Aleix Espargaro has described the first MotoGP shakedown of 2016 at Sepang as “the worst test of my life” after a series of issues, that included two broken engines, prevented him from lapping more than 125 times over the three days.
Along with engine problems, Espargaro – like team-mate Maverick Viñales – found fault with Suzuki's 2016 chassis, although for different reasons, as the elder of the two Catalan riders felt it didn't offer the substantial grip of the frame's predecessor.
Yet the 26-year old, who was making his return to action this week after missing Suzuki's pre-Christmas test in Malaysia because of a fractured vertebrae, still found reason to be positive, claiming his final time of 2m 1.623s on Wednesday – good enough for 13th overall – came easily, without pushing too hard.
“I'm really positive because this is just the first test but it was the worst test in my life,” said Espargaro, one time a podium finisher in the premier class. “The first day I broke an engine. The second day I broke another engine in the afternoon. I was two hours stopped because of problems with the electronics. I had a lot issues this test. I think I was commenting before, I did less than 100 [competitive] laps in three days. It was a disaster.”
Along with the engine issues, Espargaro was repeatedly finding his progress into corners hindered by the engine braking system side of the electronics control, which at times was “disconnecting” and causing his rear tyre to “block”.
“It's strange,” he continued. “Something like the engine brake, I didn't expect it to cause these problems. Disconnecting and we have a lot of blocking. Yesterday we lost one hour and a half because they didn't know why the tyre, in just one corner, completely blocked when I braked.
“Actually this afternoon we improve a lot the engine brake feeling and the traction control also I quite good. Still, the way the bike give me the power is not the best like what I want but the electronics is improving and I'm happy.”
A rider who many believe faces a difficult challenge in out-performing his younger team-mate in 2016 also commented that he was hoping to test his preferred '15 frame with Suzuki's new '16 engine further on Wednesday afternoon.
However, as a 'factory' rider, Suzuki technicians needed to acquire more data from the '16 frame. With Viñales reportedly unwilling to test the new chassis further, Espargaro was asked to carry out the “dirty work”, to quote Valentino Rossi, something which “pissed off” the rider from Granollers.
With his comments hinting at some friction between the team-mates, Espargaro said of Suzuki's new chassis, “The main thing is the grip. Again this morning I was quite fast and I didn't push so much. I just use one rear tyre. I was able to go 2m 1.6s which was quite close to the top guys.
“In the afternoon my team-mate, he doesn't want to use the new frame. He keep using the '15 as I wanted but I cannot do it. As I'm a factory rider and as this is a test I had to move my engine into the '16 bike and test on the '16 bike. He improved a lot the times. It means the '15 [frame] is much better. The '16 I was about half a second slower, which is a lot.
“There are some good things, especially the handling. But we suffer a lot with the grip. At this track normally you already suffer with the rear grip because the tarmac is quite old. Plus the hard rear tyre increase a lot this feeling. But we will try again in Australia.”
Speaking of the current Magneti Marelli electronics package, Espargaro also said there is “not a big difference” between it and Suzuki's '15 model, adding “We have to also consider that we have a very strange map on the engine to not break anymore, like a safe map. The safe map is causing a lot of problems with connection. We even did a lot of laps with it but it is very difficult to say.”
In spite of this myriad of issues, Espargaro insisted that his feel with Suzuki's new engine combined with the '15 frame on Wednesday morning, coupled with traction control tweaks and the drastic improvements in Michelin's front tyre were reason to be optimistic going forward.
“I am quite positive about this morning. We used the new engine again but with the 2015 frame. I felt great actually. We were quite competitive apart from Yamaha, who showed they are in another level. We were very competitive and quite close to the top guys.
“We improved a lot the electronics today, especially the traction control. We started on the 2015 bike this morning and I felt great. I was able to be competitive and feel good on the bike with the Michelins as well.
“I think the best thing from the test was that the front improved so much. I'm able to brake so hard and have a lot of grip in the middle of the corner, which is fantastic with these tyres.”