2015 MotoGP Sepang 2 Day 2 Round Up - Marquez vs Lorenzo, Thumb Brakes & Seamless Gearboxes, Ducati's Tires, And Melandri's Fall

After the excitement and confusion of the first day of testing at Sepang, some semblance of normality returned on Tuesday. Cooler temperatures and more stable weather meant that riders had much more time to do work on track, the heat and humidity not quite as oppressive as they had been the previous day. The excitement over new bikes and gearboxes had also subsided, and the hard grind continued.

If Tuesday is representative of the normal state of play in MotoGP, then it seems like there are already two favorites for the title emerging from the pack, though margins are slim indeed. Marc Márquez and Jorge Lorenzo were the only two riders to crack the two minute barrier, posting fast times early on in the day, then getting back to work on 2015. Nobody else got near, with the exception of Andrea Iannone, who piled in a quick lap at the end of the day to fall just short of two minutes, the Ducati GP15 quickly proving its worth.

Marc Márquez was perhaps the most relieved rider. After losing a day due to untraceable braking issues, things were back to normal as soon as he hit the track on Tuesday. Márquez was cagey about the cause of the brake issue, joking that he did not want to reveal the secret to his rivals, in case they too suffered the issue. The Repsol Honda rider spent the day focusing on electronics and engine management, working hard to make up for lost time. That left him still with work to do on Wednesday, when the team will turn their attention to the chassis he is supposed to be testing. So far, Márquez has been sticking with the chassis he used at the last Sepang test, but Honda also have a chassis with 'something for the rear'. Whether that is in the frame, swing arm, shock mount, or linkage is not clear.

Right behind Márquez is Jorge Lorenzo, the Movistar Yamaha man motivated and sharp as a razor. Lorenzo had been slow on Monday, suffering with jet lag and a lack of sleep. A decent night's rest on Monday night saw the color return to his cheeks and the speed to his wrist, Lorenzo pounding out a strong rhythm as his team worked to improve the new seamless gearbox. The gearbox, which allows clutchless shifts both down and up, has downsides and as well as upsides. The bike may be better in braking, but in the wet on Monday, Lorenzo had found some negatives. The gearbox was more aggressive on downshifts, which was noticeable in the rain, but Lorenzo acknowledged the potential of the new gearbox. They had not yet found a set up to extract all of its potential, a goal they will continue to work on Wednesday. At the end of the day, Lorenzo switched back to the old gearbox, to try it again, and possibly to spare the mileage on the gearbox. The Honda seamless is extremely labor-intensive, requiring it to be stripped down and rebuilt at the end of each day. There is no reason to suspect that the same is not true for Yamaha's seamless box.

The fully seamless gearbox also offers another advantage: as the clutch is not longer used except for starts and in pit lane, the rider's left hand has much less to do. Last year, Honda experimented with thumb brakes for Márquez and Dani Pedrosa, to take some of the load from the rider's right foot. As riding positions are becoming more extreme during cornering, and lean angles are getting steeper, the riders feet have less room to move to operate the brake, and are often further from the brake pedal than before. On Tuesday, Jorge Lorenzo experimented with a similar, but slightly more radical set up, the rear brake operated by a single finger of the left hand. Lorenzo told reporters he has lacked some strength in his ankles since his massive highside at Shanghai back in 2008, and applying the brake while leaned over was sometimes difficult. Like the Honda riders before him, Lorenzo rejected the idea, saying he did not like the feeling.

Surely, though, this is the future, once riders accept the idea. The thumb brake is not ideal – Mick Doohan was very successful with it, but with a leg with almost no motion, he had little choice – as the thumb lacks the fine control of the other four fingers. With the clutch now no longer needed, there is no reason for the clutch lever to take pride of place on the left handlebar. The clutch lever could easily be replaced by a rear brake lever, the clutch relegated to a smaller, separate lever on the left, and out of the way. That would leave the riders to concentrate on braking and accelerating, and leaving the foot free to move around.

Of course, that would leave the handlebars of a MotoGP bike looking more like that of a scooter than racing motorcycle: throttle, brake lever on either side, and a few buttons. It is ironic that thanks to rules which explicitly force mechanically operated gear shifts and ban double clutches, MotoGP engineers have recreated the scooter's automatic gearbox. The only difference is that the MotoGP solution is both infinitely more expensive, and has no practical application on the road. The purists who believe that MotoGP should be a prototype-only class must be delighted.

If Marc Márquez and Jorge Lorenzo are a cut above the rest, which of the two was fastest? On the number of laps under 2'01, the prize must go to Lorenzo, the Yamaha man posting 18 to Márquez' 17. But the average pace of those fast laps was slightly faster for the Repsol Honda rider: Márquez' 17 laps averaged 2'00.616, Lorenzo's 18 laps were 2:00.704.

The Ducatis, too, were quick, both Andreas taking third and fourth places on the timesheets. Dovizioso was fast early on, while Iannone put in a quick last lap to pass his teammate and close in on Márquez and Lorenzo. The GP15 is clearly a better bike than the GP14.3 was, both Andreas acknowledging as much. But there was still work to be done. The bike now turns, and it holds a line, but it now lacks some stability, both in braking, corner entry and in the middle of the corner. Especially the transition from braking to corner entry was lacking, Andrea Dovizioso said, the last part of corner entry. "We need time to improve," he said. Not an earth-shattering conclusion, but a statement, both parts of which are true. Yes, Ducati needs time. But yes, they will actually improve.

The step which Ducati has made has raised some questions about how long the privileges they enjoy as a factory with no recent successes will last. If the factory scores three thirds, two seconds or a win in the dry, then they will see their fuel allowance cut, from 24 to 22 liters. That is unlikely to make much difference, except perhaps at Motegi, where fuel consumption is at a premium. For most races, the Ducati has been using between 21 and 22 liters anyway. Should they score three wins, however, then they lose the extra soft tire, and are forced to use the same tire allocation as Honda and Yamaha.

Three wins looks tough to achieve, with Márquez and Lorenzo already looking strong, Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa very close behind, Pol Espargaro waiting in the wings on the Tech 3 Yamaha, and Cal Crutchlow making steady progress on the Honda RC213V. If we are to gaze into the mists of our crystal ball, it would be fair to expect that the Ducatis will quickly bag a couple more podiums. Taking three wins from the top four seems unlikely, without some fairly strange circumstances intervening.

That could end up making the situation all the more painful, however. Unable to score wins, Ducati would keep the soft rear tire. The soft rear tire makes the Ducati a missile during qualifying, meaning the bike dominates pole, perhaps putting Dovizioso and Iannone on the front row every race, perhaps even joined by Suzuki. That is not a situation which Honda or Yamaha will happily tolerate. It remains to be seen how long the MSMA puts up with it before they move to change the rules. And whether Ducati will allow them.

It was certainly enough to worry Valentino Rossi. The GP14.3 was already fast, Rossi told reporters, and if the GP15 was even faster, it could pose a serious problem. "In one lap they have the advantage of the softer tire, but already with the old bike they are very fast," he said. "Iannone last time here did a 1'59.3." Ducati were now ready to do battle with Honda and Yamaha, was Rossi's opinion. The two Japanese factories still held an advantage during the race, however. They were better in the second half of the race, where Ducati have suffered. That would still leave Márquez, Lorenzo, Rossi and Pedrosa to battle their way past the two Andreas. It should make for some interesting races.

While Márquez and Lorenzo dominated, in a reversal of Monday, Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi ended the day much further down the standings. Both men pronounced themselves happy, having been working on set up and generally making steady progress. In parallel programs, Pedrosa and Rossi spent their day working on suspension and geometry, working towards an optimum base set up for the start of the year. Rossi worked on creating more grip, while Pedrosa focused on tire life, and making the tire perform better at the end of the race. More work was set for Wednesday, Pedrosa switching from the chassis to engine mappings, Rossi attempting a race run.

Up and down pit lane, the story was much the same. Work continued on finding a better base set up, and closing the gap to the fastest riders. For most, the story was the same, yet there are a few riders worth highlighting, for reasons either good or ill. There have been men who have made great steps forward, while for others, they have stood still, or gone backwards.

The huge improvement of the Ducati has highlighted the fate of Cal Crutchlow. The Englishman left a factory Ducati ride to take a seat at the LCR Honda team. After struggling badly at the first Sepang test, many suggested that his decision had been the wrong one. At the second Sepang test, Crutchlow has turned the situation around. Slowly building confidence, the LCR Honda man has cut the gap to under half a second to the front, and has bettered his time from the first test. Crutchlow is still struggling with corner entry, but progress is being made.

Yet Crutchlow finds two Ducatis ahead of him, despite having closed the gap to Márquez. Will he be able to finish ahead of the GP15 once the season gets underway? That will depend on how well the GP15 performs in the race. If the new Ducati uses tires as fast as the old one did, Crutchlow should have no problem getting ahead of his old teammate and the man who replaced him. If Ducati solve that problem, then that is a different matter altogether.

Does Crutchlow regret his decision, now that the Ducati is ahead of him on the timesheets? Even at the first Sepang test, when he was struggling badly, there was no sign of remorse. There are more reasons than just equipment for riders to switch teams. Crutchlow believes that his best chance of success lies on a Honda.

Scott Redding, like Cal Crutchlow, is making good progress, having now cut the gap to less than a second. Redding still has an awful long way to go, though, with twelve bikes ahead of him. Being thirteenth is not where he had expected to be.

In the Tech 3 garage, the situations from the first test are reversed. At Sepang 1, it was Pol Espargaro who had grabbed the headlines, being much faster than his teammate Bradley Smith. The ankle Smith had injured riding motocross had hampered him during the first test, and the Englishman is clearly much healthier in this second test. It is the turn of Smith to lead his teammate, the Englishman ending the day in seventh, while his teammate is down in tenth. Smith worked through a race simulation, and has grown in confidence throughout the test, while Espargaro seems to have the opposite problem.

Another reversal of fortune comes in the Forward Yamaha garage. Stefan Bradl had impressed friend and foe during the first Sepang test, ending well inside the top ten. With temperatures much higher, and grip much lower, Bradl is struggling for grip. Without the feel on the edge of the tire, Bradl is finding it hard to carry corner speed. Add that to a lack of braking stability, and Bradl finds himself outside the top fifteen. If Bradl's problems sound familiar, it is because the bike he is riding is basically the one Jorge Lorenzo was riding at the first test here last year, but with a softer tire and the Open class software. The potential is there for the bike, but it clearly does not work in all conditions.

But if there is one story that has dumbfounded and saddened observers, it is the tale of Marco Melandri. The Italian has looked lost ever since his return to MotoGP, but his plight just gets worse by the day. Melandri never wanted to return to MotoGP, but the last-minute switch by Aprilia left him with no choice. Halfway through a two-year contract with the Noale factory, Melandri's options were to move with them to MotoGP, or break his contract and try to find another employer. At the time, Aprilia intended to pull out entirely from World Superbikes, a decision they later reversed, providing what is basically factory support for the Red Devils teams. By that time, Melandri's fate was sealed, Red Devils already close to deals with Leon Haslam and Jordi Torres.

So Melandri finds himself in the MotoGP paddock, on a bike which is still a very long way behind the competition, while he waits for Romano Albesiano to bring an all-new prototype in 2016. That the bike is far from competitive is clear from the times of his teammate, Alvaro Bautista, who is in 23rd spot, two and a half seconds behind the leader Marc Márquez. But it is far more than just the bike: Melandri is a further two seconds behind Bautista, nearly four and a half seconds slower than Márquez. He is slower on the Aprilia RS-GP than he was round Sepang on his RSV4 World Superbike machine.

The problem is simple to explain, but all the more difficult to solve. Melandri simply has no confidence in the feel of the Bridgestones, and cannot get comfortable on the Aprilia. Aprilia have gone to extraordinary lengths to accommodate him, including bringing a bike which is very close to the RSV4 he rode in World Superbikes last year. Yet nothing seems to help. Melandri lingers in the slough of despond, no relief at hand.

As a mark of just how low Melandri has sunk, he posted on Twitter: "No words.. I can't ride, feeling disappointed for the guys.."

How to resolve this situation? For Aprilia, there is not much they can do. Melandri needs to find himself, to find some confidence in the bike and find some confidence in the tires, to understand how the tires work, and how to use them. That is easier said than done, but the first step is to alter his mindset from chasing a championship, which is what he was doing in World Superbikes, to development mode, which is what Aprilia needs above all. Melandri is a former MotoGP race winner, a contender in WSBK, and a man once tipped as the successor to Valentino Rossi. There can be little doubt he is fast. Except, perhaps, in his own mind. A change there could bring about a change in his fortunes.

It will be interesting to see how he responds to the Michelin test on Thursday. If he is more comfortable there, it could help change his attitude. Unfortunately for those of us who follow the sport, we are unlikely to find out how he got on with the tires. The result of the delicate contract situation, where Bridgestone holds the exclusive right to promote their tire brand in MotoGP, and pay Dorna a handsome sum for the privilege, means the Japanese firm is not keen to see Michelin get any publicity. A blanket ban has been imposed on riders speaking to the media after the tire test on Thursday, and all tire markings must be removed. There is no wrath like a marketing department scorned...

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Comments

Impressed with Lorenzo's times. Not too far from Marquez. Hope he, (Lorenzo), has found the confidence he was lacking last year. Still believe he is the one person that for sure can run Marquez for the title every race. Everyone else is a maybe.

Was looking at the video watching Iannone ride the Ducati. From what I saw he seems to still be feeling his way around that bike and not riding it as hard as he possibly can. Dovisioso seems to be pushing just a tad bit harder than him. For whatever reason, (and I hope this is not too offensive). IMHO Iannone will be the one that can win on that bike in the dry if they either can get close, (and that is a BIG IF). in the wet maybe Dovi has a chance.

l say this because it seems Iannone just speaks on feeling out the bike, Dovi is already seeming to get stuck on the issues. Which is fine, BUT! He also was on the best Motogp team in the paddock at one time, (Repsol/ Honda), he and Pedrosa complained and excused their failures away about how 'bad' the bike was doing this or that. Pedrosa had/has the speed to win, but Dovi may have won one race, (a well earned win at that), just seems he may be too focused on problems with the bike instead of making the best out of it. He only cut back complaints when Stoner came on and rode the bike regardless.

Iannone on the other hand has just gotten on with it. And on top of that, has beaten Marquez a few times in his career and seems to have more raw speed. We shall see. Just want to see more people matching Marquez speed. Fingers are crossed for Ducati to start matching Honda and Yamaha.

Send Marco to the skrink, that worked for Duc...oh wait.

Really sad to see where he is at the moment :(

The last time Marco was in another Italian bike (Ducati) he seemed to be having trouble with Bridgestone tires too (being on a Duc only made it worse). I think he will never have confidence with it. He strike me as a rider who needs a lot of 'feel' from the tires. Hopefully the Michelin tests will give him some leverage to be patient and wait for 2016.

Melandi got some decent results on the Hayate Kawasaki on Bridgestones after leaving Ducati. This to me says it is more about how Melandri himself is handled by his team rather than how much confidence he has in the tyres - Ducati treated him appallingly, refusing to listen to his feedback, publicly slating him for not riding the bike the way it needed to be ridden (like Stoner) and sending him to a shrink. The fact he refound his form on the outclassed Kawasaki the very next season bears this out. Now Aprillia have taken him from a championship winning ride in WSBK to a back of the pack development mule in MotoGP. Think he is seriously pissed off and in no mood to push for no result or sense of achievement. Not very professional granted but his treatment by Aprillia stinks. He just does not want to be there and it shows, let him go back to WSB.

"...Pol Espargaro waiting in the wings on the Tech 3 Yamaha, and Cal Crutchlow making steady progress..."

I'm not sure what the statistics would say about a satellite win.

The drought is to be eventually broken, ...OR the status quo will continue.
Cuban Method or Bayesian???

The last satellite win was late 2006, that's 9 years ago!

Only riders from Repsol HRC, Yamaha Factory or Casey Stoner have won in the dry. Chuck in singular wet wins for the 3rd Repsol HRC (Dovi), Vermeulen Suzuki and Capirossi Ducati.

...let alone when the last wins for a Tech3 or LCR bike were.

It will be a truly extraordinary set of circumstances for the factory Repsol or Yamaha team lock out of the top stop to be broken.

I totally agree that a satellite win is extremely unlikely. My point was more that first, the Ducatis have to beat the Fearsome Foursome. If any (or all) of Marquez, Pedrosa, Rossi, Lorenzo are hurt, then they will still have to beat the likes of Crutchlow, Pol Espargaro, even Bradley Smith and Scott Redding. Maybe even Aleix Espargaro. Getting three wins this season will be very, very tough indeed.

Allowing seamless shift gearboxes highlights the absolutely asinine nature of the MotoGP rule book.

HUGE expense with absolutely no relevance to biking as a whole.

Let's throw Carbon discs in the bin also and Corner by Corner tuning for more "innovations" that should have been stamped out by now...

...by "innovation", I mean 'barrier to entry'.

>Instead of seamless, allow twin clutches.
>Steel brakes seem to work for WSBK doing similar lap times.
>Cnr by Cnr can only be stamped out with a control ECU.

THEN by comparison, MotoGP Suspension still relies on a Blacksmith to twist up some metal and repeatedly pushing some oil through an orifice.
In the 21st century, we're still setting sag, rebound and compression with clicks of some nuts. It's absolutely NUTS.
To counter this, MotoGP develops and tests how many frames? ...swing arms?

Put the bikes in Parc Ferme overnight and they have to start from there in the morning with limited assistance. Can't start? Go to the back of the grid.

Remember, the manufacturers have considerable influence over how the rules are written.

The rules are written as they are so certain manufacturers will always have an advantage. The rules are not written to create a level playing field -- the rules are written with the opposite effect as a clear objective.

MotoGP is not pure racing as much as it is an elaborate marketing exercise. I quit watching Formula 1 after being a fan since the days of the Tyrell cars, because the extent to which this is true in F1 had removed all enjoyment for me. Dorna and the manufacturers have not quite reached that point of no return in MotoGP yet, but they are absolutely headed in that direction.

It's kind of a shame to see where MotoGP is headed. Technology is running amok. Seamless gearboxes... Basically no more real shifting... thumb brakes... turn-by-turn electronics... raw rider ability is being lost in all of this gizmology. What's next, automatic transmissions and auto-braking too based on the T-B-T? It's almost getting to the point of being absurd. I want to see the rider ride the bike... braking, shifting, accelerating, the whole nine yards, not just be some kind of pseudo-passenger that can turn super-fast lap times because the bike is doing 80% or more of the work for him. I realize this is probably an outdated point of view, but there is such a thing as too much technology in racing, and MotoGP is very close to being there now. The less you involve the rider, the less interesting it becomes for me.

I'm with you RaptorFA, can't stand seamless gearboxes either, they are turning the bikes into scooters.

The worst thing of all in my opinion is turn-by-turn software/electronics. I can't get over it, I despise it with passion, it angers me every time I think about it.

Marketing 101 : Always take the high road, because people remember when you take the low road, and they remember it for a long time.

Sure, Bridgestone paid Dorna for the "exclusive right to promote their product", but suppressing the opinions of riders regarding Michelin tires is just shameful. I'm a bit
surprised that a Japanese company would do this -- I'd have thought it would offend
their sense of honor, which one hears about when studying Japanese culture.

In any case, the truth will come out, in the form of lap times and race results.

Bridgestone should simply concentrate on making the best tires and the rest will take care of itself.

I think Bridgestone are already taking he high road by even allowing Michelin to test so often. They had no real incentive to allow it.

When you go back and read the comments from riders who have switched from Superbikes on Pirellis to MotoGP machines on Bridgestones, they all say it is the completely different feel from the tyres that takes time to get used to.

Be interesting to see what Jack Miller has to say about the difference between Moto3 Dunlops and MotoGP Bridgestones. Possibly in his case, being younger he has way less experience on anything else, so he just gets on with it.

But this is looking a little like Melandri at Ducati in 2008, but not as bad. Back then Melandri took a mortgage on the back row of the grid while his team-mate was on the front row, quite often on pole.

The gap between Melandri and his new team-mate is not quite such a chasm in terms of grid position, but it is in terms of lap time.

Thing is, Bautista has a a lot of time on MotoGP Bridgestones.

Finally, I thought Melandri chose to go to MotoGP rather than join a privateer Superbike team.

Quoting MCN from December 22 (for what it is worth) : But after lengthy talks with Aprilia, the 32-year-old decided to accept the Noale factory’s MotoGP offer and Albesiano told MCN: “We have to understand that Marco made a big decision some years ago for his career to come from MotoGP to World Superbikes and now we proposed him to do the opposite and it is not easy for a rider to make this kind of move. He had to think a lot about it and we offered him the two options to move to MotoGP and also to stay in World Superbikes. But in the end we succeeded in convincing him to come to MotoGP because the key point is we want the best results in the top class.”

To see the Red Devils up front at Phillip Island must be galling for Melandri as from the above, he had the option of staying in the SWC series.

Why doesn't Aprilia just swap Melandri and Torres? I think Torres might prefer to race in WSB where he's already shown that he might just have the speed for a shot for the title, but I'm sure he'd also like to be in the biggest circus - and he knows the routine there well enough.

I think Torres wants to stay in WSBK for now seeing he has chances to keep up with the top guys. Aprilia motogp's bike is clearly not doing that atm. Maybe something big happends and closes the gap this year. When he has such a good year in wsbk, he might be offered to go to Motogp for the 2016 season.

That may not be a bad idea at all. Given their stations in their respective careers, this makes perfect sense to me. I agree with others here that Marco did not want to make the move to the GP paddock but he felt like he had no choice. Jordi on the other hand is young and has the kind of temperament that allows one to plug him in just about anywhere and he will go after it with the kind of exuberance that Melandri may not possess any longer. Don't get me wrong, I would love to see Melandri turn it around and make a go of this experience. And I'm pretty sure Jodri is gonna be just fine!