Moto2 and Moto3 Meet for First Major Test of 2013 at Valencia - What to Look Out For.

After the MotoGP class kicked off the 2013 preseason at Sepang, testing season is now well and truly opened. From Tuesday, the Moto2 and Moto3 teams assemble at Valencia for their first group test of the year, a test which should provide a few clues to the way the 2013 might develop, while raising more questions to be answered at the following test next week at Jerez.

It is not the first time on the track for everyone, however. A gaggle of KTM-mounted Moto3 teams have already posted laps at Almeria, joined there by the reigning Moto3 champion Sandro Cortese on his Kalex Moto2 machine, while another group of Moto3 boys had a shakedown test at Cartagena. As neither Almeria nor Cartagena, both located in Southern Spain, appear on the Grand Prix calendar, the lessons learned will be useful, but limited, the bikes still needing work once the teams arrive at Valencia for the three-day test, from 12th to 14th of February.

What was apparent from the test at Almeria was that Maverick Viñales will be fast. The JHK T-Shirt LaGlisse team were the only team to release times from Almeria, and Viñales was well under the lap record with a 1'39.1, three tenths quicker than he went at the same circuit back in November, the first time he got to ride the factory KTM machine. To try to put that time in some kind of perspective, Jonas Folger posted a fastest lap of 1'40.1 at Almeria back in November.

Comparing times at Valencia will also be difficult. Though a list of times will be published at the end of the day, its accuracy will be subject to question. For some inexplicable reason, the teams will be riding without official transponders and timekeeping, meaning that times will be collated based on what the teams say they did. Though usually in the same ballpark as the times the riders actually post, teams have many reasons to either exaggerate or understate their times. Such misstatements are never wildly off the mark, however, so some usable data will proceed from it. [Editor's note, 12th February: it appears we were wrong. Dorna are providing official timing for the Moto2 and Moto3 test, so timing will be accurate. Follow it on the official website.]

The two big questions to be answered in Moto2 are who can challenge 2012 runner up Pol Espargaro, and what effect the new combined rider/weight limit will have on leveling out the playing field for the heavier riders. The latter question is of some significance for the former; Scott Redding looked strong throughout the 2012 season, but the Marc VDS Racing rider clearly struggled at tracks where hard acceleration was key. Hampered by his size and extra body weight, Redding was on average 5km/h down on top speed along Motegi's long back straight, something which staying with the front runners very difficult, despite matching their sector times around the remainder of the circuit.

The weight increase will make things more difficult for the lighter riders - for exactly why, see the excellent explanation of the issues involved over on the Live From Pit Lane site, run by Marc VDS press chief Ian Wheeler - as finding the best place to stow the extra weight is a problem. So a significant part of the test for riders such as Mika Kallio, Pol Espargaro (at least, to some extent) and Toni Elias will be taken up by experimenting with placing ballast. At the other end of the scale, heavier riders like Redding are investing in the lightest possible helmets, leathers and boots to keep the extra weight they still carry down to a minimum.

After a standout season in 2012, Pol Espargaro will start this year as hot favorite. Espargaro will want to stamp his authority on the class from the very start, and hope to leave as the fastest man. With his HP Tuenti Pons team virtually unchanged since last season, all the building blocks are in place to excel. Leading the chase for Espargaro will be Thomas Luthi, the Swiss rider's situation similarly identical to 2012. With the weight situation equalized, at least in part, Scott Redding will start the year with his best chance of being competitive. Valencia is not one of the tracks where Redding suffered most with his weight disadvantage, so the effects of the equalization will not be immediately clear. Julian Simon will be another rider to watch, the Spaniard having swapped a Suter for the Kalex of the Italtrans team. Simon was very quick at the test in Valencia last season, and should be fast again this week. 

Ant West could be one rider who could throw up a few surprises, the Australian having gelled with his QMMF Speed Up machine towards the end of the season. If he can be quick out of the box at Valencia, he might finally get his season off to a strong start, and be competitive all year long. Then there's the usual suspects: men like Alex de Angelis, Mattia Pasini and Simone Corsi, who are often fast, but also lack consistency. They will have to get a good test under their belts to get their season off on the right foot.

There will be much interest in the Moto2 rookies as well, especially on Sandro Cortese. The German arrives in the class as reigning Moto3 champion, in a strongly-backed team aboard a Kalex. This will be the first time we get to see how well Moto3 operates as a feeder class for Moto2, after the first season of the four-stroke Moto3 class. Others arrive with him: Cortese's former teammate Danny Kent joins Frenchman Louis Rossi at Tech 3, giving the team an all-rookie line up. They will have their work cut out, aboard a bike which has a distinct disadvantage over the rest.

In the Moto3 class, Maverick Viñales is the man to beat. After a tough year chasing the KTMs on the underpowered FTR Honda, Viñales now has full factory backing from KTM. His direct competitors will also be on factory KTMs, Luis Salom prime among them. The battle between the two Spaniards could get very tense, both having proven to be very hotheaded young men in 2012. Calmness and concentration will be needed this season, but that is a quality which is less easy to measure on a timesheet. They face more Spanish competition in the form of Alex Rins, the youngster who showed flashes of brilliance in his first season in the class, as well as Alex Marquez, brother of the shockingly talented Moto2 champion and MotoGP rookie Marc. The Italians are well represented too: promising youngster Francesco Bagnaia joins Romano Fenati at the Team Italia squad, and Fenati will be expected to make a step forward in his second full season in Grand Prix.

A lot of the interest in Moto3 will come from the gaggle of youngsters moving up from the Red Bull Rookies and the Spanish championship. German riders Florian Alt and Philipp Oettl are expected to do well, as is Lorenzo Baldasssarri and young Belgian rider Livio Loi. Loi will be testing with the Marc VDS Racing team, but the Belgian rider will have to wait until the Jerez round to make his Moto3 debut, as he only turns 16, the minimum age for Moto3, a few days before the Spanish GP.

One final rider to watch at the test will be Maverick Viñales' teammate Ana Carrasco. Several females riders have had a shot at Grand Prix racing, but few have made much impression. Carrasco could be the first to earn a regular place in the paddock; unlike many of the female riders which have proceeded her, the young Spaniard is just 16 years old. She has already made good progression, improving her best time at Almeria, set in November of last year, by over two seconds. A time of 1'41.8 puts her on course to be fighting for points once she settles in to Moto3. That would be a boost not just for her, but for all women riders, and open the door a little for an increase in the number of females in the sport.

The weather for the test is looking positive. No rain is expected, and the temperatures should be positively balmy by the afternoon. The only worrying factor is the wind: very strong today, as the teams were setting up, the wind can cause real problems for both tire and track temperatures at the Valencia circuit. It will die down a little as the week progresses, with the best weather expected on the final day of the test on Thursday.

Below is the testing schedule for Moto2 and Moto3:

Day Class Times
Tuesday, 12/02/2013 Moto2™/Moto3™ combined 10:00 - 12:40
  Moto3™ only 12:50 - 13:50
  Moto2™ only 14:00 - 15:00
  Moto2™/Moto3™ combined 15:10 - 17:00
Wednesday, 13/02/2013 Moto2™/Moto3™ combined 10:00 - 12:40
  Moto2™ only 12:50 - 13:50
  Moto3™ only 14:00 - 15:00
  Moto2™/Moto3™ combined 15:10 - 17:00
Thursday, 14/02/2013 Moto2™/Moto3™ combined 10:00 - 12:40
  Moto3™ only 12:50 - 13:50
  Moto2™ only 14:00 - 15:00
  Moto2™/Moto3™ combined 15:10 - 17:00


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About the added weight. Can the teams integrate the weight into the rider's gear? Maybe not all of it, but if having dynamic weight is so key, why not wear a weight vest or something. It would be a bit of work to move it around on the bike but it should be easier than just moving a heavier bike around.

Interesting. Or even heavier leathers, heavier armor, more armor, etc.

I can't help but feel like this combined rider/weight thing is basically the Get a Brit On The Podium Act of 2013. I think heavier riders should be restricted in the amount of muscle strength they bring to the table.

I always skip Moto3 for whatever reason. But I am inspired this year to watch due to all the riders coming up into the class. Moto2... maybe the weight thing will help. But Espargaro looked on another planet compared to all the other riders in Moto2 except Marquez, but Marquez is gone.

I would be suprised if Redding came close to Espargaro consistantly. But, it is racing, and anything is possible.