ASSEN, HOLLAND, JUNE 28 – Ducati Marlboro’s Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden finished closer to the top in the dry than they have all year on the first day of practice for Saturday’s Dutch TT, but their performances were deceiving. They were fast for a lap or two on a soft tire, but the excessive rear tire wear that damaged their chances at the British Grand Prix two weeks ago hasn’t been solved, which both saw as a cause for concern heading into the seventh round of the MotoGP World Championship.
Yamaha’s Ben Spies was the fastest and most consistent rider on a rare warm and mostly sunny day in northern Holland. His best lap was fastest by only .006 seconds, but he strung together 14 competitive laps with a very fast one near the end.
The top 11 riders were covered by 0.417 seconds. Rossi was towards the bottom of the prototypes, in ninth and 0.430 seconds behind Spies, while Hayden was third and only 0.102 seconds back. But neither came close to matching Spies’ consistency.
Rossi says the Ducati is getting...
Rossi says the Ducati is getting closer, but there is still much work to be done, especially with regards to rear tire wear.
“Today was not so good because at the end I’m just eighth,” in the second MotoGP practice session at Assen, Rossi said, though he was ninth overall, “but especially I’m happy about the gap from the pole position, from the first position is just four-tenth (0.430 seconds), so is a good step for us. And the bike is quite good and we can push harder than Silverstone and we are closer to the top guys. And unfortunately after some laps we have too much problem with the rear, and about the race pace we are not fantastic. Both me and Nicky (Hayden) are quite fast with the new tires, but after some laps we lose a bit too much in the race pace compared to the other guys, so for tomorrow we have to work under that point of view. We need to modify the settings to improve the rear grip and have the rear tires sliding less, create less temperature and have better life for the second part of the race.
“The lap time is not so bad and I am quite happy and quite close and for the first day it is not so bad. Now we have to improve the rear grip without losing the feeling on the front and we will see.”
Rossi said the change was being made partly with electronics, which he said was an “evolution” that was “good for the acceleration and to control the spin and heat on the tire, but it is not enough. With the electronics you can fix some small problems, but in my case—I don’t know about Nicky—but I need more rear grip mechanically.”
Most of the MotoGP season Rossi’s been troubled by understeer on the front. He said that at Assen the “understeer unfortunately remains in the character of the bike but this is about the future. About today the rear grip is the main issue.”
Hayden was third fastest after...
Hayden was third fastest after Thursday's practice sessions, but he knows that the tire wear issue needs to be solved before he can be competitive in the race.
Hayden agreed. His morning MotoGP practice session at Assen went well, but in the afternoon he “went fast but still I struggled too much when the tire goes away. We have the same tires as Silverstone and, you know, the grip for one or two laps is great, but when I lose a bit of grip I have a lot of problems, not so much for the spinning, more for the corner speed and more for getting the bike to turn.
“I really need the grip, I have to carry big lean angle to make the bike turn and when it goes away I struggle too much. So on one hand it’s positive to be fast, but I have to be more consistent if I want to do a good race.”
The team has been improving the machine and set-up since the MotoGP tests in Catalunya and Aragon following the Catalunya Grand Prix. Hayden’s speed in Silverstone was encouraging, “but we are using a bit too much of the tire. But sure, we’re making some improvements. I mean, sometimes it’s a bit frustrating because we feel like we make a little step and everybody else makes a step. But Ducati is certainly working and some of these small steps are working and now this weekend we’re trying to come up with something to make the tire last and to be able to do the lap time when the tire goes away, not just me, but all Ducatis and we have a couple of little ideas. And, yeah, but I think consistency, consistent the last two races. I’d say we have been a bit closer.”
Like Rossi, Hayden said the rear tire issue would be a combination of electronics and mechanical changes. This weekend at Assen they have a different set-up with the electronics “to help find the connection on the bottom so that less spinning and can be easier over distance. For one or two laps maybe it’s not as good for one lap time, but hopefully better over the whole race. But with the geometry we need to make the bike turn better with the bike so we don’t need the gas to help steer and to help turn.”
Asked if he could do better than he’d done at Silverstone, where he finished seventh in the MotoGP race, he said, “You know, to do better than Silverstone the first five, eight laps, I don’t know if I can do that. But hopefully over the race I can do better, because Silverstone first five, eight laps is probably as good a Ducati race as I’ve had in a long time in the dry.”