The last, pre-season test before the start of the 2008 MotoGP World Championship took place tonight at Qatar's Losail circuit. After yesterday's stunning, and bewildering, introduction to riding their 800cc premier class machines at night, the riders took to the track to continue working on set ups and tyre choices ahead of next week's 22 lap race.
Kawasaki's John Hopkins, claiming 80 per cent fitness after his crash last month at Phillip Island, bravely remounted his Ninja ZX-RR to complete 55 laps over the seven hour, nocturnal testing session. Having yesterday evaluated Bridgestone tyres in readiness for the first round, the Anglo-American today focused on his bike set up.
He made considerable progress, taking a second off his best time on a race tyre and continuing to refine the set up of the bike, ready for the race.
Happy with the session's results, and before tackling the circuit again next week, he will now rest, hoping to overcome the lingering pain in his upper thigh which prevented him from doing as many laps tonight as he would have liked.
Team mate, Anthony West, ended the test disappointed at his lap times but was not alone in feeling frustrated. Conditions at the track were dry but cold; comparable to the lowest European temperatures the teams are used to dealing with during a season. This made a significant difference to tyre performance and none of the Bridgestone-shod racers saw significant improvements on qualifiers.
However, he continued to test the new chassis he first tried last night and remains very happy with the improvements he felt on the bike as a result. Therefore, the 27-year-old remained optimistic for his upcoming first MotoGP race at Losail.
The team will be back at Qatar next Friday for the first free practice session of the race weekend. The inaugural round of the 2008 championship will take place, historically, on the night of Sunday 9th March, starting at 23:00 hours, local time.
John Hopkins, "We mainly worked on the overall bike set-up today, and we had some chassis settings to run through, as well as finalizing which chassis we are going to use for the race. The results have been positive as we slashed a second off yesterday's lap time on a race tyre. We also reduced the allocation of tyres we had available to us at the beginning of the test and we know which selection we're going to use for the race. I'm feeling confident and competitive on race tyres, although we didn't try any qualifiers today. The conditions are very cold out on track but it's the same for everybody, I think this may be the biggest factor during the race. The injury I have is a bit sore from doing a lot of laps yesterday but I'm now going to Dubai with Ashleigh for a three-day mini vacation to rest before starting my race preparation."
Anthony West, "Today we have been working mainly on improving the set-up of the chassis we tried yesterday and, although I'm disappointed with our lap times, we have definitely made some improvements. The conditions out on track are cold and there is very little grip, which has been the main difficulty for us. We did a race simulation, trying a selection of tyres with an aim of finding something suitable for next weekend and, in the final hour of testing, found one I'm much happier with. We have some work to do before the first practice next week but I'm confident that, with the data we have from the last two days, we can improve our lap times and be much more competitive."