The big news on the final day of testing at Sepang was not what was happening on track, but rather what was happening off track. The announcement – trailed here and all around the media since early January – that Ducati would switch to the Open category was the talk of the paddock…and social media…and bike racing forums…and biking bars around the world, I expect.

Even though we knew this was coming, it is only now becoming clear just how much of a game changer this decision is.

The announcement was timed curiously, made at the end of the day when the bosses of Yamaha and Honda had already left the circuit and were unavailable to the press. Likewise, the press room had largely emptied out. It appeared to have been made to minimize the impact, especially on the other manufacturers.

Honda and Yamaha now have a couple of days to gather their PR might and put together a carefully worded position on the move by Ducati, which will both give the impression they are entirely disinterested in what Ducati have decided to do, while at the same time exuding a vague air of disapproval. Expect to see the verb ‘to disappoint’ in various conjugations.

On track, however, the situation was largely unchanged from the last couple of days of testing: interesting names at the top of the timesheet, belying the utter dominance of the Repsol Hondas, in the person of Dani Pedrosa. Valentino Rossi was the fastest man on the day, and leaves as the fastest rider of the test, pleased with the progress they have made.

But dig deeper, examine the times set during the long race simulations, and Dani Pedrosa comes out streets ahead, half a second or more quicker than the competition. Pedrosa’s average pace is faster than any other riders best lap on their long run.

The biggest problem remains the tires for the Yamahas, with both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo complaining that the new construction favors the Hondas. The tires may work better at tracks like Phillip Island and Mugello, but at low grip circuits like Sepang, the heat-resistant layer never starts to provide benefits for the Yamahas, especially as the tires start to wear.

Though Rossi only did a short run of 7 laps, he was well over 4 seconds short of Pedrosa’s time over a similar distance. The Italian did say he had to cut his run short, after problems emerged with the front tire.

How badly that slowed his race pace is hard to say. Jorge Lorenzo went further, doing 13 laps, but he was over 3 seconds slower than Pedrosa at the 7 lap mark, and 7.5 seconds slower over 13 laps.

Jorge Lorenzo was at least persuaded to talk to the press on Friday, and in truth, found some improvements to close the gap to the front. But those gains were still nowhere near what they needed, Lorenzo said. “It’s impossible for us to be competitive,” he told reporters.

There were some positives to be taken from the test, Lorenzo said: they could finish the race with the 20 liters of fuel allocated, and the electronics package was improved. Just how real the improvements in fuel consumption are is open for debate: you can save a lot of fuel when you are half a second slower than your rivals.

Putting Pedrosa to one side for a moment, the battle for second (or rather third, once Marc Marquez returns to action) is turning out to be rather intriguing. Jorge Lorenzo is still the fastest of the rest on race pace, despite his complaints about a lack of grip, but he is only a little way ahead of Aleix Espargaro on the Forward Yamaha running under Open rules.

Aleix, in turn, is a fraction quicker than Stefan Bradl on the LCR Honda, a fact that will delight the elder of the Espargaro brothers, annoy HRC, and further raise Aleix’ earnings potential for the future.

Bradl, in turn, was much faster in his race simulation yesterday, turning in a sequence of laps on Thursday which was five seconds faster than his time over the same distance on Friday.

Andrea Dovizioso was also quick on the Ducati Desmosedici GP14 running in Open-spec, running a race simulation which was around the pace of Aleix Espargaro and Stefan Bradl. Dovizioso may have ended in third on the timesheets, setting the fastest lap ever around Sepang on a Ducati, but that was on the Factory-spec bike.

The Open-spec was still good enough to have made a big step forward, though. The improvement comes mainly from braking and corner entry, Dovizioso saying that this was the best Ducati he had ridden so far. The advantage of the extra fuel was negligible, though the disadvantage of running the championship software was similarly small.

Ducati are clearly heading in the right direction, and the switch to the Open class, and the extra development and testing that allows, should be the push they need to get them back at the front.

Further down the field, the Suzuki improved on the final day. Suzuki have now implemented most of their own software for the Magneti Marelli ECU, and they tested a new engine and frame. The bike is now some one and a half seconds off the pace of Pedrosa, a big step forward since the season started.

As for the other Open bikes, they are a long way off the front. Colin Edwards is over 1.7 seconds behind Pedrosa, and 1.6 seconds off the pace of his teammate Aleix Espargaro. Nicky Hayden improved on the Honda once again, putting the RCV1000R into 15th and 1.9 seconds slower than Pedrosa.

Hayden is slowly adapting his riding style to get the best out of the Honda production racer, finding more time on braking and corner entry. But the bike is still down on power, and until Honda step in and boost power outputs, Hayden looks doomed to haunt the lower regions of the points.

The teams now split up, and go their separate ways. The factory teams head to Phillip Island, to test tires for Bridgestone. Ducati’s switch to the Open class does not change their plans to test in Australia.

Meanwhile the satellite teams and Open teams travel to Qatar, where they will test at the Losail circuit ahead of the season opener at the track on the 23rd March. Racing season is so very nearly in full swing again.

Photo: Ducati Corse

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • pokcik

    Rossi fastest, because marquez is not there..if marquez also doing the test, then bye bye Rossi..

  • damn

    @ the heat-resistant layer never starts to provide benefits for the Yamahas, especially as the tires start to wear.

    Heat-resistant? but drop quickly? thats not heat-resistant!!
    more safe tyre? but the tyre spins much easyer.!!
    more safe tyre? but with less lean angle due to to hard compound/carcas!!
    more safe tyre? but even dani talks the bike is moving alot more!!

    Bridgestone always made good tyres, the best tyre was 2013 tyre, mm,dp,jl,vr,cc etc etc etc all could ride the tyre to the max, but now more riders are complaining exept mm. seems to me 7.5 sec slower after 13 laps isnt more safe!

    Bridgestone must have known that with less lean angle Yamaha’s strong point is gone.
    in 2012 honda was complaining about the tyre and had to adopt, but……all the other riders exept honda riders were content with the 2012 tyres, now only honda likes them, so its honest to say…….BRIDGESTONE SUCKS this year!!

  • smiler

    Just do not trust the triple team of Dorna, a Spanish orgasnisation, desperate to get more Spanish riders into MotoGP. Clearly 22 is not enough. They manage the CEV series, a Spanish feeder series and even have put the results on the MotoGP website. That would be like carrying BSB results on the WSBK website.
    Repsol is also Spanish and a huge sponsor. They put their store in Pedro over far too many years hoping for the marketing success of a Spanish champ. Stoner turned his back on Dorna, Repsol and Honda, very embarrasing for them.
    Yamaha were clearly closing the gap and Ducati have made stides forward.
    So this year, Bridgestone change the tire…to suit….Honda.

    It is not racing. Off to WSBK to see some real racing.

  • Aaron Mezger

    Who is now owned by Dorna too.

  • This season looks like it could be interesting (but I think that ahead of every season I guess). It will be interesting to see how fast the Ducati can develop – they’ve got two good riders (Dovi is probably better than most give him credit for) and Gigi Dall’Igna means business. Honda shouldn’t point fingers. Gigi’s just taking a page out of Youichi Oguma’s book – you race to win, damn the torpedoes.

    I’m looking forward to seeing some different liveries on the podium this year. I hope I’m not disappointed.

  • Norm G.

    re: “It will be interesting to see how fast the Ducati can develop”

    it’ll be interesting to see how fast BIGRED fires back a protest…? considering Ducati just tried to block Honda from booking airfare for Marcus.

    re: “Honda shouldn’t point fingers”

    Bologna shouldn’t throw stones at enemies possessing WMD’s.

  • Frank

    @smiler – Dude, you should move to Spain! I hear they have some pretty good motorcycle racers over there right now.

  • LOL, Frank. smiler’s anti-Spanish xenophobia is truly impressive.

  • L2C

    I think about moving to Barcelona every year. Hope smiler doesn’t hate me for it.

  • Westward

    @ Joy Complex

    Well, you will see different liveries on the podium this year, mainly because Movistar is sponsoring the factory Yamaha effort…

  • meatspin

    Barcelona is actually a very beautiful city. You’d hardly believe you were in Spain.

  • Gutterslob

    Re: “Bologna shouldn’t throw stones at enemies possessing WMD’s”

    Let’s just hope there isn’t some last minute weight gain rule like there was two years ago.

  • birch

    Hmmm… why don’t they just call it Moto Copa del Rey?

  • Destroyer

    What happened to moto GP?
    Did honda reck it like they did the two stroke? or DORMA? FIM?
    Whats this CRT Crap?
    This isn’t Rocket Science !!!
    I don’t the answer, I’m just a fan but it’s getting hard.
    My two cent’s

  • L2C

    In Marquez’s absence, I wonder if Stoner is going to test for HRC at Phillip Island.

  • “In Marquez’s absence, I wonder if Stoner is going to test for HRC at Phillip Island.”

    That’s something I’d enjoy seeing.

  • Norm G.

    re: “Movistar is sponsoring the factory Yamaha effort”

    if you look closely, you’ll see Ross has sponsorship from Fiat and the Italian snack manufacturer Pata (ie Tenkate’s main sponsor). again, blink and you’ll miss it.

  • L2C

    Well, the Stoner question was answered. He didn’t participate. Not sure if he wasn’t there nosing around, though.

    Ducati was there. For some reason, Open Class status didn’t prevent Ducati from participating. The only Open Class team in attendance.

    I seem to remember something about Open Class teams lodging a complaint to prevent Kitchy-Kitchy-Koo from participating at the Qatar test.

    Total joke those rules.

  • I could be wrong, but I think the only limit on testing for Open teams is the number of tires available for the year.