Herve Poncharal Interview: On The Open Yamaha Of Aleix Espargaro, The Future Of MotoGP, And Seamless Gearboxes
Perhaps the biggest surprise after the first day of testing at Sepang was the sheer, unadulterated speed of Aleix Espargaro on the Forward Yamaha, racing in the Open category. Seventh fastest, half a second off the fastest factory Yamaha of Valentino Rossi, and ahead of the two Tech 3 riders Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro. By lunchtime on the second day, Aleix was closer still, just two tenths off the best Yamaha.
Naturally, all eyes turned to the Tech 3 garage, and the response of team boss Herve Poncharal. How would the otherwise charming Frenchman react to being beaten by a bike which Yamaha was supplying to a rival team for a third of the price he is paying to lease the Tech 3 Yamaha M1 machines, entered under the Factory Option rules in MotoGP? A long line of journalists beat a path to his door, including MotoMatters.com, to put those questions to him.
Poncharal spoke at length about the Open class, the issue of fuel consumption, and the performance of Aleix Espargaro. First of all, though, he emphasized the strength of his relationship with Yamaha.
The Repsol Honda team have released the following press release, confirming that Marc Marquez has broken his leg in a training crash. No surgery will be needed on the leg, but Marquez will miss the Sepang test, and possibly the Phillip Island test as well:
Marquez to miss Malaysia Test
MotoGP World Champion, Marc Marquez, has broken his fibula during a dirt-track training session in Lleida, west of Barcelona, yesterday afternoon.
Marc was immediately taken to the Universitario Quirón Dexeus Hospital where Dr. Xavier Mir treated the spiral fracture of the distal third of his right fibula. After carrying out a CT scan and X-ray, Dr. Mir confirmed, “The results showed no ligament damage or dislocation and no need to proceed with surgery. I expect he will need 3-4 weeks to fully recover”
Catalunya Radio is reporting that Marc Marquez has broken his right leg in a training accident. According to well-informed radio journalist Damià Aguilar, Marquez suffered a crash while riding at his dirt track facility not far from his home in Cervera in Catalonia on Wednesday.
The accident – if confirmed, which seems likely – means that Marquez looks set to miss the second Sepang test at the end of this month. The 2013 world champion is reported to have broken his right fibula in the crash. That injury means he will be unable to train for at least 15 days. However, in most cases, a broken fibula can be fixed quickly and relatively well by inserting a titanium plate. With the start of the season still four weeks away, Marquez should be reasonably fit for Qatar.
Marquez has led something of a dirt track revival recently, building his own training track not far from his home. Dirt track is in favor with riders, as it teaches throttle control and allows them to keep race fit with relatively limited risk. Motocross, the other favored form of training, offers other risks due to the number of jumps and uneven terrain. However, Marquez' facility is said to be large enough for the riders to reach relatively high speeds, and crashing at such speeds can still result in serious injury, as Marquez has reportedly just found out.
MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Open season on the factory teams
No doubt who was the star of last week’s Sepang tests, even if Marc Márquez did stun his rivals with a ridiculously fast race simulation on the final day.
Márquez’s ominous speed on Honda’s latest RC213V wasn’t entirely unexpected, whereas the pace of Aleix Espargaró on his Open-spec Yamaha M1 had a few jaws dropping up and down pitlane. The young Spaniard’s best lap was less than half a second slower than Márquez and within a couple of tenths of factory Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.
Espargaró’s speed suggests that the best Open-class bikes will have a chance of fighting for podiums this year, especially at thirstier tracks where their 20 per cent extra fuel may give them a real advantage over factory bikes. It also confirms that Dorna’s control software – mandatory on Open bikes – is working pretty damn well.
The Gresini press office today issued a press release containing quotes from Antonio Jiminez, crew chief of Alvaro Bautista, and Diego Gubellini, crew chief of Scott Redding, looking back at what they learned at the first MotoGP test of 2014 at Sepang. The work for Bautista, on the Factory Option Honda RC213V, was focused on getting the Bridgestone tires to work with the Showa suspension, while Redding was concentrating on learning to ride a MotoGP bike, and setting up the spec electronics on the Honda RCV1000R. Below is the press release:
SEPANG MOTOGP TEST DEBRIEF WITH ANTONIO JIMENEZ AND DIEGO GUBELLINI
The first 2014 MotoGP Official Test, carried out at Sepang International Circuit from 4th to 6th of February, saw the Team GO&FUN Honda Gresini making the first important preparations for the first Grand Prix of the season, scheduled in Qatar on March 23rd. Alvaro Bautista’s work was focused on Showa suspension, in order to adapt the set-up of the Honda RC213V to the new 2014 tyres developed by Bridgestone, while on the other side of the garage Scott Redding was able to deepen his knowledge of the new Honda RCV1000R working mainly on setting and electronics.
One of the great privileges which holding a MotoGP media pass allows is to stand behind the armco and watch and listen to the bikes as they go past. At the Sepang test, I made full use of that opportunity, and wandered over to Turn 3 – the glorious, fast right hander, where the riders get sideways driving through the turn and onto the short straight to Turn 4 – to enjoy the spectacle of the best riders of the world showing off their skills.
There is more to be learned from watching at track side than just how spectacular MotoGP bikes are through fast corners, though. The careful observer can pick up clues to what both the riders and factories are doing. With electronics such a key part of MotoGP nowadays, the track is one of the few places where updates are visible. Updated vehicle dynamics algorithms may be invisible from pit lane (or nearly so, with the occasional addition of sensors or torque gauges the only visible clue), bike behavior on the track will sometimes betray them.
At the end of 2013, Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa had asked for more stability under braking, and some more corner speed. Listening to the bikes at Sepang gave a possible clue as to how they had achieved that. The differences in engine note between the various bikes were instructive of the varying levels of electronics, engine braking strategies, and gearbox function.
That Honda have been working on braking and corner entry was audible at Sepang. Though the RC213V always sounded smooth under braking, braking for Turn 4 the improvement was noticeable. As they braked and downshifted for the corner, the Hondas of Marquez and Pedrosa sounded more like a big scooter with a constantly variable transmission than a racing four stroke with six separate gears. Engine revs decreased smoothly, downshifts barely perceptible. There was no popping or crackle of extra fuel burning off, just a smooth, booming descending tone.
The Repsol Media Service have released the second of two interviews with the Repsol Honda teams riders. After Friday's interview with Marc Marquez, today they issued a press release with Dani Pedrosa. In the interview, Pedrosa talks about how he assesses his fitness after the first test, how he spent his winter, and how the test went. Pedrosa reports that Honda have made great steps forward with the bike, and his wish list of improvements is now very short indeed. The press release interview appears below:
“This year we have improved the rear grip a lot. We have taken steps forward”
Spanish rider feeling fit and ready after three days of high intensity testing at Malaysian circuit of Sepang.
Repsol Media Service - Malaysia, Sepang Circuit - Saturday 02/08/2014
Repsol Honda rider Dani Pedrosa used last week’s Sepang test to improve his 2014 Honda RC213V. He leaves Malaysia tired after three days of intense work and very hot conditions, but is pleased with how his body responded to the demands. Pedrosa says that his machine features better rear grip, and that what he picked up most last year was an ability to stay focused under maximum pressure.
How was your winter?
With the MotoGP preseason well underway after the first test at Sepang, the busy men and women of the Repsol Media Service are hard at work once again. Their first job this year is an interview with reigning world champion Marc Marquez. In the interview, Marquez talks about training during the winter, how the tests went, defending his title and racing against some of his former rivals in Moto2. The Repsol Media Service have also posted a video on Youtube of Marquez and Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa from the test at Sepang. The press release interview appears below:
“This year there will be pressure, but I work well under those conditions”
Repsol Honda’s reigning World Champion, Marc Marquez, has started 2014 as he ended 2013: On top in MotoGP.
Repsol Media Service - Malaysia, Sepang Circuit - Friday 02/07/2014
Marc Marquez began his preseason in the best possible fashion, preparing for his second season in MotoGP and his title defence. The Repsol Honda rider dominated all three days of the Sepang test, breaking the circuit record on the final day. His time of 1:59.533 bested Casey Stoner’s previous record, set in 2012.
You haven’t stopped this winter. Can you not stay away from racing?
“This has been a winter of two parts. The first was dedicated to events and press, and the second part to a bit more fun and things like Dirt Track racing, driving cars or karting. It is always good to keep active.”
2014 MotoGP Sepang 1 Day 3 Round Up: Marquez' Consistency, Lorenzo's Speed, And Ducati's Open Dilemma
On Thursday, the riders opted almost unanimously to go out first thing in the morning. It was a wise choice, conditions proving ideal to see the fastest ever lap around the circuit set, beating Casey Stoner's time from 2011. The name of the rider that took Stoner's record from him? Marc Marquez, the man brought in by Honda to replace the departing Australian.
Marquez' time was impressive, but he was not the only man to get under the two minute mark. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, and the continually surprising Aleix Espargaro also cracked the barrier, though none were quite capable of getting under Stoner's old record. The first 30 minutes of testing had produced a scintillating start to the day, whetting the appetite of all in the paddock for more.
While Marquez' time is without doubt a fantastic lap, perhaps the most impressive time was set by Jorge Lorenzo. His fastest time, and the fastest time of the test up until that point, was set on his first flying lap of the day. It was, if you like, a simulation of the start of the race: firing off the line from pit lane exit, getting up to speed immediately, and then going on to set a lap record. Normal fare for Lorenzo, whose flying starts have become something of a trademark. What made it truly incredible was the fact that this was done on new tires, on his very first laps of the day. On race day, Lorenzo has the morning warm up to get up to speed, but not today. Fast straight out of the starting blocks, then following it up with another 1'59.9. If you ever needed proof of Lorenzo's metronomic ability, this was surely it.
Press releases from the teams and from Bridgestone after the final day of testing at Sepang:
Times at the end of the third and final day of testing at Sepang:
Halfway through the final day of testing at Sepang, and the track has fallen silent as most of the riders break for lunch. The only man disturbing the peace is Michele Pirro, grinding out the hard yards in the heat of the day, earning his keep as Ducati's test rider the hard way.
The day started bright, early and fast. Almost the entire grid went for a time attack in the first half hour after the track was open. Times tumbled, with Marc Marquez walking away with the fastest ever two-wheeled lap of the circuit, setting a time of 1'59.533 and smashing Casey Stoner's record here from 2011. Marquez was not the only man under the two-minute mark, though, being joined by Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and the increasingly impressive Aleix Espargaro on the Open class NGM Forward Yamaha FTR.
Aleix Espargaro was not the only rider to impress. Andrea Dovizioso set the fastest time by a Ducati around circuit, a couple of tenths quicker than Casey Stoner's best time from 2010. Pol Espargaro is making a strong debut at Sepang, just over a second off the leaders in 8th, while Nicky Hayden has cut his deficit to Marquez by another half a second, and eight tenths quicker than his fastest time of Wednesday.
Motorcycle racing championships are like a pendulum, flowing back and forth between one rider and another, between one manufacturer and another. One year, Yamaha is on top, the next, it's Honda. One year, Yamaha manages to exploit the rules best, the next year it's Honda.
On the evidence of the first two days of testing – scant evidence indeed, but all we have to go on at the moment – conditions appear to favor Honda. With a liter less fuel to play with, and the new tires being introduced by Bridgestone, it looks like the tide is flowing Honda's way, while Yamaha is set to suffer. For the Factory Option entries at least; in the Open category, the tide is flowing very firmly in the other direction, with Aleix Espargaro and the NGM Forward Yamaha blowing Honda's production racer out of the water.
That the fuel reduction would favor the Honda was expected, but the advantage might be bigger than Yamaha would like to admit. After a tough first day of testing, Jorge Lorenzo spent all of Wednesday trying to recover his confidence in the bike, as his crew searched for a set up that would smooth power delivery and give him the precise throttle control his high-lean-angle – and high risk – strategy demands. They were successful, at least in renewing Lorenzo's confidence in the bike, he told the press.