2016 Jerez MotoGP Test Round Up: Funny Front Tires, Wings, and a Chance to Test Properly

The test on Monday at Jerez was probably the most important test of the year so far. A chance to test the day after a race, in similar conditions, and with ideas born of the data from the first four races of 2016 to try out. There really was a lot to test: not just parts and set up, but also three new front tires from Michelin, as well as further work on the "safety" rear tire introduced after Argentina.

First out of the pits was Bradley Smith, determined to turn his tough start to the season around. Last on to the track was Valentino Rossi, rolling out of pit lane some time after 2pm. Celebrations of his astounding victory at Sunday's race must have been intense: the Italian was very hoarse when he spoke to us at the end of the day.

A major focus for all of the riders was on tires. Michelin had brought three new front tires to test, and the riders also had the remainder of their allocation from the weekend to use. There was nothing new at the rear, but given how little experience they had with the construction introduced after Scott Redding's rear tire delaminated in Argentina, there was much still to be learned. Bradley Smith had described it as "a prototype". The tire had done a handful of test laps, and then two races. It had created problems for everyone at Jerez on Sunday, and so much work was focused on finding more rear grip.

Rubber rings

The front had been less of a problem at Jerez – there were just two crashes in the MotoGP class at the Spanish circuit (Loris Baz on Friday, Alvaro Bautista in the race), compared with 61 crashes in Moto2 and Moto3 combined – but Michelin are still working on finding the right balance with the front tire. The French tire maker had brought three new front tires to be tested on Monday, though their opaque tire designation system made it tough to try to figure out which riders had tested what, and which tire they preferred

There was a new version of the stiffer construction tire, a tire which few riders had gotten on with, as it provided too little feedback. The new version was as unloved as its predecessor. There was also a tire which was halfway between the stiffer and softer constructions, but that, too, met with little appreciation. Only Maverick Viñales expressed his approval for that one.

The tire most riders favored was the revised version of the softer construction tire. The issue with that tire was that it tended to collapse under braking, causing the front wheel to lock up and making the steering very heavy. The bike became very difficult to turn while braking. The revised construction was aimed at helping here, with some additional harder rubber in middle of the tire, giving it a little more resistance under braking.

Better hoops

Pol Espargaro was enthusiastic. " It was exactly the same as the [soft construction tire], but with an extra edge, an extra part in the middle of hard rubber, extra hard rubber in the middle, to avoid the locking or the soft feeling when braking. It was really, really good. My feeling braking improved. I keep the good feeling in to the corner and inside the corner not closing, not locking," Espargaro said.

Valentino Rossi agreed, saying it was better because it had more grip, but also because it was better under braking and on corner entry. Aleix Espargaro agreed, but reported some vibration with the tire. Not chatter, he was quick to stress, but a little vibration.

Michelin took the feedback from the riders back to their French HQ in Clermont Ferrand. The objective of the test was to try to close in on a single construction of front tire which will suit as many different riders and bikes as possible. A decision on that is still some way away, however: the plan is to introduce new tires at Assen, giving them another test at Barcelona with which to get more feedback.

No to 2016

There may have been a lot to test, but not all of the factories had an equal amount to do. For Yamaha, their aim was to test the 2016-style chassis, with the fuel filler in the tail, and the fuel further towards the rear of the bike. Neither Jorge Lorenzo nor Valentino Rossi were particularly enamored of it. "I felt better with the conventional fuel tank, so I think we will continue with that one," Rossi said. "The bike became different to ride. The lap times are not so far, but for me, entering the corner is more difficult."

At Honda, Dani Pedrosa's crew were throwing a plethora of minor changes at the bike. New triple clamps and suspension parts were tested in an attempt to get more grip on corner exit, the real bugbear of the Honda, and especially for flyweight Pedrosa. The had also focused on managing the torque of the engine through electronics, as well as on the power delivery and traction control.

Pedrosa felt that Honda was at a disadvantage compared to Ducati when it came to electronics. His explanation came in the form of imitation, Pedrosa trying to copy the different sound the electronics made on the Honda and Ducati when they started to cut in. "You don’t hear the same noise on our electronics than on theirs," Pedrosa said. "On theirs, it looks like much faster, the cut," he said, going on to make a fast staccato sound not far off a smooth running engine. "Instead, on ours, it sounds like pop, pop, pop, pop." That was a fast popping noise he made, but still slower than that of the Ducati.

Trackside observers

The difference in sound was audible from trackside. One of the joys of testing at Jerez is taking lunch at the restaurant under the grandstands between Turns 11 and 12. Sitting there with photographers Tony Goldsmith and Cormac Ryan Meenan, we compared notes on the bikes coming through.

The electronics on the Ducati GP14.2 sounded roughest, with clear and loud interference. The electronics on the Hondas sounded vicious too, a buzz saw rasp added to the RC213V's already murderous exhaust note. The Ducati GP16 sounded relatively smooth, little noise added as the traction control fired. But it was the Yamahas which sounded smoothest, TC barely engaged at all as the riders cracked the throttle.

There was, however, a very loud bang from the Yamahas just before the apex of Turn 12, and a few moments before the engine noise started to rise. We sat speculating on what was causing the bang, and I asked Bradley Smith what it was during his debrief. "I don't know," he quipped, "I've never watched myself ride!" He did have a theory, however. "I would say it’s a backfire," Smith told us. "Obviously, there on the apex you’re at your maximum lean. At your maximum lean that’s when the butterfly is going to close to its maximum point. So all I can think is that the butterfly closes there and any fuel that’s remaining or gases or whatever just gets burned, and then when you crack the throttle then it’s back to normal again." When Smith explained it to us, it all suddenly made sense.

Happy Tech 3 boys

Smith and his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Pol Espargaro both had very good tests. For Bradley Smith, it was crucial that he find his way again, after a tough start to the season. They played with some geometry and weight distribution, but more importantly, they moved him back on the bike. As part of a radical experiment with the M1 at Austin, Smith had been moved forward on the bike, while also changing the set up. The set up proved to be fine, but moving Smith forward had proved to be a mistake.

Once back where he belonged, Smith was a lot more comfortable, and also much faster. "As soon as we put me back there all of my natural instinct feelings started to come back," Smith said. "We weren’t able to do that before because we didn’t have the bike in the right position where it loaded the front in the right way, so we moved me forward. Now we’ve actually got the front loading the right way we can work on moving me back on the bike." Smith had hoped to find three tenths of a second, to get him closer to times set by riders in the front group. He and his team had improved by half a second, leaving Smith optimistic.

Pol Espargaro, too, was optimistic. Modifications to the suspension, and a new part had helped to make a huge difference to rear grip. " I’m really happy, because suddenly when we test one piece on the bike everything change so much, especially with used tires," the Spaniard said. He would not be drawn on exactly what it was he had changed, but the description makes it sound very much like a revised suspension link.

Improvement was marked. "We had the problem during all the weekend that we had so much spin on the rear," Espargaro explained, "and then when we catch the kerbs there’s spin plus the extra grips that the kerbs have, it generates big movement in the bike. But with the setting we have now, we have improved so much." It was visible from the restaurant: Espargaro looked a lot more comfortable on the bike, and though the bike still shook its head when he rode over the kerbs, the movement was much easier to control.

Those darned wings

Winglets were one item which got a good run out at the test. Suzuki put a lot of work into testing its winglets, while Honda trialed a new set of bizarre triple decker wings at the front of the fairing. They helped, but Marc Márquez, who had tried them, was not a fan. "For me for the motorbikes is much better without the wings," he told the media. "If they start to go in a lot with the aerodynamics then it will be more difficult to follow the riders. They will be more difficult to overtake because then on the acceleration will be like Formula 1. You lose the aerodynamic and then you cannot take well the slipstream, so will be more difficult." The safety aspect was also a concern, he said.

The winglets are likely to be banned at the end of the year anyway. The MSMA met on Friday to try to come up with a proposal to put to the Grand Prix Commission, but they could not reach an agreement among themselves. During the GPC meeting, Dorna and IRTA told the MSMA that they were to come up with a proposal at Le Mans, and if they did not, then Dorna would unilaterally issue a ruling. That ruling will almost certainly be to ban them from the start of next season.

Though it would remain a shame if one avenue of truly unique and fascinating development were to be closed off, it is probably better for the sport in terms of cost. Ducati are unhappy with the situation, having invested heavily in aerodynamics and gained an advantage in that area. Honda are believed to have made a persuasive case to Ducati, however, by pointing out that Honda have three wind tunnels at their disposal, as well as an army of aerodynamics engineers ready to immerse themselves into the subject. If need be, Honda can spend money like water to win. That is a battle which Ducati cannot afford to get involved in, despite being owned by Audi.

Just testing the bike

For some riders, there were not a lot of new parts to test, preferring to focus on set up instead. Maverick Viñales of Suzuki was one of those. Sometimes, he said, it was better not to have a stack of new bits waiting to be tested at the back of the garage. It was better to focus on the fundamentals of making a bike that works at most tracks. "You can concentrate in another way," Viñales told us. "Now we concentrate only for find a good setup and a good base to bring to Le Mans. Then we can make one step more in Le Mans."

Like so many satellite riders, Eugene Laverty had no new parts to test – Avintia Ducati had chosen to go home, preferring not to risk expensive crash damage during the test – and so had spent the day working on Geometry, and trying out ideas for which there is normally not much time during a race weekend. The improvements had been there, Laverty said, but they were hard to see on the timesheets. The fact that he was using a test engine with much less power meant that his times were slow, however.

Riders and teams now head to Le Mans, to prepare for the French Grand Prix. The next collective test they get is after the race in Barcelona, in just under six week's time.


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Comments

This must be hard for Michelin.   When Bridgestone was supplier they were already making tires for teams.   Michelin coming in cold after a hiatus must make it more difficult, especially with everyone having freshly ridden Bridgestones for so long that were "perfected" (I say that loosely) over time

Maybe they should allow Ducati those strakes and even maybe 200cc more. Hey, bigger engine concesion worked very well for them in WSBK.

Had to laugh when I saw them - seems like 2016 is turning into Snoopy vs The Red Baron laugh

I am amazed by MM93's thought on the turbulence created by the Ducati and its wings, I believe Smith stated the same last year. If the turbulence is really bad then its gonna affect the Racing to a great extent. May be the stright in Mugello is gonna be the coffin in the box for the Wings.

Ban the strakes. They'll never see production without a nice increase in costs to already expensive machines laden with electronic trickery.

 

Michelin have done well to be just at the beginning of the era.  Riders always complain about tires no matter how good they are.  Michelin has done well so far, implementing safety first and flying tires out at their expense when problems have risen. 

Motogp might be a test bed for new ideas, but it's not really a feeder for production motorcycles.  Carbon brakes, pneumatic valves, and turn by turn traction control (to name a few) are all established in motogp - but will never see their way to a production bike.

Conversely, dual clutch gear boxes and ABS are already available on many road bikes - but they aren't allowed in motogp.

I think there's a bigger problem with wings on a production motorcycle than just the cost. Firstly, I think there are going to be safety concerns, if not already laws against hard/sharp protruding parts. Secondly, wings can only be used together with wheelie control. Imagine doing a wheelie (popular entertainment on many fast bikes, important part of the fun) with those wings: beyond a certain angle they will generate lift, help increase the wheelie, and things will self-amplify. That can become rather scary at high speed.

The alternative would be to make the wings self-adjusting, so that they rotate to give at most zero lift, but that seems to me like becoming a very expensive way of achieving a very small advantage, judging from what we've heard from riders.

The thing with wings on a motorcycle is: it's only good for keeping the front wheel on the ground, it does not give you extra grip for going faster round corners, like on a car. Yes, the front wheel will be pushed on the road more, but unlike on a car, the wings will also push the front outward more. So I'd guess that all the grip you gain, you need just to counter the outward push. It should help in those places where the front will would otherwise lose contact, like over the crest at the right-hander going onto the back straight at Jerez.

Another thing is: if the wings are very far at the front, they can be kept the smallest, because they will have more leverage. That makes them cause less air resistance for the same amount of downforce at the front wheel, but if they are getting effectively beyond the front axle, they will take weight off the rear wheel. I noticed that the latest large moustaches of the Yamahas are quite on the edge of that, at least so it appeared on tv. I wonder if that may have been a (small) factor in the high-speed wheelspin problems.

All in all, it's better just to get rid of them, it seems to me (and most people). But we might get some interesting noses instead, who knows...

The kawasaki H2 already has wings on the front of it.  On the non-R model they're integrated into the mirrors, on the R, they're stand-alone wings.

"One of the joys of testing at Jerez is taking lunch at the restaurant under the grandstands between Turns 11 and 12. Sitting there with photographers Tony Goldsmith and Cormac Ryan Meenan, we compared notes on the bikes coming through."

Which vintage of Rioja were you sipping with your paella?

smiley

I am all too deeply aware that I am one of the most fortunate men alive, and Jerez makes me appreciate that doubly so. Firstly, I am married to a wonderful woman, who is my perfect match and who understands me perfectly. Secondly, I make a living (barely, but I do make a living) writing about motorcycle racing. Thirdly, I get to travel to amazing race tracks around the world, and take in the sights (sometimes, though all too often it is airport - hotel - racetrack - hotel - airport). Fourthly, I get to stand up close at the race track, and see the bikes and the riders at very close quarters, and get an appreciation for what they are doing.

At Jerez, I get to combine all of that with a good meal. The bar under the stands at Turn 12 is a fantastic place to sit and watch, and highly recommended. Food is solid Spanish fare, well cooked. One of the things I said to Tony and Cormac as we sat there was how very civilized it was.

One thing, though: it was tonic water, not Rioja. I had a lot of work to do in the afternoon! 

Because you quite clearly work very hard to live the life you do, you deserve it, as does anybody else deserve the fruits of their labours, especially when they are as significant as yours.

Lucky or not, you made sacrifices others don't see in order to get to do what you do - no? - and for this we should all feel fortunate, because what you do enriches our lives as we enjoy more thoroughly (very) our collectively shared passion.

Cheers David. Thanks for everything you do. When I can, I promise to support the site; until then, bless you for keeping it outside a paywall. You, sir, are mint...

The luckiest thing is riding Jerez on your own bike on a trackday. As you tip into turn 11, you can see the restaurant in the background and you can see the people enjoying a nice cold beer on the outside patio, you run out onto the serrated kerb and your vision is quickly drawn away towards the next apex, turn 12, the daddy. The fastest corner on the track with the least amount of run off. All of a sudden you've forgotten about the beer and you have an argument with yourself about wether you should shut the throttle or keep it pinned. I usually close it a little to get some weight on the front tyre, get to the apex, and then wind it back on as you drift out to the kerb, hoping you won't run wide and be sucked into the deepest gravel trap on the planet. It's only as the bike starts to straighten up that you realise you have been holding your breath. You exhale and promise yourself an ice cold estrella for surviving  

Now, if only I could get round the track 9 seconds faster, I could be one of the people who you write about on your website. Must practise more and drink less beer. 

If i ever make it to a GP Jerez i will go to that restaurant. But i might go "Rioga"(is it wine??) instead of tonic water. Nice control David, but like you said a fair bit of work to do.