By Peter McLaren
Toni Elias shouldn't have been testing at Sepang last week, but even the doctor (no, not Rossi!) who said it wasn't possible probably wasn't surprised to find the 24-year-old on track with his new Alice-backed Ducati.
That's because Elias has a history of suffering nasty injuries - and then returning from them, undeterred, before even the most optimistic medical opinion.
The Spaniard's biggest injury last season was a broken femur at Assen, but his presence at the Sepang test was in doubt following an operation to improve previous shoulder damage.
"One month ago I had an operation on my shoulder. It's good to be here because after the operation the doctor said 'no Malaysia!'," smiled Toni, during an interview with Crash.net
. "But I'm here, so this is very good and I'm happy."
2008 will see Elias start his fourth year in the premier-class, with his third different manufacturer. The Sepang test marked only his second chance to ride a Desmosedici and his debut on the satellite team's 2008-spec bike, which he will race alongside Sylvain Guintoli at the renamed 'Alice Team' (formerly Pramac d'Antin).
"There is no big change between the 2007 and 2008 Ducati, just small improvements, but there is a big difference between this bike and my Honda from last season," said Toni, jokingly branded 'a devil' by Valentino Rossi after pipping the Italian to victory at the 2006 Portuguese Grand Prix - then labelled 'dangerous' after a more physical tussle with the #46 during last year's Turkish Grand Prix.
"I like this bike a lot. I think it has big potential and I will try to take profit from this. I agree with what everybody says; the Ducati is really fast along the straights!" he continued. "Now I need to feel comfortable with the frame and suspension. I need to set it up for my riding style. Always at the beginning it is difficult with a new bike, but this is a good start and we've got enough time to get everything ready for the first race."
Elias finished the Sepang test 16th fastest out of the 20 riders present (including test riders) having lapped 0.6secs quicker than team-mate Guintoli.
"I am not afraid," declared the #24, when asked about his aims for the rest of the winter tests. "I want to make sure we get everything right and find a good direction. My aim is to keep improving a little every day."
Elias took two podiums with Honda Gresini last season - one before and one after his Assen accident. Team-mate Marco Melandri (three podiums) and d'Antin's Alex Barros (one podium) were the only other satellite riders to appear on the rostrum during a tough year for non-factory riders.