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MEDIA RELEASE/MotoGP – Photo: supplied

After Yamaha topped all three days of the Sepang Test with Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT), Suzuki struck back in Qatar as Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) led teammate Joan Mir to lock out the top and the two Hamamatsu factory machines were split by just 0.002. Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) kept it close, ending the day just 0.032 in arrears, but it was Ducati who stole many a headline with what looks like a ride height adjuster…

Team Suzuki Ecstar Team Manager Davide Brivio confirmed that there’s nothing new to test in Qatar, but after success at Sepang – and a 1-2 on Day 1 in Qatar – it’s looking good for the Hamamatsu factory. Their engine choice is also clear as they switch their main focus to back-to-back chassis testing; the one tested in Sepang that was well-received. In addition, Rins has said a Suzuki holeshot device will arrive in time for the Qatar GP, if not here at the test, while Mir continues to work on his position on the GSX-RR. Can they keep setting the pace on Day 2?

At Yamaha, the 2020 engine also seems to be set in stone and the factory riders of Viñales and Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) have the holeshot devices fitted, with the quartet of Yamaha riders confirming parts and electronics work on a different circuit. Sepang Test pacesetter Fabio Quartararo tried the holeshot device on Saturday and was pretty positive about it, and he continued getting to grips with the 2020 YZR-M1, finishing P8 with a best time of 1:55.204 and working more on his race rhythm. Teammate Franco Morbidelli – who is on the YZR-M1 2020 A-spec – finished P5. The Yamahas look strong once again as all four finished inside the top eight, with Rossi slotting into P7.

And so… Ducati. Arguably the biggest talking point on Day 1 was the rumoured ride height adjuster that was predominantly seen on Jack Miller’s Pramac Racing GP20. Ducati Team Manager Davide Tardozzi admitted they have “something” new they are trying, but wouldn’t say much else. Both Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) and teammate Danilo Petrucci stonewalled…

Other than that, the goal for the Borgo Panigale factory was to work more on Michelin’s new tyre, something that both Dovizioso and teammate Petrucci put time into at the Sepang Test. Right at the end of the opening day, Petrux leapfrogged to P4 to sit just 0.172 off top spot, saying he feels quite positive but suffered a few issues and needs more track time. Pramac Racing’s Francesco Bagnaia was P9 after getting another 56 laps under his belt on the GP20, with Dovizioso (P11), Johann Zarco (Reale Avinita Racing) – another solid outing for the Frenchman in P12 – and Miller (P13) all within a second of the Suzukis. Both Dovizioso and Miller crashed unscathed, the Italian lamenting it was whilst trying focused on trying “something”. Was it the same something?

At Honda, fresh of the back of a new four-year HRC deal, Marc Marquez got a valuable 42 laps under his belt as he continued to recover from shoulder surgery, finishing P6 on the timesheets with a best of 1:54.823. He cited improvements in front graining compared to 2019 here, but lamented compromises in other areas – and that the track in Qatar is both physically tougher for his shoulder and “exploits” Honda’s weaknesses. Teammate Alex Marquez didn’t have the smoothest day as the reigning Moto2™ World Champion crashed – thankfully unhurt – twice at Turn 7 and Turn 10, but another 57 laps for the rookie was important after impressing at Sepang. The number 73 was on track with a new front fairing too.

Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) had another busy day of testing, the British rider completing 50 laps and finishing up in P19. Teammate Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) was P15 as he – like Marquez – comes back from shoulder surgery, and he confirmed he’s still struggling with endurance, as well as trying to find the limit and understand the 2019 RC213V. That’s his goal for Sunday: at least 15 laps in a row.

Aleix Espargaro and Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s main target on Day 1, meanwhile, was to continue setting up the new RS-GP, and the Spaniard was joined on track by test rider Bradley Smith in the team’s 2020 colours. Espargaro – an early pacesetter in Qatar – was tenth with a best time of 1:55.268, with Smith putting 54 laps on the board for Aprilia. Although Espargaro admitted he didn’t feel “super good” when the temperature dropped in the evening, he said he tried a few things different things on Day 1, with everything still a voyage of discovery.

Finally, at KTM, chassis comparisons were ongoing in the factory camp, as well as a workout for the new swingarm we saw appear at Sepang. Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was the leading orange machine on Day 1 in P14, 0.987 off Rins’ time, and at a track that’s “tough” for them. Espargaro also says the new package is an all-round improvement and they’re focused on not “getting lost” ahead of the race weekend by trying anything too drastic. New teammate Brad Binder was just a couple of tenths behind and the fastest rookie as he continued to adapt, and he said it was almost like learning a whole new track initially, with a marked difference between the intermediate and premier classes at Losail.

Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3), meanwhile, said he had a bit of a tough day, the Portuguese rider suffering with rear traction, but he and his team have ideas to improve the feeling on Day 2. Moreover, Oliveira said he’s feeling better physically than he did at Sepang with regards to his shoulder, as he’s another in recovery. His teammate Iker Lecuona was a few tenths behind him.

That’s it from Day 1 – tune in on Sunday for more on After the Flag and follow Live Timing on, with a lot of eyes up and down pitlane on Ducati as the Italian factory once again field some interesting innovations in the desert..


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