“I don’t really want to look at the timesheet,” Cal Crutchlow said at the end of the first day of practice at Mugello, “because Lorenzo’s run was an absolute joke.” Crutchlow is well-known for his colorful language – in every sense of that phrase – and his words are easy to misinterpret. But a glance at the consistency of Lorenzo’s times soon makes you understand exactly what Crutchlow meant. On the hard rear tire, Lorenzo was running mid to low 1’48s, with many laps within a few hundredths of each other. On the evidence of Friday alone, Lorenzo is not just going to win this race, he is going to embarrass the entire field.
The tire problems experienced by Valentino Rossi and Ben Spies at Assen, where great chunks of rubber came off the right side of the rear of the tire, slowing Spies up severely and affecting Rossi so badly he was forced to pit for a new tire, have been the subject of much speculation and discussion since the event. Spies was particularly shaken after the race, the tire problems bringing back bad memories of the 300 km/h tire failure and monster crash he had at Daytona back in 2003, which he still has the scars to show from.
Nearly a week on, and after examination by Bridgestone technicians back at the factory in Japan, we can start to draw a few preliminary conclusions as to the cause of the problems. Bridgestone have issued a press release and briefed the press directly, and the riders have weighed in with their thoughts and impressions of what happened. Before pointing fingers and apportioning blame, let us first walk through what we know of what actually happened.
For the past few years, attending a MotoGP round has been a disheartening experience for most British fans. After sitting in traffic for several hours, they then faced a day of getting soaked to the skin while watching their local heroes – if any were actually on the grid – circulating around at the rear of the pack. At the end of the day, they faced yet more hours sitting in a chaos of traffic chaos, with usually another downpour of rain, just to get home again. They loved it, of course, but it tested their courage.
2012 would be different. The miserable weather magically disappeared for race day – it was far from perfect, but it remained largely dry – Scott Redding got on the podium in Moto2, and Cal Crutchlow put on a heroic and brilliant performance in MotoGP. It might be fair to question the wisdom of Crutchlow’s decision to lie about his foot not being broken and race anyway, but there is no question about his bravery or pain threshold, nor, after starting at the back of the grid and slicing through the field to finish 6th, matching the pace of race winner Jorge Lorenzo, about his ability. The British fans have a hero again. More than one, in fact.
Two topics dominated Thursday’s round of talk at the rider debriefs and press conferences – well, three actually, but the Marquez/Espargaro clash at Barcelona was really just rehashing of old ground – and the talk was about contracts and tires, probably in that order of importance. With Casey Stoner retired and Jorge Lorenzo having renewed his contract with Yamaha for two more years, attention is turning to the other players in the field, and so every rider speaking to the press was given a grilling as to their plans for next year.
That interrogation revealed only a very little. In the press conference, Jorge Lorenzo admitted he had been made an offer by Honda, and had only decided to sign for Yamaha once Lin Jarvis upped his original offer in response to Honda’s. Lorenzo would not be drawn on the size of the sums involved – a clumsy and badly phrased question in the press conference asked by me was easily evaded by the Spaniard – but logic dictates that it would be more than the reported 8 million a year his previous contract was worth. But money was not the main driver behind the signing, Lorenzo said. “I listened to my heart, and my heart said Yamaha.” As Lorenzo’s team manager Wilco Zeelenberg said at Barcelona, and repeated again at Silverstone, Lorenzo wants to win championships, and Yamaha gave him the best shot at doing that.
It has been great to have some consistent weather, Casey Stoner said at the qualifying press conference at Barcelona, a sentiment that was shared by everyone at the Montmelo circuit, riders, teams, fans and media. Apart from the anomaly that is Qatar (a night race with practice in cooling temperatures) all of the MotoGP rounds held so far have featured massive changes in weather almost from session to session. With four session all with comparable temperatures – a little cooler in the mornings, a little warmer in the afternoons – the riders have been able to actually spend some time working on a consistent set up.
What they have learned is that the tires are going to be a huge part in Sunday’s race. The 2012 Bridgestones are built to a new specification and a new philosophy, softer to get up to temperature more quickly and to provide better feedback. This the Japanese tire company has succeeded in spectacularly well, the only downside (though that is debatable) is that the tires wear more quickly. This makes tire management critical for the race, with both hard and soft tires dropping off rapidly after 7 laps, and then needing managing to get them home.
In light of the tire management issues, Casey Stoner expressed his surprise that so many riders had spent time on the soft tire, but a quick survey of the paddock says that the soft tire is a viable race option. While Stoner is convinced that the hard tire will be the race compound, others are less certain. The Yamahas especially seem to prefer the soft tire, Andrea Dovizioso saying that the hard drops off more than the soft. Nicky Hayden found something similar: the hard spins too much, he told the press, and so the soft tire is easier to manage as the tires wear. Both are capable of lasting the distance, it will just be about which tire is in better shape at the end.
With World Superbike’s stop at Monza being massively disrupted by the combination of the track’s demanding layout and Pirelli’s melting rain tires, the Italian tire company has taken the brunt of criticism from fans, teams, and riders for its handling of the two races at the historic circuit. With the long straights and high speeds of Monza proving to be a challenge in even normal conditions, the issue of tires became increasingly important as it was discovered that the compound used in Pirelli’s rain tires could not handle the center-line heat caused by the Italian track, even in full-wet conditions.
WSBK fans watched as riders blew through rain tires in just a matter of two or three laps during the wet Superpole qualifying session on Saturday, and when the rain showed up again on Sunday, the riders had said they had enough of the nonsense. Though not encountering fully-wet conditions, Pirelli’s intermediate tire was ruled out of the equation, as it uses the same compound as the rain tire, albeit with fewer groves. So, Pirelli’s solution to the problem was to take racing slicks of different compound, presumably one that could handle the heat of the track, and cut them to into makeshift intermediate tires. Expecting riders to go two races on a pair, the WSBK paddock was less-than-enthusiastic with this remedy.
With the riders essentially causing a mutiny on the starting grid, Race 1 at Monza was cancelled, while Race 2 was delayed for dryer conditions. Once the rain returned halfway through the race though, riders again raised their arms to signal the stoppage of the competition. Since they completed half of the race, only half points were awarded, but that left for some interesting comments in the paddock. Responding to the criticism of how it handled the Monza weekend, Pirelli has released a press statement that shifts the blame back to the World Superbike teams. Read the company’s statement in its entirety after the jump.
Race 1 for World Superbike at Monza proved to be an interesting affair this Sunday, as the race was ultimately cancelled for safety reasons. Starting normally under dry conditions, riders took to the track on slicks, only to have the race red-flagged two laps after its start.
While the WSBK paddock scrambled for a restart under wet conditions, riders lead by Carlos Checa had a meeting on the starting grid after the sighting lap. Realizing that parts of the track were damp, while others were dry, concerns returned whether the Pirelli rain tires would be able to go the race distance, as they had lasted for only several laps during Saturday’s Superpole.
World Superbike is in Italy this weekend, getting ready to race one of the fastest circuits on the WSBK calendar. Already hitting 205+ mph down the main straight at the first practice session (208.03 mph for Mr. Fabrizio), the Pirelli racing slicks also have to contend with sweeping fast corners at Autodromo Nazionale Monza.
Highlighting the heat, speeds, and stresses that its tires have to go through while racing at this beloved Italian circuit, Pirelli has put together a short video that outlines what the Italian tire company has to contend with at this special World Superbike round. Interesting stuff.
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.
Bridgestone has announced that they are going to bring forward the introduction of a new 2012-spec front tire, and start allowing riders to use it starting from the Jerez round of MotoGP. The new tire was tested extensively during the pre-season, with versions tried at both Sepang tests and at the IRTA test at Jerez. The tire features a modified construction which allows it to heat up more quickly as well as provide more feedback to the riders.
The selected construction was one of two types tested during the pre-season. The two types – designated as “21″ and “24″ – differed only slightly, the central section being slightly less rigid in construction on the 21, when compared to the 24. The riders were positive about both types, but were split on which tire was best. The majority of the riders preferred the 21, praising it as having better stability and feedback. Surprisingly, the Honda riders took the opposite view, saying that it was the 24 which was the more stable tire, the 21 providing less stability under braking.