A tale of two bikes at Sepang International Circuit (SIC) for the 2023 MotoGP Winter Test. One fresh from nearly two decades of MotoGP competition with not only the Riders’, Team and Constructors’ title from MotoGP, but with the World Superbike championship crown as well.
The other, with a long racing heritage, freshly back in the paddock with not only the factory team but a newly formed satellite team as well. We are referring to Ducati and Aprilia, strutting their stuff at SIC with new racing machines, new aerodynamics packages and in some cases, new riders.
As per last season, Ducati dominated the Winter Test grid with the factory and three satellite teams while Aprilia turned up with the Factory Racing team as well as the Cryptodata RNF Racing team. Speaking to RNF Racing Malaysian team principal Datuk Razlan Razali, he told paultan.org the Aprilia RS-GPs being ridden by Miguel Oliviera and Raul Fernandez are essentially from the last race of last year.
“We have been given some upgrades in terms of aerodynamics and some other parts but they are the same bikes as used by the factory team,” said Razlan. This was borne out by posted times across the three days of Winter Test, including wet Saturday afternoon and Sunday evening sessions.
Oliviera, making his first appearance for RNF Racing after leaving KTM Tech 3, posted a fastest time of 1:58.992. Meanwhile, team mate Fernandez, also transferring over to RNF Racing from Tech 3, posted a 1:58.710, leaving the duo comfortably mid-pack in terms of timing.
The Aprilia factory team, having spent the first two days of Winter Test overshadowed by the satellite team, finally got their act together on day three, with Maverick Vinales posting a 1:58.03 while Aleix
Espargaro came in sixth fastest on the day with a 1:58.307.
This was enough to make Vinales third fastest man on Sunday evening as proceedings drew to a close. In the Ducati camp, domination was the order of the day, with satellite team rider Luca Marini of Mooney VR46 Racing team standing on top of the test results with a time of 1:57.889.
Marini was followed by Francesco Bagnaia, the 2022 MotoGP World Champion, of Ducati Lenovo, second fastest with a time of 1:57.969. In fourth was his Ducati Lenovo team mate Enea “The Beast” Bastianini, clocking 1:58.149 while Jorge “The Marinator” Martin was fifth with a 1:58.204.
Ducati Desmosedicis filled the remaining nine slots on the test grid with Repsol Honda Team’s Marc Marquez posting tenth with a 1:58.666. The other Japanese factory team, Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP and running without the backup of a satellite team for the first since forever, could only manage a 1:58.943 from former world champion Fabio Quartararo.
It should be noted 20 of the 22 riders on the MotoGP grid this season posted sub 1:59 lap times, outliers being Takaaki Nakagami of LCR Honda Idemistu and Augusto Fernandez of GasGas Factory Racing Tech 3, lying just outside the pack a half-second behind. The truth of it is Winter Test is more for the factories and riders, since test times are not reflective of racing season performance.
Di Giannantonio, Gresini Racing
However, the three days of testing at SIC did show many factories are taking aerodynamics seriously with lots of wing and spoiler shapes on display. As Aliex Espargaro said during the press conference, “we tried today two spoilers, one gave me more corner speed, the other made me very fast on the straight. If we can combine both then we will have a strong package this year.”
As it stands, despite Ducati being all conquering in 2022, this year’s crop of riders are all showing confidence, despite Quartararo saying he has mixed feelings about his Yamaha YZR-M1 despite starting testing with new tyres, declaring the tyres “a disaster.”
This year’s MotoGP season sees the introduction of the Sprint race on Saturday race day which happens at 1500 hours local time, giving fans a total of 42 races to watch across the year. These half-distance races with half-points on offer will have no bearing on the starting grid for the main grand prix.
As for the race season which begins in Portimao, Portugal on March 23, expect Bagnaia to fend off challengers for the world champion’s crown, with his strongest challenge coming from Bastianini. Based on form at Sepang, it can be expected Marini of VR46 might upset the apple cart, as well as spoilers from the likes of Maverick and the not to be ruled out Marquez.
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