Arguably the preseason surprise to date, Takaaki Nakagami continued his fine form into the second MotoGP test of 2018 by setting the tenth fastest time over the three days before insisting there was still much to learn about the workings of a MotoGP machine.

There was plenty to admire in Nakagami’s performance in Buriram, Thailand, which drew praise from team-mate Cal Crutchlow, who stated the two-time Moto2 race winner's speed is akin to “a f**king rocket”, while noting his impressive cornering ability.

Nakagami’s time at the Chang International Circuit offered up a chance to better understand Michelin’s tyres, but the 26-year old feels he is yet to take advantage of the final “one or two degrees” of angle, and earmarked corner exit as an area of his riding that is still need of improvement.

Sunday was the most impressive of the three days, when he posted a fastest time just 0.6s off pace setter Dani Pedrosa’s best, and a 15-lap run – when admittedly using the Michelin rear tyre construction which offered greater grip that that used by Marc Marquez on the final day – that featured impressive consistency.

“I’m really happy about these three days,” said Nakagami. “Especially the last day. We did a really consistent lap time and I’m really happy about the best time. We’re like Sepang – we tried to improve the set-up.

“Still I have to understand the MotoGP bike and how to pick it up and exit the corner. I’m losing time on the exit of the corner compared to Cal, Marc and Dani. In Qatar we need to focus on this to make more acceleration.

“But the general feeling is quite good. The high speed in the corners – I was faster than Cal and some others so the positive point we keep like this but the negative side we have to improve a lot.

“We try a few things. We tried to modify the electronics side to make less wheelie and to use more rear brake. Still not understanding 100 percent. I’m still trying many things and asking the telemetry guy to see the data.

“Sometimes I didn’t feel the difference between using full throttle and the rear brake. Sometimes it’s better to close the throttle to keep the speed. But these three days I started to understand – much better than Sepang. We try to keep improving this way.”

On where he felt the biggest improvement in performance from Sepang to Buriram, he said, “The good thing is I started to understand how to use the Michelin tyres. Still I’m missing the last part of the angle, one or two degrees – the last part.

“The Michelin guy explained how to use the tyre but we tried with medium and soft tyres. For me there is good feedback, but we’re still missing the extra grip. Maybe Marc and Dani use the extra grip and I don’t know how they use it. I’m still learning a lot.

“I expected twelfth or 13th but to be in the overall top ten is good, especially the team are happier than me. This is good to see!”

On Saturday, Nakagami had the chance to follow Marquez at speed when the reigning world champion posted his quickest time of the test. There, the Japanese rider observed Marquez’s dizzying ability to stop the RC213V while using the front and rear brake in synchronisation, a technique he tried to replicate a day later.

“For me it was the first time following Marc,” he said. “He did his fastest lap time [at the end of the day] and I followed that lap. I did my best time. He was close to one second faster than me. I could see the beginning of sector one and two, could see how to pick up the bike. His strongest point, as you know, is the braking.

“For me it was good to see. It’s easy to see it on TV but difficult when behind him. It’s quite easy to understand how to use the front brake but also a lot of the rear brake. This is the secret. For me it’s interesting to see really close to him. Also today, I was thinking about this. That’s where I think the improvement is coming.”

Soon after the final test of 2017, Nakagami underwent surgery to correct an arm pump issue that affected performances at Valencia and Jerez. Still bearing the scars of the surgery, the Japanese rider feels his arm is at “90 percent” of its full working capabilites.

“Physically, of course, I have to improve more. This is a target. For the arm pump it’s much better than in Jerez. I had a big problem there. After the test I did surgery and now there is quite a good feeling. It’s not 100 percent fixed but 90 percent, is good.”


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