Considered the one rider who...
Considered the one rider who will be able to consistently challenge Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo was very satisfied with the overall performance of the new 1000cc M1.
The 2012 MotoGP World Championship officially kicked off under the desert lights in Qatar. But the season actually began two months earlier when the 2012 testing season began under the sweltering Malaysia sun in Sepang. It was there — over three long humid days — that a sense of what the evolving championship would look like developed.
Financial realities finally caught up to the paddock in 2011. The notion that manufacturers could spend freely, and lease their prototypes for millions of euros, came to a crashing halt. Sponsorship continued to dry up, as did the coffers of at least two of the three remaining factories. Anticipating this, the major parties, Dorna, the FIM, and teams organization IRTA, agreed on a formula for filling the grid with lower-priced, lower-spec machines that unfortunately have attracted mostly less-talented riders.
Valentino Rossi was obviously...
Valentino Rossi was obviously much happier with the latest twin-spar aluminum-framed iteration of the GP12 Ducati, proclaiming it vastly improved over the troubled GP11 he struggled with last year.
The CRT (Claiming Rule Teams) machines made their debut last season, but it wasn’t until early in February this year that they shared the track with the latest and greatest 2012 prototypes. On the first day of the test, NGM Mobile Forward Racing’s Colin Edwards — considered the best of the CRT set — had electrical problems with the team’s new generation machine that forced him onto a lower-spec backup bike. When the software glitch was remedied on the latest bike, it suffered from severe chattering on days two and three.
“Honestly, you can see my hands,” he said, showing heavy calluses. “I feel like I’ve been holding onto a jackhammer the last three days.” Edwards believed the chattering was caused by Bridgestone’s new rear tires, which offer a faster warm-up at the cost of durability. Last year the tires were blamed for a number of crashes — a good portion of the MotoGP field have suffered a cold tire crash at one time or another, including all three Repsol Honda riders on the first day of practice for the 2011 Dutch TT. Edwards was willing to return to the old tire to alleviate the chatter. “I’ll give up a little safety or whatever on the first couple laps to have no chatter.”
The NGM Forward team is the only one using Bosch electronics, but the company’s technicians made a huge leap at the test and Edwards was closer to being able to ride the bike to its potential. Edwards felt that without the chattering, he’d be up very close to the satellite prototypes. “You know, with as much chatter as I have, I don’t think it’s that bad. I mean if we didn’t have any chatter, on my kids’ lives we could do a 3.0 or 2.5, no problem, easy.” Nonetheless, the CRT teams’ competitiveness remains a major question mark.
Bridgestone’s Hiroshi Yamada admitted that solving the chatter issue would be difficult. Before the control tire era, Bridgestone supplied tires to all five MotoGP manufacturers. What worked on one machine didn’t work on the others, “so the chattering is more related to the character of the machine or chassis, especially chassis. So honestly speaking we have no one line to solve this problem,” he said. The softer rear casing made the contact patch larger, which gave the riders more feedback. “This is our target and maybe the force from the tire is a little bit more; I don’t know how much percentage, 10 percent or 20 percent more. Maybe this makes the chattering problem.”
There was no question the new rear warmed up faster, even if the temperature in Sepang was reliably in the 90s. The question was how the tires would perform at the end of the race. It hasn’t been uncommon for Bridgestone riders to turn their fastest time on their last laps. “Concerning the rear, still we don’t know durability,” Yamada said. The determining factor would be lap time. “So how fast the lap time is also very important.” If it’s two- or three-tenths per lap, “this is a big gap for the whole 25 laps.”
Stoner was the class of the...
Stoner was the class of the MotoGP field as usual, despite sitting out the first day due to back problems, and a chattering issue that the team couldn’t quite tune out.
Repsol Honda’s Casey Stoner missed the first day of the test due to a recurrence of an old back problem that restricted him to the massage table on Tuesday before he got down to business on Wednesday and Thursday. By the end of the third day he had a gap of 0.591 seconds on the field, and it could have been much more. Besides his back, Stoner was also hampered by chattering; without those problems, he might have had a second on the field.
Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, who rode well in Sepang after a forced layoff following the loss of part of his finger in the Australian Grand Prix, was second to Stoner. Teammate Ben Spies, fourth fastest, was also on the pace, as was Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa, who finished with the third best time. But everyone was watching Valentino Rossi, and he didn’t disappoint. Using the all-new GP12 with a conventional aluminum perimeter frame, Rossi kept the gap to Lorenzo at about 0.7 seconds. More importantly, he’d regained the front-end feel that was missing last year, when he matched his career high with 12 crashes.
Dani Pedrosa seemed to adapt...
Dani Pedrosa seemed to adapt well to the 1000cc RC213V, carding the third quickest time of the first Sepang test.
After the first day on the new bike, Rossi was effusive. “Now I can squeeze the front tire, I can use the front,” he glowed. “I have a quite good temperature and also the tire works well, so is a big, big step compared to last year. And also about the position on the bike, last year I never feel confident. With this one I am okay, and I have enough room on the straight, I am in a good position in the corner.”
When the test ended his confidence was soaring. “For me, now Lorenzo and Stoner ride also better than me,” Rossi began, “but maybe with Pedrosa/Spies maybe is not impossible. And already fight for the podium for us is great.” Added crew chief Jeremy Burgess, “I definitely expect us to be challenging for the podium. I really think we should be in the mix with anybody other than perhaps (Stoner and Lorenzo) and that leaves us pumped up, really, for the podium.” Burgess explained that he’d been nervous prior to the test, “but three things I wanted here were a bike that braked and turned in well and doesn’t chatter. We had those three things and it is full credit to Ducati’s chassis design group.” Rossi’s teammate Nicky Hayden ran only a handful of laps due to his shoulder injury, which was due for surgery back in California immediately following the test.