Marc Marquez will start as the man to beat
It's no big surprise, but world champion Marc Marquez began 2014 as the man to beat, leading all three days at Sepang.
His average gap over the rest of the field was over a third of a second over the three days, which included a 19 lap race simulation some 20 seconds faster than his 2013 race time on Thursday.
His fastest time was 0.074secs inside Casey Stoner's outright lap record and, although recorded in optimum temperatures, his consistency over the three days will be a worry for the rest. And to think all of this was done less than two weeks before his 21st birthday.
Valentino Rossi is in good shape
When asked whether Valentino Rossi, at 34-years old, still has the ability to win, new crew chief Silvano Galbusera said, “Races, definitely. The championship will be more difficult.”
Rossi left Sepang in high spirits, having set the second fastest time of the test, 0.8secs faster than his 2013 qualifying time.
The Italian praised the atmosphere in his garage and stated he had used the off-season to adapt his riding style so he doesn't overwork the edge of the tyres. Yamaha have also worked on the engine braking of the new M1 with Rossi claiming he is now more comfortable under braking - a problem he regularly cited throughout '13.
A positive 15-lap race simulation was completed on the final day where the Italian consistently lapped in the low 2min 1sec barrier, suggesting Rossi won't be as far from the front in 2014.
Open class a plausible option for Ducati
Gigi Dall'Igna has a lot on his mind. Having witnessed the explosive potential of Yamaha's 'Open' racer first hand, the Italian has a three-week deadline to decide on whether the 'Open' class is a viable option.
Andrea Dovizioso finished the test as top Ducati, two places ahead of the impressive Andrea Iannone with new signing Cal Crutchlow still adapting in twelfth. All three riders insisted the improvement with the GP14 was bigger than expected, although he did admit those age-old problems of chattering and under-steer persisted.
Yonny Hernandez, Ducati's only 'Open' entry for now, failed to make much of an impression on the time sheets by finishing 18th, 2.1secs slower than Dovizioso's best.
It leaves Dall'Igna pouring over three days' worth of data to decide which path to take. The new rules, which impose a freeze on engine development once the season gets underway for 'Factory' entries, could prove pivotal.
He said, “With five engines, frozen, it is really difficult to develop properly the bike, because you cannot change the mounting on the chassis. You cannot change a lot of things. It is, in my opinion, really difficult.”
One way or another we should learn of Dall'Igna's decision before the second test starts on 26th February.
Colin Edwards wasn't lying
One week prior to the test Colin Edwards voiced his belief that Forward Yamaha's 'Open' machine could consistently finish inside the top five. It may have seemed overly optimistic at the time but in the hands of an inspired Aleix Espargaro the FTR Yamaha proved to be the surprise package of the test.
Benefiting from 24 litres of race fuel and softer Bridgestone tyres, Espargaro's final time of 1min 59.998secs placed him fourth overall, 1.5secs faster than the next 'Open' machine and ahead of eight full-time 'Factory' riders.
He admitted they “are still struggling a lot when the tyres drop down,” but the raw potential of the bike was clear for everyone to see. Even Rossi was taken aback by the machine's performance. “I feel good with my bike, but I want my bike with 24 litres!” he quipped.
Bradley Smith's new team-mate is spurring him on
While big brother Aleix was, deservedly, grabbing a sizeable share of the headlines, reigning Moto2 Champion Pol Espargaro was quietly gaining momentum while adapting to his new Tech 3 Yamaha.
The Catalan's presence in the garage seemed to spur new team-mate Bradley Smith on to greater heights at the end of season Valencia test in November, where Smith posted the second fastest time. Roles were reversed in Sepang with Espargaro ending the test an impressive eighth overall with Smith three places back in eleventh.
But, final times aside, team boss Herve Poncharal has noticed a change in Smith over the winter break. Speaking to Crash.net
after the test he said, “He has matured a lot during the winter and when we see what he is doing on track, hear his comments and look at his lap-by-lap times - not talking one fast lap - he is very, very close to Valentino and Jorge.”
Poncharal is also “confident” his riders will have the elusive 'seamless' gearbox before Qatar, a feature that may enable both riders to challenge the top six.
Honda has work to do with the RCV1000R
Marc Marquez and the factory RC213V may have led all three days of testing, but the performance of Honda's new Production Racer was a cause for concern.
Much had been made of the RCV1000R's performance in private tests in the second half of 2013 - claimed to be a mere 0.3secs slower than the factory machine when tested at Motegi - but Nicky Hayden finished the test 13th, a “pretty demoralising” 1.9secs back of Marquez and 1.5secs off the fastest 'Open' machine.
Hayden went as far to say the top speed was only “a couple of K” faster than Aspar's 2013 CRT Aprilia.
“It looks like Yamaha's Open class machine is last year's Factory machine,” commented HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto.
Honda had opted for a different philosophy, creating a cut-price customer machine that could be sold rather than leased, but remained confident that the gap will be reduced once the riders understand the bike better.
But former world champion Hayden was adamant that engine performance must be improved. The other 'Open' Honda riders - Hiroshi Aoyama, Scott Redding and Karel Abraham - were 2.8secs, 3.3secs and 5.7secs off the pace.
Suzuki starts adapting electronics
You couldn't accuse Suzuki of a lack of effort. All-Japan superbike rider Takuya Tsuda was flown in to join Randy de Puniet and Nobuatsu Aoki on testing duty on the second day at Sepang as the three riders were needed to assess their new 1000cc in-line four machine and its new electronics package.
Suzuki had been using Mitsubishi electronics, but began the process of transferring its software to the Magneti Marelli control ECU hardware, finishing the test 2.9secs behind Marquez's best time.
Team boss Davide Brivio said Tuesday was “the first real shakedown for us.” The lap times were not what the team had hoped for in this case but their electronics package must be improved and developed further before a world championship appearance.
Scott Redding makes steady start
Scott Redding effectively turned his first competitive wheel in anger aboard Honda's all new customer spec RCV after riding the previous Valencia test injured.
For Redding, with his previously broken right wrist back to “100 percent strength, 90 percent flexibility”, it proved to be a tough three-day slog with his machine down on speed. The 21-year old finished the first day 4.1secs back of Marquez but he lowered his best time by 1.3secs on Wednesday and a further three tenths by the test's close to finish within 1.3secs of Hayden.
Not a bad effort considering the majority of his time was spent adapting his riding style, “learning how to slide the bike, to get it turned on exit.” As team boss Fausto Gresini said, “It's only the beginning of the adventure… it will take more time to see his full potential.”
Andrea Iannone could be 2014's dark horse
After an initial flurry of promise in Qatar, Texas and Jerez, Andrea Iannone's rookie season in the top class was a stop-start affair, interrupted on several occasions by injury.
The Italian finished his first two races inside the top ten, but had to wait until Brno in August to do it again. Twelfth place in the overall standings, just one point ahead of Ducati test rider Michele Pirro meant his debut season won't be remembered in a hurry.
Yet his performance at Sepang was a timely reminder of the Italian's mercurial talent. The 22-year old finished each of the first two days as top Ducati – just 0.9secs behind the best time on Wednesday - before jumping off at close to 200kph on the final day.
Yes, he is unpredictable and a little wild, but Iannone has speed and bravery in abundance. A match for Marquez in Moto2 on his day, he may well prove to be a dark horse for some surprises in 2014.
Michael Laverty pinning hopes on Aprilia
With the new 'Open' class rules being introduced for 2014 Michael Laverty believes the MotoGP field can now be divided into three categories: Factory bikes, the Open category and CRT evolutions.
It seems the latter category are set for a struggle in 2014 as the two PBM ARTs and Avintia Kawasaki's remained outside the top 20 throughout the three days. Of all the full time riders only Karel Abraham lapped slower.
For Laverty and his Paul Bird Motorsport team their development is very much in Aprilia's hands. “It's very unclear. When we spoke at the end of last year I thought the pneumatic valves and [seamless] gearbox may have been with the new engine for the start of this year. That's not going to happen.”
Adamant that the bike's chassis is greatly improved, Laverty and the PBM team now face an anxious wait to see if the Italian marque will provide some much needed engine upgrades before Qatar.
The second Sepang test takes place from February 26-28.