After an absence of some three weeks or so, the MotoGP teams once again return to action at Sepang for the second official test of the preseason. The intervening period has seen a flurry of activity in the factories in Japan and Italy, and at CRT team headquarters around Europe. The data accrued on the first visit to the Malaysian circuit has been analyzed, assessed, and more modifications made and ideas worked out for the second Sepang test. So what can we expect to see in Malaysia for the next three days? And what are the key details to keep an eye on?
The results of the first visit to Sepang went much as expected: Dani Pedrosa continued on the upward path that saw the Repsol Honda rider dominate the second half of the MotoGP season in 2012. Jorge Lorenzo kept Pedrosa honest, the factory Yamaha man sticking close to Pedrosa on all but the last day of the first test. Valentino Rossi demonstrated that he is still competitive, though he conveniently left the question of whether that is going to be good enough for podiums, wins or championships up in the air. Marc Marquez lived up to expectations, though given just how high those expectations were, that is an impressive enough feat on its own. Cal Crutchlow confirmed that he is the best of the rest, though Stefan Bradl ran him close; Bradley Smith made the kind of transition to MotoGP that validated his team boss' faith in the young Briton; and the Ducatis proved just how deep a hole they find themselves in, by finishing the test two seconds or more off the pace.
Just over 18 months ago, I wrote a long analysis of what I believed at the time was the main problem with Ducati's Desmosedici MotoGP machine. In that analysis, I attributed most of the problems with the Desmosedici to the chosen angle of the V, the angle between the front and rear cylinder banks. By sticking with the 90°V, I argued, Ducati were creating problems with packaging and mass centralization, which made it almost impossible to get the balance of the Desmosedici right. The engine was taking up too much space, and limiting their ability to adjust the weight balance by moving the engine around.
Though there was a certain logic to my analysis, it appears that the engine angle was not the problem. Yesterday, in their biweekly print edition, the Spanish magazine Solo Moto published an article by Neil Spalding, who had finally obtained photographic evidence that the Honda RC213V uses a 90°V, the same engine angle employed by the Ducati Desmosedici. Given the clear success of the Honda RC213V, there can no longer be any doubt that using a 90°V is no mpediment to building a competitive MotoGP machine.
The photographic proof comes as confirmation of rumors which had been doing the rounds in the MotoGP paddock throughout the second half of the 2012 season. Several people suggested that the Honda may use a 90° angle, including Ducati team manager Vitto Guareschi, speaking to GPOne.com back in November. I had personally been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a naked RC213V engine at one rain-soaked race track in September, but while the glimpse through the window may have been good enough to form the impression of an engine that looked like it may have been a 90°V, it was a very long way from being anything resembling conclusive, and nowhere near enough to base a news story on.
Analyzing the Valencia Moto3 Preseason Test: The Threat of a Spanish Fairy Tale, The New Engine Manufacturer, And Real Hopes for a Shy Girl
A new Moto3 season is about to start and, even if it is obviously too soon to talk about favourite contenders for the final crown, watching the fastest riders on the track and examining lap times can give an idea of how 2013 may play out in the smallest class. After three days of testing at the Ricardo Tormo racetrack -with nicer weather everyday- it is clear that KTM is a step ahead again. But lap times are not everything and these test sessions brought some other interesting facts. Preseason is always a time for hopes, wishes and nice words, as you can conclude from the quotes of riders and teams. Spanish riders have finished as the three fastest on lap times, but we cannot forget, as many of the Spanish sports newspapers do –fortunately not the motorcycle magazines-, Valencia is a home track for them, and things may turn out quite differently at a track outside of Spain. As experience has proved in the past, the start of a season may be quite different to its end.
As many expected, Maverick Viñales looks like being the strongest rider for the upcoming season. The Spaniard was the fastest rider in almost every session and his compatriots Alex Rins and Luis Salom followed him in the final standings. However, does this mean the season will be doomed to be a Spanish fairytale? Of course, it won't be necessarily that way. There are some other quick riders, such as German Jonas Folger, new Aussie hero Jack Miller, last season's biggest Italian surprise Romano Fenati or Great Britain's youngest hope John McPhee. If we talk about technical surprises, the newborn Mahindra-Suter project has showed a great potential on its first serious outing.
Joy, determination and despair. If you had to choose three words to describe the first test of the 2013 MotoGP season, these are the words you would choose. Joy: for Valentino Rossi and his crew at finally having a bike that Rossi can ride and his team understand how to work with; for HRC, at seeing both their hopes and their expectations of Marc Marquez' ability confirmed; for Bradley Smith and Michael Laverty, at making such rapid progress on their early days in the class.
Determination: for Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo, both working hard at preparing for their assault at a title which either could win. For Marc Marquez, focused on learning everything he can to add the consistency he needs to his raw speed, if he is to match Pedrosa and Lorenzo.
Despair: for the factory Ducati riders. Sepang showed the bike is uncompetitive, and with few avenues left to explore with the machine in its present state, despair at knowing they have many months of hard, dispiriting work ahead of them before they can even start to turn the situation around.
So what are we to make of the times posted after the second day of testing at Sepang? The order in which the four 2013 aliens finished was roughly as expected: Dani Pedrosa just edging Jorge Lorenzo, with Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi close behind. But did this tell the whole story? Were the times down to a single fast lap by one rider, while the others were grinding out race simulations? Or is the order in which the top four finished an accurate reflection of what we can expect for the 2013 season? Is this just a testing anomaly, or is this a preview of the 2013 Championship standings at the end of the year?
Predicting the championship is a little premature on the basis of just a single day's testing, but there is still sufficient data to start trying to interpret what it all means. Thanks to the fact that the full timesheets of every lap are now available on the MotoGP.com website, we can start to dig into the numbers, and see what patterns emerge.
Just as a reminder, here is how the top four finished:
It would be one of the larger understatements of the decade to say that the first MotoGP test of the year at Sepang was eagerly anticipated. After the anti-climactic washout that was Valencia, many big questions of the 2013 season had been left hanging in the air over the winter. Given that motorcycle racing fans hate a vacuum even more than Nature does, they filled it, with speculation, conjecture, hyperbole and not a small amount of vitriol.
Would Valentino Rossi prove he still has it, or was his switch to Ducati merely the start of his downhill slide to retirement? Is Marc Marquez the real thing, or were his results in Moto2 deceptive, and down only to skullduggery on the part of his former team? Can Yamaha match the Hondas, or does the advantage which Dani Pedrosa had over the second half of the season mean it will be impossible for Jorge Lorenzo to defend his title? What of Ducati? Will Andrea Dovizioso succeed where Rossi failed, and will the Italian factory be able to claw back some of the ground they have been steadily losing to the Japanese factories since 2007?
After nearly 8 hours of track time - more than many expected, with rain forecast for the period during the test - we have answers to replace the speculation, and data to fill the gaping void created by the winter testing break. Were the answers found a surprise? That depends on your perspective. Did anyone seriously think Rossi wouldn't get closer on the Yamaha to the front runners than he did on the Ducati? No. But does the gap to Pedrosa - 0.427 seconds - mean he is fast enough to compete for the championship, or will it leave him running round in third all year? Was anyone surprised by Marquez running up front right from the off? Surely not. But who predicted he would get within a few hundredths of his teammate on just his second proper test? Did anyone seriously expect the Ducatis to have closed the gap to Honda and Yamaha? That would be crazy. But to be two seconds down?
It's nearly time. In a few short hours, the full MotoGP field will roll out onto the track for the first time this year, and the 2013 MotoGP season will officially get underway with preseason testing.
That, at least, is the hope. For testing to truly get underway, MotoGP needs the weather to cooperate, something it has been reluctant to do for the past couple of days during the two days of extra testing laid on for the CRT teams using the new Magneti Marelli ECU. Part of Sunday and just about all of Monday were lost to rain, and the forecast for the next three days is for more rain than usual in this part of the world. Fortunately, the mornings look like being dry, so the fans will at least get to see some action on track.
And there is plenty to look forward to. The biggest topic of conversation among fans, unsurprisingly, is Valentino Rossi's return to Yamaha. The Italian got off to a false start upon leaving the Ducati garage and heading a few doors down to Yamaha, when the weather at the Spanish track made conditions tricky and comparisons difficult. Yamaha then decided to up sticks and head to Aragon, in the hope of finding some dry track time. They were disappointed.
So Sepang should be the first real test of just how competitive Rossi still is once he is back on a bike which he understands and has a front end which provides him with the feedback he relies on to go fast. Rossi has seen his career come to a standstill for the past two years at Ducati, while the men he will have to beat this year have grown in stature and experience, and are now at the peak of their careers. The Italian will have to hit the ground running if he is to catch Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, and it will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination.
With the first full test for the World Superbike class behind us, and the first test of the MotoGP grid about to get underway at Sepang at the end of this week, it is time to take a look at motorcycle racing's preseason, and evaluate where we stand so far. Just what is the state of play for both MotoGP and World Superbike in 2013?
The question is even more pertinent now that both series have been taken under the wing of Dorna, much to the consternation of World Superbike fans and, to some extent, the WSBK paddock as well. It was feared that Dorna would either kill off World Superbike entirely to strengthen the position of MotoGP, or impose such stringent technical regulations on the series as to dumb it down to Superstock spec.
Fortunately, neither of those options looks likely. World Superbikes will continue as a separate series, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta was keen to explain when quizzed about the takeover at Ducati's Wrooom launch event early in January. The aim is to build a strong WSBK series to stand alongside MotoGP, preserving the unique identity of the two series - WSBK as a place to race production bikes, MotoGP as the series for racing prototypes.
The first step on a long road. That's how you might characterize the second day of Ducati's preseason launch event at Madonna di Campiglio in Italy. Especially when seen from a distance, the result of only a select group of journalists being invited to attend the launch, and our names not being among them.
It may be the first step, but there is no doubt that it is a big one. The many new faces at Wrooom are testament enough to that. The numerous changes within Ducati Corse and especially the Ducati MotoGP team have been well documented, but at Wrooom, the scale of the change is made visible. The overall impression is of a team which is slightly less Italian, but also one of vast experience. New Ducati Corse boss Bernhard Gobmeier may not be much older than Filippo Preziosi, the man he replaces, but the grizzled veteran Paolo Ciabatti, taking the place of a more youthful Alessandro Cicognani, highlights the seriousness with which Ducati, under their new owners Audi are taking the whole affair.
The meeting of the Grand Prix Commission last week was primarily aimed at doing a little housekeeping, and tidying up a few loose ends. What emerged from that meeting, and from the previous one held at Valencia a month ago, turned out to be a little more than that. Among the many changes announced were a few that point to the series turning down a new, and more sustainable path.
On reading the rule changes, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the official FIM press release containing the minutes may as well have been subtitled "MotoGP Regulations: The Marc Marquez Edition." Though Marquez is not yet twenty years of age, he has already left his mark on the rulebook, many of the new regulations appearing to have been drawn up in response to controversies emerging (rightly or wrongly) from Marquez and his Monlau Competicion Moto2 team.
The biggest change to the rules is the introduction of a penalty points system, aimed at bringing some clarity and consistency into the way that repeat offenders are treated. The rules arose from the debate generated by the treatment of Marquez throughout the year. The Spaniard received a number of warnings for incidents during the 2012 season, starting at Qatar, and his maneuver which forced Tom Luthi off line, passing through his collision with Pol Espargaro at Barcelona, a collision with Mika Kallio at Motegi, and ending with a penalty for an incident with Simone Corsi at Valencia, where he was forced to start from the back of the grid (the penalty did not slow him up much, he still came through most of the field on the first lap and went on to win the race).