At the end of last week, the second and final full blown off-season test for the MotoGP Series took place at the Mandalika International Street Circuit on Indonesia. For those who could be confused, this is the track that held the deciding event of the 2021 World Superbike Championship but has not yet hosted a MotoGP World round. I am not sure why they call it a Street Circuit, and yes, Valentino Rossi is still retired.
Twenty-one riders would up within .85 of a second after three mostly busy days in Indonesia. And if you are feeling sorry for yourself for not being able to ride this time of year, consider this: the first day of the MotoGP test was mostly a non-event since the track was so dirty, unused since the Superbikes late last year. It is unfortunate that the locals have no activity that might take advantage of their warm climate.
I am reluctant to put too much emphasis on winter testing, since MotoGP is gradually turning into F1, where the best times are frequently set by the desperate, while the likely front runners avoid showing their true potential. However Mandalika was the final chance to make huge changes for comparison purposes, so at least some of the following should be helpful.
One give away of true potential would be long runs, when your team decides on a set-up that is workable and racers move toward managing tires over a race distance. Teams playing catch up simply don’t have the time and resources to pick a race tire and work with it – they are still looking for better lap times through chassis and electronic settings.
Winter testing offers some new equipment to consider, although not every manufacturer is eager for the media to understand, or discover, their plans. Once company not shy about their winter development is Honda, who have completely changed their design philosophy.
The only 2021 Honda on hand was for Marc Marquez to briefly try, since he has missed time due to recent injuries and needed to remind himself of his benchmark RC213V’s performance. Series super star Marquez, injured for much of the past two seasons, did twelve laps on his “old” bike and never used it again.
Meanwhile, Honda’s possible future-Marquez, Pol Espargaro, ended up with the top time of the Test, saying that “I’ve never been so fast before.”
And Marquez wound up ninth overall, .4 of a second behind his team-mate, but admitted he didn’t have a “special feeling” with the new machine, and didn’t bother with soft tire, “Q”-type runs. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the “special feeling” is back by the opener Qatar opener.
Marc Marquez’ younger brother Alex, settled with the LCR Castrol squad, would up 12th, a solid effort while he did much of the aero development before the spoiler packages have to be locked in at the start of the season. The fourth works Honda rider, fast but troubled Takaaki Nakagami, moved between two chassis throughout the test – he managed a remarkable ninety-one laps on the final day.
Perhaps the best summary of Honda’s position came from Ducati’s veteran Johann Zarco, former factory Yamaha pilot, who explained that “with everything happening at Honda, it might be difficult to know their potential. But it is rare for the Japanese team to try so many new things, new directions, but if they do this, then perform as they are already performing, it means they will be there.”
Reigning World Champ Fabio Quartararo wound up a very strong second fastest for the works Monster Yamaha squad, happy on used spec Michelin rubber but strangely not so sure when the tires are new. Yamaha were also not sure if a new engine configuration was an improvement. As well, the Yamaha remains down on top speed, a challenge that Quartararo continues to suggest will be the prime obstacle to 2022 success.
Second works Yamaha rider Franco Morbidelli was fifth best, after going to a “time attack” set up late in the third day. He remains unsure of front-end grip with his preferred chassis.
Ducati were attracting lots of attention as they continue to develop and simplify both front and rear suspension ride height controls, to aid starts and corner exit traction. Many are working on these concepts, but Ducati seem well ahead, and photos show their bikes riding very low at times.
Luca Marini, riding for Rossi’s new Mooney VR46 Ducati squad, attracted much media by throwing down the best time at the end of day two, and that kept him near the front of the overall final times.
Next best Ducati was off-season World Champion elect Francesco Bagnaia on the “A” works Lenovo Team entry, fifth quickest on the final Sunday. Ducati were reportedly satisfied with their latest aero developments, and Team Manager Davide Tardozzi claimed that Ducati had achieved 80% of their off-season goals. If this is true, then “Pecco” really does look like a Champ in the making.
Aprilia has undertaken another big retooling of their troubled RS-GP, and both Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales did full race simulations. Aprilia is looking like they have made a major step in consistency and have chosen between the two chassis under development in Indonesia.
One of the happiest riders after the first two day of the test was Suzuki’s 2022 World Champ Joan Mir showing well over a race distance, the Suzuki continuing to be kind to it’s0 tires over longer sessions. Unfortunately, Mir got food poisoning and ended up returning to the Hotel in day three.
Sometimes troubled Mire teammate Alex Rins, rumored to be out at Ecstar Suzuki at the end of the season, worked on testing the latest carbon-reinforced chassis, and would up in the top ten.
KTM tested a range of options, including aero and exhaust choices, as did many other squads. KTM were comparing their best set-up from a troubled 2021 against new parts, and team second Brad Binder was slightly quicker than frequent hero Miguel Oliveira.
“So far so good,” explained the happy Binder. “We’ve found some things that work well for us, and we’ve improved our package from last year. There is work to be done to make the next step, but so far, so good. Our next step involves drive out of corners and rear grip in general.”
Next up is the opening G.P. race of 2022 in Qatar March 6, with round two back at Mandalika, on March 20.