Fabio Quartararo, Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP

At the conclusion of the 2022 MotoGP Winter Test at Sepang International Circuit (SIC), Enea Bastianini of Ducati satellite team Gresini Racing set an unofficial lap record of 1’58.131″. While not set under race conditions, typically resulting in lap times a second or so slower, what is noteworthy is all 24 riders in the 2022 MotoGP grid dropped below the 2 minute lap mark, with the top 10 riders within three tenths of a second of each other.

No doubt, this doesn’t happen on race day but it is telling that given a clear track, all the riders at MotoGP level have similar levels of performance. Fitness and stamina counts for a lot in modern motorsport and having had a look at some of the riders in the paddock with race suits off, it can be safely said no one has been having many cheat days or slacking off on the reps.

Even riders recovering from injury, like multiple world champion Marc Marquez of Repsol Honda Racing and Franco Morbidelli of Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP, looked to be in fighting trim. Speaking during the post testing media scrum, Marquez said his test session was cut short to avoid aggravating his injury, “we did the laps and at a certain point, I said enough is enough.”

Enea Bastianini, Gresini Racing MotoGP

Marquez’ injuries cost him most of two racing seasons with much of the off season time devoted to recovery. Still with wins and podium places in injury. shortened 2021, Marquez showed that old magic, saying this was the result of “you have to have belief in yourself. Then it is possible,” a testament to the Spanish rider’s mental strength and fitness.

Surprise showing on the Winter Test leader board were the Aprilia RS-GPs of Alex Espargaro and Maverick Vinales, clocking 1’58.157″ and 1’58.261″ for second and fifth, respectively. It should be noted Winter Test is no indication of how the 2022 MotoGP season will go, with most of the factory teams still not showing the big guns, as it were.

From left, clockwise: Johann Zarco, Pramac Racing; Raul Fernandez, Tech3 KTM Factory Racing; Fabio Quartararo

Still, it is somewhat indicative the Aprilias have the turn of speed and handling necessary to produce a competitive lap time though it remains to be seen if this will translate into race wins and podiums later in the year. Certainly favourites to win, Monster Energy Yamaha with world champion Fabio Quartararo in the ranks, have work cut out for them beating off challengers to the title, notably Ducati.

Speaking to Quartararo post test, he said this year’s new engine package is strong, though the team is still gathering data. Quartararo placed seventh after two days of Winter Test, with a time of 1’58.313″, the Frenchman saying, “I‘m really happy about my pace. Unfortunately, I kept two tyres to do a time attack, and then it was raining. But this morning I did a great lap! I‘m quite happy because I came from a really old rear tyre, and let‘s say that the gap between them was too big.”

Joan Mir, Team Suzuki Ecstar

With rain curtailing activities just after lunch break, not every rider got the chance to do a time attack on soft tyres, with a majority of the grid running hard compound Michelins. One of those who did get to go out for a time attack was Jorge Martin of the Pramac Ducati satellite team, clocking a 1’58.243″, good enough to give the Spaniard third in the test standings.

In fourth was Alex Rins of Team Ecstar Suzuki, posting a 1’58.261 after two days of testing. Team mate and 2020 world champion Joan Mir came in with a time of 1’58.529, dropping him out of the top 10 to twelfth in the standings.

From left, clockwise: Joan Mir; Jack Miller, Ducati Lenovo Team; Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team

The testing moratorium in MotoGP ended at the end of 2021, with many teams trotting out new exhaust valves, ride height devices for both front and rear wheels, updated electronics and other riding aids. Asked for his thoughts on the division between rider ability and bike electronics, Moto2 champion Remy Gardner, in his rookie year in MotoGP riding for Tech3 KTM Factory Racing on the KTM RC16, said, “yes, initially the electronics are necessary but as you get more familiar with the bike, you tend to dial down the electronics and rely on your own skill.”

The other factory team entry into the top 10 at Winter Test was Francesco Bagnaia of Ducati Lenovo Team, who clocked a 1’58.265″ giving him sixth in the standings. Rounding out the top 10 are Johann Zarco of Pramac Racing Ducati and Pol Espargaro of Repsol Honda, who posted times of 1’58.423″ and 1’58.420″, for ninth and tenth places.

Marco Bezzecchi, Mooney VR46 Racing Team; Brad Binder, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing

Second Winter Test for the 2022 MotoGP season moves to Mandalika circuit, Indonesia, next weekend, a track that is brand new to all the riders and teams. Racing season is scheduled to start March 6 with the Grand Prix of Qatar at Losail International Circuit.

As for Malaysian racing fans, the 2022 Winter Test at Sepang was the first opportunity in two years of lockdowns and movement control orders they could see their MotoGP heroes in action. During the two days of testing, a estimated crowd of over 11,000 turned out to watch the action.