Official Test Sepang

  • Honda Riders Get 2019 Underway at Sepang

    Honda goes into the 2019 MotoGP season with its strongest-ever rider line-up: new team-mates Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo, plus Cal Crutchlow and the up-and-coming Takaaki Nakagami.


Report

Honda Riders Get 2019 Underway at Sepang

Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia, February 6/7/8, 2019

Honda goes into the 2019 MotoGP season with its strongest-ever rider line-up: new team-mates Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) and Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team RC213V), who have won the past seven MotoGP titles behind them, plus three-times MotoGP winner Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL RC213V) and the up-and-coming Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU RC213V).

Cal Crutchlow

Cal Crutchlow

The omens are therefore good for Honda, which chases its 20th premier-class Riders World Championship and 24th Constructors World Championship, both records in the world's biggest motorcycle-racing series.

However, the start of this season will not be easy for reigning champion Marquez, Lorenzo or Crutchlow. All three are carrying injuries and are fighting to be as close to full fitness as possible for the season-opening Qatar GP on March 10.

Marquez, Crutchlow and Nakagami began their preparations for the new season at the first preseason tests at Sepang this week, but Lorenzo was absent, recovering from a fractured wrist, sustained in a training accident last month.

In grueling tropical conditions – with track temperatures reaching 60 degrees Celsius each afternoon – Marquez had his first ride on a MotoGP bike since undergoing major surgery on his left shoulder last December. Crutchlow also made his comeback after a long layoff – he hadn't ridden since a high-speed crash at October's Australian Grand Prix. The pair's impressive speed at Sepang, venue for November's Malaysian round of the 2019 MotoGP World Championship, proved that their unceasing physiotherapy work has been worth it.

Marquez has worked five hours every day (apart from Christmas and New Year) to rehabilitate his shoulder, which he first dislocated in 2013 and was so weak last season that it dislocated frequently, including during the slowdown lap at the Japanese GP at Twin Ring Motegi, while he celebrated winning his fifth MotoGP crown in six years.

Surgery to repair the damage was expected to take 90 minutes, but in fact took four hours. Marquez's physio Carlos J Garcia was so determined that his patient focus on rehab, rather than riding motorcycles, that he had all the wheels removed from the dirt bikes that Marquez loves to ride on daily training outings! Marquez finally  returned to riding at a local racetrack, aboard a Honda NSF100 minibike, painted in full Repsol Honda colors. He was happy with that outing, but the shoulder still lacked strength and stability.

The 25-year-old Spaniard was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the shoulder at Sepang, although he is fully aware that he is far from full strength and must keep working to be stronger for the final preseason tests (at Losail, Qatar, from February 23 to 25) and the first race.

During all three days he took the sensible way forward with his team, focusing on the quality of laps rather than the quantity of laps. He rode well within his limits, to ensure he didn't overstress the shoulder. And he stopped riding when the pain told him to, ending each day early. He had his physio in attendance throughout the tests, so he knew full well that if he continued riding through the pain then the shoulder might become inflamed, which could delay his rehabilitation by a week or more.

Marquez was very happy with Honda's 2019 RC213V, which builds on the lessons learned in recent seasons, during which he won the 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2018 titles. Last year HRC engineers found a significant increase in horsepower and they have once again increased horsepower this year. The engine was the primary focus of the Sepang tests, because each rider's annual supply of seven engines are sealed on the eve of the first race, whereas teams can develop other features of their machines throughout the season.

Lap times were not Marquez's main focus during this test. Incredibly he ended the first day fastest but the shoulder caused him more issues on day two. The injury improved again on the final day, but his determination to look after the shoulder prevented him from making a ‘time attack', so he ended up in 11th position, happy that he has laid the first foundations for 2019.

Crutchlow was another revelation. When he rode out of pit lane on Wednesday morning the 33-year-old Briton hadn't ridden a motorcycle for 111 days, but he spent the entire three days as one of the fastest riders. His right ankle injury had required pinning and plating, but the joint is causing him remarkably little discomfort on the bike, just some minor pain and swelling, which makes him very confident for the 2019 season, his fifth campaign with Honda.

The injury did require Crutchlow to adapt his style somewhat, so that he could use his RC213V's rear-brake foot lever effectively. He commenced the test with an alternative thumb-operated rear-brake lever fitted to his bike, in case his injury prevented him from using he conventional lever, but he soon discovered that he doesn't need the thumb lever, which saves him what could have been a lengthy adaptation period.

Like Marquez, Crutchlow feels delighted with the overall performance of the new RC213V. And like Marquez he tried many new parts and set-up options from HRC, including a brief run with a new aero set in the closing stages of the final day. His best lap on the last day put him sixth fastest, just half a second off the fastest lap, despite a minor tumble.

HRC's newest signing Lorenzo sensibly decided to miss this test, after breaking the scaphoid bone in his left wrist while dirt-bike training in Italy three weeks ago. The 31-year-old's place was taken by Honda's official MotoGP test rider Stefan Bradl, who did sterling work throughout the three days, riding Lorenzo's bikes and test machines to evaluate a whole range of items that will help Honda to retain its advantage in the world's most competitive motorcycle racing series.

Lorenzo had his wrist fracture pinned just days after his accident and is now working hard at rehabilitation, with a target of returning to action at the Losail tests later this month. The three-times MotoGP World Champion knew that riding here risked aggravating the injury and therefore delaying his return to full fitness.

Despite his recent poor luck, Lorenzo is confident about his first MotoGP season with Honda because he had two very positive first tests on an RC213V at Valencia and Jerez last November. He ended the Jerez outing fourth fastest, just 0.135 seconds slower than his new team-mate and slightly further behind Nakagami, the sensation of Jerez.

He is currently at home in Switzerland, undertaking a rigorous physiotherapy regime which should have him strong enough to ride the 2019 RC213V for the first time at the Losail tests. So far he is delighted with his progress since surgery, with the wrist gaining strength every day. He has already settled in with his new team and expects to be competitive at the first few races.

Nakagami was the star of the final 2018 postseason tests at Jerez in late November, establishing the fastest lap time ahead of all his more experienced MotoGP rivals. The 27-year-old from Chiba continued his impressive progress at Sepang, making excellent progress with his team as he evaluated various settings and parts on the 2018 RC213V machines he races this year, his second season in the premier category.

One of the twice Moto2 winner's main priorities was to improve the braking stability of his machine and at Sepang he worked closely with his engineers and technicians to achieve this target, which will allow him to attack corners more aggressively once the racing begins. Nakagami also focused on running a good race pace, which is a huge test of man and machine in such debilitating heat.

Following the final day of Sepang testing, teams packed their machines and equipment flight cases, with which they will be reunited in Qatar, for the final tests and the first race of the season.

Marc Marquez

Marc Marquez

Comments

Cal Crutchlow, LCR Honda CASTROL: 6th, 1m 58.780s

“I'm happy at the end of the third day, not only with how the test has gone, but to be finished with it too! My ankle by the end was getting sore, hot, and swollen. I feel in good shape however, and the ankle feels good on the bike. It doesn't bother me on the bike, it only bothers me when I stop.
 
“I kept the length of the runs quite minimal today, because we didn't need to go long – we were testing items rather than testing for race pace. I was really pleased with my pace all day. On the used tires we were consistent and fast which is good. It's good going into Qatar and especially after a three-month lay-off – to ride again and to be competitive with it.
 
“I should have gone faster in terms of overall lap time, but I crashed. It was completely my own fault, I went into turn two over-excited! I lost three tenths in the first sector on my fastest lap, compared to a normal good lap. So, the next lap I pushed like a madman thinking I needed to go half a second faster than I had the previous lap. I had some chatter, tried to save it, and crashed. That was with the really soft test tire. On average I think you could take at least six-tenths off with that, so I'm confident we could have gone a lot quicker, and then we didn't use that tire again all day.
 
“I think the 2019 bike is definitely better, but my feeling is I just need to adjust it a bit more. I ride quite a neutral bike, but I haven't found the perfect setting with the front end just yet. Overall HRC has done a great job with the package. I think it can be competitive for the championship, and it's one I'm looking forward to riding this year.”

Takaaki Nakagami, LCR Honda IDEMITSU: 9th, 1m 59.148s

“It has been good, but a really hard three days because the hot conditions don't make it easy to put in lots of laps. It's been a very important test for us though, and we have made improvements every day. We finished in P9 overall, so I'm pleased to be inside the top ten again. The lap time is not so bad too, I'm really happy to be close to the 1m 58s barrier, but I do feel I still can't get the most out of one lap, whereas my race pace has improved significantly.
 
“The LCR Honda IDEMITSU Team have worked really hard this week to improve things for me all the time. We have good potential on the bike, I feel strong, so the aim is just to continue that at the Qatar test and then see what we can do from there.”

Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team: 11th, 1m 59.170s

“Day three was very positive, especially with my physical condition – I'm feeling much better. Yesterday I was a little worried about riding today, but I woke up today and felt better. We were able to try many things for Honda today and I felt really good on the bike, comfortable and consistent. Everything we had planned to do this test, we have done. Of course I would have liked to ride more but we had to take it a bit easy. Even so, I'm happy because I was riding easy, not in my riding style but I was able to ride more. I didn't crash and we tried the most important things for the Repsol Honda Team, I am happy because of this.”

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Results

Combined Standings Days 1-2-3

Rank Rider (Team)
1 Danilo PETRUCCI (Mission Winnow Ducati)
2 Francesco BAGNAIA (Alma Pramac Racing)
3 Jack MILLER (Alma Pramac Racing)
4 Andrea DOVIZIOSO (Mission Winnow Ducati)
5 Maverick VIÑALES (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP)
6 Cal CRUTCHLOW (LCR Honda CASTROL)
7 Aleix ESPARGARO (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini)
8 Franco MORBIDELLI (Petronas Yamaha SRT)
9 Takaaki NAKAGAMI (LCR Honda IDEMITSU)
10 Valentino ROSSI (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP)
11 Marc MARQUEZ (Repsol Honda Team)
12 Alex RINS (Team SUZUKI ECSTAR)
13 Stefan BRADL (Honda Test Team)
14 Tito RABAT (Reale Avintia Racing)
15 Joan MIR (Team SUZUKI ECSTAR)
16 Fabio QUARTARARO (Petronas Yamaha SRT)
17 Johann ZARCO (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing)
18 Pol ESPARGARO (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing)
19 Miguel OLIVEIRA (Red Bull KTM Tech 3)
20 Karel ABRAHAM (Reale Avintia Racing)
21 Andrea IANNONE (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini)
22 Mika KALLIO (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Test)
23 Hafizh SYAHRIN (Red Bull KTM Tech 3)
24 Yamaha TEST 1 (Yamaha Test Team)
25 Sylvain GUINTOLI (Suzuki Test Team)
26 Bradley SMITH (Aprilia Factory Racing)
27 Yamaha TEST 2 (Yamaha Test Team)
28 Takuya TSUDA (Suzuki Test Team)

Photos

Video

Sepang Test