When the first day of the Malaysian Grand Prix wrapped up Friday at Sepang, Honda held the top-five positions out of the combined MotoGP free practice sessions.
The Sepang MotoGP grid, which grew to 18 with Wildcard-rider John Hopkins on a second Rizla Suzuki, was lead by Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, who posted well under the circuit record set by his teammate in 2007, Casey Stoner.
But Stoner, who clinched the 2011 MotoGP Championship last week at Phillip Island, was second fastest, although over eight-tenths of a second behind his Spanish teammate. Taking the third quickest time was yet another Repsol Honda, this one piloted by the final rider on the team, Andrea Dovizioso.
Following the Repsol trio were the San Carlo Honda Gresini team of Marco Simoncelli and Hiroshi Aoyama, respectively.
Three separate manufacturers followed the five Honda RC212V prototypes – a Monster Tech 3 Yamaha with Colin Edwards, a Rizla Suzuki GSVR with Alvaro Bautista and a Pramac Racing Ducati with Randy de Puniet.
For a full report of Friday’s free practice sessions, click here.
Following is what the riders were saying following Friday’s practice sessions for Sepang MotoGP.
Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda RC212V MotoGP) says: "Today we went pretty fast and consistent even though the track wasn’t very clean. We did a good job in both practice sessions, but I would like to improve a little more on the chassis side to feel more comfortable with the front and choose the right tire for the race distance.
"At the moment we are doing good steps but we need to keep on working with the same style and try to preform well tomorrow in qualifying. We had a bad qualifying in Australia and we want to be stronger here and do it better."
Andrea Dovizioso (Repsol Honda RC212V MotoGP) says: "This morning we started with a good base and we worked on the set up to improve the feeling with the front. The small changes we made worked well, but I’m struggling quite a lot in the middle of the corner with the bike leaning at the maximum angle, because on this track there is not so much grip, we need to continue working on the set up of the engine brake.
"Today we tested the rear hard tire in both session, but it seems possible to race also with the soft so tomorrow we will test also the soft rear to understand how it works and to decide the tire for the race. Today it was very hot, on Sunday the race will be at 4pm so it could be cooler, this is another element to consider. All in all, I’m positive, I really like this track and this is only the first day."
Casey Stoner (Repsol Honda RC212V MotoGP) says: "Everything went pretty well today, we’re not too far off the pace with race tires, we did over race distance and were pretty happy with the lap times we were doing on the soft tire. We then went to the hard tire and found it a little better and more consistent, we’ll have to see what the conditions are like tomorrow but so far we’re pretty pleased and the bike feels ok.
"We have some areas to improve on, we need to get the bike turning a little better into the corners, better braking stability and a little more rear grip in the traction area, if we can improve these then we’ll move a step closer."
Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda Gresini MotoGP) says: "We had a very positive weekend in Australia but things have been more difficult here. We improved from the morning to the afternoon but Pedrosa is like a missile.
"We have to have a look at our data tonight and work out how we can close the gap. As well as choosing our tires for the race we also need to find better feeling with the front in corner entry and try to work on the electronics to get more out of the acceleration in the final section. We have work to do but I am confident."
Hiroshi Aoyama (San Carlo Honda Gresini RC212V MotoGP) says: "It has been a good start and my feeling for the bike is great. I had a lot of confidence with the bike already last week at Phillip Island but the rain ruined everything. The conditions are completely different here and the track temperature is high, which gives me a better feeling for the bike. We have been able to make some interesting comparisons with the data from winter and previous races, which should help me to do well this weekend. Tomorrow we will try to improve again and secure a good starting position on Sunday’s grid."
Ben Spies (Yamaha Factory Racing M1 MotoGP) says: "It’s been a really rough day, coming back after the crash in Australia I’m pretty beat up and not able to ride the bike like I want to which is really showing. We’re doing the best we can but I feel like I’m struggling. We’ll try to get as many points as we can this weekend and keep a reign on fifth place in the Championship."
Katsuyuki Nakasuga (Yamaha Factory Racing M1 MotoGP) says: "Today was my first day riding in the MotoGP Championship; I wanted to learn as much as I could during the sessions. Unfortunately I crashed this morning but thought that afterwards I would be able to relax a little once it was out of the way. Unfortunately again I crashed this afternoon and I’m not sure why. I’m feeling disappointed about it but will come back tomorrow and try to make sure we improve and have a day without crashing!"
Nicky Hayden (Ducati Team GP11.1 MotoGP) says: "Conditions are very different from what we just had at Phillip Island. It’s pretty warm and sticky, though it can definitely be even hotter here. This is a completely different bike than we had here at the test, so it takes a little extra time to get a rhythm, and we only used two different sets of tires the whole day.
"We’ve fixed some of the steering issues, which is good, but at the same time we’ve lost rear grip, which we really miss here on both corner entry and corner exits. We’ll try to sort that out tomorrow. We made a pretty good step from this morning, but we definitely need to try to do another step about like that tomorrow morning and go from there."
Valentino Rossi (Ducati Team GP11.1 MotoGP) says: "The track conditions are very different, worse actually, than when we tested here during the winter, because the asphalt was very slippery today. It was really bad this morning, just a bit better in the afternoon. That makes it difficult to make a comparison between then and today, but we certainly weren’t as fast as we’d like to be.
"We changed something with the rear suspension at the end of the session that helped to improve the feeling with the bike, but we haven’t made enough progress in terms of lap times. Tomorrow we’ll see if we’re able to do better with a bit more grip. It wasn’t bad under braking today, but I’m not able to be fast in the corners, especially the fast ones. I really hope to be able to use the hard tires because that would be the right choice for the race."
Alvaro Bautista (Rizla Suzuki GSVR MotoGP) says: Today has been quite a good day for us and I am in seventh position, which is not too bad for a Friday. This morning we tried a different setting on the bike, similar to the one we used in Australia, and we preferred that one so we carried on with that this afternoon. We continued with the soft tires we had been using this morning during this afternoon’s session and I did more than race distance with them, and the rhythm felt good.
"In the middle of the second practice I tried a harder rear tire, but I didn’t feel too much initial grip and it didn’t give me as much feedback as the softer one. We have got some good information on the tyres now and I think we will use the softer one for the race, if the conditions are similar to today. I will try to improve tomorrow in FP3 and then get a good lap in qualifying, so I am in the best possible position for the race."
John Hopkins (Rizla Suzuki GSVR MotoGP) says: "Today has just been about getting comfortable on the bike and building my confidence back up to be able to ride a MotoGP machine. My main thing was getting the confidence in the tires, because unlike at Jerez and Brno, where the tires gave me a good feedback and I was able to get used to them straight off the bat, here with the temperatures and humidity I am spinning up a bit and struggling a bit with rear grip.
"It’s probably not so much struggling as getting used to how it’s working and getting the bike picked up at the right time out of the corners. I feel quite strong in some of the parts of the track, but coming out of some of the corners I’m not quite where I want to be, which is mostly due to my rider technique and getting back on terms with the bike. The day wasn’t too bad for us, but I think we can improve a lot tomorrow. I will think about the track tonight and I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekend."
Colin Edwards (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha M1 MotoGP) says: "Today was a really good day and I was fast straight out of the crate. I was fourth for almost the whole of the second session and I’m happy to end up sixth. We pretty much ran the bike with the same set-up that we left the second test with in February and it felt great. That proves that testing twice here and riding lots of laps in punishing heat does work because we tried a couple of small changes on the bike but pretty much came back to the test setting.
"The first thing you need here is front-end confidence and the front was awesome right from the start. That gave us an opportunity to focus on improving rear grip and that’s critical here. If you can get a set-up where the rear tire is driving and not spinning, you can have a good race. The track is lacking a bit of rubber on it compared to the test but apart from that it feels pretty good.
"The conditions are typically hot here in Sepang but maybe it doesn’t bother me as much as some of the others. I’m from Texas so I live in this type of heat and humidity and I’m pretty much used to it. Even though I’ve done millions of laps around this track I’ve never finished higher than eighth, but after a start like today I’m confident that I can do much better than that."
Cal Crutchlow (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha M1 MotoGP) says: "Today was pretty tough to be honest and not just because of the extreme heat and humidity. We’re searching for front and rear grip and when the conditions are as hot as here, that’s not an easy task.
"I’m missing side grip on the rear and li ke a few other tracks we’ve been to recently, I’m having problems getting the bike turned. The track is obviously in a lot different condition to when we tested here because the times are about two seconds slower, but I’d hoped to be a bit higher up the rankings.
"I knew it was going to be a tough day because I found this place hard during the two tests at the start of the year. It is such a long lap that it is difficult to get a lap nailed perfectly, but looking at the timesheets I am a second off fourth place and I’m not happy with the bike, so that gives me some encouragement. We’ll continue working hard as always tomorrow and I’m sure we can find a few tenths to move up the order."
Toni Elias (LCR Honda RC212V MotoGP) says: "We came here in February for the winter test and, at that time, we had some issues in the braking and the bike was unstable and all the weight was going into the front and also in the mid-corner I did not have enough weight transfer to load the rear tires.
"Few months later we are back here and the bike set up is totally different but we are still struggling even for the grip level which is lower compared to the winter test. In today’s afternoon session we have compared different tires and I prefer the softer option both rear and front. We still have a lot of things to adjust to improve the bike stability especially in the fast corners."
Randy De Puniet (Pramac Ducati GP11 MotoGP) says: "I am satisfied with this first day of work. Honestly I am a little surprised with the result because I did not feel too well riding my bike, but to finish the first working day in eighth place is not so bad. We used soft tires with many laps throughout the course of the afternoon session and for a couple of laps we tried new tires with harder compound and things went well. We are in good shape for the weekend and hopefully I can get another good result like in Australia."
Loris Capirossi (Pramac Ducati GP11 MotoGP) says: "It is not so bad today. The twelfth position is not great, this is for sure, but as the first day I can be satisfied. I tried the hard rubber in the front tyre and I really like, however, tomorrow we will study other ways to figure out how to increase the top speed at the moment because we are too slow. We will give it all to make a good weekend."