This weekend, MotoGP bikes have been rolling onto the track for the start of the 2020 season.
They have done so almost completely out of the public eye (prompting the philosophical question of if an RC213V is fired up at a circuit, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?) as three days of the MotoGP shakedown test gets underway at Sepang.
The shakedown test was a private test, meaning it is closed to the media and public. There is no live timing publicly available from the test, and lap times are probably unreliable, as teams and factories release the times they want to make public (if any), rather than a neutral timing system recording every lap.
Yet this shakedown test is extremely important, for a number of reasons. It is the first test for the brand-new Aprilia RS-GP, designed from the ground up, with a new 90° V4 engine.
It sees Jorge Lorenzo make his testing debut for Yamaha, back with the Japanese factory after three years away. And it is a chance for the MotoGP rookies to get a little more track time under their belts.
Who was at the test? For Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Ducati, it was their test riders. Stefan Bradl will be putting more laps on the 2020-spec Honda RC213V for HRC, after having tried the bike for the first time at Jerez two weeks ago at the WorldSBK test at the track.
For Suzuki, Sylvain Guintoli continued work on the 2020-spec engine for the GSX-RR, Suzuki continuing to chase more horsepower without losing rideability, much as they did in 2019.
Michele Pirro took the next evolution of the Ducati Desmosedici GP20 out for a spin, continuing work on the new chassis, and testing the new, more powerful engine for the bike.
If the media were allowed into the test, then all eyes would have been on the Yamaha garage, where Jorge Lorenzo made his return to the Japanese factory.
Yamaha, too, are working on the engine, chasing a bit more power, but especially a bit more drive out of corners and a bit better deceleration into corners. For the shakedown test, Lorenzo circulated with Japanese test riders Kohta Nozane and Katsuyuki Nakasuga.
It is as yet unknown whether Lorenzo will ride at the official Sepang test which starts on 7th February, but it is likely that work will be handed over to Nozane and Nakasuga, while all four Yamaha MotoGP riders get on with testing the new bike.
Stefan Bradl was not the only Honda rider at Sepang for the shakedown test. With the reduction in official tests, extra allowance has been made for rookies to get more seat time ahead of their first season.
That means that Alex Márquez was on the Repsol Honda at the shakedown test, to get three more days of testing under his belt ahead of the official Sepang test which starts on Friday.
There are two other rookies on the grid in 2020, of course, but both Brad Binder and Iker Lecuona would probably have been riding anyway. Manufacturers who have not scored enough podiums in the previous season are allowed unrestricted testing, limited only by the test tire allocation over the season.
So all four contracted KTM riders were at Sepang – Pol Espargaro and Brad Binder in the factory team, Miguel Oliveira and Iker Lecuona in the Tech 3 satellite squad – as well as test rider Dani Pedrosa.
The test is key, for the further development of the new chassis tested at the end of last year, but especially for Miguel Oliveira, who is coming off shoulder surgery in late 2019.
The test was perhaps biggest of all for Aprilia. The Italian factory had its brand-new RS-GP at the track, and the new engine will need a lot of dialing in and setting up. The bike should have a good deal more power, giving its riders a better chance of holding their own against the other five manufacturers.
We got a first glimpse of the bike on Twitter, when the official Aprilia account tweeted pictures of the RS-GP:
The #Aprilia RS-GP 2020 makes its debut on the track at @sepangcircuit shakedown, with the names of all the women and men of the Noale Racing Department.#motogp @MotoGP #bearacer pic.twitter.com/rncAfJS0O1
— Aprilia (@ApriliaOfficial) February 1, 2020
In terms of the chassis, it looks very similar to the RS-GP of 2019. But there are a few major changes worth noting. Obviously, the things that draw the eye are the massive front wing. A large surface underneath the nose will offer a significant amount of downforce.
But the large wing distracts the attention from elsewhere: the intake for the airbox is now huge, much larger than it was in 2019. That is entirely consistent with an engine producing more horsepower: the more power an engine makes, the more fuel it needs. The more fuel it needs, the more air it needs.
The new engine is also visible in the exhaust layouts, which now resemble the Ducati much more closely (or perhaps the KTM).
The upper exhaust is also offset, to leave space for a box underneath the tail. Have Aprilia started playing with mass dampers as well? We will get a better sense when we can see the bike for ourselves.
Aleix Espargaro, Bradley Smith, and new testing stand in Lorenzo Savadori rode the bike at Sepang starting from Sunday.
Andrea Iannone is absent, as he is still suspended due to failing a drug test at Sepang last year. A verdict on Iannone’s case is expected on Tuesday, but Bradley Smith will take his place for the time being.
Fans disappointed by the lack of coverage for the shakedown test won’t have long to wait. The official test starts on Friday 7th February, and runs until Sunday the 9th.
There will be live timing, and Dorna will be producing a live show of 90 minutes at the end of each test day from Sepang. More details about that on the MotoGP.com website. Naturally, I will also be at the test.