The hour of truth is at hand. On Monday morning, MotoGP fans will get their very first look at how the 2016 season is really going to look like. We got a glimpse at Valencia, but it was not a uniform picture.
Though the 2016 electronics and Michelin tires made their debut at the two-day test after the final race of 2015, there were still too many variables.
Everyone was on the Michelins, but some riders were on the spec-electronics, others were on the old proprietary software they had been using for the 2015 season, and the factory teams were using a mixture of both.
It was also the first time the teams had to focus solely on the new tires and electronics, without the pressure of an ongoing championship. Though for both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, the intensity of the season finale had left them drained, making it difficult to generate the necessary enthusiasm for testing.
There was a lot of work to do, for everyone concerned, and nobody did anything but scratch the surface.
There is a lot to look forward to in MotoGP during the next couple of seasons. New tires and new-spec electronics for 2016; and for 2017, the arrival of a new manufacturer, with KTM due to join the show.
The arrival of KTM has generated much excitement, the Austrian factory having succeeded beyond everyone’s expectations in every racing class they have entered, with the exception of MotoGP.
This time, they have taken the development of the bike completely in-house, a powerful V4 engine being housed in a trellis frame, the company’s trademark in racing.
The bike has already made its debut on track, with Alex Hofmann having given the bike a shakedown test at the Red Bull Ring in Austria in October. A few weeks later, the bike got its first proper test in the hands of newly signed test rider Mika Kallio, the man who was Moto2 runner up in 2014.
Kallio was present in Barcelona for the Superprestigio event, where he had been scheduled to race. However, a crash on Friday morning saw the Finnish rider break his leg, which meant he could not actually participate in the event.
Kallio was present, however, and we got the chance to talk to him about the state of the KTM RC16 MotoGP bike, his first impressions of the machine, and his hopes and expectations for testing in 2016 and racing in 2017.
Casey Stoner will not be making any public appearances on the Ducati Desmosedici any time soon. Although the Australian has been formally announced as test rider for Ducati, he will not be riding at the official tests at Sepang at the beginning of February.
Speaking to Italian website GPOne.com, Ducati MotoGP boss Davide Tardozzi said “There are still some details to arrange, but for sure, Stoner will do his first test in Malaysia, before the first official test.”
Stoner will test alongside Ducati’s long-time official test rider Michele Pirro, where he will give the Desmosedici GP16 its first run out. The Australian did the same thing at the beginning of 2015 for Honda, testing the RC213V ahead of the official test in early February.
The second day of the Misano test took place under punishing heat, with temperatures rising to 37° and track temperatures of over 60°C. Despite the heat, times continued to drop as Suzuki, Honda, and Ducati all worked further on improving their race setups.
At Honda, both Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez tried the 2016 Honda RC213V, giving the bike its first run out ahead of next year. The aim of the test was to check the direction that development of the bike was taking. That, Marc Marquez said, was the wrong direction, but that is in itself useful information.
While Yamaha and Aprilia’s factory riders have already departed for a much needed vacation, the factory Honda, Suzuki and Ducati teams began three days of testing at Misano on Wednesday.
Each of the three factories has their own area to work on ahead of the summer break, in preparation for the second half of the season, which resumes three weeks from now in Indianapolis.
Honda have a new motorcycle to try, though neither Marc Marquez nor Dani Pedrosa tried the 2016 version of the RC213V on Wednesday. That will have to wait until tomorrow, when both riders will get their first taste of next year’s bike.
The 2016 bike did hit the track today, in the hands of HRC test Hiroshi Aoyama. Calling it the 2016 bike is perhaps a misnomer. According to HRC team principal Livio Suppo, the bike consists of a new chassis, housing the 2015 engine.
On the day after the Italian Grand Prix, the MotoGP riders were back testing at Mugello. This time, however, it was only the factory riders who remained, to give the Michelin tires another run out.
The last time they took to the track on the Michelins was at Sepang, and Michelin had brought the latest iteration of their tires to test.
Due to the commercial sensitivities involved, there was no official timing, and the riders were not allowed to speak to the media about the test.
Unsurprisingly: Bridgestone holds the single-tire contract for the 2015 season, having spent a lot of money for the privilege, so they do not want Michelin stealing their PR thunder.
Nor do Michelin really want to be subject the intense scrutiny which official timing would impose while they are still in the middle of their development program.
That does not mean that the small band of journalists who stayed at the test did not learn anything, however.
The day after a race is simultaneously the best and the worst time to go testing. The best time, because the track is in great condition, having already seen three days of action. Riders are all fully up to speed, with both the track and with their riding.
It is also the worst time, because riders and teams are exhausted after the intensity of a race weekend, having given their all to try to win at the track. Testing after a race weekend is probably the least worst solution.
The Monday test after Jerez saw this point very well illustrated. With temperatures very similar to race day, the MotoGP teams – all bar the factory Ducati men, who were headed to Mugello for a test there on the 11th and 12th May – found a track in almost identical condition to the race, in which they could test things they didn’t have time to over the weekend, to try to find where they want wrong.
The final day of testing for the MotoGP class at Qatar ended as a washout. The rain did not lift, as many had hoped, and no action took place on track. The entire day was lost to the weather.
It had started raining much earlier in the day, and light rain was falling as teams arrived at the track ready for a 4pm start. It had been hoped that the rain would stop and the track might dry out. Unfortunately for the teams, the rain did not stop, getting worse in the end, and a thunderstorm rolling in.
There are some worried faces in the MotoGP paddock after the second day of the Qatar test. That the Ducati GP15s are fast should come as no surprise, after all, they were fastest on the first day as well.
The trouble is that everyone assumed that the speed of Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone was down to the fact that they can use the soft tire, which is not available to Honda and Yamaha.
Despite the protestations of the two Ducati riders, who had said they spent all day on the medium tire, the same tire which the Hondas and Yamahas had used, Valentino Rossi, among others, had cast aspersions on their claims, suggesting that their fastest laps had been set on the soft tire.
They weren’t. Ducati’s official press release stated explicitly that the two Andreas had not gone anywhere near the soft tire so far, concentrating on improving the GP15 on the medium tire, the tire they will race.
Ducati’s press officer confirmed this explicitly to the Bikesportnews website. And just to check, I trawled through all the photos I could find of the factory Ducati team: through the official Ducati press website, through the official MotoGP.com website, and through a couple of other media sites. Not a single photo did I find of a tire with a white stripe, the sign of the soft tire. They really did use the medium tire.