Three days of preseason testing in Southern Spain for the twelfth year of the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup produced record breaking pace and an intensity of competition that exceeding even the extreme norms of the series. Jerez put on perfect weather, KTM provided and improved machine and the technical staff created the support that allowed the talented teenagers to make the best of the opportunity.
At the end of Friday afternoon the three days of track action saw Turkish 14-year-old Can Öncü top the timing sheets just ahead of Japanese 16-year-old Ryusei Yamanaka and Can’s twin brother Deniz.
Yamanaka, sixth in last year’s Cup, is looking forward to challenge for this year’s title. “I am very happy with the test. The bike is great and I am pleased to be competitive. I know it will be a very hard season, everyone is so fast this year it will be very exciting.”
It’s those Turks again
Can Öncü was naturally very content to be quickest. “A perfect test, really nice. I am more confident than I was last year, more experienced and that makes a big difference. The mechanics have also worked very hard through the off season and the bike is really great, a lot of fun to ride. I have also worked hard in the winter so me and the bike are ready to go racing.”
Twin brother Deniz is happy to see a big improvement over his first visit to Jerez for last year’s Grand Prix. “My best lap last year was 1m 52, now I’ve done a 1m 49. I’m a better rider than I was last year and I’m enjoying it. We can still improve the bike, get more out of the front suspension, in the corner it isn’t the way I want it, moving around and running wide but it is great to be back in the Rookies Cup and I want to be racing.”
The old and the new
Czech 16-year-old Filip Salač was around the top of the timing sheets all through the test and ended up fourth quickest heading into his third Cup season. “It’s been a good test, we improved the bike and I am quite happy with it. I know that I can still improve, I can be less aggressive, smoother when I am riding alone and improve my corner speed. So that is what I will work on when we come back for the race. I’m looking forward to it, I have got to thank the team, our partners and my family for all the support, that’s so important.”
The first Indonesian to join the Cup, 20-year-old Gerry Salim, quickly made a good impression. “It’s not been easy, the first time on a KTM, first time on a European track, I’ve still got a lot to learn but it’s gone quite well, step by step through the test I got closer to the fast guys and now I can’t wait for the first race.”
Working on this and that for the newcomers
Having just turned 16 a the beginning of the test Australian Billy Van Eerde is expecting a lot of himself and though he settled in quickly he wants more. “It’s not easy, it’s tough, I can follow them for most of a lap but the fast corners at the end, the bike is moving around too much and I just can’t get through at the same speed, it just isn’t stable. I like the bike, I’m enjoying riding but I need it to work better through there.” In the following session he fell at that spot.
Belgian 13-year-old Barry Baltus wants to work on himself not the bike. “We made some changes on the bike for the last session and that is the fastest we’ve been. I think we’ve got a good setting for the GP when we come back. I just need to work a bit on the mental side, if two or three guys come past I get unsettled. I’ve got to keep my focus and concentration.”
It’s all in the head
Third year Rookie Sean Kelly is thrilled to have taken a step forward. “I feel I’ve really clicked and it is a mental thing,” explained the 15-year-old American. “We knew that was what I needed to work on and that is what I have concentrated on, working on the mental side. Before, when I had a problem I really struggled but at this test I could stay on top of it, even when I had a fall I could be back on pace in the next session, working out where the fault had been, me or the bike and working to sort it out.”
Pleased with their boys
Rider Coach Gustl Auinger has been involved in the Rookies Cup from day 1. “Each year I am impressed with the riders at the preseason test, this year is the twelfth time I have had this experience and I think this season it is very special. It is not just that we have a good level, it is that it is brilliant to see the way that the new riders only took minutes to get up to speed and run at the same level as the more experienced riders. That is very impressive and I think we are looking forward to a special season.”
Fellow Rider Coach Dani Ribalta echoed the Austrian’s thoughts. “Yes I am quite happy with things, the pace is fast and the riders are very close. I think it shows that we did a good job at the Selection Event and we’ve got some good new riders who can run with the more experienced Rookies. Already on Day 2 they were all quick with the pace faster and closer than last year’s Grand Prix qualifying,” enthused the Spaniard.
The first Rookies Cup races of the season are in Jerez as part of the Red Bull Gran Premio de España in Jerez on May 5th and 6th.