The battle for the 2005 World Championship effectively started today in Sepang, Malaysia on the first day of the scheduled three-day MotoGP test. The Repsol Honda Team bristled with new staff and a new rider to run alongside American Nicky Hayden who starts his third year with the official factory squad.
Four-time World Champion Max Biaggi rode an impressive 45 laps of the 5.54km circuit today; the first time he has ridden a bike since falling from a supermoto machine in early November, breaking his ankle. The 33-year-old Italian, wearing a specially constructed Dainese boot to support his recovering injury, had a good day on the Honda RC211V and impressed his medical team who have been amazed at the rapid progress in recovery of the Roman. He has a new team built round him led by Hideki Iwano who last year headed up a team that won Honda all their domestic championships in Japan.
Hayden, under the guidance of his new crew chief, New Zealander Pete Benson, had a steady day in the 33-degree heat. The 23-year-old American tested several new parts on his RCV which is predominantly a 2004 machine (as is Biaggi's). In Sepang next month the team will return with the 2005 bike with the new 22-litre tank (reduced by two litres from 2004) to comply with this year's regulations.
Both Hayden and Biaggi will develop the factory machine with the prime motivation of winning the riders' World Championship and retaining the Manufacturers Award for Honda in 2005.
The new General Manager of the Repsol Honda Team, Mr Tsutomu Ishii (replacing Mr Koji Nakajima) and the new Team Manager, Mr Makoto Tanaka (replacing Mr Shoji Tachikawa) had a busy day at their new posts. The team is also joined by Erv Kanemoto who, in a position of Repsol Honda Team Technical Director, will bring a wealth of experience to the team.
Nicky Hayden 90 laps. Fastest lap; 2m03.17
"Nice to be back on a bike again! I wish it was the first race of the year and not the first test of the year but I know that testing is so important. These are the hard yards when you get your legs under you and set yourself up for the next few months that are so important. Sometimes when you've been off the bike a while you have to knock off the rust but I really didn't feel too bad today."
Max Biaggi 45 laps. Fastest lap; 2m03.35
"Today is a great day. I'm back on the bike and I can ride. This is the most important thing. The ankle still hurts, but I don't want to complain anymore. The first test was this one on the foot. Soon I will throw the crutches away. We are already working on the bike. New components need intense work. We must build "The Winning Machine". Being in HRC, with Erv Kanemoto, means great joy and honour but also a big responsibility."
"It's a real challenge and one I'm really looking forward to. I'll be working hard looking at all aspects of the machine and how both riders can get the most performance from the bike and from themselves. It is very early days and we gather information. We come back to Sepang next month with the 2005 machine and move forward. I've worked successfully with Max in the past and we have a good relationship; I look forward to working with Nicky in the same productive way."