Could Iker Lecuona be on course to do 'a Quartararo' in the 2020 MotoGP season?

Like Fabio, the Spaniard steps up to MotoGP with as both the youngest of next year's rookies and with the least impressive Moto2 record, in Lecuona's case only two podiums in the intermediate class.

But at the Valencia test at least, the 19-year-old was comfortably clear of both Moto2 champion Alex Marquez (factory Honda) and title runner-up Brad Binder (factory KTM), whose Tech3 KTM place Lecuona inherited when the South African was bumped straight to the official team.

Lecuona had the benefit of an early Tech3 debut during the race weekend - where he rode from 19th to 15th and set 'unbelievable' lap times, comparable to the top ten, before falling - but Binder and Marquez also had some prior MotoGP experience.

Lecuona's progression - Valencia race weekend:
FP1: 1m 34.563s (+3.108s)
FP2: 1m 33.144s (+2.379s)
FP3: 1m 32.398s (+2.166s)
FP4: 1m 32.662s (+2.178s)
Qualifying: 1m 31.658s (+1.680s)
Warm-up: 1m 32.811s (+1.675s)
Race: 1m 32.248s (+1.132s)

As the above list shows, Lecuona closed the gap to the fastest rider in every track session during the Valencia race weekend barring FP4, when he was a mere 0.012s further from the top than FP3.

"I'm really happy with this weekend," he said. "I improved a lot, I learned very fast, and I was in the points in my first race. I made one mistake in the race when I crashed, but I'm very happy.

Moto2 received bigger Triumph 765cc engines and more electronics for this season, but MotoGP remains a cut above everything else.

"In Moto2 you don't use the clutch when you downshift now, but this is only one point to help me in MotoGP!" Lecuona said. "In general the electronics are very different, the power is completely different. It's completely the opposite."

Called-up in place of 2020 team-mate Miguel Oliveira, recovering from shoulder surgery, during the race weekend, Lecuona then shifted across to the other side of the Tech3 garage for the test, joining the ex-Hafizh Syahrin crew he will work with throughout next season.

“We don’t have too much to test on the bike, but a lot with the rider," team boss Herve Poncharal said after day one, when Lecuona turned heads with the 13th fastest lap time.

Poncharal, who is understood to have pushed heavily for Lecuona when it became clear the factory KTM team would take Binder out of Tech3, added: 

"Iker just moved from Guy Coulon’s to Nicolas Goyon’s crew, so he had to relearn new guys and new methods of working, although they are quite similar and it was very interesting to start working with him without the pressure of a grand prix, with more time than a 45 minutes session.

"What he did today was very impressive, to be honest, because we have been testing different settings, different tyres and he reacts quite well. You could see that run after run, his riding style is improving, he’s getting more efficient for the MotoGP bike and I would like to say, that tonight we are a happy team.

"We are very proud and lucky to have Iker with us. We won’t be carried away, but it was a good first day for the 2020 season."

Lecuona was then ranked 15th on the final day of testing, finishing effectively equal on lap time with KTM test rider and 31-time MotoGP winner Dani Pedrosa and 0.785s from factory leader Pol Espargaro. Fellow rookie Marquez was 20th and Binder 22nd.

“A great second day in Valencia with Iker Lecuona," Poncharal said at the close of the test. "The lap time was a bit faster, but the pace was clearly a lot better.

"On the data, we could see that his riding style is a lot better also. So, this is mission accomplished. Now we are heading to Jerez to continue the work hard. We are very happy!"

Like Quartararo, who only got his MotoGP chance because of Pedrosa's retirement, Lecuona received his surprise call-up when KTM moved Binder to the factory team following Johann Zarco's early exit.

Unlike Quartararo, who stunned with six poles and seven podiums on a satellite Yamaha this season, the KTM is not yet a frontrunning machine.

But if Lecuona continues to improve at his present pace it wouldn't be a shock to see him pushing Pol for top 'orange' honours at some races next season - and looks set to be a serious threat to Binder and Marquez in the Rookie standings.

For now, like Marquez and Binder, Lecuona's top priority is to morph his riding style to suit the near 300-horsepower MotoGP machine.

"In general I need to improve in all areas because for sure it's a big difference between MotoGP and Moto2. A lot of power, a lot of electronics," he said.

"I've surprised myself because I'm faster than I expected - all weekend, then also yesterday and today.

"For the next test in Jerez, I want to change some more things regarding lean angle and my body position, on the brakes, I already feel better and also with the electronics, but there’s still a lot to do for us.”

The Jerez test takes place on Monday and Tuesday.

Oliveira will be absent until next year's opening Sepang test, in February.

 

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