Aprilia rider Aleix Espargaro set the pace on the first day of full-grid MotoGP pre-season testing in Qatar.
The Noale factory has high hopes for the 2021 version of its RS-GP bike, but is going through a tough period following the recent death of Fausto Gresini – the boss of the Gresini Racing team that runs Aprilia’s race outfit.
Espargaro, who has a new team-mate this season in Lorenzo Savadori, spent much of the day at the sharp end and jumped to the front with a 1m54.687s in the penultimate hour, establishing a half-second lead over the pack.
His lead was halved but not overcome, with Espargaro’s laptime – two tenths down on what Suzuki’s Alex Rins had managed to lead the corresponding day’s running from last year’s Qatar test – good enough to keep him top.
Honda tester Stefan Bradl, who topped a windy shakedown session on what was a sandier Losail International Circuit the day prior, was second-fastest behind Espargaro.
The German, who replaced regular rider Marc Marquez for most of last season and will presumably keep the race seat for as long as Marquez’s recovery continues, was likewise towards the top of the timesheets for virtually the whole duration of the seven-hour Saturday test.
In contrast, Suzuki’s reigning champion Joan Mir only ventured out right after the halfway point, with team-mate Alex Rins coming out of the pits around half an hour later, as Suzuki was content to leave the running to testers Sylvain Guintoli and Takuya Tsuda while the track was still gripping up.
Mir’s late start didn’t prevent him from ending the day in third place, around four hundredths behind Bradl and four hundredths ahead of Ducati’s new works rider Jack Miller.
Miguel Oliveira, who won last year’s season finale in Portimao and has switched from Tech3 KTM to the works KTM team, broke into the top five shortly before the chequered flag.
Johann Zarco made it two Ducatis in the top six on his first appearance with Pramac, ahead of Petronas Yamaha’s 2020 runner-up Franco Morbidelli, Rins and the factory Yamaha of Maverick Vinales.
Alex Marquez completed his first session as an LCR Honda MotoGP rider and rounded out the top 10, right ahead of team-mate Takaaki Nakagami. The younger Marquez was among those to have a crash during the day, with newly-promoted Ducati works rider Francesco Bagnaia also having a fall.
There was also a shunt for one of the three Yamaha test bikes, which are all shared by Katsuyuki Nakasuga, Kohta Nozane and new recruit Cal Crutchlow.
Valentino Rossi took 14th place in his first session as a Petronas Yamaha rider, one place ahead of Fabio Quartararo, who has replaced him in the works Yamaha set-up.
Honda’s new signing Pol Espargaro was one of the busiest riders in the field as he sampled the RC213V for the first time, completing 68 laps and ending up 1.191s off the pace in 17th.
|16||Yamaha test bike 2||1:55.807||1.120|
|21||Yamaha test bike 1||1:56.641||1.954|
|27||Yamaha test bike 3||1:58.696||4.009|