2016 Le Mans Friday Round Up: On Tires, Winglets, and Pedrosa Going to Yamaha

They say that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. There are also two certainties in MotoGP so far this year: at every race, Michelin will introduce yet another new tire, and the Ducati Desmosedici GP will sprout a new set of wings. For Le Mans, Michelin brought a new rear tire, with a slightly softer construction but identical compounds, to try to generate a little more grip and address rider complaints about the rear spinning without creating drive, even in high gears. The new wings on the Ducati were much larger than the previous versions, to perhaps address the need for drive out of the many first gear corners at Le Mans.

Michelin bringing yet another tire to another race may sound like they are still flailing around, but in reality, it is a sign that the French tire maker is starting to settle on a development direction, after their plans had been sent astray by the double Ducati disasters of Loris Baz and Scott Redding. The rear tire raced at Austin and Jerez was the so-called "safety tire", a construction Michelin was certain would make race distance without any nasty surprises. It was raced without any real testing, meant only as a back up, not seriously intended for competition.

A little better rubber

The new rear tire is better, a little softer construction which generates more grip. It met with a positive reception, though the riders who used it were hardly gushing about it. "It's obvious that this direction is going to be a better way for me, but also for many other riders," Dani Pedrosa said of it. But the difference was small. "A little different in a positive way, but only a very, very little."

Bradley Smith was a little more positive. "It's a step in the right direction. It seems to hook up and drive a little better." Smith had done 24 flying laps on the tire, just shy of race distance. He was confident it would last for a full race, though, something which Michelin was set to check. Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo were similarly positive, with Lorenzo particularly pleased that the rear tire stopped the bike from moving so much through the Dunlop Curve, the 300 km/h right hander which is the fastest first corner on the calendar. Given just how much the bikes were shaking their heads through that section, any reduction would be more than welcome.

One of the only riders not to test the new rear tire was Valentino Rossi, having decided to concentrate on trying to make the medium tire (the hardest compound available using the older, safety tire construction) work for the race. That had not been the right choice, he told reporters, corner entry being a serious problem, especially into the Dunlop Curve. The plan was to try the new rear tire on Saturday, and hope that it worked as well for him as it had for Lorenzo.

Front 34

Another sign that Michelin are getting a handle on MotoGP is the fact that there is now only one front tire construction available. That was the stiffer construction designated "34", which had caused a lot of riders to fall at Austin, as they struggled with a lack of feel. At Le Mans, removing the choice between two constructions had actually made things easier for the teams, according to Bradley Smith.

Giving riders choices meant they spent more time trying to figure out which tire they liked. Take away the choice, and they made the tires they had work. "A lot of it with us riders is that if you have that construction and those compounds, you make something work. You have an option between soft, medium, and hard. You've got to find something within those areas to make it work."

It wasn't just the work by the teams, though. Michelin had also made steps forward, according to Smith. "They've got to the point where it's clear now, and no one seems to be locking in a straight line any more, nobody seems to be having funny crashes," Smith said. "That means that within reason, they've got the front to where it needs to be, and now it's a case of continuing to adapt the rear. Because we're only on the third race weekend with that tire, and they'll move forward with that."

A flock of winglets

If the new Michelin was a sign that the tire situation was normalizing, then Ducati's new winglets are perhaps a sign of something similar with aerodynamics. The new winglets which appeared on the Desmosedici GP looked tailor made for Le Mans. Behind the upper winglets, an extra surface had been added, extending the size of the wings. That surface also had a large end plate, perhaps for shaping airflow around the rider. The bottom winglets were the large double decker versions featured previously.

Le Mans has a lot of corners where acceleration is key. Both the front straight and the back straight feature fairly tight corners where riders get hard on the gas and accelerate in a straight line. The winglets won't help in first gear, but the larger winglets are probably more effective at relatively low speeds (say, upwards of 130 km/h) than the smaller ones which have appeared previously. The smaller items at Jerez were said to help out of Turn 5 at the Spanish track, the 160 km/h corner leading on to the back straight. These bigger items should help out of tighter corners.

Why is everyone suddenly investing in winglets and in aerodynamics? Quite simply, because of the spec electronics. Though the unified software has anti wheelie strategies built in, they are not as efficient as the ones in the old proprietary factory software. With that avenue closed off – and perhaps just as importantly, the money freed up by electronics budgets to spend – factories are looking for other solutions to the problem of getting more drive out of corners. Winglets help keep the front end down, which means riders can apply more power, which means they get out of corners harder. Ducati opened the Pandora's box which is aerodynamics, and now the rest are following suit.

A winglet for every track

Andrea Dovizioso revealed just how much Ducati are focused on aerodynamics. "We can see before arriving in other tracks which winglets are the best for us so we don’t really compare during the weekend," the Italian said. "We know which one is the best for the layout of the track." The appearance of the new winglets at Le Mans are a sign that Ducati are customizing the aerodynamics package to suit each particular track.

Despite this specialization, the gains are only marginal. "It’s something very strange to explain and difficult to feel," Dovizioso said. "When you have different winglets you don’t really feel what happens, like you have a different set-up on the bike." Bradley Smith told reporters the advantages were only very small. "I think that they have very minimal effect on performance, especially our ones at Yamaha. I don't even think that it gives you 0.1 a lap." Things were a little different for Ducati, according to Smith, as they have clearly spent more time on development in the area.

They're dangerous, but we'll use them anyway

Opposition to the winglets is widespread among riders, most of them citing safety concerns, though interestingly, different riders talked about different dangers. For Dani Pedrosa, the danger was collision. "The rider is very exposed in general, so we are making Safety Commissions to change the kerbs, to change the grass, to change the sand of the track, to increase the air fence, etc," Pedrosa said. "And then we put these kinds of 'knives' on the bike. So it does not make so much sense, to work so hard in one way, and destroy it in the other."

For Smith, the issue was more one of turbulence. "For me, the number one issue is turbulence, the fact that bikes become unstable behind other motorcycles at 350 km/h, and the front starts to shake and blows the brake pads apart," he said. "That's where my issue with them comes from." Despite his objections, though, he would still be riding with the winglets. "I could ride without them, but what's the point in giving away 0.1?" Smith pointed out. "It's 2.7 seconds at the end of a race, that's the difference between sometimes fifth or tenth. So while it's available to you, you're always going to use it."

Smith also pointed to the issue of cost, explaining that aerodynamics could soon degenerate into a spending war, with factories spending more and more on wind tunnel work. While he has a point, merely banning aerodynamics will not necessarily reduce spending. If history has taught us one thing, it is that engineers enjoy the challenge of finding ingenious ways of solving problems, and factories will spend whatever budget they have on enabling their engineers to do just that. Dual clutches were banned to prevent a spending war, and HRC took the budget they would have spent on DCT and poured it into their seamless gearbox. Now, everyone has a seamless gearbox – they have to, otherwise they cannot compete.

The perils of hubris

Wings and tires were not the only topic of conversation, of course. There was plenty of talk about 2017, as usual, as the paddock waits on tenterhooks for Maverick Viñales' decision. The Spaniard was still vacillating between Yamaha and Suzuki, and that may have led him to overplay his hand. Speaking to Spanish reporters about reports that Yamaha were looking at Dani Pedrosa to fill the seat alongside Valentino Rossi, his first response was, "Dani has spent a lifetime with Honda. He should finish his career there."

A few hours later, Viñales was taking that remark back on his Twitter account. "Excuse me for my statements on Dani's future," he tweeted. "What I wanted to say was it would be fantastic for Dani to finish his career where he had started it."

Why the backpedaling? Perhaps he realized he had gone too far. Or perhaps he had received a quiet word from Yamaha or Suzuki, pointing out that they did not appreciate the way he had expressed himself. Or perhaps he got word of news that broke late on Friday night, that Dani Pedrosa was set to sign a contract with Yamaha, and that his chance in the factory team was rapidly disappearing.

Scoop!

The news, published by Nadia Tronchoni of respected Spanish newspaper El Pais, is that Dani Pedrosa has already agreed terms with Yamaha for 2017 and 2018. Tronchoni – arguably the best journalist in the MotoGP paddock, both extremely knowledgeable and extraordinarily reliable – wrote as fact what Simon Patterson of MCN had reported earlier in the week. Whereas Patterson's sources had told him only that Pedrosa's switch to Yamaha was being very seriously considered, Tronchoni asserts that the deal is done. Understandably in such a sensitive situation, neither journalist revealed their sources.

Viñales may have ended up as a victim of his own hype. The young Spaniard is clearly incredibly talented, but he has neither completely outclassed his teammate, nor scored a MotoGP podium. Andrea Dovizioso's manager, the ever thoughtful Simone Battistella, told GPOne that the current Silly Season was distorting the rider market. "[Viñales] is strong, but he is overvalued in the current market," Battistella said. "There are only a few strong young riders. The same is true for Alex Rins. At the moment, there are three groups of riders: the top group, 30 years of age and older, Iannone, who is 27, and then the rest. The only truly great young rider is Marc Márquez."

Dani Pedrosa at Yamaha leaves Maverick Viñales at Suzuki, and opens up a new front of speculation over who will take the second seat in Repsol Honda. MCN had earlier reported that Cal Crutchlow could get the seat, and given the current state of the market, that may not be so far off the mark. In part due to a lack of alternatives: when I spoke to a senior Honda source at Jerez, they told me that neither Maverick Viñales nor Alex Rins had done enough to impress them. Jack Miller is in a similar situation, despite having an HRC contract. The Australian is suffering with a lingering ankle injury, and has failed to impress so far this year.

That second Repsol seat could come down to a question of who is available. Andrea Iannone is fast, but has a number of black marks against his name, with the incident at Argentina as the most obvious example. Pol Espargaro is desperate to get onto a Honda, and would love a shot at the Repsol seat, but has yet to demonstrate beyond all doubt that he has earned. Michael van der Mark has been impressive in World Superbikes, but the leap from WSBK straight into a factory MotoGP seat is a massive step. Reigning WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea would be capable of making the jump, but he seems to have given up on the idea of a MotoGP ride.

Let speculation reign

The empty Repsol seat provides an excellent opportunity for publications needing to fill column inches or ensure website visits. Expect a daily string of stories in the coming weeks, in which every possible combination of rider and bike is covered. Once the remaining seats are announced, such publications will be able to claim they were right all along, and point to the stories which had the right rider on the right bike. The dozen or so others, where the same rider is on a very different bike, will be quietly swept under the carpet.

For an interesting take on why teams are not looking at World Superbikes, and why factories are afraid of bringing riders over from one championship to another, see Cal Crutchlow's comments over on Crash.net. As always, Crutchlow offers an interesting insight into why particular riders end up in a particular place. Crutchlow's tip? Chaz Davies to Pramac Ducati. From my perspective, this seems like a solid possibility. Davies could be joined in MotoGP by Michael van der Mark, but only if a seat in a satellite team becomes available. If Crutchlow is promoted to the Repsol Honda team, then that would open a vacancy at LCR …

Oh yes, there were bikes on track as well today. Jorge Lorenzo laid down an unstoppable pace, the Movistar Yamaha rider fast at a track where he is often strong. The Hondas did much better than expected, not suffering from the lack of grip as expected. As said above, Valentino Rossi and his crew went in the wrong direction, something they hope to rectify on Saturday.

In Moto2, Johann Zarco put on a display for his home crowd, topping the timesheets in the afternoon. Championship leader Sam Lowes is struggling, though why he should be doing so is unclear. Moto3 saw Brad Binder take control in the afternoon, after a very poor start to the morning. Enea Bastianini was forced to give up on his championship hopes, after being ruled unfit to race. Bastianini is already 48 points behind Binder in the title race. That deficit is likely to have grown by the end of Sunday.


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Total votes: 128
Total votes: 107

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Comments

And the Maverick got put in his place. I love MotoGP.

Total votes: 110

Wow---silly season started early this year! The racing season has barely started and we're already up to our necks in rider drama...

Total votes: 119

Well, well, well, good times for sure

Total votes: 122

Living in Indonesia, we're all talking about it at work.  Love the off track rumours, drama and signings.  Fuels the machine.  Lifts the sport's profile globally.

Keep up the great work David !

Total votes: 111

Hope the news on Pedro is true, reckon it'll be good all round.  The most amusing thing is that the 2nd seat at Repsol not being viewed as particularly attractive place to be - especially for up-and-comers.  The bike is not very good right now and the group around Marquez will make sure the #2 stays in their place.  It will be very interesting to see who they go after and who they can actually land there.

Vinales presumably staying at Suzuki is similarly a good thing, it won't hurt him to mature another year or two and see if they can really bring the bike up to the top level.  It seems very close already and dare I say it the eagerness Suzuki has shown in attempting to keep him suggests a renewed commitment to the project which seems better than their half-hearted efforts in the past.

.....unless of course this is all just some very well placed misinformation dropped to force MV's hand...

But on MV, I must say that from my armchair I agree with the "his stock's over valued" comments.  All the talk is about him but he only outscored Aleix three times last year when they both finished, and Aleix finished 8 points ahead in spite of an extra DNF. Okay it was MV's rookie year and he did well but not by such a degree as you'd think by listening to the hype surrounding him.  And watching him ride, he just looks 'rough' on the bike, he has this unnerving thing of beginning the turn-in while mainly seated 'on' the bike, then throws his body to the inside of the corner half way through turn-in.  Odd.  Anyhows, he's the one being offered 5 million a year to fly around the world and race motorbikes, not me, so he must have something right. :)

Total votes: 129

I think the article implies that the second HRC ride is not unattractive to riders, but it's HRC not impressed with their current choices.

But Pedrobot (remember that nickname? Far from it now=) please be on a Yam!

Total votes: 102

I don't like childish nicknames regardless, but that one for Pedrosa never made any sense. In 2006 a 20 year old, shy, introverted kid enters the MotoGP arena and is possibly, probably quite intimiated by all the media coverage, the calls that he would be the next big thing and then the 'accusations' that the RCV was built aroud him.

I've never perceived Pedrosa as insensitive or emotionless. Quite the opposite actually. Hardly the equivalent of a robot.

Total votes: 106

     my o my . lets bring 2017 yes

Total votes: 110

I ever thought Pedrosa would move out of that garage until he retired, and yes it is interesting now the Honda is being rated below the Ducati! what a turnaround in 2 years. 

The factory Yamaha squad will lose none of its potency at all next season, if anything they could be stronger

Hopefully now all of these rider shanaigans are almost over we can focus back on 2016, which is shaping up well

Total votes: 112

Nice piece David. If I may correct a small error, Dunlop Curve is a 300 KM/H right hander, not left hander. Irrelevant typo, I know, but you would definitely not want to be turning left going in there. Ouch.

Rossi being the only rider not to test the new Michelin rear tyre on Friday does nothing to dispel the conspiracy theorist's view (I know, you hate that, David, but this is the way it is in this information age which we find ourselves living in currently) that something is going on with the tyres Vale gets. Will his mechanics rush to fit blankets the moment he finishes his race like they did at Jerez, here in France as well? I'm calling VR46 to make a dramatic turn around after a poor Friday start and win this race (from Pole?) and then to see his crew rush in and cover the tyres at the end as well. When in doubt, do what you want and deny everything.

Ducati opened the Pandora's Box which is aerodynamics, yes, but nobody is talking about a certain Mr. Phillip Morris' contribution to this whole winglet excursion. Is it coincidental that the Duc strakes look like shapely packs of Marlboros sticking out the side of the bike? I, for one, think not. And if you look into the (vast) area of subliminal suggestion and persuasion techniques, you will understand the justification for spending as much money as necessary/desired on their partners' racing endeavours at Ducati to keep those Marlboro packs - err, winglets - leading the edge into the wind, dangling out there outside the sea-wash of the rest of the bike's livery, where they really stand out as they do.

Why are the rest following Ducati's lead with these winglets? Because they see (what I've been saying all along) that these winglets, while providing a meagre performance improvement, will provide substantial revenue improvement for the teams as another surface to sell to sponsors, which they will then emblazon with their logos. Wait for it. It is for this reason, spearheaded by uncle Phil (who is dying to spend some money on motorsport, money which he has to burn and that is bursting at the seams of the advertising and promotions budget at Phillip Morris) which kept the once tidal wave of funds pouring into GP racing from Marlboro, and all but dried up since the ban on Cigarette advertising. But Uncle Phil is very, very clever, and has never gone anywhere but out of sight - though definitely not out of mind. 

That senior Honda source you spoke to at jerez, David (who told you that neither Maverick Vinales nor Alex Rins had done enough to impress them) told you also all you need to know - at least all I need to know: that either Vinales or Rins will be filling the seat being vacated by Dani at Repsol-Honda, the little samurai going to Movistar-Yamaha just as I predicted several weeks ago. If publications will rush unashamedly to claim they were right with their predictions all along, then why should I feel any way about doing the same thing? Especially considering NOBODY called the Pedrosa move before I did. (I re-posted that Austin Sunday Round Up comment a few stories ago because nobody will acknowledge it unless I put it out there - Just 4 the record. Sorry if I annoy you or anyone else by doing this, but I love being right even more than I hate being wrong.)

More predictions: Iannone will stay at Ducati to partner Lorenzo next year unless he takes out his teammate again while both are in contention for a podium. AI29 is Ducat's man, unless he insists on being a bonehead for the rest of the season - a season which I still believe he has a chance of challenging for the title in, but he better hurry. Dovi will go to Aprilia on a lucrative contract to replace Bautista, partnering up with Bradl - a vey valuable piece of German (market) engineering in a move that (again being unashamed to remind you) I predicted long ago right here on this website before the season began, predicted along with number 04 having a "nightmare season" I believe are the exact words I used. I wish I were wrong on this one as I really like Dovi. Top bloke.

And as for this weekend's race in Le Mans: Rossi will probably win again regardless of the alleged wrong turn he and his team took on Friday; Aleix will beat Maverick, again (that should pour some cold water on the impetuous youngster's hubris and settle things down a little in the Suzuki box (which makes probable cause); Dani will be as far away from Marc as he has been all season, especially considering he's leaving now. And Jorge Lorenzo? He might just suffer with another bad tyre episode from Michelin, or conversely he may wipe the floor with everyone on the grid like he did last year. But I think his choice words recently for Michelin Man have left a sour taste in the mouth of the French Industrial giant, and they are not ones to let those charged with promoting them turn and slag them off because they had a bad result. Jorge should brace himself.

* "The only truly great young rider is Marc Marquez."  Simone Battistella, thoughtful as ever, and spot on in her reasoning. Not to mention very hot (I really hope I'm thinking of the right person).

Enjoy the rest of the weekend. Forgive me in advance for rubbing some people the wrong way with this post as I know I will - but somebody has to do it. Cheers.

Total votes: 120

Here's my conspiracy theory: Max Rusch is actually Mat Oxley using a pseudonym and having some fun. Quite verbose, intentionally contrarian and the occasional obtuse remark sprinkled in for good measure. Classic aspects of trolling. What better way for a serious, respected journalist to live out his more mischievous side?

If it were an earnest account it would have the "Site Supporter" badge by now.

Max = Mat Oxley

Max Rusch = maximum (adrenaline) rush, the thing he's going for

Total votes: 106

I don't think Mat Oxley could be quite so paranoid or full of conspiracy, even after a very bad come down from some outrageously mind altering drugs. No. I think Max is just very very special in his own special way. 

Total votes: 103

So now how do you contort things to fit in with your outlandish ideas?

Total votes: 107

Are tedious and invariably wrong. The reason they cover up the tires as soon as possible is to make sure the other teams can't see the tire wear patterns. An expert eye can take a look at those, and make an educated guess at how a team altered bike set up to extract the performance from them they did. Tires get covered up to prevent this.

I know the process Dorna uses to allocate tires. All of the tires are given a barcode, then the numbers associated with those barcodes are put into a spreadsheet, and a random number generator is used to assign the barcodes to riders. Favoring one rider over another would be hard to accomplish, and quite, quite insane. Anyone who believes such conspiracies is looking for an irrational explanation for a perfectly normal phenomenon: sometimes, one rider will win, and the next week, another rider will win.

Total votes: 100

End plate, perhaps to kill a vortex generation at the wing tip, like current airplanes.

Total votes: 105

I find Dani's sense of the absurd impeccable.

Looking forward to him in movistar blue again and on a bike that suits his style

Total votes: 107

I have awful problems telling my left from my right, so a recurring error in so many of my articles is I write corners going the opposite direction to the one they go in reality. This is despite going through the corner in my mind, and using my hands to check which direction I think they go. I then write down the wrong one...

Thanks for the correction, and please bear with me!

Total votes: 128

No take backs... no denials, it's forever indelibly etched into the fine partchment I'm apply my pen to as we speak.

Iannone goes to HRC... hey,  if Honda can forgive Pedrosa nearly ruining Hayden's WC in 06, on their team,  certainly they can forgive a minor infraction Iannone committed in his youthful vigor over at Ducati to a non-WC seeking Dovi. 

Iannone will be sippin Sangrias and shooting sushi-shots by Valencia.

Total votes: 119

THat was in Dani's rookie season at what, 20, 21 years old?

How long has #29 been in GP now?  3, 4 years?  He's what.. 27?

He should know better.

Total votes: 89

By the way, nobody really noticed but it's great to see Petrucci back. And kicking his loudmouthed teammates ass already.

Total votes: 112

I really, REALLY hope that DP is Yamaha bound.. (rather than bound to HRC ;-))

OK, this story has jogged on a bit since David wrote it, so perhaps it seems more plausible now...

Us 'armchair world champs' really shouldn;t attempt to get into the heads of the riders...

...but what's the point of a comments section if we don't !!

MV should've ripped Yamaha's arm off, whatever the deal was... I mean jeez... who would you rather ride for, the team that's won 8 titles in 11 years, or the team that's won 2 in 26?

As they say across the pond.. 'do the math'

Perhaps that boat has sailed...

Now RE DP...

In 2011, DP stopped being HRC's #1 rider. HRC brought in Stoner and he didn't disappoint. (Presumably really not happy) #2 rider DP had the MotoGP season of his life in 2012, all fired up, winning more races than anyone else, and (ironically) outclassing MM's sensational back of the grid to the win ride, by doing the same thing from the pit lane. From. The. Pit. Lane.

In fact, why didn't DP win it that year, oh that's right, his Honda decided to seize the brake on the start line and effectivey ended his championship chances, and bit like the time (in 2010 iirc) that the throttle of his Honda stuck open and he got badly injured.

The fact is, Honda haven't provided for DP, it's not worked out.

He needs to make a change, if he's ever going to have a chance to grab that elusive MotoGP crown...

But I suspect/hope that DP can do the math... and see that all those times that HRC haven't won, Yamaha have (bar 1 Ducati year), and that he rips their arm off if they offer him a deal...

Besides, he's probably cheaper than MV and POSSIBLY less likely to cause friction with VR as well..

...In fact if next year the RCV is still a bit of handful, and if it takes JL a little while to get up to speed... then a M1 mounted DP might have his best chance since 2012 next year...

(I bet now I've written that he re-signs with HRC!!)

Total votes: 120

Every time you mention Tronchoni you big her up but I don't find her any more insightful than Javier Sanchez at El Mundo. Around Sepang she inserted into an article that anecdote about Rossi going to DP's motor home at Aragon after the race to ask him why he'd raced him so hard but at his Valencia debrief DP denied that had happened (I think in response to a question from you?)

Total votes: 107

Another armchair racer here. Relieved to hear that now the people in the know, actual paddock insiders, are admitting that the current silly season distorted the rider market and hyped up Vinales beyond his actual market value in normal times. I've personally questioned the hype for as long as he is riding in the world championship (and have the comment history to back it up) and especially in MotoGP and have so far been baffled by so many people buying into it. Certainly, he is no slouch and migh even be able to be built up to a possible MotoGP world champion, but as has been pointed out by some team top brass a few times now, not high enough on the achievement scale yet to have proven himself for a top ride if it wasn't for the massive game of musical chairs right now and the lack of really superior upcoming talent in Moto2 and MotoGP.

The distortion shows again though what an exceptional generation of racers was coming through the ranks with Lorenzo, Stoner, Pedrosa and the like around a decade ago or so. The guys currently around 30 and in the class for several years are still mostly in the game and on top of it too. Impressive.

Total votes: 105