Jerez Test Analysis: Would Jonathan Rea Really Beat The MotoGP Riders On His WorldSBK Kawasaki?

In a typically robust column written at the end of last week, David Miller, editor of Bikesportnews.com, suggested that the time which double World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea had set on Thursday at the combined WorldSBK and MotoGP test at Jerez had made the MotoGP bikes look a bit silly. Rea had ended the day as the fastest rider on the day, setting a time of 1'38.721, nearly a quarter of a second faster than Alvaro Bautista, who was riding the Ducati Desmosedici GP16 at the track.

Rea had set the time on a modified version of a road bike, costing something in the region of €300,000, beating the satellite Ducatis (estimated lease price, just shy of €2 million), satellite Hondas (official lease price €2 million, actual cost to lease about 50% higher than that), and the factory Suzuki, KTM and Desmosedici GP17 ("I'm sorry sir, you'll have to put your checkbook away, this one isn't for sale").

Miller draws a number of conclusions from this, some sound, some based more on hyperbole than reality. The claim that MotoGP is no longer a prototype series is unfounded. MotoGP bikes (and their predecessors, the 500cc two strokes and four strokes from whence they came) have never been prototypes, as Grand Prix racing was hobbled by rules from the birth of the series in 1949. The ban on forced induction, imposed in the 1930s when the excess of horsepower made possible by supercharging far outweighed contemporary braking technology, was left in place.

The technology straitjacket

Further cost-cutting limits on technology were placed on the series through the years, killing off the aerodynamically efficient dustbin fairing, the glorious V8 Moto Guzzi and Honda 6 Cylinder 250 RC166, and now custom ECU software and winglets. There may have been brief windows of opportunity as technologies changed for privateers or small upstarts to make an impact on Grand Prix racing, but throughout its long history, factories have controlled access to winning machinery, and dominated the series.

Miller's claim that MotoGP serves no purpose in developing road bikes is also misleading. Manufacturers can understand the fundamentals of motorcycle dynamics in MotoGP, especially how a bike responds under braking, in corners, and under acceleration. Electronics may be reduced, but they are still highly sophisticated, offering lessons on fuel use, engine mapping, and throttle response. Fundamental research is always useful in unexpected ways; it was research into the intermediate vector bosons which led indirectly to the invention of the World Wide Web.

In the land of the blind

That Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies have the talent to be in MotoGP is beyond question. What is holding them back is a combination of age and prejudice. Team managers in the MotoGP paddock pay little attention to World Superbikes, with the result that very few riders in the series get offered a ride in MotoGP. Thankfully, that attitude is slowly starting to shift, thanks to Ben Spies and Cal Crutchlow, and more recently Loris Baz and especially Eugene Laverty.

The issue of age, however, remains. Team managers are always looking for The Next Big Thing. The Next Big Thing always seems to looks suspiciously like The Current Big Thing, and The Current Big Thing is a 23-year-old Spaniard who came out of the Spanish CEV championship and through 125s and Moto2, that is where team managers are looking. As good as Rea and Davies are, they are both about to turn 30, which MotoGP team managers believe means they have a limited shelf life. Of the youngsters in WorldSBK, Alex Lowes is 26, and Michael van der Mark is 24, and neither one is dominating like either Rea or Davies. There are good reasons for that, but MotoGP team managers don't have time for such reasons.

Millions wasted to go slow?

There is one point that Miller makes that is worth discussing at more length, however. Paraphrasing his point, Miller states that the millions manufacturers spend on their MotoGP bikes are not reflected in the difference in lap times between the prototypes and the production-based World Superbikes. There may be some merit in that argument, but to make it on the basis of the Jerez test is a little specious.

There is way more at play here than just fast World Superbikes and slow MotoGP bikes. There is the question of who is riding at the test and who is not. And above all, there is the question of tires. Conditions at the test were ideal for the Pirellis, the spec tire of the World Superbike series performing very well in a wide range of temperatures. The MotoGP Michelins are much more sensitive, and though Michelin had brought a soft front tire specifically to deal with the cold conditions, it was still right at the limit of its operating conditions.

The best point to start when making a comparison is to look at the timesheets. I extracted the data from the Jerez circuit's excellent live timing page (which tragically does not appear to have an archive of data accessible from outside) for some of the fastest riders from Thursday at Jerez, and compared the times with lap times from World Superbike and MotoGP races at Jerez both this year and last. I then used this data to draw up a comparison between the riders at the various events.

Rider Event Lap source Total time 19 laps Diff Total time18 laps Diff
Jorge Lorenzo Jerez MotoGP 2015 Race laps 2-20 31:30.737   29:50.621  
Alvaro Bautista Jerez Test 2016 Best 20 laps 31:32.576 1.839 29:52.507 1.886
Danilo Petrucci Jerez Test 2016 Best 20 laps 31:42.550 11.813 30:01.889 11.268
Jonathan Rea Jerez Test 2016 Best 20 laps 31:46.162 15.425 30:05.435 14.814
Chaz Davies Jerez Test 2016 Best 20 laps 31:47.415 16.678 30:06.401 15.780
Valentino Rossi Jerez MotoGP 2016 Race laps 2-20 31:50.256 19.519 30:09.509 18.888
Alvaro Bautista Jerez Test 2016 3 longest runs 31:51.812 21.075 30:11.390 20.769
Aleix Espargaro Jerez Test 2016 Best 20 laps 31:52.360 21.623 30:10.759 20.138
Jonathan Rea Jerez Test 2016 Race sim #2 31:53.919 23.182 30:13.041 22.420
Tom Sykes Jerez Test 2016 Best 20 laps 31:55.084 24.347 30:13.940 23.319
Marco Melandri Jerez Test 2016 Best 20 laps 31:55.395 24.658 30:14.242 23.621
Jonathan Rea Jerez Test 2016 Race sim #1 32:05.469 34.732 30:23.664 33.043
Tom Sykes Jerez WSBK 2015 Race 1 laps 2-20 32:28.987 58.250 30:44.626 54.005
Chaz Davies Jerez WSBK 2016 Race 2 laps 2-20 32:33.033 1:02.296 30:47.624 57.003

Although Jonathan Rea's headline time drew the most attention, what was even more impressive was the fact that he ran not one, but two race simulations on Thursday. The first, using the hard Pirelli, was nearly twelve seconds slower than his second run, and ended with Rea suffering arm pump. Yet two hours later, Rea went out again, and went even faster. So fast, in fact, that the 19 flying laps he did on his second run were just 3.663 seconds than the 19 laps from lap 2 to lap 20 which Valentino Rossi did during the MotoGP race in May.

Does this mean that Rea's race pace would be good enough to get on the podium in the MotoGP race if he entered on his Kawasaki ZX-10R? That would be stretching the truth. First of all, World Superbikes do few laps around Jerez: each WorldSBK race is 20 laps, or 88.5 kilometers long, while the MotoGP race is 27 laps or 119.5 kilometers. Rea's pace was fearsome, but he only needed to maintain it for three quarters of the distance that a MotoGP rider would have to.

The comparison with Valentino Rossi's 2016 race is also not really fair. Rossi's race time was 31.588 second slower than Jorge Lorenzo's race winning time. The reason for that is simple: after Scott Redding's Ducati had blown a rear tire at Argentina, Michelin had gone with a very hard tire carcass for safety reasons. On Jerez' track surface, made exceptionally greasy by the hot spring sun, the rear had little grip, and times were slow.

That does not mean that Rea's race simulation was not impressive, however. If you compare his race simulation to the fastest World Superbike races in 2015 and 2016, his performance is other worldly. If Rea had run the same pace during race 1 of the 2015 event, he would have beaten winner Tom Sykes by 35 seconds. If he had run the same pace during race 2 of the 2016 Jerez weekend, he would have beaten Chaz Davies by over 39 seconds. Even his slower first race simulation was quicker: 23.5 seconds than Sykes' 2015 race time, 27.5 seconds faster than Davies 2016 race time.

Rea's Jerez 2016 Test race simulation vs Rossi 2016 race, Lorenzo 2015 Race, Sykes 2015 race, Davies 2016 race

What if we compare Rea's times to the other riders at the test in November? Comparing like for like is difficult, as Rea was the only rider to put in a full race simulation. Of the other riders, nobody did runs of more than 9 or 10 laps. Ranking each rider's lap times from fastest to slowest, and taking their fastest 19 laps offers a better comparison.

Comparing both MotoGP and World Superbike riders, Alvaro Bautista comes out of the test as fastest on the Aspar Ducati GP16. His quickest 19 laps are just 1.839 seconds slower than the first 19 laps of Jorge Lorenzo's record-breaking 2015 race time, and 10 seconds quicker than Danilo Petrucci on the Ducati GP17, still sprouting winglets for the Jerez test. Rea's quickest 19 laps are 13.5 seconds slower than Bautista, but faster than anyone bar the two Ducatis. That includes Aleix Espargaro on the factory Aprilia, and the remainder of the World Superbike field.

Bautista and Petrucci Jerez test 2016 vs Rossi race 2016 and Lorenzo race 2015

Compare the World Superbike field, and Rea once again comes out on top. Only Chaz Davies comes anywhere near to Rea, the Aruba Ducati rider's best 19 laps just 1.253 seconds slower than Rea's. The world champion's Kawasaki teammate is a good bit slower, Tom Sykes needing nearly 9 seconds more to cover his 19 fastest laps. Davies' Ducati teammate and World Superbike returnee Marco Melandri is already up to speed. His fastest 19 laps were just 9.233 seconds slower than Rea's, and four tenths slower than Sykes.

Rider Event Lap source Total time 19 laps Diff Total time18 laps Diff
Jonathan Rea Jerez Test 2016 Best 20 laps 31:46.162      
Chaz Davies Jerez Test 2016 Best 20 laps 31:47.415 1.253 30:06.401 6.401
Jonathan Rea Jerez Test 2016 Race sim #2 31:53.919 7.757 30:13.041 13.041
Tom Sykes Jerez Test 2016 Best 20 laps 31:55.084 8.922 30:13.940 13.940
Marco Melandri Jerez Test 2016 Best 20 laps 31:55.395 9.233 30:14.242 14.242
Jonathan Rea Jerez Test 2016 Race sim #1 32:05.469 19.307 30:23.664 23.664
Tom Sykes Jerez WSBK 2015 Race 1 laps 2-20 32:28.987 42.825 30:44.626 44.626
Chaz Davies Jerez WSBK 2016 Race 2 laps 2-20 32:33.033 46.871 30:47.624 47.624

 Rea race sim vs Sykes, Davies, Rea test

Looking at the combined times of the fastest riders at the Jerez test, what conclusions can we draw? Are the World Superbike machines really that close to the MotoGP bikes? To really know the truth, we would have to have Marc Márquez, Valentino Rossi, and Jorge Lorenzo at the test. To make it even, both WorldSBK and MotoGP bikes would have to use the same tires, but that is an impossibility given that the two sets of machines have been developed to use very different rubber.

What is clear, however, is that both Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies are the cream of WorldSBK, and are capable of holding their own in any company. The times they posted were impressive, while Rea's race simulations were simply devastating. Leaving Jerez, the numbers 1 and 3 of the World Superbike championship head into the winter break as clear favorites for the championship next year.

Of the MotoGP riders, it is Alvaro Bautista who has impressed. The Spaniard was already making major steps aboard the Aprilia RS-GP, but he has transitioned well to the Aspar Ducati GP16. He was lapping at the kind of pace to match Jorge Lorenzo from 2015, and was well clear of the rest of the field. How well Bautista's pace will stand up once the MotoGP field reassembles in Sepang at the end of January, we will have to see.


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Total votes: 114
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Comments

"MotoGP bikes (and their predecessors, the 500cc two strokes and four strokes from whence they came) have never been prototypes"

Playing a definition game is never a good way to start an article. Saying MotoGP bikes are not prototypes because they're not 100% prototypes is a disingenuous trick.

Total votes: 81

As disingenuous as claiming Grand Prix racing was ever about prototypes?

Firstly, the word prototype is entirely inappropriate. Each MotoGP bike is both unique and part of an assembly line of similar bikes.

Secondly, racing has always taken place within technical constraints. The argument is always over where the constraints should lie.

MotoGP bikes are built for the sole purpose of racing. That is how they differ from other bikes.

Total votes: 100

From Wiki:

"prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from.[1] It is a term used in a variety of contexts, including semanticsdesignelectronics, and software programming. A prototype is generally used to evaluate a new design to enhance precision by system analysts and users. Prototyping serves to provide specifications for a real, working system rather than a theoretical one.[2] In some design workflow models, creating a prototype (a process sometimes called materialization) is the step between the formalization and the evaluation of an idea.[3]

The word prototype derives from the Greek πρωτότυπον prototypon, "primitive form", neutral of πρωτότυπος prototypos, "original, primitive", from πρῶτος protos, "first" and τύπος typos, "impression".

I realise the limitations of Wikipedia but if you threw the word "motorcycle" into the first paragraph you would literally be describing a MotoGP bike, so for my money the term "prototype" seems entirely appropriate.  

 

But realistically the point is moot.  The fact that you have to excuse the underwhelming performance of the MotoGP bikes/crews vs the WSBK effort is telling in itself.  

 

Rea's machine weighs 10kg's more, has steel brake rotors, a common cast production frame (no head stock cut 'n shut allowed these days either), production cast engine cases with packaging compromises made for alternator and starter motor etc), a real world oriented bore x stroke ratio (76mm x 55mm), conventional valve train, stock pistons, single set of gear ratios etc etc.

 

I find it very hard not to conclude that MotoGP is subscribing to the FIGJAM principle of self promotion, because the "pinnacle of the sport" was well and truly found to be less than impressive. Given how close the MotoGP grid is these days arguing that the best guys weren't on track is not much of a counter, 0.5 sec here or there is no explanation for the massive disparity in cubic $$$ and engineering might vs the miniscule difference in laptimes.

 

It's not just Rea either, Davies is right there with him, and Sykes has at least as much if not more raw pace as proven with his domination of qualifying Superpole in a way that Rossi, although much improved, can only dream about. 

 

  

Total votes: 76

I've always had a bit of a soft spot for Bautista, he's never quite managed to get on the top machinery, and he's often overridden it trying.  It's good to see him doing well on the Ducati, hopefully he'll get some good results in 2017.

Total votes: 87

for Bautista, Rea, Davies.  Your article captures that extreamly well and draws in valid comparisons.One of the differnces I had wondered about in the headline times was the use of qualifier tires, somthing WSBK still use, where MotoGP do not.

As far as I know Prototype was only introduced and used when GP first went to 990s to create a distinction from WSBK. A necassary move to keep the lawyers at bay. The words was infamously used to prevent privateers form making their own chassis using production engines. And they actually kicked a team out of the series and thier sponsorship on this baisis. In other words put manufactures in full control of the entires.

Then in 2012 when it went to current 1ks MotoGP was faced with the same problem again of being too close to superbikes that they would face lawsuits plus the manufactures could no longer support the series. The answer was to buyout WSBK Series and introduce production engines to GP racing. So it would be encouraged to do what was privously grounds used to kick a team out of the sport for doing.

Long story short, GP racing was only selling itself as a prototype series when it was necassary and convient to do so. Apart from those 10 years the distinction is accademic.

 

Total votes: 76

Which production engine are you thinking of that runs in MotoGP?

Total votes: 50

the ART, which was outclassed but not embarrased.  Aliex Espargaro went ok on it.

Total votes: 50

He has back-to-back experience and knows.  The times suggest that the best WSBK bikes are pretty close to MotoGP under some conditions.  So what?  A few years back there were tracks where LMP2 cars were faster than LMP1 and the front of Group C came tantalizingly close to the back of F1 in the 90s.  Racing is just about the rules, and there is nothing that says that the WSBK rules couldn't create conditions that overlap with MotoGP overall performance (whether tires, electronics, engines etc.).  Indeed, it's surprising to me that no one in management in WSBK has decided to go in this direction - MotoGP bikes are probably crippled in a few areas (drivetrain most of all) so creating say a 6-cylinder WSBK with forced induction and no fuel limits, say, and they'd ride rings around MotoGP.  Remember the Porsche 917/30 was a victim of fuel limits more than anything else!

One area that one could easily consider would be a massive electronics package for the street and then port that into the championship also because unlike say a super-swingarm or seamless gearbox that is too fragile for street use or an engine that's only good for 28 laps and then goes kaboom, silicon and software are infinitely scalable so the cost could be amortized across a large number of vehicles.  Consider a super-adaptive set of algorithms running on very powerful hardware - cheap at scale, but would cost MotoGP huge dollars to build "3 sets".

Fun to think about anyway.

Total votes: 74

You are quite right. But I was using shorthand to make a point about how technological restrictions have always been imposed on racing. I wanted something to sum the situation up in a sentence, rather than end up giving a full-length dissertation on the history of regulation changes in Grand Prix racing.

Dustbin fairings were banned over safety concerns, the Guzzi V8 died because basically, they ran out of money to make it viable and competitive (and riders were terrified by it). 

Total votes: 66

I would defy anyone who is an enthusiast of Moto GP racing to notice the difference in lap times of the GP bikes and the WSBK bikes. If you are at a race and listening to these wonderful bikes...who can tell the difference? This article...like all of the articles by David...is brilliant. On the other hand, if it takes that much ink and all of those graphs to distinguish between WSBK machines and the precious little tool room specials of Honda/Yamaha/Ducati...you have to wonder why Moto GP bikes are so revered. There appears to be little difference in their lap times...but a vast difference in their respective costs.

The spectacle (we are talking about the actual race...actually standing alongside the fence while the bikes go by..) is virtually identical. In my particular case, absolutely nothing is more spectacular or soul stirring than a big Duc twin blasting by. All things considered....money and travel expenses aside...I would probably rather attend a WSBK race. Ask yourself this question...would WSBK bikes be just a little bit faster if the Moto GP riders were aboard?

Total votes: 74

I was always confused, when the move from 250's to Moto2 happened, by people who were concerned that the lap times of a street based 600 engined bike would be slower than a true race developed 250 two stroke engined bike.  Like that actually matters. It is a class of racing, and the fastest guys in that class will still be the fastest in the class.  Uterly irelevent whether the latter class is faster (or slower) than it's predecessor.

Total votes: 50

I've always wondered, why ceramic brakes are banned?   Aren't they better than steel in wet conditions?  (of course, this year MM93 & others used carbon in wet.. ;)

Total votes: 61

are only powerful when on very high temperatures, which bikes can't generate as far as I know.

Total votes: 61

Interesting point that Pirelli's WSB tires work over a large range of temperature while Michelin's MotoGP tires don't. From the laptimes one can see that the performance of the tires, although on different classes of motorcycles was very similar, huh? I often wonder how Michelin justifies such narrow performance windows.

Total votes: 59

when it comes to tyre construction/performance?

Interesting comparisons David.

I will admit to being pleased that in both series there appears to be some degree of needing to manage tyres for the whole race.  There was a period on the 800s where it seemed as though there was very little "tyre management" needed.

So my question for tyres is: How much of the difference in tyre performance window is due to the fact that Pirelli "only" have to cope with 20 laps and ~300kph while MotoGP has to run for 27 laps and sometimes well over 300kph?  

Secondly, when it comes to software the number of options joe blogs has on some of the latest road going super bikes seems to be ever escalating.  What is to stop a team in WSB simply having more and more options available that may never be used on the road but are theoretically available none the less.  Is it as much about sensors as it is about software?

Total votes: 45

How much of the difference in tyre performance window is due to the fact that Pirelli "only" have to cope with 20 laps and ~300kph while MotoGP has to run for 27 laps and sometimes well over 300kph?  

All of it. The MotoGP tyre needs to withstand ~30% more force for ~30% more time. This results in a carcass and compound roughly 50% stiffer vs a WSBK tyre. The harder compound narrows and increases the operating temperature window and the harder construction makes them harder to get into that temperature window. The MotoGP tyres were also about 50% heavier than WSBK tyres in the Bridgestone days. No idea how heavy the Michelin's are though.

 

When it comes to software the number of options joe blogs has on some of the latest road going super bikes seems to be ever escalating.  What is to stop a team in WSB simply having more and more options available that may never be used on the road but are theoretically available none the less.  Is it as much about sensors as it is about software?

The introduction of spec electronics in MotoGP has already made this happen. Kawasaki & Ducati WSBK teams now have electronic control systems that are more capable and fexible than the spec MotoGP MM platform. This doesnt mean the rest of the field has this though and the electronic systems sophistication and man power varies hugely between teams in WSBK. In MotoGP all teams have an equal platform.

Total votes: 60

the difference in tyre weight was completely unthought of by me and combination of hard compound and carcass clears up why Michelin tyres have the characteristics they do. 

Total votes: 52

How much fuel does the WSBK bike use over the same distance? There's your answer.

Can't wait for the racing to start again, it baffles me why this is a thing.

Total votes: 59

How much?

Excellent article, David.  Thank you for such a thorough analysis.  

"Intermediate vector bosons" = citation of the year.  

Total votes: 57

So are you saying that Rea is fast because his bike is not limited by fuel, and that if his ZX10R was limited to the same amount of fuel as a MotoGP bike, that he wouldn't be as fast?  You're typically not this terse in your replies so I'm just trying to get the full picture :)

>why this is a thing.

It's just a hot-rodder thing i.e. "...so if I took my litre bike, stuck on this pipe/cam/piston/Rea/etc. then it could become a MotoGP winner!"

Total votes: 57

Thank you yet again David for the marvellous analysis; it seems at the very least that common tyres on both bikes would be needed to even begin to make a comparison. The links to the Moto Guzzi and the Honda RC166 are very welcome, thank you!

Total votes: 53

Just beat me to it!!

When Kawasaki were in MGP they were mostly tail end charlies and ruined the MGP career of at least one rider.

Interesting too that WSB are having to take some very odd action to make the series more exciting! I watch every second of all the MGP classes but fast forward most of the Superbikes (BSB is more exciting, som is most Club racing) It would seem that I am not alone.

 

Total votes: 54