Qatar MotoGP test: Espargaro leads the charge for Aprilia on day one

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Picture: GeeBee Images

Losail International roared into life for the first full day of MotoGP action with Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro fastest overall.

The full roster of MotoGP competitors and testers took to the 5.4km track for seven hours of evaluation, with 29 riders present as official proceedings got underway.

With an hour to go it was Aleix Espargaro who had control of the times, the Aprilia rider having set a 1’54.687 on his 42nd lap, with a lap quicker than Jorge Lorenzo’s 2016 race record.

Friday’s fastest man, Stefan Bradl and 2020 champion Joan Mir were less than three-tenths shy of the Spaniard in second and third, with Jack Millar and Johann Zarco holding court for Ducati in the top-five. A promising performance from KTM’s promoted new star, Miguel Oliveira saw the RC16 slot into fifth with a 1’55.084 in the closing minutes, demoting Zarco to sixth.

Ducati and Yamaha were the most prominent manufacturers, fielding seven bikes apiece, as the Bologna riders joined Friday’s rookies and YMC’s three testers, including Cal Crutchlow, joined forces with the Monster Energy and Petronas representatives.

Yamaha’s comprehensive showing was thanks, in part, to low temperatures and poor weather conditions in Japan and global logistic issues curtailing their original plans to test earlier in the pre-season. Each rider started Saturday’s programme with a reference bike utilising the best preferred settings from last season to compare against a new bike, which they will be throwing numerous parts and settings at across the five days in the desert - with carbon and aluminium swingarm options looking to be the part of choice for today’s opening analysis.

As he did at the close of 2020, Franky Morbidelli came out as top Yamaha after the first day’s action, setting a fastest time of 1’55.174 on his 47th of 61 laps to sit him seventh overall.

Maverick Vińales sat best of the rest in ninth with Valentino Rossi pipping his replacement in the factory line-up, Fabio Quartararo in 14th and 15th respectively, the pair just a second shy of Espargaro’s benchmark time.

A confident Pol Espargaro got his first exit on the Repsol Honda this afternoon, an underlying similarity between his previous KTM machine and his new steed, allowing the Spaniard to find himself up-to-speed fairly quickly, lapping within half a second of HRC test rider, Stefan Bradl with a couple hours of Saturday’s track time remaining before concluding the day in 17th, 1.191 off the top.

LCR Honda’s Alex Marquez and Takaaki Nakagami were matching in both machinery and times as the Japanese rider enjoyed his 2020 upgrade, the pair finishing in 10th and 11th, with the Spaniard recovering strongly from an early last corner spill to head his teammate. The only difference spotted being an alternate-spec exhaust for the youngest Marquez brother.

Having already opened Ducati’s 2021 testing programme during Friday’s shakedown by completing 58 laps of the Doha track, Michele Pirro was spotting hosting an interesting looking front fairing, with paddock chatter intimating the new aero feature may be assisting the Desmosedici in change of direction, as well as and experimenting with new hole shot device.

Both Pramac and factory Ducati riders spent the day, similar to Yamaha, getting up to speed on 2020 reference bikes, while in the Avintia garage, both riders are fielding 2019 machinery with Enea Bastianini utilising a 2020 exhaust.

Miller and Zarco’s top-six efforts headed the Bologna charge with Pecco Bagnaia in 13th, a slightly sore Jorge Martin, after Friday’s rookie crash, in 18th with Bastianini 20th, Luca Marini 24th and Pirro 28th.

Suzuki’s 2021 launch this morning ushered in a successful day for the Hamamatsu squad with Alex Rins just two-tenths off his top-three-finishing teammate, Mir, in eighth.

Test rider Sylvain Guintoli spent the day continuing his evaluation of the 2022 engine, with the Frenchman, who finished 25th, exclaiming “You forget how fast these things are! When you ride it a lot during the year you get used to it and you almost don’t feel the speed as much but yes, five months off and getting back on the bike just makes you appreciate how fast these bikes are.”

Having dominated the early times, Aprilia’s main points during their testing schedule are to choose the preferred front wing for the 2021 season, from two aero package options, as well as evaluating their high mileage engine alongside the newer spec, to see when performance, response and reliability drops off.

The Noale factory’s second rider Lorenzo Savadori completed his second day in the job in 19th position, 1.8 seconds off his captain’s best.

KTM’s 2021 campaign kicked off in a similar style to the majority of factory outfits with the majority of their riders getting steadily up-to-speed on their 2020 reference bikes. Oliveira’s pace outshone his cohorts, with Brad Binder just half a second behind in 12th, Iker Lecuona, Danilo Petrucci and Dani Pedrosa in 22nd, 23rd and 26th respectively.

The latter Legend the only rider to showcase the Austrian’s updates, featuring a new chassis, tail section and exhaust.

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