Photography By: Gold & Goose
SEPANG, MALAYSIA, FEB 7 - "Sono molto contento," I'm very happy, is how many of the Italian riders begin their debriefs. Valentino Rossi used to say that, but over the past two years of struggling with the Ducati he said it less and less. Not only wasn't he happy, he was questioning whether he'd lost his touch, whether he could be competitive in the age of electronically controlled 1000s that demand a new riding style.
The three-day test at the Sepang International Circuit was his first chance to answer those questions. On the same track as his former rival Jorge Lorenzo, as well as the rest of the MotoGP field, Rossi could measure himself critically and get some indication of how the season would go. After the first day, after the first five laps, there was relief. And by the end of the three-day test he was ebullient.
"I'm very happy," he said in English after finishing the test with the third fastest time. He'd lagged behind Repsol Honda's precocious Marc Marquez until today, when he dipped into the 2:01s and put a tenth or so on Marquez, "so I am in a hypothetically first row if have the Grand Prix tomorrow," he said with a laugh.
Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa was the class of the class for the third day in a row, the first time he'd led all three days of a MotoGP test. And he appeared to do it effortlessly while doing the hard work he once shared with Casey Stoner. Marquez is blindingly fast, but he certainly wouldn't be asked to pinpoint the best location to add the mandated three extra kilos on the RC213V.That was up to Pedrosa, along with a number of other set-up issues. Lorenzo was a very close second the first two days, but today he fell behind by .329 of a second. Then came Rossi and Marquez, the trio covered by about .2 of a second.
It was Rossi and Marquez that everyone was curious about and both delivered. Marquez was quite impressive, but maybe not as consistent as the machine-like Pedrosa and Lorenzo. And he proved his fallibility with his first crash on a MotoGP bike, a low-speed, front-end wash. Rossi, who only got the updated chassis that Lorenzo had used from the start, put himself back into the podium picture, though asking him to win races this early in his return to the ranks of the elite may be a stretch. In his own words he said as much.
Saying he had some doubt, he continued by saying, "I don't know how much I can be competitive and at the end of these three days I'm a lot more happy, more relaxed because I think we can fight for some important results, because I am fast and competitive."
The phrase "some important results" is telling. With Lorenzo and Pedrosa expected to win most often, it will be a battle between Rossi and Marquez for the final podium spot, though Marquez's performance put him squarely in the discussion for race wins.
Marquez had an eventful day. In addition to his early crash, he ran a race simulation of 20 laps in the hottest conditions of the test; the track was 124F.
What he learned was that "if you have some problems, in the end of the race it is worse, that problem. It's what I feel, because, okayO, in short runs you can fix with your body, but on the last part of the race if that problem is coming worse with the used tires and you are tired then it is quite difficult to manage the bike."
And that may be the difference between Marquez and the rest. But it's only a matter of time before he masters that as well and then the fun really begins.