The final pre-season test got underway Sunday at Losail International Circuit in Qatar, and like every other session for 2011 MotoGP, Honda was on top of the time sheets with the RC212V.
Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa was the fastest rider at day 1 in Qatar, the first of a two-day test. Under the floodlights at Losail, Pedrosa posted a 1:56.271. His teammate Casey Stoner, who dominated the Sepang 2 MotoGP test in February, was two-tenths of a second behind.
Third quickest was yet another Honda RC212V, this one piloted by San Carlo Honda Gresini’s Hiroshi Aoyama.
As for nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi, he placed his Ducati Team GP11 in eight place, the highest position so far out of all pre-season testing sessions. Rossi went down once, but was not injured. Rossi also reported that his injured shoulder continues to get stronger.
Here’s what the riders were saying following the first night of MotoGP testing at Qatar:
Valentino Rossi (Ducati Marlboro Team GP11) says: "It wasn’t bad for a first day. I was able to ride the bike better, and I enjoyed myself. Although I was just eighth, my times aren’t too far from the top: seven tenths is still a big difference, but anyway it’s progress, considering that I did my best time with a very used tire.
"We worked well on the settings, even if in a couple parts of the circuit I’m still not fast enough, and we’ll have to try some more solutions tomorrow. As for the shoulder, I’m happy because I have a little more strength, and that enables me to ride better.
"Today I also had my first crash on a Ducati, which I naturally did intentionally because after a while, you have to do a little fall…. All joking aside, I entered too quickly and lost the front: I was able to pick it up and avoid crashing while I was on the track, but I dropped it in the gravel-no big deal though."
Nicky Hayden (Ducati Marlboro Team GP11) says: "Right out of the gate, it wasn’t too bad, and then we were up against a wall for a while. The team made one little change with ride height and I was able to get a decent lap time and get consistent.
"In parts of the track I felt pretty good, but there are spots where the steering still needs to improve. If we can do better in those areas, we should be able to drop the lap time. I feel a little bit closer than Malaysia, but we certainly need to go quicker tomorrow."
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V) says: "It was a positive first day of practice. We didn’t test anything in special, because our priority today was checking that the bike was also working well here in Qatar, a very different circuit than Sepang, where we did the main winter testing. We basically worked on the set-up of the bike, to adapt it for this layout and conditions, and tomorrow we will continue working on mappings and a front fork.
It seems like the laptimes are closer here than in Sepang, and I’m sure that the times will improve for all because at this track the surface is quite dirty at the beginning, so we will see tomorrow and I hope to make another step forward and close the winter test in a good shape. I’d also like to say I’m very sorry about what happened in Japan. My Japanese mechanics and engineers were explaining the situation there and it’s very moving."
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V) says: "Today we tested mainly electronics settings, in particular the engine brake and traction control. We also focused on the set-up for this circuit because it’s different from all the other tracks as the angle of the curve is so wide and the critical point is the control of the rear. Considering that it’s the first day of testing I’m quite happy but it’s not enough.
"Everybody lapped slower than last year, I think this is due to the track condition. As a start it’s not bad, we are close to the fastest riders but we need to improve. I’d like to dedicate a thought to Japan, hit by a tremendous disaster. I hope they can recover soon in this very difficult moment."
Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC212V) says: "Everything has gone well with the bike and in general we don’t have a whole lot to test here, we’re just trying to get more out of the balance of the bike – both bikes have the same chassis but we tried very different riding positions. It seems to be more difficult to get a decent lap time on the harder tires, having made my fastest time on an older soft tire, but our consistency seems to be very good also with the hardest compound.
"We’ve been trying to get a little bit more grip and turning out of the bike and work on set-up for this circuit, focusing on race set-up. It’s nice to be so close to the season and at the final test, I’m just pleased the team reached here safely and there were no casualties back in the HRC Headquarters in Saitama, my thoughts are with all the people in Japan."
Ben Spies (Yamaha Factory Racing M1) says: "We made the bike go in a pretty good direction today and hopefully we can get a little bit more out of it. We want to try another tire tomorrow that we haven’t used yet, all in all it’s been a good first session.
"The bike seems to be closer to the front than Malaysia and I’ve got pretty good expectations after the first day. The track is a lot more flowing here which suits our bike well; I think this should be a good track for us."
Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha Factory Racing M1) says: "We tried a few different things on some corners today to try to make the bike more stable when I open the throttle; in almost all the gears we have done a good job. It seems we are closer to the Honda guys than in Sepang so I’m happy. We are going to continue and try a few different things tomorrow to try and find some more grip as well."
Toni Elias (LCR Honda RC212V) says: "This is a "new track" for us so we are still studying the bike. We have been testing in Sepang and we had some issues there to find the proper setting for me. The guys have made some special parts for me for this test: some gave us small improvements and some did not help us. Basically we need to find the way to load the rear and just to warm up the rear tyre which will be our main goal tomorrow".
Alvaro Bautista (Rizla Suzuki GSV-R) says: "Today has been a lot of hard work and we are certainly clearer about some things for the race next week. We started the day with the softer compound tyres, but I didn’t feel very good on the exit of the corners because my bike was spinning a lot and I couldn’t open full gas on every corner.
"We tried to modify the spin control level and the software to get more from the grip levels and this helped a lot. I also tried the harder tires, but it was also difficult to go fast with them at the beginning, so we made some changes to the bike and it was easier to go faster and I made my best lap of the day with those tires.
"I did a long run at the end with the soft tire because I wanted to know if it has the durability for the race, but my feeling was not too good because after a few laps it started to move around and was a lot more difficult to control than the harder one.
"We have made some good steps today because we have a very clear idea what we need to improve and tomorrow we will try a long run with the harder tyre to see how that performs. We hope we can get the maximum grip from the rear because this is the key point to go fast here."
Randy De Puniet (Pramac Racing Ducati GP11) says: "Let’s say that this was not my luckiest day of testing. Because of two falls I lost almost two hours because both bikes were not useable. The first crash I expected because I was almost to the limit, while the second happened far too quickly, like as if I had put the wheels on oil.
"However the most important thing is that I am physically okay and that I was able to step back on track in the last part of the session and I manage to improve my fastest lap time. It will be very important to work well tomorrow to prepare the bike to race next Sunday."
Loris Capirossi (Pramac Racing Ducati GP11) says: "Notwithstanding I wasn’t in my best physical conditions it’s been a good day at work where we have experienced some interesting solutions. The situation, compared to Sepang, has improved even if we have to aim higher. We must and we can improve significantly in the long corners. Looking at the other rider while on the track, I can see that in that area is where we lose most of our time. We must all work hard together to achieve important results."