The opening chapter of the 2019 MotoGP year closed today as three days of official IRTA testing at the hot Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia introduced a sizzling early pace into the pre-season period. Red Bull KTM Factory Racing and Red Bull KTM Tech3 as well as test rider Mika Kallio completed a busy and comprehensive programme during the IRTA sessions as well as two days of private work to make pleasing progress in their preparation for the Grand Prix campaign ahead.
Continued high temperatures and improving grip around the long Sepang layout saw lap-times tumble into new record territory on the third and final day of work in Malaysia. Pol Espargaro, Johann Zarco and Miguel Oliveira were able to increase their pace to find lap-time in the 1min 59 bracket as the riders wearily notched almost 200 laps between them in what was their fifth day circulating Sepang.
Espargaro - entering his third year with the KTM RC16 - signed-off a hectic agenda of experimentation and successfully banished memories of his heavy crash twelve months earlier at the same venue that caused a setback to his 2018 season. Zarco continued his adaption to his new racebike – only his second for his third term in the premier class – and was satisfied with the gains he could make for front-end feeling and confidence. Oliveira was the surprise package of the day among the ‘orange’ group and his time attack showed real promise from the MotoGP rookie. Mika Kallio forged ahead with his testing regime while Hafizh Syahrin struggled a little with fatigue today but was still able to grasp a feeling of progress once the eight-hour period was chequered flagged.
The MotoGP quartet will now travel back to Europe and to the KTM factory in Mattighofen for the 2019 Grand Prix presentation on Tuesday 12th February. The second and final pre-season test will take place at Losail in Qatar from 23rd-25th February.
Pol Espargaro: “We made an amazing rhythm today. On the first day we couldn’t, and then yesterday I was half a second slower than today. The pace was very, very nice and I was comfortable doing it. The fast lap was not what I expected – I found [Franco] Morbidelli in the way in the morning and could not improve – but this is a test and we go home with the knowledge we have done a good job. It is the first time we felt this big improvement from just one test. We have had five hot and hard days here but I think the whole team and factory did an amazing job: all the guys were super-focussed.”
Johann Zarco: “I tried this morning to improve further but I did not expect all the others to be going that fast! It was quite incredible. I’m pretty happy to be able to do many laps under two-minutes. We are happy with what we did, but we still have a lot of work. Overall I have improved my feeling and my control of the bike over five hard days. We will see what I can do in Losail. It will be interesting to see if we can adapt quicker in Qatar than we did here. The lap-time was better than I expected and we reached good points in our plan.”
Mike Leitner, Team Manager: “We have been testing so many things these days, from chassis to suspension to aerodynamics and we had three riders in the 1min 59s by the end. We could not really manage the super-fast single lap but on the longer runs people are quite happy and we are very consistent. We have a good feeling about the test. It was super-important. We worked many days and made steps that were very big. We took the time to make ‘basic’ work on our bikes where the focus is not always the lap-time. We will go to Doha now and hope to use this good information. A big thanks to all our five riders here in these demanding conditions: they worked through many ideas that came up in the factory during the winter and the guys in Austria have been pushing hard. We still need to fine-tune some things but we are going in the right direction.”
Sebastian Risse, Technical Director: “All-in-all it was a long test for us and a lot of things have piled up in all areas of the bike over the winter. So it was an intense test, also with Tech3 structure here now also that allowed us to get even more information. I think we can be very happy with our progress and we made huge steps with our new riders in terms of getting confidence in the bike and setting and development. Looking at what we have done and the pace compared to previous years we are happy. The speed was quite incredible today and our positions are not quite what we were looking for. We know our competitors are strong and are developing their motorcycles quickly but we have to be even quicker! That was the challenge here. I think we did it…but we also have a long way to go. We will have to prepare our priorities well now for the last test and make sure we make another step forward in performance.”
Miguel Oliveira: “The lap time was ok. It was not as fast as I expected because I couldn’t match the best configuration of the bike with the best tyres in the best moment, but in any case, I’m very close to the two KTM factory riders, closer than everybody expected. We have been really competitive with used tyres, which is good for the race. At the moment, I can see a clear step forward, so I think it’s about going to the Qatar test, taking the experiences from these three days and just trying to be another step better.”
Hafizh Syahrin: “We improved a lot compared to yesterday. The lap time is significantly faster than before, but still a bit far from the top. During this last day, I felt really good with the bike, but my physical condition was not ideal. After four full days of riding, the muscles in my arms were too hard and I was lacking some power. To be honest, I am a bit disappointed about myself for this, as the bike was truly great for this last day and I couldn’t fully use it. Anyway, I’ll try to do my best during the Qatar test before the start of the season, we are on a positive way and for sure we can be better.”
IRTA test overall standings after Day 3
1. Danilo Petrucci (ITA), Ducati 1:58.239
2. Francesco Bagnaia (ITA), Ducati +0.063
3. Jack Miller (AUS), Ducati +0.127
4. Andrea Dovizioso (ITA), Ducati +0.299
5. Maverick Viñales (SPA), Yamaha +0.405
17. Johann Zarco (FRA), KTM +1.401
18. Pol Espargaro (SPA), KTM +1.512
19. Miguel Oliveira (POR), KTM +1.710
22. Mika Kallio (FIN), KTM +2.284
23. Hafizh Syahrin (MYS), KTM +2.527