Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) topped the first day of testing at Chang International Circuit, taking over from reigning Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) later in the session to set a 1m30.797s. Despite setting the fastest lap so far by a MotoGP rider at the new venue, the Brit was nevertheless only 0.012 ahead of a late charge from Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) by the end of action. Marquez was third, just 0.033 ahead of 2017 Championship rival Andrea Dovizioso.
Weather was hot and edging 40 degrees (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for some time on Day 1 – with few riders putting in truly “long” runs. But the workload was far from light, with Crutchlow putting in 70 laps despite a crash and that number representative for many on the grid. The Brit was joining third-fastest Marquez and his teammate Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda Team) – also a crasher on Friday – on HRC test duty, and all three men were in the top five, which was covered by only two tenths.
Rins’ second place was equally impressive. The Spaniard, going into only his second season and having suffered some problems with injury last year, had good pace throughout most of the day and his late charge looked set to see him take over at the top until his final sector. But it was only 0.012 off Crutchlow, and teammate Andrea Iannone (Team Suzuki Ecstar) made it double delight for Suzuki in the top ten, ninth quickest as the Hamamatsu factory tested, amongst other things, a new exhaust already tested in Sepang, as well as continuing their work on engine configurations.
Dovizioso, meanwhile, took back the honour of top Ducati on Day 1 in Thailand, and was only 0.033 off Marquez. The two men were locked together at the top for some time, before aero began to steal the headlines away from the timesheets. Ducati are expected to have three new aero fairings at Buriram, and Dovizioso tried two of them on Day 1. Chassis updates could also be on the cards for the Borgo Panigale factory in Thailand, aimed at mid-corner improvements – something that would aid Sepang’s fastest Jorge Lorenzo even more. At Buriram on Friday, the five-time Champion was tenth fastest, just over four tenths off Crutchlow.
Danilo Petrucci (Alma Pramac Racing) was another Ducati presence in the top ten as he took P6 on the GP18 on test duty, just ahead of his new teammate Jack Miller. Miller was again a force to be reckoned with and looked settled in – only 0.041 off the Italian ahead of him.
There was also an Italian behind him – Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha MotoGP). On his 39th birthday, the ‘Doctor’ took eighth and was the quickest Yamaha, putting in an impressive 74 laps and topping the lap counter for the Iwata marque. Teammate Maverick Vinales was P11, but only a tenth further back – with the timesheets incredibly close. Incredibly close was also apt for Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3), who was 0.011 off Vinales to take 12th – and also confirmed that he will be using the 2016 chassis this season.
His new teammate for the Thai test was a new face in the premier class: Hafizh Syahrin, who is riding with Monster Yamaha Tech 3 during the event with a view to replacing Jonas Folger full time in 2018. Syahrin, the first Malaysian in MotoGP, was within half a second of fellow rookies Xavier Simeon (Reale Avintia Racing) and the slightly faster – despite sitting out the Valencia test last year – Tom Luthi (EG 0,0 Marc VDS).
The quickest rookie, however, was Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) once again. The Japanese rider was P17 overall but within nine tenths of the top, with reigning Moto2 World Champion Franco Morbidelli close behind in P19 but only half a tenth further back. With 20 riders within a second, half a tenth makes its mark.
Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) was P13 on Day 1 and only 0.002 ahead of Alvaro Bautista (Angel Nieto Team) as the two Independent Team Ducati riders just edged ahead of the Aprilia Racing Team Gresini riders. Aleix Espargaro was P15 for Noale factory Aprilia, and teammate Scott Redding was right behind him and both within nine tenths.
The final rider within a second of the top was Bradley Smith at Red Bull KTM Factory Racing, and the Brit did 67 laps as the Austrian factory get their first glimpse of the newest venue on the calendar. Mika Kallio, KTM test rider, added another 48 despite a crash and brief trip to the Medical Center – but KTM will only be able to field the two men at the Thai Test, with Pol Espargaro sidelined through injury but on the road to recovery.
Saturday brings more track time in Thailand and with a day of learning the track and familiarisation under their belts, another chance for the order to get another big shake up.