It’s back. The world is a better place now that young men are wasting fuel going round in circles at irresponsibly breakneck speeds on multi-million dollar motorcycles. (On a side note, someone pointed out today that a satellite 160kg Honda RC213V costs about half its weight in gold, at current prices, which suggests that a factory bike must be close to costing its own weight in gold).
The lights in the desert are once again spectacularly lit, and the sandy void which surrounds the Losail circuit again rings with the bellow of MotoGP bikes.
What a difference a tire makes. Last season in each of Cal Crutchlow’s rider debriefs that I attended, the topic at some point came around to the Bridgestone tire and how treacherous it was during warm-up. Once the tire reached operating temperature, it was fantastic if the rider could keep it hot enough. But until it gathered enough heat, it was flat out dangerous, as so many cold tire high-side crashes proved in 2011.
Crutchlow was one of the most outspoken riders in asking Bridgestone to change the tire design, which they have done for 2012. This year’s control tire warms up much faster, allowing riders to get through the early laps of a session without a dramatic high side, of which we had none in Qatar.
There’s a lot to talk about after the 2012 MotoGP season opener, but one thing that struck me in particular was the situation Casey Stoner found himself in for Qualifying Practice. Given the combination of a new 1000cc-based formula and a new tire from Bridgestone, several riders complained of the old nemesis: chatter, which we heard quite a lot about when the 800s arrived, and was for the most part ironed out as development progressed on the former MotoGP spec.
A sudden appearance of chatter ruined Ben Spies’ race, Dani Pedrosa qualified poorly because of it, and after QP (where he was bettered by rival Jorge Lorenzo) Casey Stoner had this to say to the BBC: “I’m more than upset about it to be honest. Not about pole position but for race pace tomorrow. It’s difficult because the huge issues we had on Thursday have just gone full circle and come back to them now. I don’t think my team are really taking enough importance on how big the situation is. They’re just kinda like, oh well, you’re fast, you can do it anyway. But I can’t. It’s not feeling nice when there’s that much chatter. And if we don’t fix it before tomorrow it’s going to make things very very tough. So we’ve got some work to do, and to try and get rid of it before the race is going to be a lot of hard work.”
It is sort of a weird accolade, but Ducati has been at the front of motorcycle dash technology and innovation implementation. Introducing a TFT liquid crystal display (LCD) on the Ducati Diavel, the Italian has continued its progression forward with an OLED dash on the Ducati 1199 Panigale.
Delivering a noticeably brighter and crisper display over its TFT counter-part, the Ducati OLED dash is one of those items that doesn’t necessarily do a job better than its predecessor (it reads the bike’s speed and other vitals just the same as the pervious unit), but the added quality and user experience is one of those touches that makes a Ducati, well…a Ducati.
The night schedule at Qatar means that writers and journalists end the weekend in a state of utter exhaustion. To bed at dawn for a few hours fitful sleep, up around noon, off the to the track for a full day’s – or night’s – work, then do the same thing over again. Race day is worse, the schedule is tougher, the adrenaline rush greater, the comedown even bigger. And there’s usually about twice as much work to do as well. It is still the greatest job in the world, of course, but it makes you long for sleep a couple of times a year. Qatar race-night round ups tend to be terse, and given my usual verbosity, this is no bad thing.
When MotoGP announced that it would be moving from the 800cc formula back to a 1,000cc displacement, the general hope was that this change would return close-racing to the premier class. While the real issue to that problem has always been the increased use of electronics, which have only gained more sophistication and implementation in the past year, there can be no doubt that racing in MotoGP has improved after witnessing the Qatar GP.
Rather than displacement making the decisive difference though, one can thank the new Bridgestone tires, which are designed to degrade more rapidly over the course of their use. This simple change has meant that riders have to manage their tires and pace during the race, choosing when to push for the lead, and when to conserve. As the tires degrade and lose their razor-like precision, a rider’s skill begins to play an increased deciding factor. The result: the Qatar GP.
On the evidence of qualifying at Qatar, we’re in for a cracking MotoGP season. A very tight battle for pole settled in the final minutes, a surprise front row sitter, and plenty of on-track action are the ingredients for a a great QP session, and the changes that the sport has undergone are overwhelmingly positive. The same was true in Moto2, where a smart strategy outwitted a late last lap, and Moto3 saw another battle that went down to the wire.