This is the first in a series of weekly round ups of motorcycle racing news from around the world. Every Wednesday, we will bring a brief summary of stories that did not warrant a full article of their own. So here are some stories you may have missed, for the week preceding February 11th, 2015.
2014 did not go to plan for Yamaha. After the first four races of last year, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo trailed the Repsol Hondas by 76 points in the team championship, and Yamaha was 33 points behind Honda in the manufacturers standings. Marc Márquez was in the middle of an unbeaten run, Dani Pedrosa backing him up strongly.
There were a lot of good reasons for Yamaha’s troubled start. Yamaha was struggling to get a smooth throttle response from a liter less fuel, the new Bridgestone tires were less suited to the YZR-M1’s need for high corner speeds, and Jorge Lorenzo arrived at the start of the season out of shape, after neglecting his training after surgery during the winter.
2015 looks like being the polar opposite. At the launch of their 2015 campaign, the Movistar Yamaha team looked forward with some optimism. Building on the progress made in the second half of 2014, the bike is much more competitive, Valentino Rossi arrives motivated by his strong season, and Jorge Lorenzo is lean and fit, having spent all off-season preparing. They are ready for big things.
The performance of the RCV1000R has been a source of some disappointment for the teams who stumped up the roughly 1 million euros a season in bike costs, as well as for the riders who have been hired to race the bike. After reports that a Honda test rider had lapped with 0.3 seconds of the factory RC213V machine, expectations of the bike were very high indeed.
On the track, the RCV1000R has not got anywhere near the times expected of it. Comparing the fastest race lap of the fastest RCV1000R rider against the slowest RC213V rider shows an average difference of 0.730 seconds over the first five races of the season, four tenths more than Honda had managed with a test rider.
Teams have complained, riders have been open in criticizing the lack of power, and the current teams have been eyeing the Open class Yamahas fielded by the NGM Forward team with some interest.
Seventh fastest, half a second off the fastest factory Yamaha of Valentino Rossi, and ahead of the two Tech 3 riders Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro. By lunchtime on the second day, Aleix was closer still, just two tenths off the best Yamaha.
Naturally, all eyes turned to the Tech 3 garage, and the response of team boss Herve Poncharal. How would the otherwise charming Frenchman react to being beaten by a bike which Yamaha was supplying to a rival team for a third of the price he is paying to lease the Tech 3 Yamaha M1 machines, entered under the Factory Option rules in MotoGP?
A long line of journalists beat a path to his door, including us, to put those questions to him.
Poncharal spoke at length about the Open class, the issue of fuel consumption, and the performance of Aleix Espargaro. First of all, though, he emphasized the strength of his relationship with Yamaha.
One of the great privileges which holding a MotoGP media pass allows is to stand behind the armco and watch and listen to the bikes as they go past. At the Sepang test, I made full use of that opportunity, and wandered over to Turn 3 – the glorious, fast right hander, where the riders get sideways driving through the turn and onto the short straight to Turn 4 – to enjoy the spectacle of the best riders of the world showing off their skills.
There is more to be learned from watching at trackside than just how spectacular MotoGP bikes are through fast corners, though. The careful observer can pick up clues to what both the riders and factories are doing. With electronics such a key part of MotoGP nowadays, the track is one of the few places where updates are visible.
Updated vehicle dynamics algorithms may be invisible from pit lane (or nearly so, with the occasional addition of sensors or torque gauges the only visible clue), bike behavior on the track will sometimes betray them.
At the end of 2013, Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa had asked for more stability under braking, and some more corner speed. Listening to the bikes at Sepang gave a possible clue as to how they had achieved that. The differences in engine note between the various bikes were instructive of the varying levels of electronics, engine braking strategies, and gearbox function.
That Honda have been working on braking and corner entry was audible at Sepang. Though the RC213V always sounded smooth under braking, braking for Turn 4 the improvement was noticeable.
So Yamaha have brought their seamless gearbox to Misano. Being of a mind not just to blindly believe what Yamaha say they are doing, I naturally spent all of MotoGP FP1 on pit wall, watching the bikes come out of the 2nd gear final corner, and recording the sound of the gear changes to measure the gaps and estimate the length of time spent changing gears.
Without even looking at the numbers, you could tell the difference: the gear changes of both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi were audibly quicker, taking place without the usual bang of exploding fuel as the quickshifter cuts ignition.
The difference was clear even when they were riding on their own, but when Bradley Smith and Cal Crutchlow went past shortly afterwards, the difference between the factory and the satellite machines was stunning. Where a large gap and small explosion could be heard when the Tech 3 bikes changed gear, the factory machines sounded smooth, revs dropping but continuing to drive, well, seamlessly.
You didn’t even need to hear the noise: just watching the bikes come out of the final corner gave you enough visual clues to see the bikes were using the seamless gearbox. The factory Yamahas were smoother, with less wheelie, and no movement of the rear when the gears were changed. This was clearly a seamless transmission Yamaha were using.
Will they or won’t they? The “they”, of course, were Yamaha, and the question was whether Yamaha would start to use their seamless gearbox at Misano, something which riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo had been asking for a long time.
That the gearbox would be used at the test on Monday seemed obvious, but several publications – including both MCN and the Spanish website Motocuatro – predicted that Yamaha’s seamless transmission would be raced at Misano.
They were right. In the press conference on Thursday, Jorge Lorenzo was the first to break the news. “It will be here for the weekend,” he said, going on to clarify: “tomorrow.” Rossi was delighted, telling the press conference he was very happy that Yamaha had decided to start using the seamless transmission, as it could help them in their fight against Honda.
It had been widely rumored that Yamaha would have some important updates to test at its private test being held yesterday and today at Brno.
The biggest expected update to be tested was a seamless gearbox, but though Yamaha Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis had hinted they might be testing the new gearbox, it was far from certain.
As the test at Brno was a private one, no media were invited who would be able to verify whether the seamless gearbox was being tested or not.
Fortunately, however, the Brno circuit was allowing visitors in to watch the test. And among those was Pavel, who runs the Czech Valentino Rossi fansite http://www.rossi-yamaha.cz/.
Pavel shot some video footage of the private test – thankfully not covered by the blanket ban Dorna has on all coverage of the official tests – and was kind enough to send us the audio from the recordings.
Armed with that audio, we were able to analyze the sound, as we have done previously (on both the Honda and the Yamaha), to try to judge whether Yamaha was indeed testing a seamless gearbox, and if it was, what advantage it was giving the riders.
With MotoGP’s summer break halfway done, testing resumes later this week for some of the top names in the sport. Current and former champions take to the track at Brno and Motegi, with Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki all testing a range of material.
The most relevant test for this year’s championship will be held at Brno, where Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi will be testing the factory M1s. Lorenzo’s aim will be to test his collarbone, while Rossi continues to work on set up, chasing minor improvements to the major step forward made during the Aragon test.
The Yamaha pair will also hope to be testing Yamaha’s seamless gearbox at the two-day test, the first time that the factory riders will get to try out the new seamless transmission. So far, it has only been tested by Yamaha’s test riders in Japan, working on reliability. Whether the Brno test means that the seamless gearbox will be ready for use later this season remains to be seen.
Over in Japan, Yamaha’s test team, consisting Wataru Yoshikawa and Katsuaki Nakasuga, will be at Motegi, where they will be joined for a private test by Honda’s test team and Suzuki. Motegi sees the temporary return of Casey Stoner to the MotoGP fold, where he will be replacing the injured Kousuke Akiyoshi.
Stoner will be testing Honda’s 2014 RC213V to be used by the factory team, and also continuing work on the production racer Honda is building as a replacement for the CRT bikes. Joining Stoner will be his former crew chief Cristian Gabarrini, an indication of just how seriously HRC are taking this test.
Why did the factory Yamaha team head to the Motorland Aragon circuit to join Honda and Suzuki at a private test? Was it perhaps to give Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi their first taste of the seamless gearbox Yamaha have been developing, to counter Honda’s advantage?
That is the question which many fans have been asking, and in recent days – and weeks – I have been inundated with questions about the seamless gearbox. Well, question, singular, actually, as it all boils down to just the one: When will Yamaha finally start to race their seamless gearbox?
It is a question I have been trying to pursue since the start of the season, since rumors first emerged that they may have used the gearbox at the first race of the year. All inquiries I made, at all levels of the Yamaha organization, received the same answers: Yes, Yamaha is developing a seamless gearbox, and is testing it back in Japan. No, Yamaha has not yet raced it, and has no plans to race it. And no, it is not yet ready to be tested.
Ask Jorge Lorenzo if there is one thing which the Yamaha needs to allow him to compete with the Hondas, and he will tell you it is a seamless gearbox. The system used by HRC on the Honda RC213V allows the riders to shift gear while the bike is still leaned over, without upsetting the machine. It is an important factor in the Honda’s better drive out of corners, as Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez, Stefan Bradl, and Alvaro Bautista can shift gear earlier and make optimum use of the rev range to accelerate harder.
That Yamaha is working on a seamless gearbox is no secret, with Yamaha’s test riders currently racking up the kilometers around tracks in Japan, testing the reliability of the maintenance-intensive system to the limit before using it in a race. Recently, however, Spanish magazine SoloMoto published an article suggesting that Yamaha has already been using its new seamless gearbox since the beginning of the season.
In evidence, the magazine pointed to an apparent difference in fuel consumption between the factory Yamahas and the satellite bike of Cal Crutchlow. While both Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi made mistakes at Qatar, only Rossi was able to recover, and then battle with Marc Marquez for the podium. The theory put forward by SoloMoto was that the smoother transition between gears gave both better drive and lower fuel consumption, as the ignition is cut for a much shorter period, wasting less of the limited gasoline the MotoGP bikes are allowed.
My own enquiries to check whether Yamaha was using a seamless gearbox or not always received the same answer: no, Yamaha is not using the seamless gearbox. The reason given was simple: with Jorge Lorenzo defending his title and Valentino Rossi in the race for the championship, they simply cannot afford to have a single DNF down to a mechanical failure of the new-fangled seamless gearbox. The risks involved were just too great, especially when taking the reduction in engine allowance into account, with just five engines allowed all season, down from six in 2012.
To test this denial, I went out to the side of the track on Friday morning at Jerez to record the bikes as they went by. I sat at the exit of Turn 10, Peluqui, and recorded the bikes as they accelerated towards Turn 11. It is a spot where they change gear once, before braking briefly for Turn 11 and then powering on to Turn 12 and the final short straight and hairpin.