The 2012 preseason is over for Moto2 and Moto3, as the support classes pack up their things after three days of testing at Jerez and get ready to ship out to Qatar. The teams leave the final test of the season with a much better idea of where they stand, as the playing field had been leveled in Moto2 by the use of the official Geo Tech engines, and in Moto3 by the arrival of the Geo Tech kits for the Honda engine, giving the NSF250R a much needed power boost with respect to the KTMs.
In Moto2, a clear group of contenders has established itself, consisting mainly of the men who have been fast just about all preseason. Claudio Corti was fastest, but the Italian was never outside the top 3, gaining a place every day of the test. Thomas Luthi was his constant companion, the Interwetten Paddock rider finishing ahead of the Italian on every day except the last, when Corti just sneaked ahead by four thousandths of a second. Luthi, Corti, Pons rider Pol Espargaro, and rather surprisingly, Marc VDS Racing's Mika Kallio were consistently at the top of the timesheets, and more importantly looked fast every time they were on the bike.
Both Scott Redding and Andrea Iannone also featured occasionally in the top, but both Redding and Iannone struggled with problems, Redding with a gearbox that kept jumping out of gear, and Iannone with the brand new Speed Up machine, the team having abandoned the FTR for a chassis built by themselves. Redding spent some of Wednesday working on what looked like an updated version of the bike, the machine still bearing a lot of black carbon fiber rather than the painted fairings that Kallio was sporting.
But the Jerez Moto2 test also established Marc Marquez as the man to beat. There had been worries over the Spaniard's fitness - even question marks over whether he would ever return to full fitness - but Marquez answered those doubts robustly and convincingly at Jerez. Out on the track, Marquez looked like the rider he was before the crash at Sepang: sharp, focused, and riding with controlled aggression. After missing the best part of four months of riding a Moto2 bike, forced upon him by first the eye injury, then the recovery process for surgery to correct the problem, Marquez was back and barely rusty. He may have ended the test in a relatively modest 5th spot, over four tenths behind Corti, but given the testing deficit he has accrued, that is to be expected. Though any one of 7 or 8 riders could win a race in Moto2, it would be a very foolish person who bets against Marquez living the 2012 Moto2 crown.
Most impressive thing about the Moto2 test was the times being set by the machines. Corti ended the test nearly seven tenths quicker than the existing lap record, and much of the talk in the media center was how 1'41 used to be a very good time on a 500cc bike. Indeed, Corti's fastest lap of the weekend on a Moto2 bike was exactly the same time as Loris Capirossi's 2003 pole at Jerez, on a fire-breathing 990cc Ducati MotoGP machine. There is plenty of development left in the Moto2 bikes, as is visible from their behavior on the track. Though sliding the rear on the way into corner is still the preferred way of getting around a lack of sophisticated slipper clutches, the bikes look massively smoother than they did when they made their debut back in 2010.
The contest is a little more open in Moto3, but here too, there looks to be a clear favorite. The extra horsepower of the revised Honda engine allowed Maverick Viñales to close the gap to the KTMs which had previously dominated Moto3 testing. At the moment, the standings look fairly balanced, with 6 Hondas and 4 KTMs in the top 10, though the FTR chassis appears to be the better of the options for the Honda motor. The situation is reversed at KTM, with the factory bikes having an advantage over the aluminium twin spar Kalex chassis.
Though Viñales has a significant edge - the Spaniard came very close to matching the 125cc lap record at Jerez, set in 2010 by Marc Marquez - there is a group who are likely to make his life very difficult, with at its head Red Bull Ajo's Danny Kent. The young Briton has been impressive in both his speed and his consistency this year, and looks like being the biggest obstacle between Viñales and the inaugural Moto3 title. But Romano Fenati, Sandro Cortese, and perhaps even Zulfahmi Khairuddin and Niccolo Antonelli could make things difficult for the Spaniard.
The surprise performance of both Romano Fenati and Niccolo Antonelli have heartened the Italians in the press room. Italian racing has been suffering a dearth of talent, with the talent pool getting thinner in each class. With Valentino Rossi's retirement heaving very slowly into view over the next years, and the loss of Marco Simoncelli, there have been few candidates to take their places, especially riders coming through from the support classes. Former European 125cc champion Fenati has taken a lot of people by surprise, but the Italian is clearly talented, and having had experience on many of Europe's Grand Prix circuits will stand him in good stead. Antonelli has come through from the Italian championship, and is likewise a very fast young man.
If the point of Moto3 was to make the racing cheaper, the publication of the official Moto3 price lists for the KTM and Honda engines has come as rather a shock. Though the rules state that the engine may not cost more than 12,000 euros, and the engines cost that when purchased as a complete unit, if you were to buy a Honda NSF250R engine as spares, it would cost you the thick end of 30,000 euros. A piston alone would set you back over 1600 euros. Though spares are always more expensive separately than when purchased as part of an entire engine, even for street bikes, the asking price for spares is starting to look suspiciously like gouging.
So far, I have failed to catch up with someone from Dorna who could explain this price discrepancy - the price lists have to be approved before the parts can be used - but I hope to hear just why such extortionate prices are being allowed. The whole point of the Moto3 rules was to make racing affordable, but what appears to have happened is what veteran journalist Dennis Noyes described as follows: "It's got a lot cheaper to go fast, but it's got a lot more expensive to go slow." The price differential between 1st and 30th place has been massively reduced, helping the riders in first, but at the expense of the riders who would normally come in somewhere in the bottom 10.
There is a day without any track action on Thursday, before the MotoGP class takes to the track on Friday for their final test of the season. After that, the season starts for real at Qatar.