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Danny Aldridge

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The Brno round of MotoGP turned out to be a veritable bonanza of aerodynamic developments. Honda turned up with their previously homologated fairing, and Yamaha debuted a new fairing with a modified upper half at the test on Monday.

But it was Ducati who stole the show, with a radical new design featuring a large side pod that looked remarkably like a set of wings with a cover connecting them.

That fairing triggered howls of outrage from fans. How, they asked, was this legal? The fairing appeared to have two ducts that came out at the top at right angles, then return to the fairing at right angles.

That turned out not to be the full shape of the fairing, when Danilo Petrucci sported one where the bottom half of the side duct extended lower. It seemed to be a blatant breach of the rules.

The problem, MotoGP Technical Director Danny Aldridge explained, lay in part with framing of the rules.

When Dorna demanded a ban of the original winglets, they sat with the manufacturers to draw up a set of regulations that would limit aerodynamics and eliminate the risks, yet at the same time would allow some amount of development.

That proved impossible to do with the manufacturers so split among themselves, and so Dorna had to try to come up with a set themselves.

Just how clever has Honda been with its fairings? At Assen, Cal Crutchlow spent Friday going back and forth between bikes with and without the addition of aerodynamic side pods on the outside of the fairing.

That led to some confusion among the media. Had Honda homologated the aerodynamic fairing already? Or was this something new?

I went to see Danny Aldridge to ask what the situation was, and the MotoGP technical director explained the situation.

Many (though not all) questions were answered at the Qatar MotoGP test. One of the most frustrating questions of the 2017 preseason has been answered at last, however.

For weeks, MotoGP pundits have been puzzling over what could be in the ‘salad box’ slung under the tail of the Ducati Desmosedici GP17. Was it a device to counter chatter (or ‘jounce’, as it is more properly known)? Was it something to do with Ducati’s patent on a variable exhaust nozzle for providing thrust?

At Qatar, MCN reporter Simon Patterson finally got a straight – though unofficial – answer from Ducati. The ‘salad box’ contains a bunch of electronics moved from the front of the GP17 to allow Ducati to use their new aerodynamic fairing.

That fairing has a much narrower nose, to allow for the large ducts and airfoil surfaces, which Ducati have used to replace their winglets. The reduced space in the nose forced Ducati to relocate the components which had previously been on a mount behind the front section of the fairing.

This revelation has allowed me to feel a brief sense of smugness. Since the ‘salad box’ first made an appearance, I had suspected that the contents of the box had more to do with relocating components from elsewhere, rather than any active function itself.

“The question may not necessarily be what is in the box,” I wrote before the Qatar test, “but what did putting whatever is in the box in there allow the Desmosedici GP17’s designers to move around elsewhere.” As it turns out what Ducati’s engineers were chasing was some empty space.

As veteran MotoGP journalist Dennis Noyes pointed out on Twitter late on Saturday night, on Sunday, we will start to see some of the real truth of where everyone stands.

Sunday is the last chance for the MotoGP field to do a full race simulation, putting together everything they have learned during winter testing. The last day of the test at Qatar will serve as a dress rehearsal for the race.

But Saturday gave us a quick peek at everyone’s hands. The work now is more about refinement than revolution, and genuine speed is coming to the fore. The final timesheets from Saturday do not tell the whole story, but a general picture is starting to form.

It is looking increasingly like the 2017 MotoGP championship is going to be fought out between Maverick Viñales and Marc Márquez. And while they focus on each other – which they are doing more and more – other riders, primarily Valentino Rossi, are waiting in the wings to strike.

At Sepang, after losing so much time to the weather during the shakedown test ahead of the official test, Ducati boss Gigi Dall’Igna said that there was no point in using Sepang as a test circuit, if the surface was not going to dry. “Maybe we have to test somewhere else,” he said.

Now MotoGP is somewhere else. At Qatar, where the rain is never a concern (well, almost never), and the teams don’t have to worry about the track not drying up. But arguably, the teams get even less track time at Qatar than they do at Sepang, even when it rains.

The test starts at 4pm, with the fierce Arabian sun still beating down on the track. Sunset is two hours later, and it takes a while for the track to cool to the normal temperatures that will be found at the race.

Track temperatures are fine after dark, at least for a few hours. Around 10pm, an hour before the track closes, the dew starts to form. The time at which it starts tends to vary, depending on temperature and humidity, but it is very rarely before 11pm.

Invisible damp patches on the track mean riders start to crash without warning. The sensible riders wait for the unlucky riders to crash, then take that as a signal to scurry back to their garages and call it a day.

The aerodynamic rules for the 2017 MotoGP season and beyond have been published. At a meeting of the Grand Prix Commission at Misano, a proposal from Dorna’s technical team was accepted, banning aerodynamic devices in as general a wording as possible. Wings, bulges, and anything protruding from the front of the fairing are now banned. The proposal was drawn up by a small group consisting of Director of Technology Corrado Cecchinelli, Technical Director Danny Aldridge, and Race Director Mike Webb. Their main focus was to keep the wording as general as possible, so as to avoid loopholes for engineers to exploit. Technical Director Danny Aldridge will have the final word on any fairing protrusion, precisely to prevent any doubt about workarounds.

From Silverstone to Misano: it is hard to think of a starker contrast in circuits. Silverstone sits atop a windswept hilltop in the center of England, surrounded by verdant valleys and ancient villages. Misano nestles just above the vast string of late 20th Century hotel blocks, which form Italy’s Adriatic Riviera.

Silverstone is often wet, and usually cold, no matter what time of year we go there. Misano swelters in the heat of a late Italian summer.

The tracks are very different too. Silverstone is a vast, sweeping expanse of fast and challenging tarmac. Misano is a tightly compressed complex of loops demanding more of fuel management, than of the rider.

Silverstone has old, worn, slippery tarmac with huge bumps rippled in by F1 and other car racing. Up until 2015, Misano was much the same. But it was resurfaced last year, and has fresh, dark, smooth asphalt that has a lot more grip than the old surface.

So the MotoGP riders face a very different kettle of fish a week after Silverstone. The layout of the track is likely to have the biggest impact.

Where Silverstone is full of fast third and fourth gear corners which riders enter carrying a lot of speed, most of the turns at Misano are all first and second gear. Drive and traction are the watchwords, though there are three or four corners where braking is at a premium as well.

Dorna is considering allowing communication between teams and riders via the dashboard. At a meeting today between Dorna and the teams, initial discussions took place over a system to allow teams to pass very brief messages to the dashboard of the bikes. The ability to pass messages between team and bike has been made possible thanks to the transponders currently being used in MotoGP. Those allow for a very limited and very short burst of communication as the bikes pass the timing loops at the track. Race Direction is currently using the system to pass signals to the dash in the case of a red flag, black flag or ride through penalty, but the system would also allow teams a limited ability to pass messages to the riders.

One factor which could be having an effect on tires is the aerodynamics war which has seen wings sprouting from every forward surface of the fairing.

The outbreak of strake cancer has seen the winglets massively increase in size and surface area, making the latest version on the Ducati Desmosedici GP resemble Baron von Richthofen’s Fokker Dr.I triplane.

Ducati was the first to understand and seize on the potential of the aerodynamic winglets, debuting them at Qatar last season. There were met with some skepticism for most of last year, until Yamaha suddenly rolled out their own version of them at Aragon.

In 2016, the winglet craze has infected the entire paddock, with the bikes of all five manufacturers now sporting some form of aerodynamic device.

Why did Ducati start fitting winglets? Because they work. One engineer who has seen the data told me that the effect was visible in it. The bike wheelies less when it has wings fitted compared to not having winglets.

That reduction in wheelie means that wheelie doesn’t have to be managed using the electronics to reduce power and torque. That, in turn, means the bike can accelerate harder out of the corner, reaching higher top speeds at the end of the straight.

The other manufacturers have all come to the same conclusion, hence the outbreak of winglets.

Jerez is an important punctuation mark in almost every Grand Prix season. Whether it kicks off the year, as it did ten or more years ago, or whether it marks the return to Europe after the opening overseas rounds, the racing at Jerez is always memorable and remarkable.

Not always necessarily exciting, but always portentous, marking a turning point in the championship.

So it was this year. The MotoGP race saw a shift in momentum, and Valentino Rossi win in a way we haven’t seen since 2009. The Moto2 race solidified the positions of the three best riders in the class, and edged winner Sam Lowes towards a role as title favorite.

And in Moto3, Brad Binder broke his victory cherry with one of the most astounding performances I have ever seen in any class, let alone Moto3.

Put to the back of the grid for an infraction of the software homologation rules, Binder worked his way forward to the leading group by half distance, then left them for dead. It is a race they will be talking about for a long time.