2015 MotoGP Sepang 2 Day 1 Round Up: Hard Work, Heavy Weather And New Bikes

If the purpose of testing in Sepang is to ensure that as little time as possible is lost to the weather, then the first day of the MotoGP test fell well short of its objectives. The Malaysian circuit sweltered under oppressive tropical heat all day, rendering most of the day of little use for testing. With track temperatures approaching 60°C in the early afternoon, the grip disappeared, and the heat made riding a MotoGP bike a punishing affair. Then, just as the riders returned to the track as the air began to cool, a tropical thunderstorm washed the track out, with lightning causing the session to be red-flagged for a while. It was not a day in which the teams could get an awful lot done.

That was a shame, as they had an awful lot to do. Ducati had brought the GP15 for its on-track debut, Yamaha had its fully seamless gearbox, Suzuki had unleashed a few more horses from its GSX-RR, and Aprilia had a stack of chassis and electronics solutions to test on track. With on a couple of hours of productive track time, much was left untested.

The biggest question mark at Sepang would be how the Ducati GP15 would work. Would the new bike built under the direction finally cure the understeer which has plagued all previous iterations of the Desmosedici? Andrea Dovizioso had that question answered in the first two corners, he told reporters. When he went to turn the bike in, he found himself on the inside of the kerbs. All of the effort the previous bike required was gone. The GP15 turns, which was exactly what was required of it. "I'm really happy," Dovizioso said. "Now we can work in a normal way. When the bike turns like the competitor, I think you can adapt the bike to your riding style."

The word Dovizioso used to describe the bike was both surprising and revealing. It felt 'normal', he said. That very normality of having a bike that turned was something which was missing from the GP13 and GP14, and from the bikes which came before. The Desmosedici has probably always suffered from understeer, but once Bridgestone stopped making tires built especially around the Ducati, it was only the mercurial genius of Casey Stoner which allowed him to ride around the problem.

Having a 'normal' bike may be progress, but that does not mean that the GP15 was quick. It is a brand new bike, every component still needs testing, and Ducati have cut revs to ensure that the engines will last the duration of the test. Dovizoso's best lap time was a 2'01.6 on the GP15, three tenths slower than he set on the GP14.3. The newness of the bike, and to an extent the lack of understeer means that Ducati don't have a working base set up for the GP15, and are running into unforeseen problems. The balance of the bike was different, Dovizioso said, and the set up they had for the GP14.3 was of little use. The bike needed work in braking, and plenty of other areas. It was not quite starting from zero, Dovizioso said, but pretty close.

So can we pass judgment on the GP15 yet? So far, all we can say is that the main objective of the new bike has been achieved. Understeer has been eliminated, according to German publication Speedweek by having the engine spin backwards, as the Yamaha does. Whether the rest of the bike can perform remains to be seen. But for a shakedown of a completely new bike, the GP15 performed well. If you heard a loud gust of wind this morning, it was the sound of engineers in Borgo Panigale breathing a collective sigh of relief.

You might say the same thing about Yamaha's seamless gearbox. The Movistar Yamaha riders finally got to try the fully seamless box on Monday, and were generally pleased with the improvement. There was a clear improvement in braking, the bike staying more stable. It was now possible to slide the bike a little, Valentino Rossi said, something which was impossible with the previous iteration of the gearbox, the bike becoming far too nervous.

But here, too, the full potential of the gearbox has yet to be unlocked. Being freed of needing the clutch for downshifts, and with smoother braking on corner entry, the set up from last year is no longer ideal. The hard work put in by Ramon Forcada for Jorge Lorenzo and Silvano Galbusera for Valentino Rossi will have to start all over again, to find the perfect balance once again. Like a figure in an MC Escher picture, once MotoGP engineers reach their destination, they get to start all over again.

There was progress too for Suzuki, both Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales posting quick lap times. There were very few riders who got close to their times from the first test, but both Viñales and Espargaro were among those who did best. Despite the very short time since the previous test, Suzuki found a little more horsepower, and that, combined with a new fairing that provides a little more aerodynamic protection, made the GSX-RR a little more competitive. It was, Aleix Espargaro said, a clear step forward, but there is still much to do.

At Honda, there was much less to test, with both Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa aiming to work on set up. That went pretty smoothly for Pedrosa, the Repsol Honda man saying his work now was to provide more precise detail to work towards a base set up with which to start the year. That involves doing longer runs and race simulations, though the weather did not help in that area.

Things went a lot less swimmingly for Marc Márquez. The reigning champion struggled with a strange brake issue all day. Braking power would be perfect in one corner, terrible in another, with no rhyme or reason as to a cause. It made riding positively dangerous, and Márquez spent most of his day trying to figure out a solution, together with Brembo. Even switching bikes, and switching to a brand new braking system didn't solve the problem. It left Márquez and his crew rather stumped. While they were trying to figure out their braking issues, they were unable to test the various chassis set ups they had come to Sepang hoping to work on. Work will continue tomorrow.

The Aprilia garage was once again a hive of activity, but once again, the riders did not like the new chassis. Alvaro Bautista complained that the new RS-GP chassis would not turn in, even in the revised version he was testing. Marco Melandri, meanwhile, continues to struggle with the feel of the Bridgestones, having problems finding confidence in the tires. Aprilia brought a version of the bike much closer to the old Superbike, in an attempt to help him build confidence, and the fact that the gap to the front was much reduced was a positive sign. New electronics also helped both riders, power delivery being a little smoother than at the previous test. But there are still mountains of work ahead for the Noale factory, and progress will only be steady.

Among the satellite and Open class riders, progress was clearest for the Honda riders. Both Scott Redding and Cal Crutchlow made steps forward with the bike, Redding happiest with the RC213V. The Marc VDS rider had had a very tough Sepang 1, but immediately felt a lot more comfortable at the second test. The bike felt his bike, Redding said, and he was starting to dig deeper into the electronics of the bike. He is slowly feeling his way forward with the bike, and should be a lot closer to the front by the end of this test.

The biggest improvement was with the Open class Hondas, with both Eugene Laverty and Nicky Hayden much closer to the factory riders from the start. Honda had helped with some input, advising on chassis, suspension and electronics, and that had made an improvement. At the first Sepang test, the HRC engineers had been too busy with the factory riders, but now that the Repsol men were working on set up, they had time to sort out the Open class bikes. In the Cardion AB garage, Karel Abraham was working on suspension, having taken over the role as Showa development team from Gresini. He had made good progress, as the Honda rider closest to matching his lap time from the first test.

The heavy rain which fell at the end of the day chased everyone off track for a while, and even caused the session to be red-flagged for a brief period, once lightning struck. But it also provided the riders with some useful time on wet tires, especially among the rookies. Valentino Rossi was one rider who spent a lot of time out in the wet, the Italian having not felt comfortable with his wet set up last season. For Maverick Viñales and Jack Miller, they had time to get used to Bridgestone's wet tires, which are legendary for their grip. Just adapting to what the tires are capable of takes some getting used to, so the time was not lost.

Tomorrow, the work continues, under conditions comparable to Monday. Extreme heat and the threat of rain will limit track time, forcing the teams to compress their testing programs into a limited period. Even so, we should know a little more about MotoGP in 2015 by the end of the day.

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Comments

I've never understood why MotoGP holds testing sessions @ Sepang this time of year. it seems the riders and teams are always fighting monsoons, grueling temperatures and predictable wet track conditions. would Circuit of the Americas, Jerez, Phillip Island or Argentina provide more stable conditions?

Funny you ask because Nicky Hayden just said:

..."There is a reason why we test here, which is that this is a huge circuit and you have to work on a lot of different things that can come up over the course of the season." (Quoted from his recent interview posted at MotoGP.com)

I'm guessing it's a mixture of proximity and availability. Sepang is much closer to Japan than those other tracks. Track temperature at Phillip Island will be quite high at this time of year as well (although much drier) - it would also have to be arranged around the WSBK round that happens there in February.

There are more factors at play than just the weather...

Argentina: while Dorna covers the cost of the races, testing travel has to be paid for by the teams. Travel to Argentina is both very time consuming and exhorbitantly expensive. MotoGP simply can't afford to test at the circuit.

Phillip Island: PI is perhaps the greatest circuit on the calendar, but it is not very good for testing. What you learn at PI is how to go fast at PI. It is all fast, flowing corners, which tax the tires. Sepang is a much better mix of fast and slow, and everything in between.

Austin: Austin again is a very peculiar track, missing fast sweepers. Weather at Austin is a little more variable than at Sepang, but is mainly good. There may be noise ordinances which create problems, which restrict activity at a lot of tracks.

Jerez: they used to test at Jerez (and I wish they still did), but as Moto2 and World Superbikes found out, the weather can be very unreliable there. At Jerez, it can rain for several days solid, meaning no useful time on track at all. The track also takes a long time to dry out, so if it rains in the morning, it can take until the late afternoon before the track is dry. Jerez is a possibility, but it is not without risks.

Sepang has a lot of advantages. It is a very varied track, with long straights, hard braking, tight corners and fast sweepers, and a good mixture of everything. Though it can be blistering hot, you are pretty certain of getting 2-3 solid hours of testing in every day, and if you are lucky, maybe 5 or 6 hours. It is located next to a major international airport, and flights cost half of what they would cost to Melbourne for PI. There are no problems with sound regulations, accommodation is cheap and plentiful. As someone else pointed out, it is not far from Japan, so useful for the Japanese factories.

There may be another factor involved, which is cost to the organizer. Dorna pays for the track rental (but no freight), and I suspect that Sepang offers them a very good deal.

Great news for Ducati, however, I'm going to wait to pop the bottle of champagne til we find put whether the GP15 can go race distance without burning the rear tires off the bike. IMO, That's almost as big of a problem as the understeer was.

David, as we know last year yamaha gave to test a new more powerful 2015 engine to #46 & #99. I remember they said that the power delivery was too aggressive but it was an improvement on the former engine. Presently, is the new engine's power delivery been sorted out and has it increased their top speed from last year in sepang...? . Any comments on that.

@ highside specialist, i think the same as you but u must be knowing that the manufacturers themselves choose this malaysian venue every year for off season testing and not motogp bosses. They know that they will face these conditions still they test here. (maybe they think that the layout of sepang for having tests in off season is the best).

They don't release top speeds at the Sepang test, so it's hard to tell. But top speed hasn't been a problem for the Yamahas since they got more power last year. They were only a couple of km/h down on the fastest Ducatis and Hondas at the race last year.

As for power delivery, they are continuously working on that. At Sepang 1, the Yamaha riders said the power delivery was a little better than last year, much smoother. That improved massively throughout 2014 as well.

I asked in the preview article but will ask again. As per Gigi in Crash, anyone know why Ducati is seamless only until 5th, needing the clutch to engage 6th?

Sacrificing the 6th allows them perhaps to keep the gear components lighter/smaller so that it can fit to the existing engine?

I'm just guessing here..

I seem anyway to remember that Yamaha had issues with the size of the new system compared with the standard one, so maybe size could be a reason.

I also doubt that they're using the clutch lever at all. A simple ignition cut setup like you can buy for a production bike would take care of that need. Or if they're really pinching pennies to pay for the new bike the riders can just roll off as they shift. :)

Remember a seamless transmission is different to a quickshifter - it's not there to simply provide clutchless shifting. A seamless transmission is meant to provide a smooth shift while leaned over so as not to upset the chassis. Probably not a lot of shifting done from 5th to 6th while leaned over, so why bother with the added weight and maintenance?

So exactly how many races were won last year using medium tyres and at what tracks? Then we will know which races are a complete farce and which ones constitute some level of fair competition.

The oversteer he could generate from sliding through corners, and the amazing fine control he had of it, presumably is why the slow steering from the front - caused by the long wheelbase, the sense of the crank precession, or whatever - didn't trouble him as much. (?)

Factory Yamaha is looking pretty good. Rossi is a hard braker, and him saying the braking has gotten fractionally better is a good thing for them. If I remember right, Lorenzo stated the Yamaha was a little behind in braking as well. I wonder if Marquez was pushing the brakes harder than normal to make sure the Honda maintained an advantage over Yamaha. I am sure Honda noticed the corner entry for Yamaha may have been fractionally better and may have had some new Brembos to test.

Was not there could not say for sure. But one thing I can say for sure is I am not really gauging anyone until Marquez has a healthy bike under him.

Ducati, good to hear they have fixed the turning issue. Cannot wait to see race runs done on that bike. (Holding breath, they are my favorite Manufacturer).

You can't see which way the Honda engine turns from the outside. Only thing visible is the clutch, which always spins backwards. Yamaha use an extra shaft to transfer power from crankshaft to the primary drive (which is what clutch is on).