After their last appearance in 2020, smiles and enthusiasm greeted the return of the MotoGP Winter Testing to Sepang International Circuit. All eyes were glued to the teams and riders, curious to find out how are they shaping ahead of the season opener set to take place at Qatar later next month.
Since this was just a test session and not a race, what can we take from this recent show of speed and agility from the world’s greatest riders on one of the fastest two-wheeled machines on Earth? Here are some points which could (serve as a preview) give you a heads up before jumping into the first race of the 2022 MotoGP season.
New Names and Faces
Of course for local fans, a lot of curious eyes were eager to see the new WithU Yamaha RNF Racing MotoGP team in action. Formerly known as the Petronas Sepang Racing Team, this rebranded MotoGP team is now led by Andrea Dovizioso - a regular in the game with 15 wins under his belt, as well as a three-time championship runner-up.
Partnering him will be a new face in the top tier class, Darryn Binder, who had just made a huge jump from the Moto3 category.
While there were progress made to get acclimatised to the Yamaha YZR-M1, Dovizioso was not entirely pleased on where their performance level is for the time being. Binder welcomed the rain on Day 2 as it gave him the chance to go out in the wet on the bike, and he ended his weekend with a 1:59.857.
Speaking of new faces, there were also a number of rookies who had graduated from the Moto2 roster. The KTM Tech3 had gone through the gutsy route by taking Raul Fernandez and Remy Gardner, both coming from the Red Bull KTM Ajo team.
Luca Marini who had jumped into MotoGP last year is joined by former teammate Mario Bezzecchi in the Mooney VR46 Racing team.
And after a year in Moto2, Fabio Di Giannantonio got the golden ticket to ride with the big boys as he joins the Gresini Racing outfit. His teammate Enea Bastianini stole the spotlight during the weekend as he clocked the fastest time with a 1:58.131.
The Return of #93
After being forced to pull out from the 2021 season due to medical reasons, the eight-time champion is finally back in his racing suit. Marc Marquez was definitely one of the fans’ highlights in this outing and he posted some decent time as well.
After clocking a 1:59.287 on Saturday, he went almost a second quicker the next day on the Honda racing bike with a 1:58.332.
The Season to Defend for Quartararo
The fight for the 2022 title will definitely boil up from this point on as Fabio Quartararo will have to defend the title as the reigning champion. However, it looks like a lot of work will have to be put in from both him and the team as he was not so pleased with his Yamaha bike during the pre-season testing.
Aside from admitting he needs to improve his riding after a three-month break, he also felt that Yamaha was not making that much of a progress as compared to the other teams. It may be too soon to tell, but it sounds like they will have an uphill battle to conquer later in the season.
He would definitely need to look out for the Ducatis as they finished well in the top 5 last season, with Francesco Bagnaia trailing close in the point standings.
Suzuki should not be ignored as well, as Joan Mir finished third overall last year, and 2022 might just be the year for the Japanese manufacturer.
Encouraging turn up at Grandstands
MotoGP has always been the must-go racing event in Malaysia, with its record of sold-out tickets every year. The past two years had been disappointing for the fans as the race series were unable to drop by Sepang due to the pandemic, but that might just change in 2022.
With the return of the Winter Testing at Sepang, we are seeing nothing but green light for the main race to run later in October. You can tell that the fans were also very eager for their return as on both test days, a total of more than 11,000 fans turned up to catch their favourite rider live in action!
With this test session meeting Dorna’s high level of satisfaction, we could not wait for the race weekend to take place later in October. Who will be dominating the MotoGP season this time? Will it be Ducati’s turn to shine, Quartararo’s to defend, or Marquez’s to steal? Guess we will just have to wait and find out!