With Honda's most successful rider for the past two MotoGP seasons, Dani Pedrosa, ruled out of the final night of testing at Qatar due to injury, it was LCR Honda's Randy de Puniet who surprisingly emerged as the leading RC212V competitor - albeit in seventh position, 1.657sec from Ducati's Casey Stoner.
“Compared to the last test session in Sepang we made a big step forward,” said the Frenchman, who is preparing to start his second season at the satellite LCR squad and was once again joined by countryman and former Motocross world champion Yves Demaria at the test.
"This evening I had a better feeling on the bike, my riding style adapted more to the machine and I understood how to use the Bridgestone front tyre at its best, especially entering the turns," Randy continued. "Stoner is incredible fast so we need to work hard...”
Stoner's awesome speed - the Ducati star lapped 0.989sec clear of the field - plus the likes of factory Yamaha riders Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi in second and third, was also a cause of concern for Repsol Honda team manager Kazuhiko Yamano.
“Some of our rivals are looking fast, so we're aiming to make some significant improvements at the next test,” he said.
Pedrosa's new factory team-mate Andrea Dovizioso finished the night test eighth fastest, with the remaining RCV riders tenth (Alex de Angelis), eleventh (Toni Elias) and 14th (Yuki Takahashi) out of the 16 competitors.
Dovizioso, who recorded his fastest time on his very last lap - taking 0.4sec off his best from Monday - was hampered by chatter on the final night, but believes the areas of improvement are clear.
“All in all I'm quite satisfied with these three days of testing because we have learned a lot,” began Andrea, who had been fourth on the second night. “Today's session didn't go exactly according to plan because after an hour we started to get some chatter, which complicated the session and meant we had to adapt our plan for the day.
“I was able to do a longer run of 15 laps which showed that we still need to make some machine adjustments to suit the Bridgestone tyres. For this circuit specifically we need to improve the grip entering the turns, and in general find a smoother power delivery. There is still quite a lot of work to do, but I'm still pleased because we learned a lot about the bike at this test,” he concluded.
"The machine set-up here is tricky because the test is held at night time, and also because we are in the desert and the sand on the track affects the grip," stated Yamano. "Still, these conditions are the same for all the teams of course."
Pedrosa will undergo surgery on his injured knee and forearm on Wednesday evening and will hope to be fit for the Jerez test on March 28-29.