Espargaro leads Aprilia 1-2 on day one, Marquez shunts

1644060516_292_marc-marquez-repsol-honda-team-1.jpg

Preparations for the 2022 MotoGP season kicked back into full swing on Saturday in Malaysia, as the paddock makes its first visit to the Sepang circuit since the COVID-19 pandemic began back in 2020.

Though three days of shakedown running for test riders, rookies and concession ream riders took place earlier this week, Saturday’s eight-hour session marked the year’s first official MotoGP running.

It is the first of just five days of official pre-season running this February, with three of those taking place at the new Mandalika track in Indonesia next weekend.

As soon as the green light illuminated at the end of pitlane on Saturday morning, the track was abuzz with activity.

At the end of the first hour, Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro led the times with a 1m58.371s he set on his ninth tour of the Sepang circuit – though the Spaniard had already taken part in Wednesday’s shakedown running.

Espargaro was at the centre of controversy earlier this week when he was found to have breached Malaysia’s COVID bubble protocols for MotoGP, with circuit officials issuing an email warning to governing body the FIM.

An impressive 1m58.638s from Gresini sophomore Enea Bastianini, as he got to grips with his 2021-spec Ducati, offered Espargaro his closest challenge for almost the whole day – 2020 Moto2 champion Bastianini moving to within 0.267s of the Aprilia.

Espargaro’s lap – the sixth-fastest lap ever at the Sepang circuit – stood as the benchmark right through to the end of the day, as he – as well as team-mate Maverick Vinales – put the new RS-GP through its paces.

Bastianini’s lap kept him in second for most of the session, though a late surge from Vinales with a 1m58.384s put him up to second come the chequered flag.

Alex Rins was the leading Suzuki in third despite a tumble, 0.100s off the pace, with the Spaniard and 2020 world champion team-mate Joan Mir trialling an updated engine, chassis, suspension components and aerodynamics.

Mir – who admitted testing was “important” for his 2023 future decision on Friday – was seventh at the end of day one, 0.696s off the pace.

PLUS: Why future options for MotoGP’s recent champions are scarce

Bastianini was the top Ducati runner in fourth ahead of Pramac’s Johann Zarco on the leading 2022-spec Desmosedici, while reigning world champion Fabio Quartararo completed the top six.

Yamaha team manager Massimo Meregalli said on Friday that the 2022 M1 was not a big revolution over the 2021 bike, with Yamaha’s top speed deficit still standing at around 8km/h.

Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Factory Honda duo Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro each had three RC123Vs to test on Saturday, one a 2021-spec machine while the others 2022 variations.

Marquez – cleared to ride last month after three months on the sidelines with vision problems – was the top Honda rider in eighth, 0.916s off the pace, despite two crashes across the day.

He headed Espargaro, with VR46 rookie Marco Bezzecchi leaping up to 10th late on with a 1m59.468s ahead of Yamaha test rider Cal Crutchlow, LCR’s Takaaki Nakagami and Tech3 rookie Raul Fernandez – who was the top KTM rider, having taken part in the shakedown earlier this week.

Brad Binder was the leading factory team KTM in 15th, with the South African suffering a crash earlier in the day at Turn 8 – as did team-mate Miguel Oliveira, who was 16th.

PLUS: What to watch for as MotoGP pre-season testing begins

Championship runner-up Francesco Bagnaia was a low-key 19th on his 2022 Ducati, with team-mate Jack Miller similarly flying under the radar in 22nd ahead of the returning Andrea Dovizioso.

RNF Racing team-mate Darryn Binder was another to suffer a crash, the satellite Yamaha rider falling at Turn 9, leaving him 25th in the order.

Results:

Pos

Rider

Team

Bike

Time

Gap

1

Aleix ESPARGARO

Aprilia Racing

APRILIA

1’58.371

 

2

Maverick VIÑALES

Aprilia Racing

APRILIA

1’58.384

0.013

3

Alex RINS

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR

SUZUKI

1’58.471

0.100

4

Enea BASTIANINI

Gresini Racing MotoGP

DUCATI

1’58.638

0.267

5

Johann ZARCO

Pramac Racing

DUCATI

1’58.946

0.575

6

Fabio QUARTARARO

Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP

YAMAHA

1’59.002

0.631

7

Joan MIR

Team SUZUKI ECSTAR

SUZUKI

1’59.067

0.696

8

Marc MARQUEZ

Repsol Honda Team

HONDA

1’59.287

0.916

9

Pol ESPARGARO

Repsol Honda Team

…Read more.



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