The track was a lot busier on Tuesday at Valencia, after the halfhearted beginning to MotoGP testing on Monday afternoon. A group of well-rested riders took to the track to get prepared for the 2014 onslaught, and take the first steps on the road to a new season. Some familiar faces, some new faces, but also a couple of new bikes, with the Yamaha FTR machines run by Forward Racing making their debut on the track, and Nicky Hayden getting his first taste of the Honda RCV1000R.
The times set by the brand new Open class bikes hardly set the world on fire, but that was to be expected given the fact that this was the first time either of them had seen serious use in the hands of Grand Prix riders. 'Don't forget that Casey [Stoner] did just five laps in Motegi with that bike,' Honda principal Livio Suppo told me. 'It's really just a first shakedown with the riders.' That point was illustrated by Scott Redding, who has a problem with the wiring loom of the Gresini RCV1000R, and had to wait while they fixed that problem. It was probably for the best, as Redding is still struggling with injuries to his arm and back. The problems is worse in left handers, which Valencia has in abundance. By the end of the long left of Turn 13, the pain had become almost unbearable, Redding said.
Though Nicky Hayden was prohibited from speaking to the media due to still being under contract to Ducati (and generating much speculation about exactly what he will say when his contract ends on December 31st), Suppo said Hayden had been impressed. 'Nicky seems very very happy with the handling of the machine,' the Honda boss said. 'They've still got some things to improve with the software, but I believe we can do this with Magneti Marelli.'
Electronics is an issue with the Yamaha FTR as well. You can hear it as the Yamaha goes up and over the hill through the everlasting left hander of Turn 13. The bike spits and gurgles like a chain smoking coal miner, reminiscent of the CRT bikes when they first hit the track. 'The electronics package we're on now, I'm not happy with,' Colin Edwards commented. 'Yamaha developed something with their testing and said "OK, the bike runs good, let's throw this in," but I don't like the theory, the theory that they're using right now. We spent all year developing something that works real good, and we need to put that in this unit. Right now I have zero trust in it.' The rest of the bike he loved, however, and was especially happy to be back on a bike with some horsepower. 'It's a freight train, it just keeps pulling and pulling. It's a pleasure to shift gears and not keep bashing your helmet against the screen because it's missing a gear. '
Aleix Espargaro was also delighted with the power of the Yamaha motor. 'The engine is much better, it has almost 2,000 RPM more than the Aprilia,' Aleix said. 'The top speed, after two years, it's great to be in the top six, it's really strange and I'm really happy.' The weak point of the chassis was the braking, the same complaint made by the riders on factory and satellite Yamahas. 'With the Aprilia, I can enter the corner in the last moment while braking really really hard.' That was not the way to go fast on the Yamaha, Aleix said.
Brother Pol had an impressive second day on the Tech 3 machine. He ended the day 1.3 seconds behind Marc Marquez, and just over a second slower than Jorge Lorenzo. It had been a busy day, getting used to all aspects of the Yamaha M1, Pol said. They had tried both hard and soft front and rear tires, used the carbon brakes, and trying different set up changes to learn what effect they had. He was clearly still trying too hard: watching from the brake point for Turn 14, the end of the long left hander before the tight final corner, the difference between Jorge Lorenzo and Pol was striking. Lorenzo's movements were fluid, lazy, the bike on rails as he lined up the corner. Espargaro junior jerked upright, the bike twitching below him, looking right on the edge of control. He was clearly a lot slower than Lorenzo. 'I'm trying to ride the bike as fast as possible, but I'm not smooth,' Pol commented afterwards. It was clearly an area for improvement.
What was surprising to Espargaro was that riding the bike was less tiring than he had expected. At the end of a Moto2 race, he was destroyed, but at the end of testing, he was holding up pretty well, Pol said. This was perhaps a sign of things to come, he opined. The start to his MotoGP career had been pretty smooth, but the problems would start from here on in, as he tried to go faster and faster.
Testing concludes on Wednesday, though imminent rain looks like calling a premature halt to the action. The factory Yamaha team have already called it a day, finishing up on Tuesday before heading home. Once testing concludes, we will have a full view of the test, including who has been working on what.