On the day after the Barcelona MotoGP race, the entire grid bar the Aspar Ducatis were back at the track for a full day of testing. Conditions were ideal; so ideal that they perhaps a little confusing. Though it was hot and dry, the fact that only MotoGP bikes are circulating and laying down Michelin rubber meant the track felt different to race day, when the MotoGP bikes have to follow Moto2, and cope with the Dunlop rubber the fat rear tires smear on the track.
The grip was also helped by the fact that Michelin had three new rear tires to test. They were three slightly different versions of construction of the current rear tire, using one of the compounds available for the race weekend. The tires were well received, everyone praising the added traction the tire offered. The only criticism offered was that they had a very short life, dropping off after two or three laps.
Michelin were pleased with the results of testing. The main aim of the new tires had been to proved extra traction, and that is what they had delivered. Michelin chief Nicolas Goubert was very satisfied. "All three tires were better than the reference tires, so we just have to choose which one to make." The tires were very much test items, used to gather data, and were to be taken away and examined back at the factory. There, a decision would be taken on when and where the tires will be used. "Technically it's possible to produce them for the next races, but we will analyze whether they are needed for the tracks we will be going to before the summer."
The Barcelona test is the first opportunity for most factories to try larger updates after the start of the season. Though some updates are available at Jerez, Barcelona is a better benchmark, as development is based on the European tracks the factories know well, rather than the anomalies of the flyaways, all held on circuits which don't see much use and which MotoGP hasn't been visiting for long.
Honda and Yamaha both brought new chassis, though it seems the update was more successful for Yamaha. What the chassis did better, both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi refused to say, apparently sworn to secrecy by Yamaha's engineers. The new chassis did not see too much action, as Yamaha decided to stay on for an extra day of testing on Tuesday. That was a private test, taking place behind closed doors. That allows Yamaha a little more freedom to work, without being concerned about people spying on what they were doing.
Newer is not necessarily better
The updates at Honda were much less of a success. A new exhaust and a new chassis offered little, the exhaust not finding any favor at all. Marc Márquez' verdict on the exhaust was damning: "Big difference, but not better." That is good news for photographers, as the new exhaust lacked the characteristic curl, the top exhaust running straight out of the tail, rather than looping back on itself in pursuit of pipe length.
The chassis was a little better received, having some strong points, but the negatives outweighing the positives. The good news as far as Márquez was concerned was that they would be able to apply the positive lessons from the new chassis to their existing chassis. That was the chassis which Márquez finished the day on. "Normally, you finish with the best bike," Márquez said. "I finished with the same bike as yesterday."
Real progress was made with electronics, HRC finding a big improvement to help on corner exit, the area where the Honda struggles most. Márquez admitted he had had a problem during the race, and had been confused by the behavior of the electronics. "Yesterday at the end of the race, I had a lot of problems with the system, I didn't understand what was going on," Márquez said. On Monday, they had identified the problem. "So about that point I was very happy, because yesterday I was a little bit worried, because I didn't understand. And now we know why."
There was a new chassis to test at Suzuki as well, or rather, a chassis which needed another test. The chassis, an evolution of the standard 2016 chassis which both Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro had rejected, had already been tested once at a private test in Valencia. Espargaro had liked it a lot at Valencia, and raced at Barcelona, and suffered as a consequence. When he tried it on Monday, he realized he did not like it all, and decided to stick with the 2015 chassis for the rest of the season.
His teammate was the complete opposite. Maverick Viñales had stuck with the standard chassis after the Valencia private test, and then used Monday to evaluate the 2016 evolution. He was very positive about the new chassis, as he said it helped him turn the bike better. He needed to use less throttle to help the bike to turn, and that was good for tire conservation. Using less throttle meant spinning the rear tire less, and so reducing the amount of stress and wear on the tire. That would allow him to go faster for longer.
Viñales was also pleased that he had set his fastest lap of the day when conditions were hottest. His problem this year has been that the Suzuki GSX-RR works really well when there is a lot of grip, which is usually in the cooler mornings and at the start of the race. But once the heat starts to rise, and the grip starts to drop, the Suzuki would start to struggle.
The fastest man on the day was Cal Crutchlow, who had put in a late charge to top the timesheets. Crutchlow was happy with his time, and keen to point out that he had not cut any corners anywhere, contrary to what some publications had claimed.
The LCR Honda rider was less pleased about the amount of time he had spent testing. He didn't have very much to test at all, yet he had still spent the whole day at the track. A lot of that was down to the length of time it took to make electronics changes, a particular bugbear for many teams, but especially for the Honda teams. "We have eight hours of testing, but it takes 25 minutes every time we want to make a decent electronics changed," Crutchlow said.
The Englishman had also been roped into testing tires, after both Repsol Honda riders crashed. Crutchlow was positive about the rear tires he tested, pointing to the times as a sign of how good they were. The only problem was that the additional grip produced some vibration, but it was a trade off worth making. "It was hooking up good on the exit, I can tell you that!" he told us.
At Tech 3, the satellite Yamaha riders worked on suspension settings and clutch settings, apart from testing tires. The aim was to try to improve the rear feel during cornering, and use the tire better. Both Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith had suffered similar problems, with Smith getting the worst of it this weekend. Smith had focused particularly on the rear shock, and getting it to respond the way they wanted it to. The issues they were having with the rear wheel on corner entry and mid corner were generating problems at the front, and so fixing that was a priority. Smith had worked on getting the bike to keep the correct attitude throughout the corner, and for the rear wheel to react properly and handle cornering better.
The riders now all head off for a two-week break before the next round of MotoGP at Assen. The fact that the next few races are all three weeks apart is positive for riders and factories alike. The longer break gives the factories more time to analyze the data from racing and from the tests, while it also gives the riders a bit more time to train and improve their physical conditioning. The more hectic biweekly schedule leaves a lot less time for that.
Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2016 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.