"What we should do," the Jose Maroto, the Spanish editor of Motociclismo said to me, "Is organize MotoGP in Ethiopia, or anywhere they are having a drought. It hasn't rained here in Jerez for 70 days, and this is what happens when we arrive." It had happened in Sepang, and it happened at Jerez, the weather was the major protagonist on the second day of testing at the Spanish circuit, with high winds and heavy rain dominating much of the day.
It almost had a remarkable effect. Avintia Racing's Ivan Silva was one of the few riders who went out early in the morning while the track was still dry, and it looked for a long time like the Spaniard would end the day on top of the timesheets, a first for the FTR Kawasaki CRT bike. But the weather cleared up in the last few hours of the test, leaving an almost dry track for the final 30 minutes, and seeing most of the riders go back out to prepare some work for Sunday. In the process, they stole Silva's chance of glory, demoting him to 6th spot at the end of the day.
In the end, it was Nicky Hayden who topped the timesheets, finishing ahead of Karel Abraham and Ben Spies, making it a Ducati 1-2 ahead of the first factory Yamaha. After being first of the Ducatis on Friday, Hayden was fastest overall on Saturday, though the American dismissed the time as not really indicative. "You can't really go by the lap time when only a few guys go out," he said, before adding that what had pleased him about the lap time was that it was close to his time from yesterday, despite being set on a patchy track. A change to the ride height late in the session had worked well, and Hayden was looking forward to exploring the possibilities of that on Sunday.
Most of the riders were happy to get some time in the wet, getting used to the way that the bigger bikes reacted in the rain compared to the 800s. The differences were marginal for most riders, though Ben Spies commented that the fact that the engine had more torque meant that it was easier to manage. The greater weight, on the other hand, made it more tiring, though the smoother engine made it easier on the throttle.
Only the Ducatis reported a real change in the wet, and unfortunately, it was for the worse. The bike might be better in the dry now, Nicky Hayden explained, but it had come at the cost of much less feeling in the wet. The GP11 (and GP11.1) had seen some of its best results in wet conditions, but the new bike had a lot less traction on a wet track, making it more difficult to get drive out of the corners. They were missing stability, and just could not get the power down, Hayden told the media.
While Hayden complained of traction, Jorge Lorenzo was worried about the performance of the wet tires, saying that the performance of the tires dropped off a lot. The smooth power of the bigger bike made throttle control easier, that improvement was lost because the rain tires lost performance so quickly. Where in previous years, the Bridgestone wets would be between one and two seconds a lap slower at the end of a race, the set that Lorenzo tried were losing him six to seven seconds a lap after putting some ten laps on them. Whether this is a tire issue or just a question of sorting out the electronics to temper the power of the 1000s and spare the rubber is yet to be resolved, but no doubt this is something that Yamaha will be working on soon.
The Bridgestone tires were a bone of contention among the riders once again, and more specifically the new front tire. The lines are drawn up between the Honda riders (Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner, and one other, unnamed rider) and the rest, led by Jorge Lorenzo and Nicky Hayden. The choice is between two different front tires, identified by the codes 21 and 24 (when asked what the significance of the codes where, a Bridgestone spokesperson joked "the 24 is 3 more than the 21.") The 24 is, apparently, basically the same as the 21, but with a slight different center section.
The Honda riders prefer the 24, as it gives them more stability under braking, with Stoner saying that he expected real stability problems with the 21, especially under braking and on corner entry. The others prefer the 21, saying that it was this tire that had the better stability, not the 24. Casey Stoner dismissed their comments, predicting that the other riders would soon encounter the same stability problems once they started racing, as the adrenaline would make them push that little bit harder, and that would be enough to trigger the stability issues. Jorge Lorenzo joked that Stoner must be a psychic, if he already knew how everyone's tires would react once they went racing.
Given that the Hondas are encountering both the stability problem and suffering chatter at the front - though only at Sepang, not here at Jerez - while the rest of the bikes are unaffected, it would seem that the problem is in the Honda's front end. Pedrosa pointed to corner entry as the weak point of the RC213V, and it is possible that the Honda riders' preference for the slightly stiffer tire is more telling about the Honda chassis than about the tire itself.
A final decision on which tire will be used for the rest of the season is due to be taken at the end of the test. Loris Capirossi, Dorna's liaison with Bridgestone, will consult with the riders and with Bridgestone to make the relevant choice. Most likely it will be the 21, and the Honda will just have to deal with the problems that causes them. Given their budget and their engineering prowess, it should not take too long.
Along with action on the track, the other topic under discussion was the rules for MotoGP's future (see separate story here). The MSMA responded to Dorna's proposals, and it appears that there is to be another round of cost-saving measures. Proposals tabled include a switch to one bike per rider, a limit of the number of mechanics in the garage, and a cap on the price of satellite bikes. Meanwhile, Dorna is keen to impose a rev limit - paddock rumor has it that the limit will be very low, with 15,000 rpm the prime candidate, and possibly even lower. With WSBK-spec Aprilias running at around 14,800 rpm, a limit of 14,500 would make a lot more sense, allowing just about any superbike engine to be competitive. At the moment, Ducati is totally opposed to a low rev limit, as they believe it runs against the advantage they have with the desmosdromic valve system. But if the electronics remained in some form or other, the factories would probably be prepared to accept a rev limit - even a very low one of 14,500 - as their R&D justification is in throttle response and fuel economy. Given that the best way of limiting top speed is also a rev limit, it seems inevitable that this, too will be adopted.
Of course, if MotoGP was capable of finding sponsorship, we wouldn't be having to suffer such bizarre proposals for cutting costs. The ability to raise money has always been motorcycle racing's Achilles' heel, a legacy of the free money that flowed into the paddock during the era of tobacco sponsorship. All that money made race teams believe that they had an attractive product, whereas in reality, global bans on tobacco advertising and the limiting of sponsorship to just motorsports meant that the tobacco companies had nowhere else to go. They had no interest in motorsports, and once they left, they left not just a gaping hole in team finances, but also a massive skill deficit in the field of finding and nurturing sponsorship. That is not helped when Dorna reportedly persuades sponsors interested in backing a team switch their allegiance - and more importantly, their money - into sponsoring events, rather than teams. Until Dorna can find a way to allow teams keep the sponsorship they attract, and activate new revenue streams outside of traditional motorcycle sponsorship - energy drinks don't help; they are in line to face curbs on advertising, as some governments frown on the amount of sugar and caffeine in the energy drinks being sold - then we are going to be cutting costs for some while.
But cutting costs is a sign of a dying championship, not a healthy, growing one. The MSMA badly needed their wings clipping, as most of the proposals they have put forward over the past 10 years or so have proven to be both disastrous from a sporting perspective, as well as ruinously expensive from a financial viewpoint. But now that they are outside of the rule-making process, it is time to focus on raising money. With a massive global audience, it should not be as hard as it is.