Topping the first night of official 2014 MotoGP practice obviously put a spring in Aleix Espargaro’s step in Qatar, but the Spaniard stressed there is still much for Forward Racing to do if they are to stay at the sharp end this weekend.
Espargaro, who led the former CRT class for the last two years, will make his first start on the new Open class Yamaha in Sunday’s season opener and believes he can challenge for the top three in qualifying – and perhaps the race.
“For sure we are going to be close. I did a great job on the hard tyre so I’m happy about that and then with the soft tyre I did a couple of very good laps. Tomorrow and in qualifying [the Factory riders] will improve a lot so it’s not going to be easy,” said Espargaro.
Espargaro had also been fastest during testing at Qatar two weeks ago, when the Factory teams were absent. Espargaro admitted that the test had helped his flying start to the race weekend, but the confidence he is getting from the bike also played a big role.
“Obviously we have a bit of an advantage because we tested here but I feel great and feel good with the bike. The track wasn’t perfect like it was at the test but I’m enjoying riding the bike and it’s great to start the season like this.”
Espargaro was one of the few riders to use the soft compound tyre – not available to the Factory class Honda and Yamaha riders – on Thursday and it gave a significant performance bump, helping him surge 0.466s clear of nearest rival Alvaro Bautista (Gresini Honda).
However the 24 year old was also pleased with his pace on the harder rubber that will be used during the race.
“We know that we’ll be fast in qualifying but it’s not important, we need to work on the race distance with the hard tyre in the rear. With the hard tyre we did a great pace even though the track wasn’t perfect so I feel good but we need to wait and see.
“In qualifying we need to stay on the front row and then in the race I’ll push to the maximum and maybe we can be close to the podium.”