Dani Pedrosa openly criticized his Bridgestone tires’ performance during MotoGP qualifying at Misano this past weekend. “OK, I crashed this morning (Saturday), but I had a good feeling with the bike” recalled Pedrosa. “For me everything was more or less OK. Then, in the afternoon suddenly the grip of the rear tire disappeared and I was very much surprised. I entered in the garage telling my people ‘no grip.’ Rear tire was changed and I went out again…the same, no grip. I simply couldn’t accelerate. Trying as hard as I could, I was lapping one second slower than in the afternoon. I didn’t understand what was going on. My team put a third new rear tire…the same. Being sure that the problem wasn’t a matter of the track conditions, other riders were performing as in the morning, I got quite nervous. It was only when we put the fourth tire on the bike when the grip suddenly was back. It felt like it was originally in the morning. But I only had time to do just two laps and fortunately I could move forward on the grip up to the fourth place.”
Pedrosa’s team protested to Bridgestone about what they considered to be clearly a production problem. The tire maker said that there was no reason for what had happened because the specs were all the same. Regardless, company reps assured the team there would be a close analysis on the problematic tires.
Later, in the front row press conference the riders where questioned about Pedrosa’s tire problems. Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo were politically correct in their answers, but Valentino Rossi agreed with occasional consistency problems with the Bridgestone tires. “Yes things like this happen. I don’t know if it is because the date of production is different between them, but I have sometimes problems. Luckily not here this time.”
This is nothing new when it comes to the spec tire movement that has swept racing worldwide. When manufacturers are forced to provide enough tires for a whole field of riders instead of several sponsored teams for a complete season of racing, it becomes a matter of economics more than anything else. Going from producing a few hundred specialized racing tires in a year to manufacturing a few thousand racing tires requires some changes in production methods and materials in order to meet the demand, and especially when it comes to tire performance, it becomes difficult to keep quality control absolutely perfect throughout the process.
Two-time MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner saw first-hand how the spec tire movement changed the performance of the tires he rode on. Ducati was one of the manufacturers who decided to go with Bridgestone after years of running Michelins, and it eventually paid off in Stoner’s first championship title in 2008. But when the following year saw the implementation of the Bridgestone spec tire, Stoner found that the Bridgestones he was riding on weren’t the same as the ones he used the year before. And when we interviewed him in 2010, he still wasn’t satisfied with the consistency of the spec tires’ performance.
“Honestly, I think since 2008 which is the last year before the single tire regulation, in my opinion they’ve gotten worse in quality,” said Stoner in the interview. “We’ve had base rubber and different things (go wrong) with the tires, (and) we’ve struggled a lot more with them since then... I’ve ridden with them for a while and with more time they should be better at this, but the fact is that year by year they seem to be getting slowly worse and having more inconsistency with the same type tires, the quality control has been less, different things like that.”
The MotoGP World Championship isn’t the only spec-tire series that sometimes has problems with quality control. Many World Superbike riders have complained of Pirelli tires that had vast performance differences despite being the exact same spec. For the most part, the quality control in both series has been good enough that it hasn’t affected any championship aspirations; but you don’t hear about tire consistency issues most of the time because of the unspoken rule regarding bad-mouthing the series’ spec tire manufacturer. Pedrosa (as well as Marquez, Lorenzo, and Rossi) is surely secretly hoping that the quality control issue won’t be a factor in the championship.