Brad Binder ‘bams’ one in for KTM… and other MotoGP testing tales

Brad Binder's hits his stride, Takaaki Nakagami flies flag for Honda and Johann Zarco shows promise on Ducati in other MotoGP stories from Qatar

Brad Binder - KTM

Pre-season testing for MotoGP is done and dusted and all that remains for the teams is to put the finishing touches to their machines ahead of opening round in Qatar.

Indeed, while there was plenty of attention surrounding the likes of Marc Marquez, Maverick Vinales Fabio Quartararo and, of course, Valentino Rossi over the three days, here are some other stories up and down the grid you may have missed.

Brad Binder: New tyre and bam!

The South African rookie has maintained a relatively low profile since making his KTM MotoGP debut at the tail end of 2019, focusing instead on getting to grips with more powerful machinery without chasing lap times.

That is right until the final day when he surged up the timesheets to what was fourth quickest at the time with a lap of 1m 54.283s. He’d eventually end the day with the ninth best lap, comfortably ahead of Pol Espargaro in a test that otherwise saw KTM struggle around a circuit that doesn’t favour the RC16’s characteristics.

Indeed, Binder’s efforts were all the more impressive when you consider he comes into the season matched with fellow Moto2 graduate Alex Marquez, who languished well down the order, with the youngster admitting he was ‘surprised’ to be in the top ten.

“I was quite surprised to be honest," Binder said. "I felt comfortable and we made some changes today that helped me a lot and sorted many of my issues. I put in a new set of tyres and ‘bam!’ the lap-time came.

"The bike was good. I felt way more comfortable to get it stopped, turned quicker and also get on the throttle earlier. Once we figured that part out then it was a lot easier to put a fast lap together but it was still quite difficult to do 22 of them, so I have a long way to go!”

Takaaki Nakagami flies flag for Honda

There is something to be said for Takaaki Nakagami’s top ten laps during the Qatar MotoGP test when measured against his Honda counterparts.

Comfortably faster than his 2020 Honda RC213V stablemates on Sunday and just a fraction behind Marc Marquez on Monday, though the new machine’s ongoing handling issues admittedly skew their results, regardless they don’t take away from Nakagami’s own efforts.

Now one of only three riders on the grid with year-old machinery, Nakagami’s top ten efforts come despite him still recovering from a shoulder surgery, like Marquez.

Moreover, LCR Honda team-mate Cal Crutchlow might be looking at his times a little enviously given he said the Japanese didn’t deserve a current-spec RC213V because he’d struggle more than the Briton on the 2019/20 bike…

Johann Zarco back to best on Avintia Ducati

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Johann Zarco’s name in the upper echelons of the timesheets and probably even longer since we’ve seen the Avintia Racing team up there too.

The Frenchman demonstrated he is finding the Ducati GP19 is to his liking as he posted the sixth fastest time on Sunday, ahead of both factory machines. Though the man himself admits race pace still leaves something to be desired, he says he feels comfortable over a single lap, enough to potentially cause a few upsets in qualifying this year.

“It has been a good test. Compared to Malaysia I had a better control of the bike and when the tyres are new, I can get a good lap time. Now we are trying to feel this comfortable on the bike every lap.

"For sure I'm not yet able to do it consistently, but every time I ride this bike I'm getting a better answer and it's giving me motivation to do even more. So, it's very positive.”

Aprilia turns attentions to race day performance

One of the big stories emerging from Malaysia was the apparent return to prominence for Aprilia, whose new RS-GP was so competitive it made Aleix Espargaro ‘cry with joy’ (apparently).

Alas, things weren’t looking quite so positive in the Arabian desert over a single lap as Espargaro teetered on the outside of the top ten, but over a race distance the RS-GP was maintaining its form despite some teething issues.

“These were three intense days. We did not turn a lot of laps, but we did a lot of work, also taking into account the inevitable hiccoughs that come with the youth of the RS-GP,” Espargaro said. “Overall, we confirmed the potential that had already been seen in Malaysia on this track as well.