MotoGP Sepang (2) Test – Day 1 Summary: The Tire Pendulum Swings Against Yamaha & Ducati’s Open Future

02/26/2014 @ 10:49 pm, by David Emmett13 COMMENTS

MotoGP Sepang (2) Test – Day 1 Summary: The Tire Pendulum Swings Against Yamaha & Ducatis Open Future alvaro bautista motogp sepang test gresini

If the first Sepang test threw up a few surprises, the first day of the second test turned into a bit a shocker. Anyone putting money on Alvaro Bautista, Aleix Espargaro and his brother Pol being the top 3 at the end of the first day would very, very rich indeed.

Though all three had good reason to be further up front – Bautista has a new rear shock from Showa which is a big step forward, Aleix has been fast throughout, and Pol has the new seamless gearbox from Yamaha – their speed should not be seen as presaging a revolution in MotoGP.

A dirty track, and several riders not chasing times gave the trio a chance to shine, which they seized with both hands.

Things did not look promising at the start of the day. The track was in poor condition, still dirty after a recent Ferrari test. The Kuala Lumpur region has had no rain for months now, which usually helps to clean the track in between tests.

The situation was so bad that the circuit offered to spray the track clean with water, an offer which turned out not to be necessary. Having 23 bikes circulating helped sweep the track fairly well as the day progressed. By Thursday, the track should be in much better shape.

The unfavorable conditions meant that different riders followed different plans on Wednesday. Some went for a time attack at the end of the day, while others preferred to focus on setup and development, leaving chasing a fast time until the last two days of the track.

That turned out exceptionally well for Alvaro Bautista, the Espargaro brothers, and even Andrea Dovizioso, without worrying the championship contenders – sans Marc Marquez, the world champion missing as a result of the leg he broke in training – who were mostly working on their race pace.

Where did Bautista’s burst of speed come from? The Go&Fun Gresini man had received a new rear shock from Showa, which was a major step forward. In combination with a different setup for the rear, Bautista found real improvements, promising much.

Like all the Honda riders – with the exception of Dani Pedrosa, but more of that later – Bautista benefited from the new Bridgestone rear tire. The stiffer construction makes the tire better suited to the style of the Hondas, improving tire degradation and warm up, but losing edge grip. The RC213V’s point-and-shoot style is a good match for the new tire.

Yamaha, on the other hand, finds itself on the raw end of the tire situation. With two manufacturers producing bikes which are so very different in philosophy, changes made to the spec-tire tend to create winners and losers.

Two years ago, it was Honda who lost out when the new softer front tire was introduced. This year, Yamaha is on the receiving end, as the stiffer rear construction has sacrificed edge grip, the holy grail for the M1.

Valentino Rossi summed the situation as pithily as usual. Teams and riders only find out exactly what the impact of a particular change Bridgestone has decided on after it has already been made, or, as Rossi put it, “when you are already ****ed!”

Both Rossi and Lorenzo spent the day working on solutions for the lack of edge grip, but it was Jorge Lorenzo who was hit hardest. Lorenzo is the king of corner speed, and needs the edge grip to be able to maintain the lean angle for longer.

The Spaniard was also struggling with the new electronics Yamaha had brought, to assist with the clutchless downshifts. This changes the behavior of the bike under braking, and in combination with the new tire, leaves Lorenzo much slower than he wants to be. Where was the bike worse? Corner entry, mid-corner and corner exit, Lorenzo said. In other words, everywhere.

Lorenzo is hoping a switch back to the 2013 electronics will help cure some of the woes the bike is causing him. The question is, of course, how well the 2013 electronics are at handling the liter less fuel which the 2014 bikes have at their disposal. Things are not looking rosy for the 2012 champion at the moment.

Valentino Rossi is a little happier with the changes. The new clutchless downshifts offer the Italian advantages in braking, the one area he was always strongest. Yamaha’s 2014 electronics package is working well for Rossi, and giving him confidence.

The rear Bridgestone may be much worse for both Rossi and Lorenzo, and Rossi may struggle more with fuel consumption, the Italian is at least gaining confidence in braking. This was what had ailed him all last year, and improvements here are what he seeks most of all.

Over at Repsol Honda, Dani Pedrosa was none too pleased either, though for different reasons. The Spaniard was suffering with jet lag, making riding at MotoGP speeds a real challenge.

But most of all, Pedrosa was struggling with a lack of grip, a problem he faces at every track where grip is low. Dirty tracks, such as Sepang this week and Qatar last year, make it impossible for Pedrosa to find rear grip, slowing him badly. It is his one real weakness, and a consequence of his extreme light weight.

If the factory Yamaha riders were unhappy, the Tech 3 men were far more cheerful. Both Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro had been given the new seamless gearbox from Yamaha, and both were full of praise for the improvement.

Pol seized the benefits with both hands, propelling the M1 to 3rd, just behind his brother Aleix on the Open Yamaha, and getting close to his best time of the previous three-day test at Sepang. While Pol was chasing lap times, Smith was working on set up, running consistent mid 2’01s, close to the pace of the veterans ahead of him, including Stefan Bradl and Valentino Rossi.

The big question over at Ducati was whether the Italian factory has decided to enter the Open class, or remain as Factory Option entries. With the official deadline on Friday – midnight European time, so a little after the test has completed – Ducati will have to make a decision in the next two days.

All questions concerning their decision are being handily deflected by the riders – “you’ll have to ask someone else,” Andrea Dovizioso said – but test rider Michele Pirro was testing the spec software, while Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Iannone continued the work on the Factory Option-spec bikes.

Dovizioso didn’t do too badly, ending the day with the fourth quickest time. The Italian was one of the group of one-lap wonders posting quick times at the end of the session, so how representative his time was is open to question. What was undeniably positive was the improvements Ducati have found with the bikes.

Tweaks to the electronics and chassis set up have given Dovizioso even more confidence in braking, solving one of the issues the Desmosedici suffered with. The biggest issue still remains, Dovizioso underlined, the chronic understeer still present.

That issue will be with Ducati for a while, until Gigi Dall’Igna has understood more fully where the issue is coming from and how to fix it. Whether he believes he can fix the bike with or without engine modifications is the key to Ducati’s decision to go Open or stay as a Factory Option entry.

The decision to go Open has already been made, of course, though Ducati continue to deny it. Italian media outlets disagree over when the announcement will be made, Motosprint saying it will be made public on Friday, GPOne convinced the announcement will come on March 10th, at Ducati’s official launch at Audi’s HQ in Ingolstadt.

The other Open bikes continued to make good progress at Sepang. First and foremost was Aleix Espargaro, as usual, the elder of the two brothers putting the Open Yamaha into second slot by the end of the day.

There is still no sign of the FTR chassis in the Forward garage, further fueling rumors of financial issues between the Forward team and FTR, despite the official denials from both sides.

If it is to make any sense using it, the FTR chassis would need to be tested before the season started, meaning that the Qatar test would be the only opportunity for Aleix and Colin Edwards to give it a try. We shall see what happens in two weeks’ time.

There were happier faces in the Aspar garage, Nicky Hayden greatly reducing the gap to the front. Improvements under braking helped Hayden find half a second, but the American continued to emphasize the lack of power the Honda RCV1000R has. More work on the electronics is needed to help on corner entry, but overall the feeling was positive.

At Gresini, Scott Redding is having a much tougher time. His issues are not electronic, but in braking, the young Englishman struggling to get the bike stopped with the Nissin brakes. Redding has a test with Brembo brakes and Ohlins suspension written into his contract with Gresini, and is pushing for that test to take place sooner rather than later.

Given the improvements found with Showa suspension on Bautista’s machine, Redding may be satisfied with just a test of the Brembo brakes. That is his most pressing problem, so that is what needs to be tackled first.

Help with the electronics for the Open class could come from Ducati, once they announce their decision to switch. Ducati are free to contribute all their code to Magneti Marelli, who should be able to implement it fairly quickly, if they so choose.

Dorna and IRTA would not be opposed to this, as the software would help all of the Open teams, though obviously Ducati would have an advantage, as they have more data on the way the current algorithms work.

No collaboration or exchange of code has yet been confirmed by either Ducati or Magneti Marelli, but given the fact that the two factories are just a few miles apart in Bologna, it seems improbable the two would simply ignore each other.

Photo: HRC

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

Comment:

  1. simon says:

    Fantastic insights, as always, after watching the practice times – proof if any were needed that the numbers don’t tell the real story. Looking forward to seeing how things go tomorrow and more of David’s insights…

  2. AC says:

    So tired of spec tires. Let the manufacturers partner with whatever tire supplier that can build a tire that works for the bike.

  3. Chaz Michael Michaels says:

    An interesting way forward–require spec software but nix the spec tire.

    Wouldn’t that put costs in line, allow maximum machine development, and bring out the best rider competition?

    Go Bautista! If he can minimize mental errors (like taking out aliens on lap 1), he could really be a force.

    Where was Bradl?

  4. Westward says:

    What would be the difficulty in Bridgestone catering to each factory, making specific sets 0f tyres for Yamaha, Ducati, and HRC?

    They should have the manpower and resources to accomplish this.

  5. Norm G. says:

    re: “The rear Bridgestone may be much worse for both Rossi and Lorenzo, and Rossi may struggle more with fuel consumption, the Italian is at least gaining confidence in braking. This was what had ailed him all last year, and improvements here are what he seeks most of all.”

    don’t look now Ross, but that light you see at the end of the tunnel…?

    yeah, that’s a TRAIN.

  6. smiler says:

    Very interesting as usual. However I just get the very clear feeling that with a Spanish Organisation, Spanish main sponsor that has paind a fortune but has often been thwarted previously, several Spanish riders, that Dorna have a clear mandate, make sure Spain in the form of Hinda, Repsol and Spanish riders win.

    Unless it changes, this season will just be a procession again. The only hope of real interest, in 2015 when Audi will have sorted Ducati, which they will and Suzuki enter again.

  7. “An interesting way forward–require spec software but nix the spec tire.

    Wouldn’t that put costs in line, allow maximum machine development, and bring out the best rider competition?”

    It’s certainly less expensive than run whatever floats yer cork, but custom tires require custom development, which is insanely expensive for both teams and manufacturers. Developing a tire around the idiosyncrasies of bike and rider involves many iterative rounds of testing and tweaking.

  8. Norm G. says:

    re: “The big question over at Ducati was whether the Italian factory has decided to enter the Open class, or remain as Factory Option entries. With the official deadline on Friday – midnight European time, so a little after the test has completed – Ducati will have to make a decision”

    tick tock, tick tock.

  9. Chris M says:

    Does this screw over Crutchlow?

    Honest question as I’m still new to watching MotoGP but I seem to remember it being a big desire of Crutchlow’s to get onto a factory team. Does Ducati going with the Open class lessen that status?

  10. Frank says:

    Ducati goes open, BUT it seems like they have pulled one over on the paddock in doing so…

    [Ducati had already caused a bit of a stir prior to the second Sepang test. A new software update was made available to all of the Open teams ahead of the second test, which was such a large step several of the teams had been daunted by its complexity. The file containing the specifications of the software which Magneti Marelli sent out to the teams still had the words 'Ducati Motor Holding' in the header, Magneti Marelli having neglected to delete the name from the file. There is nothing in the rules preventing Ducati making their software available to Magneti Marelli, the only proviso being that the same software is available to all teams equally. However, as a factory, Ducati has both the experience and the electronics engineers to get the most out of the more sophisticated software, something which the smaller teams simply cannot afford.]

    -courtesy of Mr. David Emmett @ motomatters.com

    Sounds like they are running THEIR software with MM and allowing the rest of the Open entries to use it as well. Why not? They have the data and experience with that software package already. So Ducati in essence just gained 4 liters of fuel, a softer spec tire option, more engines and most importantly the ability to work on those engines during the season. Brilliant move that no doubt will anger the other factories in the paddock. And maybe rightly so… My thought though is – Ducati is so far behind at this point, why not? Anything that makes the racing more exciting – I’m all in.

  11. Frank says:

    @ Chris M – No, this will without a doubt HELP Crutchlow and Dovi and Iannone as well. Yonny… well, he’s still pretty far back in the pack.

    It’s kind of hilarious actually- the more I think about it. Gigi is making a huge impact in a very short amount of time. I wonder how that conversation went with Magneti Marelli when Ducati called offering up their algorithms. People have already speculated about whether Yamaha will do this next year and send their electronics package to MM and if Honda will indeed pull out in protest as Nakamoto has threatened in the past. Interesting plot twist! This year should be fun to watch.

  12. Norm G. says:

    Q: My thought though is – Ducati is so far behind at this point, why not?

    A: you’ve already answered this question. like you said, 9 other teams will be “pizzedoff”. (best Valentino accent)

    re: “Brilliant move that no doubt will anger the other factories in the paddock.”

    and should the collective file protests (same as what both Ducati and Yamaha literally JUST did against Honda regarding Marcus showing up at PI)…

    is it still brilliant…?

  13. Frank says:

    @ Norm: My question was actually just rhetorical. And yes, it will still be brilliant. There are actually no rules against contributing to Magneti Marelli’s electronics package – AS LONG AS the rest of the open class paddock has access to that same package which Ducati has made available through MM. At this point- after having heard what a few of the teams have said in interviews regarding the switch, the only garage I can see protesting would be HRC factory.