The Misano MotoGP test may well turn out to be more important than it might seem at first glance. Perhaps precisely because it was a private test, and the teams could work in some privacy away from the prying eyes of most media.
The pit lane was closed, and there were virtually no media present, with the honorable exception of Italian stalwarts GPOne.com.
It meant that factories could test early versions of their 2020 bikes with relatively little interference from outside, other than the usual crowd of engineers from rival factories gathered round as they warm up their bikes.
And that is precisely what Yamaha, Honda, and KTM in particular spent their time doing, while Ducati and Suzuki debuted a few parts which may or may not see use next season.
It wasn’t only the motorcycle manufactures. Michelin also brought two updates, a rear tire with a different casing to help improve performance, which was also tested at Barcelona and Brno, and a new front tire with a stronger casing, to help give support in braking. Both tires received positive feedback, the riders praising the front in particular.
If the front is as good as some reports say, this could have a profound effect for 2020. At the moment, it is the Hondas which suffer the most with a lack of support from the front tire in braking. If this new tire is adopted for 2020, then Marc Márquez may be able to add yet another string to his already formidable bow.
Michelin also brought a special tire intended solely for the purpose of collecting data on tire wear. It was an extra soft tire meant only to last a few laps, and Michelin were at pains to make clear that this was not a return to the qualifiers of old.
The problem for those looking at the timesheets is that the tire was quick, just because it was so soft, and several riders used it to set their fast times, while others, such as Marc Márquez and Andrea Dovizioso, did not.
Honda weren’t resting on their laurels. Marc Márquez once again had four different bikes in his garage, including the 2020 prototype featuring the ‘Bento box’, presumably some form of mass damper.
When interviewed by both the official MotoGP.com website and the few journalists at the test, Márquez refused to say very much beyond that they had been working on 2020, and that he had been able to give his feedback on the new bike.
Cal Crutchlow had been given a busy test schedule as well, but he had found it hard to make sense of all he had tested.
“We had a lot of things to try, but at the moment, none of them are working,” he said, though he pointed out there was still some of the test left to go after he had spoken to the media.
Their test schedules meant they had not spent any time chasing a fast time, Marc Márquez ending the day in tenth, while Cal Crutchlow was twentieth overall. That left Takaaki Nakagami as the fastest Honda, the Japanese rider ending the test as eighth fastest. Nakagami was able to focus on setup for the race, and try a fast lap.
The last fifteen minutes of the test proved to be hectic, as everyone who wanted a quick time had a chance to try.
Fabio Quartararo came out on top, half a second quicker than second-place rider Danilo Petrucci and just a hundredth shy of Jorge Lorenzo’s outright lap record set during qualifying in 2018.
Petrucci and Pramac Ducati rider Jack Miller disrupted the Yamaha party, with all four Yamahas in the top four up until the final moments of the test.
That should give hope to the Yamaha riders, especially in the factory team.
Perhaps even more encouraging is the quantity of material Yamaha had brought to the test for Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales: in addition to the 2020 prototype with a second version of next year’s engine, Yamaha had a carbon-fiber swingarm, a double-barreled exhaust, and a wheel cover which sits halfway in between brake cover and aerodynamic attachment.
The wheel cover was interesting for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it gives a hint as to what the new aerodynamic regulations for 2020 may look like – though the regulations have been agreed, they are yet to be published by the FIM.
If the new regulations try to restrict aerodynamic attachments outside of the so-called ‘aero body’ (that’s fairing to most people), then the most logical thing to do is to expand existing permitted items such as brake covers to have a larger function.
Of course, we don’t know what Yamaha’s brake covers are actually for. Valentino Rossi was typically coy about its purpose. “It’s to go faster,” he quipped. It may also appear at Misano.
In the press release issued after the test, team boss Maio Meregalli is quoted as saying, “All those items have been approved by our riders and will most likely be used at the next race.” That includes the front wheel cover, the carbon-fiber swingarm, and the double exhaust.
The swingarm and exhaust were both received positively, Rossi feeling they had a positive effect. The bike was now more stable, with better acceleration and better rideability, Rossi said.
Overall, Rossi left the test more optimistic than when he had arrived. The fact that all four Yamahas had been so fast was a sign that they could be competitive, he believed.
Maverick Viñales was less optimistic, telling journalists that he felt the 2020 Yamaha M1 was not at the same level as the Honda or Ducati. But he was positive about the work done at Misano preparing for the race. The track has very low grip, and the hot conditions in the afternoon were precisely where Viñales has struggled.
The Spaniard worked a lot on his race pace, and focused especially on the start and the first laps. “The start has been my weak point this year,” he said. “We were able to work on this area today, and now I’m confident I can make a good start.”
The two Petronas Yamaha riders also focused on setup. Franco Morbidelli had taken a leaf out of Fabio Quartararo’s book, studying his data to see where the Frenchman was faster.
Morbidelli had already made improvements at Silverstone, he and his crew chief having reverted the bike to the setting they started out with at Qatar, and this test merely confirmed that.
KTM had also spent a lot of time on their 2020 bike, test rider Dani Pedrosa taking over from Johann Zarco, who stopped testing after the first day.
Pedrosa demonstrated that he still has plenty of speed, ending the test as sixteenth fastest and quicker than factory rider Pol Espargaro. The new RC16 is much improved, the chassis a big step forward compared to this year’s bike, according to Espargaro.
Espargaro praised the work of Pedrosa. “Pedrosa is doing a really good job with the 2020 chassis,” he told GPOne.com. “The 2020 KTM helps to have better corner speed and gives a much safer feeling when the rear starts to slide. It’s a bit better than our current bike, and this makes me happy.”
Ducati spent most of their time working on setup for the race, one of the most important of the calendar for the Italian factory, together with Mugello. Andrea Dovizioso was pleased with his fitness after his huge crash in Silverstone, but less pleased with his pace.
They had focused on the race weekend, and on parts they might use for the race, he said, but because of the lack of grip, he had found the bike quite difficult to ride, Dovizioso explained.
Danilo Petrucci had also focused on race setup, but he was more positive than his teammate. He and his team had returned to a setup used in earlier races where he had been fast, and it had worked quite well. They had worked especially on braking, and that had improved, especially at a low-grip track.
Test rider Michele Pirro had been given the bulk of the development work for the coming years. One major difference was a new fairing Pirro was using on the Ducati.
That had more of a curved underside, rather than a straight bottom edge, the middle of the fairing slightly lower than the front and rear. That altered bottom section is almost certainly aimed at improving the airflow underneath the bike, presumably to help with the rear swingarm spoiler.
Suzuki didn’t really have much new to test, but instead worked on confirming parts tested previously at Brno. Alex Rins tested the different chassis he had already tried at the Brno test, and that confirmed his initial impressions from then.
Rins also worked on setup for the race, while teammate Joan Mir concentrated on getting back up to speed now that he was on the bike again for the first time since his monster crash at the Brno test.
Though Rins did not string very long runs together, his pace looked very impressive, managing to get into the 1’33s with relative ease.