The first official HRC test of 2002 begun today in Malaysia at a rain drenched Sepang Circuit. Riders Tohru Ukawa and Shinichi Itoh took to the track on the RC211V four-stroke bike, but there was no sign of 2001 World Champion Valentino Rossi.

The Italian is yet to sign a contract for the coming season and is still in negotiations with Japanese manufacturer, Honda. He did not lose much by missing today's test however, as a heavy downpour at midday cut the session short.

The testing carried out by Ukawa and Itoh concentrated on looking at the modifications made on the bike in Japan since the test sessions before Christmas. Ukawa, who in his second year on official Honda machinery in the premier MotoGP class, set the fastest time of the morning, with a lap of 2mins 06 seconds.

"We were looking for a good set up for the track," explained Ukawa to the official MotoGP website. "Once we were close we started testing some new tyres for Michelin. I'm satisfied with what we achieved before the rain came. I must be happy, I'm already faster on the RCV than I was at the GP with the NSR500."

Also at the test were NSR500 riders Daijiro Katoh, Jurgen Van den Goorbergh, Loris Capirossi and Alex Barros. It was the first pre-season test for the West Honda Pons riders.

250cc World Champion Katoh rode the NSR500 for the first time at Sepang and did extremely well, setting the second fasted time of the morning, just two-tenths of a second behind Ukawa.

"Sepang is a real 500 track and it's very demanding on the rider and the machine," commented Katoh. "This is my first time on a 500 round Sepang so I was not completely happy with the set up before the rain started but I'm satisfied with the performance today. I'm sure I can improve when the bike is set up for me."

A spectacular crash ended van den Goorbergh's day after just twenty three laps. The Dutchman was uninjured but his bike needed considerable repairs.

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