Honda’s six MotoGP riders completed their first track outing of 2018 with three grueling days of testing in tropical conditions at Sepang, Malaysia. The session was the first of three tests before the 2018 MotoGP World Championship commences in Qatar on March 18.
Honda go into the 2018 season once again defending the triple crown: the Riders World Championship, the Constructors World Championship and the Teams World Championship, following a stunning 2017 during which the factory’s awesome RC213V machine dominated.
Reigning World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team RC213V), Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team RC213V) and third HRC rider Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda CASTROL RC213V) worked tirelessly in the Malaysian heat, with track temperatures at one stage reaching a sizzling 54 degrees this afternoon.
The main priority for all three was the evaluation of two new engines for the RC213V; the first of which was tested in Europe last November, the second which was made available for the first time at this test.
Pedrosa ended the three days a close second fastest, less than two tenths off the best lap, after leading the way on day one. Like his fellow HRC riders he also tried HRC’s latest aero package, designed to improve performance. He found the new bodywork has advantages and disadvantages, which will take further development and set-up work to perfect. He enjoyed the extra power and better power delivery of the latest RC213V engine, which HRC engineers will continue to improve in the coming weeks. As always, his primary concern is to create an engine that will look after the bike’s tyres in the later stages of each race.
Marquez had much the same focus as his team-mate, but unlike most of the faster riders who rode their best laps in the cooler morning conditions, he preferred to concentrate his efforts on race-simulations in the heat of the afternoon. He also preferred the latest engine, although he believes that more detail improvements are required to make the power friendlier while accelerating out of the early stages of a corner. Marquez also enjoyed the latest aero package, for which the bike settings will need to be further adjusted.
Briton Crutchlow agreed with Marquez and Pedrosa about the new engine. This confirms that HRC are working in the right direction to compete at the front of MotoGP 2018, which already looks like being the most competitive championship in premier-class history.
This year Honda has six RC213V riders on the MotoGP grid, including three graduates from the Honda-powered Moto2 class: reigning Moto2 World Champion Franco Morbidelli (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS RC213V), Thomas Luthi (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS RC213V) and Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU RC213V).
Former Moto2 race winner Nakagami ended this session an impressive 15th quickest, just 1.2 seconds off the best lap, set by Jorge Lorenzo (Ducati), which is the fastest motorcycle lap ever ridden at Sepang.
Reigning Moto2 king Morbidelli was confident he could have further improved his best lap time, but he left his time attack slightly too late, so that the track surface was too hot and greasy to allow him to better his previous best. He was also hampered somewhat by a finger injury sustained in a minor tumble on Day 2 of the tests.
This three-day outing was a huge event for Luthi, Morbidelli’s main Moto2 title rival last year, who missed the first MotoGP tests this winter due to injuries sustained last season. The Swiss greatly enjoyed his first outing on an RC213V, spending much of the test getting used to the bike and then learning to ride with used tyres. Like Morbidelli, he also suffered a minor tumble.