Talking points: what awaits in the #SepangTest?
The sweet melody of MotoGP™ finally returns as Malaysia hosts the first test of the year
Thursday, 06 February 2020
The wait is nearly over! After we saw a first glimpse of 2020 at the Valencia test, another peek in Jerez AND the (private) shakedown, the long winter testing ban is now coming to an end and the season really is upon us. On Friday, the premier class take back to the track in their entirety to start gearing up for another season of MotoGP™.
In both Valencia and Jerez, Yamaha dominated with Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) as the Spaniard locked out the top, and they’ll be hoping to keep stealing the headlines as official testing begins again. In the week preceding the action they certainly did too: Viñales renewed his contract – with Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) as his teammate from 2021 – and the racing future of Valentino Rossi was announced as ‘TBC’ later in the year. And before we could catch our breath, a big rumour was confirmed as Jorge Lorenzo announced his return to the Iwata marque, now as test rider.
He’ll be a big talking point, as will the performances of his fellow M1 riders and the 2020 machine we’ve already seen a few glimpses of. Can Viñales pick up where he left off? Will Quartararo turn up the wick now he’s a sophomore? What foundations can Rossi and Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) lay for this season?
Meanwhile at Honda, there’s a touch of déjà vu for reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team). Last season he faced a long fight back to fitness after shoulder surgery and 2020 is no different after the number 93 went back onto the operating table for the other shoulder in November. That was after the Jerez test, so Sepang isn’t just about getting the machinery ready for the season ahead. How will he fare? And what of his new teammate? If you hadn’t heard, it’s a Marquez-Marquez double bill at Repsol Honda now, as reigning Moto2™ Champion Alex Marquez steps up to the premier class. Will he be top rookie in testing?
He’ll have to face off against Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and Iker Lecuona (Red Bull KTM Tech 3), with the rookies all fresh from the shakedown after having been allowed to ride in that test for the first time ever. The two KTM graduates will be hoping to get up to speed quickly and also have the challenge of partnering the now-experienced Pol Espargaro and Miguel Oliveira, respectively – with the latter on the comeback from injury. Signs from KTM seem positive overall after their performance at the shakedown, when they added to their on-track arsenal once again with veteran and now test rider Dani Pedrosa out on duty.
Will we see the Austrian factory cutting the gap to those ahead? Honda and Yamaha have targets on their backs, and so do Suzuki and Ducati. Team Suzuki Ecstar left the two previous tests with some impressive positions on the timesheets and positive words from Alex Rins and Joan Mir, and Andrea Dovizioso flew the Ducati Team flag not far behind. The Borgo Panigale factory, as ever, kept their cards a little closer to their chest though – so Sepang could see a few more of their puzzle pieces for the season revealed. Sylvain Guintoli has been out on track for Suzuki in the shakedown and Michele Pirro for Ducati, too, so they should be dialled in…
Aprilia have also been busy and likewise positive. Where will they fit into the mix? Test rider Bradley Smith joins Aprilia Racing Team Gresini’s Aleix Espargaro on track at Sepang, and first comments left few doubts about their positivity: the new bike was worth the wait. The front fairing already stole a few headlines after it broke cover at the shakedown, too…
The factory pecking order, the rookies, the tech, the return of a five-time World Champion…the Sepang Test promises plenty as action begins on Friday. And it’s game on for everyone now, with Independent Teams and riders back in the mix, race riders suited and booted and the covers about to come off. Head to motogp.com for Live Timing, reports, reactions, videos and more – as well as a comprehensive round up on After the Flag as Simon Crafar joins Steve Day and Matt Birt live from Malaysia for an hour and a half of the best news, updates and analysis from 10:30am to midday CET.