Preparations for the 2023 MotoGP World Championship got underway at Sepang, Malaysia, at the weekend, with Honda’s four MotoGP riders and their HRC and team staff undertaking a huge amount of development work in the stiflingly hot tropical weather.
The three-day outing – interrupted by rain on day two – was the first of two test sessions that precede the new season, which commences with the Portuguese Grand Prix on 26th March.
HRC has been working flat-out since the 2022 finale at Valencia, Spain, last November, in an effort to get back to the top following a challenging few seasons during which its number-one rider Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) struggled with injury.
Marquez and new team-mate Joan Mir (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V, 2020 MotoGP World Champion, spent their time at Sepang evaluating a multitude of new parts and different combinations of new parts, including a new engine, revised chassis and various new aerodynamics solutions.
Downforce aerodynamics – to improve acceleration and cornering grip – are becoming increasingly important in MotoGP, allowing Honda to call on its aerodynamics knowhow gathered in Formula 1 cars and GT car racing.
Marquez, who celebrates his 30th birthday on Friday, 17th February, is delighted that his off-season training regime has made him fitter and stronger than at any time since the accident which broke his right arm in July 2020. The six-times MotoGP king is therefore ready to take aim at the 2023 championship, so long as he can fix the detail issues faced by the RC213V last season.
The Spaniard began the tests with four machines in his garage – one 2022 bike for comparison and three 2023 prototypes. By the final day of the test he focused on just one bike, suggesting he had found a good direction. He is happy with the behaviour of the new RC213V engine, which has improved torque for better corner exits, but he is now chasing a little more traction and top speed. He completed the test tenth fastest, concentrating on testing, not riding the fastest possible lap.
HRC and his Repsol Honda crew will now analyse all the data gathered during the last three days, so they can improve performance for the Portimao tests, where they will finalise machine spec and do some groundwork for the first race of the championship.
Mir’s main aim at Sepang was to get fully acquainted with the RC213V for the first time, but he did well, ending the test just two places behind his team-mate.
After signing for Honda last August, Mir had a one-day outing on the RC213V following the season-ending Valencia GP but he needs more time to fully adjust himself to the machine and vice versa. During the three days the 25-year-old Spaniard experimented with a variety of different settings, working towards allowing him to lap fast and consistently, while making useful forward steps every day, especially during the all-important phase of braking and entering corners. He especially enjoyed the final day of the tests.
Like Marquez, Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) has a new team-mate for 2023, Alex Rins (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V), who has won five MotoGP races in his career, including the final race of last season.
Like Mir, the 27-year-old Spaniard needs time to adjust himself to the RC213V for his fifth year in MotoGP. A fast and smooth rider, Rins found some settings that allowed him to improve his mid-corner speed but needs to work further on increasing machine stability during heavy braking. He ended the tests with good sensations, feeling the good points of the RC213V and the areas which he needs to improve.
Nakagami undertook similar work, trying different geometry and ride heights with the 2023 RC213V. Like Marquez, he also prefers the character of the new engine. The Japanese rider, who celebrated his 31st birthday last week, commences his sixth season in the premier class next month.
The Sepang tests were also the first time that HRC’s new Technical Director Ken Kawauchi has worked at a track with his riders. The hugely experienced engineer aims to keep working at fine-tuning the new RC213V and already enjoys an excellent relationship with his riders and staff.
Riders and teams reconvene for the final 2023 pre-season tests at Portimao, venue for the season-opening GP, on 11th/12th March. The 2023 MotoGP season is the longest ever, with 21 events over eight months, with each round including a new feature: a shorter sprint race on Saturdays. The championship concludes at Valencia, Spain, on 26th November.