Aleix Espargaro's shock performance at this week's Sepang MotoGP test will not result in the satellite Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team moving to the new Open class this season.
Riding the new FTR-Yamaha package, Espargaro outpaced the Factory class Tech 3 machines of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro (younger brother of Aleix) on all three days.
Espargaro finished with the fourth quickest lap, just 0.465s from the record pace of Honda's world champion Marc Marquez. Champion of the previous CRT category, Espargaro was only a fraction behind official Yamaha Team stars Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.
Perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise: Forward Racing's FTR-Yamaha is heavily based on last year's Tech 3 specification M1 - Yamaha engine, chassis, swing-arm and Ohlins Factory suspension.
But it also has the special Open class perks, such as four litres more race fuel and a softer rear tyre, in return for using the new control ECU system.
Tech 3 team principal and IRTA (teams' association) president Herve Poncharal hailed Espargaro's competiveness as great news for the championship - and admitted there could be a change of strategy by some manufacturers before the February 28 Factory or Open class deadline.
“The Open class is going to be the main point that everyone is going to talk about from here. Mainly because of Yamaha, Forward and Aleix Espargaro,” Poncharal told Crash.net
at Sepang on Thursday evening.
“This is very good for the championship. It will open some debate, polemic and maybe some change of strategy from some factories. I believe some of them are going to switch… I don't know. It's up to them to say what they will do.”
Ducati has admitted it is pondering a move from Factory to Open, but Poncharal rejected paddock speculation that - having seen the pace of the Yamaha in Open form - Tech 3 might switch.
“No. The decision concerning my team is a Yamaha decision. So I will never decide because in the relationship and organisation that we have, it is Yamaha who are deciding it,” he replied.
“I cannot see - zero per cent - any chance for Yamaha to suddenly decide to go Open with us. They have been working flat out all winter to be able to race at a high level with 20 litres [of fuel, one less than last year]. I think most of what they have been working on is electronics for fuel consumption.
“So because Aleix Espargaro has done a quick lap time with a soft tyre - I can't see them changing everything. 99.999% the Factory Yamaha team and Tech 3 team will be on Factory spec.
“The good point for Yamaha is that they have a foot in the Open class and they can measure what is better and what is a problem in the Open class compared to Factory spec. This is quite wise and I happy they did it.”
Whilst Espargaro's pace caused an upset, many were quick to caution that he was the lone Open competitor up front this week. The next best, Aspar Honda's Nicky Hayden, was 13th and almost two-seconds from Marquez.
Like Tech 3, Forward Racing does not have a seamless shift gearbox. Already used by Honda and Ducati, the technology was introduced by Yamaha late last season and immediately praised by Lorenzo and Rossi.
The complex and expensive system slashes the amount of lost drive while shifting gears, improving bike stability in the process, and has been further upgraded for 2014.
So far it is still only available to the official team, but Poncharal is confident that Smith and rookie Pol Espargaro could soon get the system.
“This is something we really hope we will get. Everyone at Yamaha Racing is pushing… at the end of the day this is a question of budget. I don't know why I'm telling you this, I've got no reason to say it, but I'm quite confident we will have the seamless gearbox.”
For the start of the season?
“I don't know if for the start. We should have it. Again this is only my feeling. I am quite confident it will come.
“But again I'm very happy with Yamaha. So I've got to understand what they are doing, their problems, to be a good team partner. They are trying their best to help us. This is what I have told Bradley and Pol. We are not here to criticise, we are here to help them.
“Both Pol and Bradley said, 'To not have the seamless yet is not a worry. There are so many more things we have to work on'. Fuel consumption, new Bridgestone tyres, electronics.
“If we are good without the seamless, we know it will be a nice performance bonus when it arrives.”
The Yamaha seamless does not require a change in engine specification, meaning it could arrive during the season without breaking the new development freeze rules.
Smith, preparing for his second MotoGP season, was ranked eighth overall (+1.070s) in terms of fastest lap at the opening 2014 test, with team-mate and reigning Moto2 champion Espargaro directly behind him in ninth (+1.122s).
“If I tell you I am really happy with our guys - who are eighth and eleventh today - you will think 'f**k, he is full of shit!' Let me explain why...