Maverick Vinales is on it ahead of the season.
Maverick Vinales is on it ahead of the season.

Spaniard back on top as Yamaha and Suzuki lock out the top four. Rossi crashes. Marquez: “We were lost, but today we found the way.”

If there’s one thing 2020 preseason has taught us to expect, it’s some serious speed from Yamaha and Suzuki. At the close of testing before the first race weekend of the year that remained entirely true, with Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) getting into the 1:53s with a 1:53.858 to head the pile. And Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) wasn’t too far behind, just 0.033 in arrears, with Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) in third a couple of tenths back. Fourth? Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT), as the inline-fours came out on top.

At Yamaha, the Day 3 timesheets made for good reading and even more so overall, as Quartararo was third fastest in the combined standings. Viñales has looked like the man with the threatening race pace with Quartararo extremely close to him, Morbidelli has been consistently quick and Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) seems happy and fast despite not being quite as far up the order (P12 overall). The ‘Doctor’ rarely is before race day, however…

Rossi had a fall at turn 2…

It wasn’t all perfect reading for the Iwata marque though. Quartararo suffered a technical issue on Sunday and on Monday, and Rossi crashed on Day 3 – rider ok. Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team Director Massimo Meregalli was pleased with the progress made with improved grip and on acceleration, saying the 2020 package “is very competitive.”

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Quartararo said his race simulation on Day 3 was very pleasing, pretty much every lap was in the 1:54s and the Frenchman didn’t go for a proper time attack – the 20-year-old going as far as saying “there’s margin for more”. That bodes very well for the 2019 Rookie of the Year.

Rossi said: “Today we are a little bit worried, not for the position because unfortunately I crashed with the second tyre and I think I can improve the lap time.

“But more for the pace, we tried to make some long runs but we suffered with the tyres, very similar to last year. So laps, unfortunately, I have to slow down which is not good news. But now the test has finished, we will see during the real race weekend, in the race it is always different, we will see.

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“I feel good with the bike. I’m quite fast, especially in the first five, six laps my pace is good. Unfortunately it’s not enough to try for the win. This winter test Rins, Viñales and Quartararo are very fast, also Franco (Morbidelli) today, also Marquez at the end. But we are not very far. So the feeling with the bike is very good.”

Alex Rins has a Suzuki race package that he's happy with for the first round proper.
Alex Rins has a Suzuki race package that he’s happy with for the first round proper.

The main job for Team Suzuki Ecstar, meanwhile, was to continue comparing the standard and new chassis, nothing radically new was on the GSX-RRs of Rins and Joan Mir as they focused on the finer details: adjustments in setup and gathering data for the race. Mir was sixth on Day 3 and the combined timesheets. Along with Yamaha, Suzuki look arguably in the best shape ahead of the Qatar GP with both the Sepang and Qatar Tests proving very good for the Hamamatsu factory. Rins confirmed he is “so happy” with the work done over the three days at Losail International Circuit – and Mir echoed his thoughts too.

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Breaking the domination in the top five was a job for Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) on Day 3. The Australian was the top Ducati in fifth, 0.247 off the top, and said he completed a couple of time attacks and two longer runs. The number 43 is “quietly confident” heading into the opening weekend of the season, and clocked the fastest-ever top speed at Losail, a ridiculous 355 km/h…

In the Bologna factory camp, Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) was sporting new front aero on one of his bikes, while his other GP20 had the older aero fitted. The Italian said he was pleased with his 22-lap race simulation on Day 3, but the one-lap pace still needs work ahead of the Grand Prix. Teammate Andrea Dovizioso was still trying the new swingarm.

Ducati Team Manager Davide Tardozzi said the engine is working very well but corner speed – especially on maximum lean angle at the apex – still needs work. In addition, Tardozzi said they are experiencing some issues adapting to Michelin’s new rear tyre. After finishing P6 on Day 2, Johann Zarco (Reale Avintia Racing) didn’t improve his time as the Frenchman finished P14 overall, two places ahead of Petrucci, with Dovizioso – who was happy with his long run pace – P10 and Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) P11. Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) was just 0.040 off Petrucci’s time.

Marc Marquez says that Honda has turned the corner with the 2020 bike.

It was a busy and intriguing day for reigning Champions Honda as Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) started with three bikes in his garage, one of those being Takaaki Nakagami’s (LCR Honda Idemitsu) 2019 RC213V. Marquez was seventh overall, Nakagami less than a tenth off but the reigning Champ was much more upbeat at the end of the last day of testing prior to the season, saying: “We were completely lost but today we found the way.”

Nakagami’s teammate Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) completed 70 laps as HRC went in search of finding improvements on the final day in Qatar, with the Japanese giants testing things “from two or three years ago” according to Repsol Honda Team Manager Alberto Puig. Crutchlow said he was happy with his pace, but over one or two laps the number 35 is struggling with stopping the bike and grip with the new tyre.

Premier class rookie Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) completed another 47 laps as the Spaniard admitted it was a difficult test for himself and the team, but the reigning Moto2 World Champion was reasonably confident that he has a decent pace for the race weekend.

One of the riders of the test based on timesheets alone has to be Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rookie Brad Binder, however. The South African slammed in a mighty impressive 1:54.283 on Day 3 to leave him ninth on the combined and Day 3 times, just 0.425 from Viñales’ pacesetting lap. As his teammate Pol Espargaro explained earlier in the test, KTM didn’t have anything new to try on Day 3 as they don’t want to start getting lost. Working for the race was the Austrian factory’s objective as it seems their initial 2020 base is pretty much sorted, however there was a slight blip for Espargaro on the final day as he crashed unhurt at Turn 2. Over in the Red Bull KTM Tech 3 camp, Miguel Oliveira and premier class rookie Iker Lecuona finished P19 and P20, but the gaps were only 1.150 and 1.443 respectively.

Speaking to motogp.com’s pitlane reporter Simon Crafar on Day 3, Aprilia Racing Technical Director Romano Albesiano confirmed their sole purpose was to decide on the engine spec they’ll use for the season. At the end of play, Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) finished P13 on the timesheets, just over half a second off Viñales, with test rider Bradley Smith completing a further 55 laps on Monday as Aprilia continue to gather crucial data on their brand new RS-GP. Espargaro said he showed a strong pace on race simulation, lapping in mid-1:54s for plenty of laps was good news for the number 41. A busy test for both riders means Aprilia have a lot of analysing to do before the Qatar GP…

So that’s it for 2020 preseason testing. In simple terms, Yamaha and Suzuki have emerged as early Qatar GP favourites, with Honda seeming to have plenty of work to do ahead of Round 1. However, a Grand Prix weekend is a different kettle of fish and we will find out on judgement day – Sunday 8th March – as to how competitive each rider and team really are. The top 18 were split by less than a second, so let’s bring on Friday 6th March when the 2020 MotoGP World Championship gets underway.

Tony Carter

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