Another day and another fairly extensive (and expensive) crash-fest at Valencia to close the initial bout of MotoGP pre-season testing. Marc Marquez ended the test fastest, closely followed by Suzuki-powered Maverick Vinales, although times are obviously nothing to read into.
For many of the riders, it was the first time sampling the new unified software and Magneti Marelli electronics package. After years of factory-spec trickery, infinite adjustment and perfect control during every corner lap after lap, the more basic Marelli kit was visibly harder work at Valencia: kicking round on corner entry with unrefined engine braking control, and slightly larger wheelies on corner exit – something we haven’t seen in years. Has the plan worked? Will this spec software provide closer racing? They’ll certainly need refining. Dani Pedrosa said, “there were some serious problems” with the electronics, as revs would randomly pick up.
It was also novel to witness tyres’ sidewalls flex under stress following years of Bridgestone stability. While the Michelin rear tyre was again unanimously praised for its drive and side grip, the front hoop caught out countless riders with front-end tuckery and arm-flapping from the gravel. From what we can gather, no-one was injured…
Michael Laverty made a brief appearance in the world feed comms box, and made some valid points about the rubber and how a tyre’s performance reflects its company DNA. The Bridgestone front needed thrashing to within gnat’s pube of crashing just to make them work. Conversely, the French rubber requires a very different riding style, not to mention set-up.
Apart from some mysterious formation riding from the Repsol Hondas and the evident pace from the Suzuki pairing (which is good to see), there was nothing of real significance today. There were a lot of 4/5 lap stints going on, returning to the box and waiting for engineers to make adjustments/work their magic.
Which is probably why – at around lunchtime in Valencia – journalists got bored of writing about tyres and crashing, so instead cultivated a story about Casey Stoner making a return to Ducati. It turned out to be more than a story, aided by the good old double-bluffing technique, and it actually looks like Stoner will take on a testing role with the Bologna factory with some wildcard options should any injuries occur.
Having ‘helped’ Honda with its MotoGP developments this year, Ducati has picked the perfect time to appoint Stoner for back-to-back spankings. And having arguably the world’s fastest rider on his day potentially back on the grid alongside Rossi, Marquez and Lorenzo, embroiled in the raging conflict? Oh yes.
Full results here…
What the factory riders did say…
Marc Marquez: “I think we all have a lot of work ahead of us with the new electronics, because it is very different to what we had before. Today we spent the whole day analysing the new Magneti Marelli software. The area we must improve the most is exiting corners, rather than engine braking and the anti-wheelie which I didn’t feel was much different – although we are still using a very basic setup. We are trying out many things and the problem is that it is a very slow process to find a good base. After each five-lap stint, you spend a lot of time in the garage waiting to go back out. We also tried the new engine, although there are still many things to setup and we have to first focus on the electronics before studying that properly.”
Dani Pedrosa: “Overall, we’ve had two days that have been useful for gaining confidence with the new tyres and getting a first impression with working with the new electronics. Since we introduced these electronics, we have realised that there are some serious problems and we have tried to understand them. Last night the entire team worked very late to have a better setup for today. We also tested the new engine, but right now – with the electronics as they are – it is very difficult to evaluate it properly. We need more time in order to go to the next test with a good foundation, one that allows us to obtain better information about the new engine.”
Valentino Rossi: “The second day, for us, was quite positive. It was a long day, I did a lot of laps and I tried to improve my feeling with the new tyres. I’m quite happy because in the afternoon my lap times were not so bad. I did long runs to understand the tyres and I was always quite fast. We improved the bike a lot compared to yesterday and the tyres, especially the front gave a better feedback and this is the most important. We also worked a little bit on the electronics systems for next year, which has already improved a lot compared to yesterday, but we still have work to do. For me we need to continue to work, because it looks like we are a bit more in trouble with the Michelin tyre, especially corner entry and weight distribution. For sure, this is just the first step, but it’s not so bad because we improved by a second compared to yesterday so we just have to make some more kilometres.”
Jorge Lorenzo: “The 2016 machine we tried in Aragon is the bike that’s adapted to the Michelin tyres to get the best performance. The fuel tank is on the back, behind the seat, before it was in front of the rider. Today we focused on the electronics, as our lap times are still half a second slower than the lap time we made with the old version. The other thing we worked on is the front tyres of Michelin, which we are still trying to improve. I felt for example that under braking the rear is very grippy in the centre of the tyre but when you start leaning with the front whilst still braking, the front gives you more instability and you can’t push so much with the brakes. I used the 2016 electronics all day. Yesterday neither the power nor the engine brake was giving the best performance, so they worked on that for the next morning and today I felt that it was much better and we improved quite a bit during the whole day.”
Maverick Vinales: “In these two days we have only tested the new tyres, because they were completely new for me and I needed to focus on their feeling, and I must say that I feel very comfortable. The grip at the rear is very positive, it gives me much confidence and I can take different lines around the circuit that I prefer. The front though needs some more work. I have had some crashes in these last two days and we need to understand what makes the front tyre suddenly lose grip. Our feeling is that the peculiarities of the Michelin require us to load more weight to the front-end, this can come from my riding style and also from geometry and set-up. For sure, we still need to learn a lot, we are only at the beginning of our understanding and definitely need to go more in-depth.”
Aleix Espargaro: “This second day was positive as well, this morning I struggled to find a good feeling and finally I also crashed; my third time in these two days, and so with my crew we decided to change the bike a lot to see how it reacted. The new balance gave me better feeling, I can exploit the extreme grip of the rear and also exploit the front better, which was the weak point yesterday. Indeed, it is still something that we have to improve, we know more and more about the tyres’ characteristics and now we will start to apply modifications to the geometry and set-up to see how it goes.”
Andrea Iannone: “I am pleased with how well I got used to the Michelin tyres: overall I’ve got quite a clear idea on the riding style you have to use and in next year’s tests I feel sure we will continue to make progress. Today we also tried the unified software and in the end it went well because I always managed to improve, and we did other chassis set-up tests, using the bike the way it was during the race weekend. I am quite satisfied, but not with the final result because my goal is to always be amongst the best, and instead a ninth place does not live up to my expectations.”
Andrea Dovizioso: “It was an important test because we had to get a good idea of how the new Michelin tyres behave, and that’s the most important thing at the moment in order to be able to go strongly. In these two days we have worked a lot and I believe that we have managed to give important feedback for the development. Towards the end of the day I also used the new software, which is a bit different from what we were used to, but all things considered I felt OK and I am happy with the way things went.”
Pics: Repsol Media/Honda/Yamaha Racing/Ducati/Suzuki