You would think that after a tough weekend of racing in punishing conditions, the riders would find it very hard to spend eight hours on a MotoGP bike, pushing as close to race pace as possible, testing new parts and setup.
Not according to Andrea Dovizioso. “No, for me it’s very easy, and it’s the easiest way to do that. If there is a break, it’s worse,” he told us at the end of Monday’s test at Brno.
There was a pretty full cast of MotoGP characters present, with one or two notable exceptions. The Reale Avintia and Angel Nieto Team Ducati teams were both absent, because they had nothing to test except setup, and testing is expensive.
Pol Espargaro was in the hospital waiting for scans on his broken collarbone and his back, which confirmed that luckily only his collarbone was fractured, and it won’t need to be plated (though he will definitely miss KTM’s home race at the Red Bull Ring in Austria).
HRC test rider Stefan Bradl was also absent, after stretching ligaments in his right shoulder in a crash he caused on the first lap. A crash in which he also took out Maverick Viñales, who also suffered a minor shoulder injury, and decided not to test.
Given the massive tension in Viñales’ garage at the moment between him and his crew, skipping the test may have been the best option anyway.
The Monday test at Barcelona felt like a proper test. Normally, such tests descend into a simple shoot out in the last fifteen minutes, frail egos demanding to finish fastest, especially when only pride is at stake.
But perhaps the Barcelona race had taken a little too much out of the protagonists, or the hot and humid conditions were simply not conducive to spend even more energy risking everything for pointless pride, or perhaps the riders realize that the season is now so tightly packed with no summer break that they cannot risk injury when it doesn’t count. Whatever the reason, at the test, people concentrated on testing.
Not that the riders or teams were particularly forthcoming about what exactly they were testing. Some were more open than others: Suzuki said they were testing a new swingarm, and engine update, and retesting the new chassis they have been using since Mugello.
Danilo Petrucci tested a new exhaust, a new gearbox, and a new swingarm, which he promptly broke by taking it for a tumble through the gravel.
Once upon a time, a post-race test would see almost a full complement of riders taking part. But in the past couple of years that has changed, as spec software has meant fewer things to do.
The spec software, the engine freeze, the aerodynamics freeze: there is less to test, and so more factories are opting out of the one-day post-race tests.
So it was at Jerez on Monday that the factory Ducati riders, the Ecstar Suzuki team, and the Gresini Aprilia squad all decided to skip the test at Jerez in favor of some private testing at Mugello later in the week.
Behind closed doors, they can work a little more freely, away from the prying eyes of the press, and especially of a contingent of photographers.
There are other reasons to be wary of a post-race test. The track is in as good a condition as it is going to get on the Monday after a race. It has been swept clean by a weekend of racing, and the last class to smear its rubber all over the track is MotoGP.
So the bikes are treated to a clean, well rubbered in circuit, allowing lap times to drop. The average improvement between the race and the test was nearly 1.3 seconds a lap.
About half the 16 permanent riders who took to the track on Monday improved their times from qualifying. It is fair to say that Monday tests can be deceptive.
Monday was the next episode in a busy ten days for MotoGP. After the Czech Grand Prix, Brno played host to the traditional post-race test, with all the MotoGP paddock bar the satellite Ducatis taking part.
After a mixed weekend of weather, conditions were absolutely perfect, with warm (but not hot) temperatures, clear skies, and a track that got better and better as the day went on and bikes laid down more rubber.
Valentino Rossi ended on top of the timesheets, an unusual occurrence in recent years. Rossi has never been short of speed, but has usually needed the adrenaline boost of race day to find the final tenth or so to put him ahead of his rivals.
The test was enough on Monday, Rossi beating Marc Márquez by eighteen thousandths of a second, while Maverick Viñales was third and Jorge Lorenzo fourth.
After a tough race on Sunday, managing tires on a drying track, around half of the MotoGP grid headed back to the track on Monday for a day of testing. Not everyone was enthusiastic about that.
“Usually we hate Mondays, and this is a Monday that we hate,” Danilo Petrucci told us with a wry grin on his face. He pinpointed why testing made a lot less sense for satellite riders than for factory teams.
Satellite teams only really have setup changes to test, and the occasional tires, if the single tire supplier has something new. There was a real downside to working on setup at a track you have just raced at, Petrucci said. “If you are angry because you didn’t get the best set up on Sunday, you getting more angry if you find it on Monday.”
What did we learn from the first proper MotoGP test of the new era of Michelin tires and spec-electronics? More than we hoped, yet less than we think. A quick run down on the state of play after Sepang, with more to come over the following days.
The riders approached the Sepang test with some trepidation, fearing that Michelin had not fixed its wayward front that caused so many crashes at Valencia and Jerez.
Their fears were unfounded, the new front tires which Michelin brought – a total of five different types, of varying construction and compound – were all a massive step forward.
They were not as stable as the Bridgestones they replaced, but they had gained a lot of predictability and feedback. There were very few crashes that the riders said they had not seen coming.
That does not mean that all of the problems have been solved. A couple of people went down at Turn 5 on Tuesday, in crashes they described as strange. Casey Stoner (more on him later) had a typically concise and thoughtful analysis.
“There’s a little point after probably 45°, that [the tire profile] goes down just a little bit more, that it doesn’t seem to match with the rear with some of the profiles that we’ve tested,” Stoner explained.
“That gives everybody a little bit a nervous feeling, and essentially why people are struggling into Turn 5, a big fast open corner, going in, when the bike goes light, it doesn’t like that feeling. It makes the bike a little nervous, and I think that’s when the front wants to break away.”
What did we learn from the first day of testing at Sepang? Exactly what we expected to learn. Some riders have adapted quickly, others less quickly. The Michelins have made a big step forward, and the teams have started to understand the Michelin tires better.
The spec-electronics still need plenty of work, but are pretty usable in their current form (and well liked by the riders). Yamaha and Ducati have adapted well, Honda not very well at all, with the possible exception of Dani Pedrosa.
Above all, we learned that it is too early to be making any judgment calls, and that everyone still has a lot of work to do, and a lot of room for improvement. Today’s outcome is interesting, but not definitive.
In other words, if your favorite rider is near the top of the timesheets, you can feel optimistic that they will do well in 2016. If your favorite rider is nearer the bottom, you can console yourself with the fact that there is hope, and that testing will solve the worst of the issues.
Despite being exhausted from a full weekend (make that a complete season) of testing, the entire MotoGP grid was once again out in force on Monday, turning the first laps of the 2015 preseason (full times here).
All except Nicky Hayden, that is, as Honda have brought only one RC213V-RS to Valencia, and there was no point for Hayden to spend more time on the RCV1000R, as that bike will be replaced by the new RS for next season. Hayden gets his turn on the bike tomorrow, weather permitting.
There was both old and new on display at the test, some things virtually unchanged, others radically different. New riders joined the grid, as well as two new factories, and a reshuffling of riders and crew between the garages.
The biggest change was at Suzuki, which saw Aleix Espargaro move from the Forward Yamaha team into the new Suzuki squad, where he was joined by Maverick Viñales, fresh from Moto2. Both riders were very impressed with the GSX-RR, praising its handling and the bike.
It should hardly come as a surprise that Marc Marquez should be fastest man on the day at the post-race test at Barcelona. The Spaniard has been the standout of the season, and for him to be fastest, even at a track where he has not dominated like at others, is starting to become par for the course. More of a surprise is the name of the man in second.
Bradley Smith came up just four hundredths short of Marquez, making up for a mediocre race on Sunday, caused by a tire which was not performing as expected. The first thing Smith did when he started testing in earnest this morning was to try the same tire he used in the race.
Having a test on the Monday after the last race of the season is a rather cruel punishment for the MotoGP riders. The Sunday night after Valencia is usually a rather festive affair, with teams holding parties to mark either the departure of one rider, the arrival of a new one, celebrating success or drowning their sorrows.
For those ‘lucky’ enough to go to the FIM Gala awards, a stately and formal affair, there is also the need to blow off some steam afterwards, riders are never very good at sitting still for a couple of hours while official presentations are made. Most people in the paddock are usually a little worse for wear on Monday morning.