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Sepang Test

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With rain the night before, MotoGP’s first day of testing in Sepang got off to a late start, with riders not taking to the Malaysian track until well into the day. Noticeably absent from the day’s test was reigning-World Champion Casey Stoner, as the Australian’s back seized during stretching before the first session. Casey is expected to ride Wednesday (Tuesday evening US time), though former-teammate Andrea Dovizioso is a question mark, as the Monster Yamaha Tech3 rider was too sick for a media debrief last night.

For the Ducati camp, initial results are looking positive, as the factory Ducati Desmosedici GP12 had its first shakedown from riders Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden. Still recovering from his broken shoulder, Hayden only put in 25 laps on the new GP12 “Phoenix” before calling it a day and letting test rider Franco Bataini finish the day’s testing for him. Rossi on the other hand had a full-day with the Ducati Corse’s GP12, and was already impressed with the bike and the progress Ducati had made with it.

“I’m happy because first impressions are important, and already in the first few laps, I could tell that I like the bike,” said the nine-time World Champion. “Ducati did a good job in a just a short time. The bike is beautiful, but more importantly, it’s nice to ride. The riding position has improved a lot, and it’s better on braking and corner entry. I can brake like I want to and take the lines that I like, and I feel comfortable in general.”

In many ways, MotoGP’s return to the Sepang International Circuit (ironically, SIC for short), is like returning to the scene of the crime, as the motorcycling community was robbed of one of its most memorable and rising stars. It was only a few months ago that MotoGP fans watched Marco Simoncelli perish during the first laps of the Malaysian GP, and since that tragedy, today is the first chance for many in the GP community to return to that fateful track.

When Yamaha’s MotoGP team lost its sponsorship from Petronas, it seemed like the buzzards had begun circling around the Japanese company’s racing efforts. Thankfully for GP racing fans, our friends at MotoMatters got word that Petronas’ departure was making way for a new sponsor, JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation.

Now formally announcing that JX Nippon Oil will sponsor Yamaha Racing’s factory MotoGP squad, our pre-season attention can now shift to see if Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies will have some new livery on display when Yamaha makes its formal 2012 team unveiling…oh, and how fast the 2012 Yamaha YZR-M1 will be against the factory Ducati Desmosedici GP12 and Honda RC213V. Something mildly related to all this is after the jump.

While Ducati Corse is busy playing hide-the-Desmosedici at Sepang, HRC is all business in Malaysia this week, and has debuted its 2012 Honda RC213V MotoGP-contender. Honda isn’t saying too much about the RC213V, simply stating that the race bike is all new, but is also a continuation of the company’s design with the 800cc Honda RC212V. Testing the Honda RC213V over the course of last season, reigning-World Champion Casey rode the new 1,000cc machine three times in 2011, while teammate Dani Pedrosa swung a leg over the RC213V twice (missing one test because of injury).

With testing at Sepang to start Tuesday local time (later tonight for us Americans), we won’t have to wait long to see how the Honda stacks up against the factory Ducati Desmosedici GP12 and the yet-to-be-seen 2012 Yamaha YZR-M1. With Dani Pedrosa besting Stoner at the Valencia test, there should be a good battle within the Repsol Honda team for the World Champsionship title defense. If Pedrosa can stay healthy, he could be a real threat to stoner. Though, the Australian won 13 of last season’s 17 races, making him the favorite going into the 2012 season. Photos after the jump.

You may have been misled by some eager journalists today and yesterday, if you saw a Ducati Corse livery-clad Ducati Desmosedici GP12 that some sites were passing off as the first shots of the “90% new” GP12. With the alleged new GP12 looking surprisingly similar to the aluminum-framed “GP0” that was tested at Valencia, Valentino Rossi’s mechanic has now Alex Briggs confirmed that the photos taken were not of the all new “GP12 Phoenix” that the factory team will race this season. While the Ducati lords can taketh away, they can also giveth, and Valentino Rossi himself has posted the first photo of the factory Desmosedici GP12, and the bike is clearly different.