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MEDIA RELEASE/MotoGP – Photo: supplied

The stage is set for the world’s most exciting sport to go racing as testing concludes with a Ducati-Aprilia battle at the top.

His best pre-season ever? Reigning World Champion Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) pretty much confirmed so on Tuesday in Qatar, on the timesheets and thereafter debriefing the action. But the #1 plated Ducati had close company despite setting the first 1:50 of Lusail International Circuit, with teammate Enea Bastianini back in his own groove after a tougher 2023, within just over a tenth.

A close challenge on the timesheets came from Aprilia Racing’s Aleix Espargaro too, this time with some Noale factory company nearer the top echelons as well. But in fourth it’s Marc Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) within 0.075 of the #41 Aprilia…

Ducati Lenovo, Prima Pramac, Pertamina Enduro VR46 & Gresini
It’s proven an exceptional test for the Bologna bullets, with six of their seven full time riders in Qatar finishing inside the top 10. First Bagnaia, then Bastianini, Marc Marquez in fourth despite a late crash within around 20 minutes of pre-season on the clock, and then Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) picks up the baton in P7.

At Pertamina Enduro VR46, there were plenty of positives too. Marco Bezzecchi was the first to go under the official lap record, set by then-teammate Luca Marini during the GP last year, and ended the day in P10. Now-teammate Fabio Di Giannantonio continued to shine though, just keeping the edge on the timesheets in P8 at the track he reigned in 2023. Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™) is one looking for more once competition starts under the same floodlights, ending the day in P13.

Aprilia & Trackhouse Racing
As pre-season concludes, the closest challengers to Ducati on the timesheets were Aprilia, and flying much more in formation. After Espargaro had found pace where others kept looking for it in Sepang, Day 2 in Qatar saw the #41 end the test quickest Aprilia in P3 but with Raul Fernandez (Trackhouse Racing) shining in P5 and Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) taking P6, both shooting up the order. Miguel Oliveira (Trackhouse Racing) also made a leap up the timesheets to P12. One thing of note on the tech side was the different tail units being used in the Noale camp, with Viñales and Oliveira taking the previous out for a spin. Who will run what when the lights go out to race?

Red Bull KTM & Red Bull GASGAS Tech3
It looks like a satisfactory test for KTM in Qatar, with both Brad Binder and Red Bull KTM Factory Racing teammate Jack Miller going under the previous lap record. Binder also finished inside the top 10. It wasn’t all smooth sailing, however, with Binder stopping on his longer run with an issue while Miller crashed, rider ok. Whether the full potential isn’t yet unleashed or their cards are close to their chest we’ll likely find out during the GP… last season after what seemed like a more muted pre-season, the Austrian factory came out swinging and then kept swinging pretty consistently for the top five and the podium.

Meanwhile over at Red Bull GASGAS Tech3, rookie wonder Pedro Acosta claimed P15 in just his third MotoGP™ Test this year, while he also put in a convincing longer run where he lapped in the 1:52s. Teammate Augusto Fernandez, meanwhile, will be a looking for a bit more as racing starts, further down the order.

Monster Energy Yamaha
The progress of the M1 has been real during pre-season, but the search for one-lap pace continues, and that for rear grip. Both Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™) and team manager Massimo Meregalli want more, more, more, too. A longer exhaust was one approach being tested out to smooth out the power, with a view to that one-lap pace. But remember – concessions mean Yamaha, and Honda, can keep testing if they so wish. By the end of the Qatar Test though, Quartararo is P14 and new teammate Alex Rins P16 for now.

Repsol Honda & Castrol/Idemitsu Honda LCR
HRC faced a challenging conclusion to pre-season as both new Repsol Honda arrival Luca Marini and teammate Joan Mir struggled with feeling under the weather in Qatar. Mir’s notable 1.1 second improvement from his qualifying lap in 2023 shows a leap forward, but the Hondas will be searching for even more as the four locked out P17 to P20, with Castrol Honda LCR’s Johann Zarco and Idemitsu Honda LCR’s Takaaki Nakagami heading the group too.

From a technical perspective, there is plenty of optimism, however, particularly surrounding the new engine and the new double-stacked rear aero aimed at planting the rear tyre, for grip and stability. The search for rear grip continues but Honda, like Yamaha, have those concessions. The book of 2024 testing is unlikely to close now and be left unread until the post-Jerez test.

That’s a wrap on the official pre-season tests though. After a blistering 1:56 club was established in Sepang with a number of founding members, at Qatar it’s a 1:50 club and it has one name in it: Pecco Bagnaia. That’s both a statement and a benchmark but this is MotoGP™, so it’s also a target. The rest will take aim at that as the paddock returns to Lusail International Circuit for the Qatar Airways Grand Prix of Qatar from the 8th to the 10th of March… so see you there!


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