Thailand was up and down for many of the teams with some riders struggling more than anticipated and others excelling like Marc Marquez. The Spanish rider just enjoys playing and pushing the limits. This is an area where his confidence is never questioned and rather leaves people questioning how he can physically manoeuvrer a motorcycle in such a dynamic way. The test at Thailand was strong for the Repsol Honda team even though they were not the fastest. However, in this sport, we know from past results that even when something isn’t 100%, the ability to win is very realistic. On day one it was Crutchlow and Rins who shined, on day two it was Marquez blasting below the 1:30 mark and on day three Pedrosa topping the time sheets. I think you could say that Honda had a lovely time working through their packages and schedules with such strong results whilst Yamaha felt like they were way behind and Ducati expressing more strength in Sepang.
The curiosity for Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci was whether their styles would suit the Thai circuit and it from what we could observe, it sure did. Miller had a smile on his face. “The layout of the circuit is fascinating. It's a fast track and it's nice to race here. The important thing is to be patience and stay focused lap by lap because you risk underestimating the pitfalls”. So far, the Australian is adapting to the Ducati machine with a lot more ease than most others who have jumped on to the beast. In comparison, Petrucci stated that the bike behaved very well and with his weight loss, much easier to control. In 2017, Petrucci was a little heavier and noticed the back wheel spinning a lot more and decided to cut back on his weight as a winning combination to combat that particular challenge. The Alma Pramac Racing MotoGP Team is growing with confidence and this is nice to see as they have to put everything on the line to beat the top riders including Marquez, Lorenzo, Rossi, Vinales, Pedrosa and Crutchlow. The steps they are taking are in the right direction!
On the other hand, you have Cal Crutchlow who was crash king in 2017 and now in testing feeling like a new man. In battling jet lag, a lack of sleep and a different diet, Crutchlow showcased speed, composure and a more confident attitude with his Honda machine. “I feel very good with the bike at the moment – the fundamental feeling is the same as last year, but we have some other positive points on the machine compared to last year. It’s good be able to take advantage of that.” No matter what takes place, every day of testing is different and no two moments are the same. Crutchlow is very well aware of what is required of his ability to start strong in 2018. If he wants to win and bag podium finishes, the work must be put in and a standard set in order to take it to the other Honda teams. With this said, testing is only an indication of where the riders are, and many things can be changed in the lead up to Qatar. We will have to wait and see how Crutchlow performs when the lights go out at round one where eyes will be watching to see how he progresses forward, especially with that direct Honda contract!
Back to Marquez, what a king on any circuit. He is quietly confident. In Thailand they tested new aerodynamic packages, a carbon swing arm and adjusting tyres to a new circuit. Marquez on the status of the bike: “We’ve already done two tests this winter, and they both went quite well. We’ll also work hard in Qatar, in order to put it all together and be ready for the coming season. We want to fight at the front again this year, and to put on a good show for our fans here and around the world.” No doubt Marquez will be fighting fit and on the hunt for another world title.
If you thought Rossi would be uncomfortable for six months on board a Yamaha, you would think it was a dream. Well in fact, it is his current reality. The same can be said for Maverick Vinales who is voicing his concerns incredibly loud! On the final day of testing, Rossi was 10th and Vinales 12th. Rossi on his current machinery: “Like last year, it's difficult to understand where we stand. A lot of people were strong in Malaysia and here they struggled, and also the opposite. We have to improve, because we didn't make much progress compared to last year, especially when it comes to the electronics. We have a lot of work to do and at this moment we have to get through it - but that's today, maybe in Qatar it will be better.” In the past, Rossi has voiced his challenges and proven his ability to fight even with a bike that is not at 100%. However, the mental struggle is very hard to ignore for the nine times World Champion. It is not going to plan at all from the facial expressions on the Doctor’s face. A similar opinion exists with Vinales: “It's been a difficult test, like it was in Malaysia. We are working hard trying to figure out what the problem is - right now mostly on braking, but we have to improve in all areas. We have to continue working, trying to find out how to improve. The race days are coming up fast and we only have the three days in Qatar left. I will keep working and I will be 100% ready, and when the bike is ready I will push.” As it stands, Vinales is reserved in shouting from the hill tops about a title chance and rather taking it day by day. A tough rollercoaster ride for the young and passionate Spaniard.
We turn towards the Ducati garages of Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso. They had a splendid test at Sepang and a not so flash one in Thailand. The test was more complicated for Lorenzo and also with rumours in the paddock that he will have to take a pay cut to stay at Ducati. The pressure is mounting, and Lorenzo wants to outperform his critics. No one can sit there and say he is not a talented rider or has the ability to win on a Ducati because he did better than expected in 2017. There were people out there and critics laughing at his transition to the Ducati and then they were forced to close their mouths when he landed on the podium. So, what is the current status for the former World Champion: it is happiness mixed in with complication. “Unfortunately for me these have been three very complicated days, because I was never able to be really competitive. I didn’t feel at ease on the GP18 and yesterday we also had a few doubts, so we decided to do a back-to-back test with last year’s bike. As always happens, there are good and bad points with both versions, but at the moment it seems that the GP18 has a greater potential, so we will focus on this bike in the next test in Qatar.” He is upbeat regardless of the situation and you have to be in this style of motorsport. On the other side of the garage is runner up Andrea Dovizioso from the 2017 season, his best to date. He is a quiet soul with a hunger to win like everyone else. Dovi is calculated, patient and hard working with an ability to look at the positives over the negatives. His new mind-set is power and a strong quality to have on board a fiery red belly beast. “These were three very useful days, in which we were able to do a lot of work and test the fairings, the frame and the other new material that Ducati brought here to Thailand. It wasn’t an easy job because it was really hot out there and this track is a bit unusual, but we gathered lots of useful information and confirmed that the GP18 is a very competitive bike. To get a better idea of the form of our rivals, we also have to see what tyre they set their times with, but in my opinion here at Buriram we are in good shape, just like in Malaysia. I’m going back home very happy and ready to leave again in a couple of weeks’ time for Qatar, where we want to prepare well for the first round of the 2018 championship.” As the riders reset and recoup for the final Qatar test, we are in for a show like no other as multiple teams and riders have opportunities to excel in a sport that really is make or break. This also true when it comes to contract renewals and the questions on everyone’s mind, will Rossi stay for another few years or hang up his leathers?!