Qatar finally saw Ducati Corse unveiling its aerodynamic package for the Ducati Desmosedici GP17 race bike, and as expected the new fairing is quite the…uhhh…sight.
Surely to be controversial with MotoGP fans, whether they bleed Rosso Corsa or not, Ducati’s fairing design shows the lengths that the Italian manufacturer is willing to go through in order to keep the benefits of its winglets, while still adhering to MotoGP’s new rules on aerodynamics.
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 testing season is nearly done. The MotoGP grid assembles in Qatar for three final days of testing, in preparation for the season ahead. Much has already been done, but there is still a lot of work to get through.
Every factory, every team, every rider has things they want to try, in the hope of improving their chances in 2017. In most cases, those are just minor details, the nuances and finesses that will give hundredths of a second, not tenths. But not always.
There are always a couple of last-minute gambles to take, big ticket items that need one last decision. At Qatar this year, it is Honda’s turn to make a big decision, on which spec of engine to use for the season.
They tested one spec at Valencia, then another one at Sepang and Phillip Island, and at a one-day private test at Jerez.
It looks like they have made their decision, to go with the revised big bang engine tested for the first time at Sepang. But the cool air and hard acceleration of Qatar will be the deciding factor.
To double check, they will be bringing an extra engine to give to Jack Miller, the Marc VDS Honda rider, who has so far only used the Valencia engine.
If the Repsol riders, LCR’s Cal Crutchlow, and Jack Miller all agree, then HRC will pull the trigger on their latest engine, and race with it in 2017.
The 2017 season is starting to take shape. After the announcement of the provisional 2017 MotoGP calendar in the run up to Aragon, Dorna published the schedule of official tests for the 2017 preseason. Like the race calendar, the test calendar looks remarkably similar to last year.
Testing kicks off after the final race of 2016 in Valencia, and as last year, the riders get a day off between the race and the test, with the bikes taking to the track on Tuesday.
Up until last year, the test had always started on the Monday after the race, but that was changed last year, with the explanation that the teams needed an extra day of preparation to get the bikes set up with the Michelin tires and spec electronics.
No major technical rules are to change for 2017 (with the exception of the banning of winglets), but the extra day of rest is to be maintained.
Qatar is a tough place to test. First, there’s the timing. The track is open between 4pm and 11pm, giving a full seven hours of track time. In theory, that is. In practice, the first two hours are pretty much unusable, as track temperatures are much higher during daylight than after the sun sets.
The final hour is a risky proposition, as the moisture in the air tends to settle at some point after 10pm, forming dew on the track. The dew is as good as invisible, yet it drastically reduces grip. Crashes start to happen without warning, and at high speed.
Then there’s the sand. The first day of testing is usually more about cleaning the track than setting times, as the dust blows in from the desert to the west. It is better than it was: much of the construction in the area has now been completed, making the sand on the track just a smattering, rather than a full four-ply coating.
Effectively, there are four hours of usable track time, and a little less on the first day of the test. For the first two hours of the Qatar test, only the official test riders present at the track were actually circulating, putting laps on bikes and creating a clean line.
The official MotoGP riders were left to act the vampire, only venturing out once the sun removed its deadly rays from Arabian skies.
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.
Did they or didn’t they? That was the question after Ducati dominated the first day of the test at Sepang. Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso spent all day swapping places at the top of the timesheets, Iannone coming out on top at the end.
It was an impressive showing, but MotoGP watchers and Ducati’s rivals were quick to pass judgment: of course the Ducatis were fast, after all, they were allowed to use the soft rear tire, a concession for the Open class teams and factories who have yet to win three races in the dry. That tire is worth six or seven tenths a lap, said Valentino Rossi.
Only they didn’t use the soft tire. At least, that is what Andrea Dovizioso told reporters. He spent all day working on race setup, first on the GP14.3 to set a baseline, and then on the GP15 to work on braking set up and electronics.
Who starts the 2015 MotoGP season as favorite for the championship? The final test at Qatar will give us a much clearer picture of where the factories and riders stand than the last two tests in Sepang.
That is in part due to the fact that the factories have had time between the Sepang tests and now to work on further refining their bikes ready for the start of 2015.
But the Qatar test is also a little more representative for the rest of the season than Sepang is. The Malaysian circuit may have a good mix of fast and slow corners, but the tropical heat makes it tough on riders, tough on tires, and the track can lose a lot of grip as the temperatures rise.
It looks like 2011 will be Loris Capirossi’s final Grand Prix season, and the end of a remarkable career that has sadly fizzled in the past few years. Capirex’s last win was in 2007, his final season as a factory Ducati rider, and since switching to the Rizla Suzuki team in 2008 he has not had the equipment to show the kind of form that previously garnered both 125cc and 250cc world titles.
This season’s return to a Ducati seat with Pramac has not improved his competitiveness, and crashes have continued to add up to more aches and pains. Approaching 40, Capirossi carries many scars into each session, including hands so frail that he wears specially designed and heavily padded gloves to protect them from further impact.
In person he is friendly and polite, quick to return a smile, though lately he has seemed weary of the challenge of climbing on yet another uncompetitive bike and going out to fight for 10th place. He will always have a place in Ducati history, haven taken the team’s first win at Barcelona in 2003, and in GP history for his world titles.
It would be great to see him manage one more good result this year, but given the difficulties of the GP11, it seems more likely that he will have to be content ending his long GP career in one piece. Considering how many talented riders have come to the premier class for a season or two before disappearing for other grids, Capirossi’s decades-long GP career is quite an accomplishment.