Sepang test gives answers to 2013′s big questions

AFTER months of speculation, three days of testing at Malaysia’s Sepang circuit have finally started giving MotoGP fans answers to some of the big questions being asked over the winter break.

Two of the biggest involved Repsol Honda: could Dani Pedrosa maintain his excellent end-of season form from 2012, and could prodigy Marc Marquez transfer his outstanding talent on a 600cc Moto2 machine to the bigger 1000cc class?

The answer to both these questions has been a resounding yes, with Pedrosa particularly impressing with fastest lap times on all three days.

Barring one low-side crash at the final chicane, Marquez has also caught the eye, coming in third on days one and two behind Pedrosa and champion Jorge Lorenzo, and fourth on day three behind the two Spaniards and a resurgent Valentino Rossi.

Even closer analysis of the times shows what a true talent Marquez really is, trailing Pedrosa by just 0.044secs on day one, 0.254 on day two and 0.536 on day three.

True, those distances increased as the test wore on, but the gap in experience was always more likely to tell as the likes of Pedrosa and Lorenzo dialled in to better setups over the three days.

Simply managing to within three-quarters of a second of the two who battled it out for the 2012 crown should be a source of huge encouragement for the youngster, and certainly whets the appetite for what he could achieve this coming season.

Unfortunately, it seems likely we will see more of the spills that tarnished day three as he learns the handling and power differences of a MotoGP machine.

As phlegmatic as Marquez was – “bit by bit, we are learning about everything” was his immediate reaction to the off – one can not help but remember the three crashes from his first six races in his debut Moto2 season in 2011.

That involved stepping up from a 125cc engine to a 600cc one, so 600cc to 1000cc is again likely to prove testing, even for a rider of Marquez’s astounding potential.

Proving the old cliché of good things coming in threes, it was a relief for many to see a 33-year-old Rossi adapt well to the Yamaha M1.

After two mediocre-at-best seasons with Italian manufacturer Ducati in a move governed by the heart more than the head, there would have been few excuses available had the Italian struggled on board a bike which brought him four world titles and 46 race wins.

Instead, the GOAT picked up where he left off, placing fourth twice and third on the final day in a performance that hinted at the possibility of challenging for race wins in the coming season.

A source of even greater encouragement was that he slashed the time from Pedrosa’s fastest lap of the day from 0.489 on day one, to 0.442 on day three, with Pedrosa having improved by nearly half a second himself over the three days.

Added to the fact Rossi also looked very comfortable in his first time back on the Yamaha – his session in Spain after the final round last year was aborted due to the weather – and it bodes well for the man who turns 34 in mid-February.

It seems bizarre that Lorenzo has slipped under so many people’s radar at Sepang, despite finishing second on the final two days.

But, as the two-times world champion showed last season, he is happy to finish in second place most of the time if it guarantees being No. 1 at the end.

The man from Mallorca saw his times drop by nearly three-quarters of a second as he consistently improved on the Yamaha.

Much of the talk before the test may have centered on Pedrosa’s ability to keep last season’s form going, but Lorenzo showed he is still a model of consistency on a MotoGP track, and will pose a massive threat in the 2013 title race.

So, with another bout of testing due at Sepang at the end of February, MotoGP fans have at least been given a tantalising first glimpse of the answers to some of the big questions of 2013.

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