth fastest time, and maintaining a constant gap to Lorenzo over three days. Teammate Nicky Hayden had a less successful day. For the third day in a row he was only able to do a few laps before the pain and discomfort of the shoulder blade he broke a month ago sent him to the pits. Still, he was encouraged by the start and said the overall mood of the team was much better than last year.
"We have a lot more room for improvement and it's brand new," Hayden said. "Last year we tried everything. At least this one we still got a lot of stuff we haven't tried. Don't necessarily know what that's going to give us, but we got a lot of room to try. We got a lot more testing to go. Come back here three days, three days in Jerez and this year it seems like there's going to be more testing during the season."
Rossi was also encouraged, saying, "We know in the team that this is a crucial test because we have to try the new bike and at the end the result and the balance of the three days is positive because first we are in fifth place behind the two Hondas and the two factory Yamahas," Rossi said. "We are not so far, especially we find a quite good setting for the bike."
NGM Mobile Forward Racing's Colin Edwards was the top CRT machine, but still 5.115 seconds off Stoner's pace. The team made huge leaps to the BMW/Suter, especially with the Bosch electronics, but they couldn't solve the chatter problem that others were also having. Edwards believes it has something to do with the softer carcass Bridgestone rear and that the team will need to tune it out if they want to be competitive.
"You know, with as much chatter as I have, I don't think it's that bad," he said. "I mean if we didn't have any chatter, on my kids' lives we could do a 3.0 or 2.5, no problem. Easy, easy. If we didn't have chatter, if I can go in and be confident and not have to gather it all back, if I could go in and go, easy 3.0, 2.5, no problem."