2012 Catalunya MotoGP Test Round Up: Progress For Some, But Honda Hampered By New Bridgestone
Timesheets don't tell you everything. That much is clear from looking at the results of Monday's MotoGP test after the race. After a race weekend where everything has been focused solely on going faster than the others, the finishing order is not quite as important during testing. Cal Crutchlow summed it up perfectly: "You know when a test is just a test when the race winner by 5 seconds is 7th or 8th. So you can't take anything from today's results."
Crutchlow's day did not start off as planned. The Englishman had a 200 km/h crash on the way into turn 4, which completely wrote off his bike and took a good deal of skin off his shoulders and leg. Crutchlow said it was entirely his own fault, but it is not an unusual crash at Barcelona, as Andrea Dovizioso explained. "I had exactly the same crash in FP1 two or three years ago," he said. The problem is caused by the bridge which runs over the track, which provides just enough shade that when a track is drying after the rain, a few wet spots can still remain, but these are impossible to differentiate from the dry tarmac.
The crash threw a spanner in the works of the test plan Crutchlow's team had worked out. Crutchlow basically had three different things to test on Monday: a new engine, some new electronics, and some settings, so his team had the engine on one bike and the electronics and settings on the second bike. After stacking the bike with the new engine in, that had to be removed and swapped over to his second bike, meaning he was having to test a lot of different things together. Engineers will tell you that the way to test is to change one variable at a time, so this made it hard to understand which changes were working and which werent.
Given that Crutchlow's report was broadly similar to what Monster Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Andrea Dovizioso told reporters, it was not too much of a problem. The new electronics were a significant improvement, Dovizioso said, especially for tire wear, helping to make the tire last as long as possible. Just how well it works was illustrated by Cal Crutchlow, who did a 1'43.0 on a tire which had 37 laps on it: that's 12 more than race distance, or nearly 50% more. The new engine had good points and bad points, strong acceleration once going hard, but slightly weaker pick up after changing gear. Dovizioso said he needed "a step" to be able to compete with the front runners, and that while the new electronics were not sufficient on their own, they would have made a big difference if he'd had them during the race on Sunday, as they are the electronics that the factory Yamahas have been using all year.
As for the factory Yamahas, Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies were working on different plans. Spies is still working to get back his confidence, which seems to be damaged at every race. Whether it be mechanical issues, visor problems, set up issues or just plain mistakes, everything seems to be going wrong for Spies so far, so he is just focusing on being comfortable on the bike. He did try the new engine on Monday, and though it gave a small improvement, it was not a massive difference. "You know the riders," Spies joked, "We always want 10 km/h faster on the straightaway..."
Lorenzo confirmed Spies take on the engine, saying that they had not gained any advantage from the new engine, with good and bad points, but the test had provided Yamaha with enough information to work on improving the engine. What he really wanted was more acceleration and more top speed, the areas where the Yamaha was still suffering against the Honda, Lorenzo said. At the moment, the Yamaha was losing out especially on acceleration out of the slow corners on to long straights, like at Le Mans or Qatar. Tracks like Barcelona and Phillip Island, with much faster corners, the Yamaha was much better. But the difference with last year was significant; Yamaha had definitely closed the gap.
At Honda, they spent a lot of time working on the chatter at the rear that has plagued the bike since the start of the season. They found a few solutions to the rear chatter, though Casey Stoner was still cautious, saying he'd rather wait till he got to Silverstone to make a more complete judgment. They did feel that they had an idea of what was causing the chatter, and so had a direction to pursue. "If we could make a few new parts for Silverstone, it would be fantastic," Stoner said. The Australian was coy about the parts that he had tested and that had made the difference, saying only "It's a very small part, something we didn't really expect. But there you go, it's usually a two dollar part that makes such a big fuss, it can be a two dollar part that breaks in a race and ruins your day, so hopefully it will be a two dollar part that makes my day and helps us finish out this year without chatter." That was what he did not want to do, Stoner said, spend his last year of racing fighting against chatter.
But while the rear chatter is on its way to being fixed, there is a much bigger problem at the front. The new spec front Bridgestone is proving to be the bane of the Repsol Honda riders - when asked why the satellite riders didn't have this problem, Dani Pedrosa said simply "Look at their lap times," - creating massive chatter problems at the front. Both Stoner and Pedrosa were particularly upset by the course of events, with Pedrosa being positively angry. "I don't think this is fair on Honda," he said, referring to the way the decision to introduce the new front tire had been made. It had been presented as a safety issue, Pedrosa added, but while it made no real difference to the other bikes - the Yamahas and Ducatis prefer the "33", the newer spec front Bridgestone, but the old one works just fine - it was causing the Hondas such massive problems that they were having to ride at the limit in every corner. The front chatter was terrible, and would take a lot of work to fix.
Actually doing that work was being made impossible because of the lack of the new front spec tires for testing. At Barcelona, the riders only had two of the "33" spec tires, and none at all at the extra test day at Aragon on Wednesday. Without the new tires, testing was pointless, Pedrosa said, and Honda had decided to skip that test altogether. While it may be argued that chatter is a problem with the Honda - the RC213V has had chatter from the very beginning - as the other bikes don't suffer from it, the lack of tires available for testing does look amateurish and very poorly organized. Honda may be to blame for the chatter, but they have to be given a chance to fix it.
At Ducati, progress was limited, with both Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi focusing on setup changes rather than any major new parts. Rossi tried the new aluminium swingarm once again, and had the same chatter with it that he had on Friday, leaving the team mystified as to why it worked at Mugello and not here, tracks which are similar in nature. Perhaps the most disappointing part of the test for Valentino Rossi was that after having spent a day trying lots of different setups, they found the one that worked best was the one they had used for the race. On the one hand, it means that they are sure they are going in the right direction; on the other, it means they cannot find the half a second or so a lap that they need to be competitive.
Ducati and Yamaha now head to Aragon, for a one-day test on Wednesday, but with the track expected to be dirty from not having had bikes on the track for a while, progress there will be limited too. The real benefit from this test will be found in under two weeks, at Silverstone. Then again, being Silverstone, there is a good chance it will be soaking wet, and it will be much more of a lottery. But that's racing.Timesheets don't tell you everything. That much is clear from looking at the results of Monday's MotoGP test after the race. After a race weekend where everything has been focused solely on going faster than the others, the finishing order is not quite as important during testing. Cal Crutchlow summed it up perfectly: "You know when a test is just a test when the race winner by 5 seconds is 7th or 8th. So you can't take anything from today's results."Crutchlow's day did not start off as planned. The Englishman had a 200 km/h crash on the way into turn 4, which completely wrote off his bike and took a good deal of skin off his shoulders and leg. Crutchlow said it was entirely his own fault, but it is not an unusual crash at Barcelona, as Andrea Dovizioso explained. "I had exactly the same crash in FP1 two or three years ago," he said. The problem is caused by the bridge which runs over the track, which provides just enough shade that when a track is drying after the rain, a few wet spots can still remain, but these are impossible to differentiate from the dry tarmac.