Duncan Bishop

Was Sepang just what ‘The Doctor’ ordered?

Duncan Bishop

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Rossi taking the Ducati around Sepang (Reuters)

Read this opening sentence... it didn't take very long to do so, did it? About 1.2 seconds, in fact, if you've been working on your speed-reading over the winter break - and are using factory spec-spectacles.

And that is also all that separated Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner's fastest times at the Sepang test last week. All that the Italian and his Ducati team need to find in order to get back in contention for wins again.

It's not very much, but it's still a considerable challenge with the season opener just a couple of months away. It's the difference between success and (comparative) failure and once again THE big unknown in MotoGP.

With the change in cylinder class for 2012 and the cancellation of the post-race test in Malaysia last October, we still haven't had many clues as to semi-official improvement of the big red bike. What we can do, however, is take a look at the differences to the fastest rider at previous tests and see if the Ducati is getting any closer to the sharp end of the timesheets.

Last season's post-race test at Valencia saw Rossi 1.5 seconds down on Dani Pedrosa's fastest time, riding what everyone involved acknowledged as far from the definitive version of the Desmosedici GP12, GP11.3, Phoenix or whatever epithet was used as a codename for 'unfinished product'.

The bike used in Sepang was closer to that which we will see unveiled in pitlane under the floodlights of the Losail International Circuit. First impressions are positive. The ever-present Uccio said it was "still new, but everything is working better than last year".
Rossi himself gave the fuel tank a little pat as he came in to end day two, rather than the punch that he likely wanted to throw at the dashboard after many a dismal qualifying session/race.

Looking solely at times can be a deceptive business when bearing in mind that testing is not a quest for a single fast lap. Rossi had a good test considering that Ducati needed to make some big changes over the winter. A focus on mass centralisation and a new aluminium beam chassis that departs completely from the Borgo Panigalle blueprint are certainly not things to which one can easily adjust, but the general consensus is that there is room for improvement and - most importantly - a way of getting there.

At some point the times will become the essential gauge, not whether or not 'The Doctor' is feeling good on the bike.

Let's look back over the 2011 tests at Sepang and the difference on the lap charts between the two Asian run-outs.

Still suffering from an injured shoulder and leg at the first Malaysian test of 2011, Rossi was 1.1 seconds down on Marco Simoncelli on the final timesheet. He improved four tenths by the end of test number two, by which time Stoner had found his mojo and gone a staggering 1.8 seconds clear of the future legend's best time.

That's the problem this time too. Ducati are getting better, but so are Honda and Yamaha. On Tuesday, we were talking about Stoner's back. On day two, we were all saying the same words but with a different intonation: "Stoner's back."

Rossi says that they have established a good base. Now it's all about finding grip, converting corner speed comfort into gained tenths and getting that more flexible aluminium beam chassis working to his advantage.

It's an encouraging start and stranger things have happened than a rapid and significant improvement with a new cylinder capacity. THAT would be just what 'The Doctor' ordered.

And that is also all that separated Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner's fastest times at the Sepang test last week. All that the Italian and his Ducati team need to find in order to get back in contention for wins again.

It's not very much, but it's still a considerable challenge with the season opener just a couple of months away. It's the difference between success and (comparative) failure and once again THE big unknown in MotoGP.

With the change in cylinder class for 2012 and the cancellation of the post-race test in Malaysia last October, we still haven't had many clues as to semi-official improvement of the big red bike. What we can do, however, is take a look at the differences to the fastest rider at previous tests and see if the Ducati is getting any closer to the sharp end of the timesheets.

Last season's post-race test at Valencia saw Rossi 1.5 seconds down on Dani Pedrosa's fastest time, riding what everyone involved acknowledged as far from the definitive version of the Desmosedici GP12, GP11.3, Phoenix or whatever epithet was used as a codename for 'unfinished product'.

The bike used in Sepang was closer to that which we will see unveiled in pitlane under the floodlights of the Losail International Circuit. First impressions are positive. The ever-present Uccio said it was "still new, but everything is working better than last year".Rossi himself gave the fuel tank a little pat as he came in to end day two, rather than the punch that he likely wanted to throw at the dashboard after many a dismal qualifying session/race.

Looking solely at times can be a deceptive business when bearing in mind that testing is not a quest for a single fast lap. Rossi had a good test considering that Ducati needed to make some big changes over the winter. A focus on mass centralisation and a new aluminium beam chassis that departs completely from the Borgo Panigalle blueprint are certainly not things to which one can easily adjust, but the general consensus is that there is room for improvement and - most importantly - a way of getting there.

At some point the times will become the essential gauge, not whether or not 'The Doctor' is feeling good on the bike.

Let's look back over the 2011 tests at Sepang and the difference on the lap charts between the two Asian run-outs.

Still suffering from an injured shoulder and leg at the first Malaysian test of 2011, Rossi was 1.1 seconds down on Marco Simoncelli on the final timesheet. He improved four tenths by the end of test number two, by which time Stoner had found his mojo and gone a staggering 1.8 seconds clear of the future legend's best time.

That's the problem this time too. Ducati are getting better, but so are Honda and Yamaha. On Tuesday, we were talking about Stoner's back. On day two, we were all saying the same words but with a different intonation: "Stoner's back."

Rossi says that they have established a good base. Now it's all about finding grip, converting corner speed comfort into gained tenths and getting that more flexible aluminium beam chassis working to his advantage.

It's an encouraging start and stranger things have happened than a rapid and significant improvement with a new cylinder capacity. THAT would be just what 'The Doctor' ordered.

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