Aprilia lead KTM and Ducati as we head for the winter break with the #93 completing a hugely positive first day.
2024 Valencia Test honours have gone the way of Aprilia Racing’s Maverick Viñales as the Spaniard’s 1:29.253 hands the #12 top spot, but the headlines will go the way of Gresini Racing MotoGP™’s Marc Marquez.
The eight-time World Champion ends his first day as a Ducati rider in P4 behind second fastest Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) and third place Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Team), signalling a fantastic start to his new MotoGP™ chapter.
Here’s a rundown of the main talking points regarding each factory in Tuesday’s crucial outing at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo.
With Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing) forced to sit out most of the day after his injury – which was sustained in Qatar – worsened, the heavy lifting was left to Viñales. The Noale camp brought a new swingarm to the Valencia Test, as Raul Fernandez was able to try the 2023 RS-GP for the first time. The Spaniard spent most of the day well inside the top five and briefly sat top of the pile too.
It was P1 and P4 at the close of play for Viñales and Raul Fernandez, with the former completing a whopping 86 laps – the most of anyone. Important data gained as Aprilia get set to unveil their full 2024 package at the Sepang Test in February.
Donning GASGAS Factory Racing Tech3 red for the first time was Moto2™ World Champion Pedro Acosta as the #31 made his much-anticipated MotoGP™ debut. The Spaniard had 2023-spec RC16s available and it was a properly impressive debut from the 19-year-old, with Acosta finishing the Test just 1.2s off P1. The only disappointment? Acosta suffered a small crash at Turn 2 came with 30 minutes left on the clock. But that won’t worry him nor GASGAS.
Acosta’s teammate Augusto Fernandez claimed P14 after notching up 72 laps, while the other big talking point from the Austrian camp – aside from Acosta’s debut – was the RC16 that Jack Miller (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) was lapping on. The zebra-camouflaged KTM sported a new aero and a new air intake in what was a pretty big change, and after producing a great save at Turn 2, Miller penetrated the top 10 for the first time on the new bike. The Australian finished P9 following 62 completed laps.
Binder’s time that propelled him to P2 came in the final 10 minutes of the Test – not on the 2024 bike that he also gave a runout – but on the very next lap at Turn 5, the South African lost of the front and crashed. Not the end of the day #33 wanted as KTM head into a busy winter knowing small changes could make all the difference in their 2024 title quest.
There was always going to be one place to start when talking about the reigning World Champions. Marc Marquez didn’t take long to start threatening the spearhead of the timesheets as he made his debut on Ducati’s 2023-spec Desmosedici, with the #93’s smile once he’d sat down after his first outing telling us everything we needed to know. Pleased? You bet.
Marc Marquez went fastest with just over 90 minutes of the day remaining as his 1:29.460 briefly saw him sit 0.250s quicker than anyone before Maverick Viñales (Aprilia Racing) moved the goalposts with just over an hour left. Ending his day early, Marc Marquez completed 49 laps ahead of the winter break and finished the Valencia Test 0.171s off Viñales and 0.078s adrift of Bezzecchi. A great day in the brand-new office to say the least.
World Champion Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) was joined by teammate Enea Bastianini and his 2023 title rival Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Racing) in testing a new chassis for the Champions, as the latter suffered two unexpected crashes. A new engine was tested too, as Pecco completed 51 laps and ended the day in P10, with Bastianini P8 and Martin P15.
2023’s bronze medallist Bezzecchi was joined in the Mooney VR46 Racing Team box by new teammate Fabio Di Giannantonio, and like Marc Marquez, the Italians were getting to grips with the 2023-spec Ducati for the first time.
Di Giannatonio was a happy rider at the end of the day. Focusing on race pace, the Qatar GP race winner felt great in his new team and managed to improve the pace he displayed in Sunday’s Valencia GP – and that wasn’t bad. ‘Diggia’ bagged a P7 ahead of a well-earned break, 0.4s off P1.
The same can be said for Alex Marquez (Gresini Racing MotoGP™). The Spaniard had a 2023 and a 2022 Ducati in his side of the box and speaking towards the end of the day, the #73 said the ’23 Ducati was a bigger change than expected compared to the ’22 version and there was a good improvement from the engine and power side.
In addition, Marc Marquez wasn’t the only rider getting used to a Ducati for the first time though. Franco Morbidelli (Prima Pramac Racing) began his new MotoGP™ chapter by inheriting Johann Zarco’s (Castrol Honda LCR) bikes from 2023, but with the additions of the updated tail unit and aero that the Frenchman wasn’t running. Morbidelli’s fastest lap of the 69 he completed was a 1:30.206, handing the #21 a P16 finish.
It was the beginning of a new era for the Japanese giants as they welcomed Luca Marini to the Repsol Honda Team garage alongside the recovered Joan Mir, with Zarco linking up with Takaaki Nakagami (Idemitsu Honda LCR). And from the off, new factory team recruit Marini headed straight out on Honda’s new-look 2024 RC213V.
The new Honda is essentially a completely updated motorcycle that boasts a new chassis, a new swingarm, new aero, new exhausts… the lot. In the latter two hours of the day, Mir was spotted with Honda’s new rear-end aero which is similar to what we’ve seen on the KTMs in recent races.
The good news is that chatting in pitlane, Repsol Honda Team Manager Alberto Puig said to reporter Jack Appleyard that Mir was quite pleased with the progress being made with the new bike, and the feeling is pretty different – in a good way – to the 2023 bike. Mir also worked with Marc Marquez’s former Crew Chief, Santi Hernandez, for the first time.
Elsewhere, Zarco had one 2024-spec bike and one 2023-spec machine at his disposal. The Frenchman crashed unhurt at Turn 4 with just over an hour to go and ended the day in P17, a second off the top after an important 61 laps. Nakagami completed a handy 63 laps and finished P21.
Alex Rins joined Fabio Quartararo in the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™ garage for the first time as both the factory riders worked with Yamaha’s longer, duel exhausts. Test Rider Cal Crutchlow joined the Frenchman and Spaniard on track too, and the British star was seen with a new Yamaha chassis. In addition, Team Manager Maio Meregalli said that both Quartararo and Rins were testing an updated version of the 2024 engine that was tested back at the Misano Test.
The results on paper saw Quartararo finish P12 after completing 63 laps, with Rins and Crutchlow P19 and P20 respectively – Rins getting 54 laps in on his debut, with Crutchlow bagging 74 laps. The latter said there were some positives and some negatives from the day – as always – and also gave an early indication that a potential three wildcards might be on the table for 2024. One to watch.
So that’s it – MotoGP™ bikes have been on track for the final time in 2023 as a massively intriguing Valencia Test concludes. Some questions have been answered, but many more remain open for debate as we look forward to getting back to business – first at the Sepang Shakedown, then at the Official Sepang Test on the 6th to 8th of February. – www.motogp.com