Some semblance of normality has returned to the MotoGP paddock now that the bikes are back on track, and everyone is back doing what they are supposed to be. "For me, I was happy to be here, be around the team, see all the tributes honoring Marco and see everybody showing a lot of class and a lot of respect," Nicky Hayden said. "It's still kind of there at the back of everybody's mind, but it don't change what I do. We're racers, we ride motorcycles." His teammate Valentino Rossi agreed. "It's a good feeling to come back on the bike," Rossi said, adding that there were more positives than negatives from riding. Once on the bike, everything changes, and every ounce of focus is needed to get a MotoGP up to a competitive speed.
That task is made doubly difficult in the wet at Valencia. Everyone commented on the state of the track, complaining that it is incredibly slippery when wet. The cause, Dani Pedrosa speculated, was the age of the surface, the tarmac having lost a lot of its grip over the years. Normally, Pedrosa said, tracks were marginally easier to ride when wet, but Valencia is now so treacherous that it requires even more concentration in the wet.
Even when a dry line formed, it was still slippery, Hayden explained, and almost as bad as in the full rain. In some ways, it was even worse when not fully wet, at least as far as Casey Stoner was concerned. His Repsol Honda gave more feedback when it was properly wet, and allowed him to feel the bike and the tires much better.
Chief benefactors of the wet conditions have clearly been the Ducatis. While the Ducati Desmosedici struggles with a lack of front end feel in the dry, the bike was much better in the wet. "Our bike has good grip in the wet," Valentino Rossi explained, "and the balance of the bike is great. Hayden said that this was probably down to the stiffness of the frame, a factor which penalized them in the dry. "Our bike works really good in the rain," Hayden said. "There's a couple of different theories that we have. One is that it's quite a stiff bike, and it pushes the rain tires into the ground and generates some heat. It's the same way that if you look at the first five minutes of a session, it's often the Ducatis on top." There is more to it than just the stiffness of the chassis, though. "Our electronics are good and we got some good rain riders on them," Hayden added.
Another factor was the difference between the Ducati and the other MotoGP machines. "Sometimes we feel our bike is too stiff at full lean to go round the corners," Hayden said. "In the rain, everybody's bike is too stiff. At that amount of force, everybody's bike is too stiff. We're all in the same boat and we rely more on the suspension to do the work, you don't need the frame to do any work. It's definitely something we've talked about and thought about before to try to help understand what it is."
Valentino Rossi was looking positively optimistic. "Our bike is quite competitive in the wet," Rossi said. The feeling was good, he added, though they still had a small problem with the rear. Once that was addressed - and the rear of the Ducati is not the problem, the front end is where all the bike's issues are - then Rossi was confident they could finish closer to the front. "It would be nice to get a good result to dedicate to Marco," he said.
The wet conditions had helped Josh Hayes too. The double AMA champion had been excited to come to Valencia and test the Yamaha M1 - an opportunity that had come about as a result of work with Yamaha subsidiaries GYT-R and Y.E.S. who had originally planned to use some of the footage from the test in their promotional materials. After the tragic events of Sepang, which saw Colin Edwards damage his shoulder in the crash that fatally injured Marco Simoncelli, Hayes was suddenly asked to step up and replace Edwards during the race. He had given serious thought to turning the offer down, but the racer inside him forced him to take it. "Any time you put a checkered flag at the end of something, there's pressure," Hayes said.
As it was, the wet track took away a couple of variables. The rain meant that the team could run the rain tires, and leave steel brake disks on the bike. Hayes had been working himself up about learning to use the Bridgestone tires and the carbon brakes - and had been listening to Cal Crutchlow's scare stories about them, as Crutchlow and Hayes already know each other from joint cycling trips near Hayes' California home - but once he had gone to sleep knowing it would be wet, it made it easier to face the morning.
"I survived my first day," Hayes said, the biggest hurdle crossed, "and I was surprised by P10," his finishing position beyond what he had come to expect. Having to learn the track and the bike was huge, and he had spent almost all his time just circulating, getting a feel for the bike. "I pitted one time in two sessions," Hayes said, coming in to have a small adjustment made during FP1, but spending all of FP2 out putting laps in. "This last session I rode from start to finish, 24 laps," Hayes said, "It's just a matter of getting laps on the bike."
Comparing the bike to his AMA Superbike winning Yamaha R1 was impossible. The M1 is tiny - a point reinforced during Yamaha's technical presentation in the evening, where they had a 2010 M1 engine on display. It is lower and narrower than any 600 Hayes had ridden, the American having raced 600s in both World Supersport and the AMA. It is about the same length as a 600, but because it is so much lower, the way the weight transfers works completely differently. It made power differently, and made more power and was so much lighter.
The wet had meant that Hayes had gotten a feel for the tires, or at least the Bridgestone rain tires, so he felt that a weekend of rain would suit him. His biggest fear is that the weather clears on Sunday afternoon, and he has to go into the race with no experience in the dry. If it happens, it happens, but it would be far from ideal.
While the riders are focused on Sunday, elsewhere a storm is brewing. Carmelo Ezpeleta's statement that he wants to introduce a standard ECU and a rev limit from 2013 is causing consternation among the factories. MotoGP is currently in a kind of limbo, as it is unclear whether Ezpeleta has signed another 5 year contract guaranteeing the MSMA (the manufacturers' association) a monopoly on the technical regulations, and his recent statements appear to be chips in the bargaining process of thrashing out a new deal. As I wrote recently, it is clear that Dorna intends to take back control of the series from the MSMA, but the MSMA is just starting to get itself organized. The battle will be fought out over the next few months, with the biggest showdown likely to come at the meeting of the Grand Prix Commission scheduled for December. More on this over the next few days, as I speak to more people and more information comes in. But it's clear that MotoGP is changing, and changing fast. It could be almost unrecognizable in a couple of years' time.