Toni Elias made an impressive start to his career as a factory-backed Honda MotoGP rider by being the top RC212V competitor at the Sepang test earlier this month, during his first taste of official machinery.
2009 will be Toni's fifth season in MotoGP and third with Honda Gresini, having been tempted back to the team with which he took his first - and so far only - MotoGP victory by the opportunity to ride a third factory Honda.
Elias is not the first Gresini rider to be given such special treatment by HRC - Sete Gibernau was handed late team-mate Daijiro Kato's factory machinery and went on to finish twice title runner-up, although Marco Melandri was later left disappointed by what he thought would be a factory ride in 2007.
Toni currently has no doubts about the specification of his motorcycle - and the #24's ability to outpace Repsol Honda riders Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso on two of the three days at Sepang was the best possible evidence of its potential.
“My bike is very similar to the official [Repsol Honda] bikes,” confirmed Elias, during an exclusive interview with Crash.net
. “That is a good point to start from. I don't know yet, but I hope Honda will keep supporting me this way throughout the season. I look forward to receiving more developments and evolutions at the next test or the first races of the season.”
The Spaniard - whose thrilling 2006 Estoril victory on a 990cc RC211V was also the last MotoGP win by a satellite rider - sat fifth, sixth and fifth during the three days in Malaysia, exactly the kind of consistency Elias needs to demonstrate throughout this season.
“I want to be on the podium more times this year and try to fight for the victory,” he said. “If it is not possible to be on the podium then I need to finish fourth or fifth. Consistency. Not up, down, up, down in the results like last year.”
Last year's “ups and downs” saw Elias become the first satellite Ducati rider to take more than one podium in a season, courtesy of back-to-back rostrums at Brno and Misano - but also classified outside the top ten in 13 of the 17 races he finished.
In terms of the championship, Elias was the second best Desmosedici rider after Casey Stoner, but 188 points less than the second-placed Australian for twelfth in the standings was little to shout about.
After a strong start to this year, Toni now aims to continue adapting to 'Honda style' - and decide upon set-up direction - during the two tests that remain before the start of the racing season on April 12.
“The Honda is completely different to the Ducati,” said Elias. “It has 'Honda style'.
“Honda motorcycles always have the same kind of feeling,” he explained. “Like the 800cc I rode in 2007 and the 990cc I used in 2006. They have the same character. They are easy to turn in the corners and the engine is always smooth. The Ducati had incredible power, but was just a completely different motorcycle.
“Now we need to understand the new bike and decide which direction to go in with set-up. For the moment I am happy.”
Elias will be back on track alongside his 2009 rivals during the Qatar night test, which starts on Sunday.