The final laps by a MotoGP rider in 2003 ended today at Valencia with Troy Bayliss edging out Sete Gibernau at the top of the times - but Max Biaggi still claimed the honour of being quickest overall from the three-day outing.

Gibernau had set the pace on day one, was displaced by Biaggi yesterday, then fell victim to Bayliss by just 0.05secs today. However, the Australian's best was still some 0.4secs slower than the record-breaking speed of Biaggi on Thursday.

But it wasn't all good news for the Camel Pramac Pons star since he lapped over one second slower today after suffering from the dreaded chatter problem.

"When I went out today on the track I experienced problems with chattering almost immediately. At first I thought it could have been the front 16.5" tyre which I had not tested, but when I fitted a 17" tyre the chattering remained," said Max. "We spent the whole day working on this problem and we were not able to find a solution.

"Also the Japanese are surprised because they see on the data big chatter. They don't know where it's coming from," he explained. "We set the fast time yesterday and normally you want to go faster. I ended up with such a big problem that we didn't have yesterday at all. When you watch the data that's what happened. That's what you see. They must check. Anyway, I'll make up for it in Malaysia."

Having no such problems was former World Superbike champion Bayliss, who set his 1min 33.15secs best during a 73 lap total, spent testing the 17" front tyre. The Australian's Ducati Marlboro team-mate Loris Capirossi was 0.33secs slower (putting him fifth overall) as he continued to put mileage on Michelin's 16.5" offering - which the team hope will provide them with a wider set-up choice next season.

"The results of these tests are the best way to end this wonderful season," commented team director Livio Suppo. "I want to thank the team and in particular Loris, Troy and Vittoriano (Guareschi - test rider), who have done a great job, their determination, ability and professionalism have been decisive on every occasion.

"From tomorrow everyone gets a well-earned break, even though we can't wait for the new season to start, bringing with it a fresh challenge, and a battle that promises to be even and hard-fought. We can only look ahead with optimism, it is sure to be another great season for Ducati," he concluded.

Meanwhile, third overall Gibernau was also left smiling after spending his final day also working through the choice of 16.5 inch and 17 inch front tyres, and freely admitted he'd made no set-up changes whatsoever.

"In the whole three days I haven't touched one click of the bike, just to keep the bike how it was. And that's why I'm so happy," the #15 confirmed. "In racing everyone is looking for the lap time but you have to put that behind to see what the pace is, to see what happens when you've got 30 laps on the tyre.

"It's very difficult to go back and forth between the 16.5 and the 17-inch the riding style is completely different. So that's why at the end I'd been able to do low 33's with both and that is why I'm so happy," he added. "Now I can race with any of the tyres, although I think my mind is quite clear on what I would like to have.

"We tried 16.5-inch small rim, big rim, 17 inch small, wide. The overall (difference) is the reaction and the speed that the bikes moves from one lean angle completely to the other. That is the biggest difference. The 16.5 really moves very fast from the right to the left. It can't be straight up and down and then throw it. Really when you're on the side to the other side it's faster," concluded the Catalan, who tomorrow will play golf with countryman Sergio Garcia.

Between Gibernau and Capirossi on the time sheets was Colin Edwards, the Texan finding new pace after reverted to fork settings he'd used en route to the 2002 World Superbike Championship aboard the Castrol Honda VTR1000SP-2.

After being left trailing yesterday, the new set of forks installed at mid-day inspired confidence in the Texan and he instantly dropped half a second from his lap time, then consistently lapped in the mid 1min 33's, the fastest he'd ever been around the 4.005 kilometre circuit.

"They're basically World Superbike forks," said 'The Tornado'. "Put it on there and went half a second faster in two laps and kept it there."

Edwards lost more than half the day when a mechanical problem sidelined him in the early going, but once back on track he attacked with his trademark aggression and smoothness, which translated to his best times of the weekend - 0.6secs off Biaggi's best, but within fighting distance of new team-mate Gibernau and former foe Bayliss.

"I struggled for the two days just trying to find where the limit was. I had no clue," confessed Colin. "The front wasn't telling me anything. When I rode this thing at Barcelona, the Showa guys said we have your fork valving from Superbike ready, so you can test that in Valencia. As it turned out that particular setting is one that probably went through about 15 or 18 different settings in 2002, found that one, never changed all year.

"Same valving, unheard of. Never changed the valving and you know how good that bike was. As it turned out we didn't put it on until midday today. We changed forks, just totally forks. Just different all around. Different valving, different coding, different everything. Did 33's the whole time. It was good. I had no clue what was going on. Then as soon as I put those forks on I remember these. 'I missed you. Thanks honey for coming back.'" he joked.

Rounding out the 2004 Honda race riders was Makoto Tamada, the 2003 class rookie falling a tenth short of his Thursday best after crashing within 20 laps. The Japanese rider had little warning when an oil leak coated his rear tyre sending him over the high-side. He was up quickly and unhurt, but his testing day was over.

"We had a small problem and for this moment they're checking it. It caused me to fall when there was oil on the tyre," confirmed the Japanese. "It happened very suddenly in the right at the top of the track before the last corner after the short cut. Luckily, I was not injured. Before I fell, we changed the front fork settings and it helped. But we had a lot of things to test. I wanted to make the fast lap of this test."

"Everybody made many laps and we tested many items for Michelin and Bridgestone, and they're happy," summed up Honda Racing Corporation team manager Shoji Tachikawa.

Tachikawa was also happy that HRC was able to supply advanced spec motors at the end of the race year, rather than early in the 2004 test season: "We planned the new spec engine a little early. Normally it's January or February. We prepared for the riders now because it's necessary. It's an evolution engine and we'll have a new one for the first test of the New Year."

Behind the Honda and factory Ducati teams and their experienced MotoGP riders, the second battle between the D'Antin Ducati, Aprilia and Proton KR rookies (with the exception of Nobuatsu Aoki) was won by Ruben Xaus for the D'Antin team.

Xaus set a best time of 1min 34.59secs today, putting him just over a second from Tamada and allowing him to edge out... Kurtis Roberts! The AMA SBK race winner shocked onlookers today by beating the likes of Hodgson, Byrne and team-mate Aoki on his father's V5 racer - indeed he was 1.6secs clear of Aoki, although a qualifying spec run can't be ruled out as potentially contributing to that time.

Nevertheless, Hodgson would trail Roberts by almost half a second - and Xaus by a tenth more - but at least held off the countryman Shane Byrne - who, like Roberts, faces the considerable task of trying to develop his machine into a contender, while also adapting to MotoGP and its unfamiliar circuits.

However, the BSB champ has been nothing but impressive in his short time on the three-cylindered machine, and today trimmed another 0.6secs off his best lap. Byrne was again joined on track by Aprilia test rider Marcellino Lucchi.

Testing will resume in January 2004.

Valencia test - leading overall times after three days:

1. Max Biaggi ITA Camel Pramac Pons 1min 32.8secs
2. Troy Bayliss AUS Ducati Marlboro 1min 33.15secs
3. Sete Gibernau SPA Telefonica Movistar Honda 1min 33.2secs
4. Colin Edwards USA Telefonica Movistar Honda 1min 33.4secs
5. Loris Capirossi ITA Ducati Marlboro 1min 33.48secs
6. Makoto Tamada JPN Pramac Honda 1min 33.5secs
7. Ruben Xaus SPA D'Antin Ducati 1min 34.59secs
8. Kurtis Roberts USA Proton Team KR 1min 34.68secs
9. Neil Hodgson GBR D'Antin Ducati 1min 35.15secs
10. Shane Byrne GBR Aprilia 1min 35.3secs
11. Nobuatsu Aoki JPN Proton Team KR 1min 36.2

Comparative lap times - 2003 Valencia Grand Prix:

Pole Position: Valentino Rossi ITA Repsol Honda 1min 32.478secsFastest Lap: Valentino Rossi ITA Repsol Honda 1min 33.317secs

 

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