John McPhee believes he has a “100 percent chance” of consistently fighting at the front of this year’s Moto3 season after the first day of testing at Jerez gave him the chance to try a host of new parts for Honda.

The 24-year old Scot was suffering from a heavy head cold throughout Wednesday but was still able to post the ninth fastest time of the day, 0.6s back of surprise pace setter Sergio Garcia.

Having tested at Sepang last week, McPhee had the chance to try Honda’s 2019 engine for the first time at Jerez, as well as a host of other parts, including a new gearbox, throttle bodies and exhaust.

The Scot was suitably impressed. In his eyes Honda has “upped their game” with the new engine. He avoided chasing a fast one-off lap time in any of the day’s three sessions, and feels lap times are coming easily and consistently.

5774263478001

CrashTV: 

“Overall I’m really pleased,” began McPhee, twice a Moto3 podium finisher in 2018.”This time every year I’ve struggled, especially at this track in particular. I don’t really know why. I’ve never left here feeling overly comfortable.

“Today testing the new engine and gearbox was the main focus, to understand them and understand the engine brake and clutch characteristics going into the corner. It just felt good. Everything felt good from the word ‘go’.

“We made a few small modifications to make it more suited to my riding style. Chassis-wise we didn’t really change a lot. We tried a few things but more or less came back to our base setting, which shows our base is good. In the middle run I did the lap time, which surprised me. A lot of guys had a private test here, but it’s our first day. I was quite happy with that.

“On the last run it was getting cold and we decided to finish early. We haven’t used any used any soft tyres but with the medium tyre I was really consistent with my times.

“I’m quite happy because I saw a lot of guys out there at the end of the day with a soft tyre on but we only have two over two days. I’ve still got two softs, so that’s positive. With the medium tyre front and rear I’m feeling really comfortable with the bike, so I’m happy overall.”

In recent years, Honda’s Moto3 entry has forged a reputation for being a sweet-handling machine that can maintain extremely high corner speeds. McPhee had experience of it first hand, when riding for the British Talent Team in 2017.

The characteristics of the ’19 machine have evolved, however. Honda’s new engine has more low-range power, which, according to McPhee, allows him to square off corners more.

“It [the ’19 bike] is actually quite different, more so than I expected,” he said. “I thought I’d be able to jump on it and ride it exactly the same as I was before. But actually adapting to the KTM last year has certainly helped, because the Honda they’ve made the chassis, and improved the low-end power.

“You can almost ‘V’ off the corners a little bit more. You can dive in, slow the bike a bit more and you’ve got the power to get out. I think the Honda now is in the middle between the KTM last year and the Honda in ’17. It’s somewhere in the middle ground.

“It’s suiting me really well. They’ve done a good job on it, the engine. They’ve certainly upped their game from the engine I was testing in Sepang to now, it feels a lot better.”

Does he feel Honda has redressed the notable top speed advantage KTM enjoyed in 2018? “I think so,” he said. “I mean, I overtook two guys – they were both on in laps, so I don’t know how hard they’re pushing – and the bike felt good.

“Gauging it from what I’ve had before, like where you shift up on track, everything seems to be that tiny bit earlier. Through turn five on a Moto3 you’re always in between. If you get it perfect you can run fourth gear, because you’re carrying enough momentum to get the power at the right RPM.

“But if it’s not going right then you have to use third and have the RPM higher. Literally after two laps I used fourth and I haven’t used third again. Every lap I’m in fourth because there is a window to work with.

“If you run in a bit deep and the RPM comes low, there is more power at the bottom and it’s able to pull us out. So they’ve designed the engine to be more usable power in all of the RPM range.”

With the top four riders in the 2018 Moto3 championship stepping up to Moto2, grand prix’s junior category feels more open than ever. While feeling in great shape, McPhee was careful not to make any bold claims.

Still, the one-time race winner is sure “We’ve definitely got a chance – 100 percent.”

“It’s certainly an open field,” he said. “Every year there is somebody that surprises us. You can never really predict it. From my side it’s the best preseason I’ve ever had. I’m feeling comfortable with the team and the bike.

“But it’s a long year. You never know what’s going to happen but even analysing last year there were five races that if I worked my cards a bit better I should have had, at least, more podiums. There were a couple of races where I could have been in for the win if I didn’t make a few rider errors. It’s something I’m learning as well.

“I think we’ve definitely got a chance. 100 percent we’ve got a chance. If everything goes to plan we can be fighting at the front. It’s such a long year. We know what Moto3 is like. It’s never easy. But I’ll be working as hard as possible to be as strong as possible consistently, over the year. That’s the plan.”

Comments

Loading Comments...