Bezzecchi tops first day of 2023 pre-season

For the first time since November, the entire MotoGP grid assembled for the opening day of three at the Sepang International Circuit as testing got underway.

Three days of running had already taken place at the Malaysian Grand Prix venue earlier this week, but was open only to test riders and rookies.

There will be five days of testing ahead of the start of the 2023 season on 26 March, with a two-day outing in Portugal – host of the opening round – exactly a month from now.

Ducati led the way all day at Sepang, with Bezzecchi guiding his VR46 Desmosedici – decked out in its special winter testing livery – to the best time of the session with a 1m58.470s on lap 54 of 55 of his programme.

All riders had been out on track come the end of the opening hour of running, which began at 10am local time, with reigning world champion Francesco Bagnaia going top on his factory Ducati with a 2m00.177s lap.

At the end of hour two, it was Pramac Racing’s Jorge Martin who had taken over on his Ducati with a 1m58.737s.

This would stand as the benchmark for much of the day, as the riders worked through their test programmes.

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia Racing Team

Maverick Vinales, Aprilia Racing Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Martin would break the silence of the lunchtime lull with around two hours and 30 minutes remaining, but it would be another hour before his session-topping time was challenged.

Enea Bastianini, who moves from Gresini Racing to the factory Ducati squad alongside Bagnaia for 2023, went fastest of all with a 1m58.732s.

But it would not be enough to keep him top of the pile come the chequered flag, as Bezzecchi – who did suffer a small tumble during the day – on his 2022-spec Ducati edged clear with a 1m58.470s with around 10 minutes of the session remaining.

VR46, as well as Gresini Racing, will race year-old bikes in 2023, with the factory Ducati squad and Pramac getting the full works-spec machines.

Aprilia’s Vinales did some back-to-back comparisons between his 2022 bike and his new one, which has been subtly updated.

He ended the day 0.130s behind Bezzecchi, stating to the media halfway through the day that he was pleased with the improved agility of his RS-GP.

Bastianini was third ahead of Martin, with Bagnaia rounding out the top five from the sister Aprilia of Aleix Espargaro – who uttered similar comments to Vinales, but admits he expected a little more grunt from the new engine than what was delivered.

Enea Bastianini, Ducati Team

Enea Bastianini, Ducati Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Johann Zarco was seventh on the second Pramac Ducati ahead of Gresini duo Fabio Di Giannantonio – starting his second season in MotoGP – and Alex Marquez.

The Yamaha charge was led by Franco Morbidelli, who bested team-mate Fabio Quartararo in 11th by 0.082s as the sole M1’s on the 2023 grid put the new bike through its paces.

Marc Marquez was 12th on the first of the Hondas, 0.954s off the pace, as he got to work on the four versions of the RC213V he has at his disposal for the test.

He headed VR46’s Luca Marini and the RNF Aprilia duo of Miguel Oliveira – who crashed on Friday – and Raul Fernandez, with Jack Miller the leading KTM in 16th from Honda’s Joan Mir.

Mir headed former Suzuki team-mate Alex Rins, now also a Honda rider but at the satellite LCR squad, with Tech3 GasGas rookie Augusto Fernandez 19th from team-mate Pol Espargaro – both of whom suffering falls during the session.

The field was completed by LCR Honda’s Takaaki Nakagami, Yamaha test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga and Honda tester Stefan Bradl.

Testing continues on Saturday from 10am local time.

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