Monday was the next episode in a busy ten days for MotoGP. After the Czech Grand Prix, Brno played host to the traditional post-race test, with all the MotoGP paddock bar the satellite Ducatis taking part. After a mixed weekend of weather, conditions were absolutely perfect, with warm (but not hot) temperatures, clear skies, and a track that got better and better as the day went on and bikes laid down more rubber.
Valentino Rossi ended on top of the timesheets, an unusual occurrence in recent years. Rossi has never been short of speed, but has usually needed the adrenaline boost of race day to find the final tenth or so to put him ahead of his rivals. The test was enough on Monday, Rossi beating Marc Márquez by eighteen thousandths of a second, while Maverick Viñales was third and Jorge Lorenzo fourth.
Yamaha probably made the biggest splash, debuting a new aerodynamic fairing. The fairing consisted of the normal side pods fitted to the Yamaha, with a wedge-shaped upper section vaguely resembling the fairing used by KTM. Naturally, once it appeared, the KTM Twitter account quickly posted a Tweet saying "Thanks for copying!"
The fairing was favorably received by both Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi, but they had radically different views of its usefulness. They both liked the fact that it helped with acceleration, but while Viñales believed the new fairing would be a boon at the next race, because of the many corners where hard acceleration was needed, Rossi was not intending to use it in Austria, as better acceleration came at the cost of top speed, and at the Red Bull Ring, "speed is everything".
Both Yamaha riders also tried the carbon forks brought by Öhlins, which Ducati has been using since the start of the year. Again, the reviews were mixed. Maverick Viñales felt they were too twitchy, a factor of their low weight, and a complaint shared by Marc Márquez. Valentino Rossi disagreed. "I like a little bit lighter because it’s less effort," he said. "At my age it’s important!"
Work continued on a new fairing for Ducati as well. Jorge Lorenzo had started the weekend with the new aerodynamic package, while Andrea Dovizioso took it on track for the first time. Lorenzo was clearly positive. It improved the front contact, he said, by which he meant all of the phases of the corner. The fact the front wheel is touching the ground at the end of the straight makes the braking transition easier, but the added pressure on the front wheel also helped to keep the front planted through the middle of the corner. That gave Lorenzo the confidence he had been missing for much of the year, and it showed in the lap time. Fourth fastest, less than four tenths off Rossi was a positive sign for the Spaniard.
Andrea Dovizioso was less convinced. The fairing definitely helped acceleration, as well as front end feel, but the negatives were still large, the Italian said. "The effect of those things [winglets and aerodynamic packages] is very strange. Very, very, very strange," Dovizioso said. The fairing had no clear benefits in terms of lap time, but because it made the bike heavier to turn, that cost crucial energy with the riders need for the end of the race. "It's so important in MotoGP how easy it is and how much energy you use when you make a lap time," Dovizioso explained. "Sometimes one tenth is nothing compared to the intensity if you are able to put for all race. So it's not so easy to manage."
The work at Honda focused mainly on acceleration. With the Red Bull Ring in Austria coming up, acceleration would be crucial. Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa had spent a lot of time trying to make the bike better on corner exit, trying to reduce wheelie and find more speed. Improvements had partially come through better electronics, but a lot of work had also been done on general setup, and this seems to have paid dividends.
There was a diverse range of work to be done in the Tech 3 garage. For Johann Zarco, his main aim was to improve the way of working in the garage, to improve communication between him and his crew, in the hope of gaining time over the weekend and getting ahead of the game. Jonas Folger concentrated mainly on hardware, having a new frame to try. It was a frame he liked, Folger told us, making it a little easier to ride the bike. Questions as to the exact provenance and age of the chassis were met only with confusion. We think this is an update to the 2016 frame, but we're not sure. Wherever it came from, Folger liked the fact that it helped him get the bike turned.
Folger also explained what he had learned when he was sat behind Marc Márquez at the Sachsenring. It was all about how to preserve tires, Folger explained. "The best thing I saw was when he started to change his riding style," Folger said. "Because I was always waiting until my tire drops, and then I was changing my riding style. He is doing this before. He knows already, OK, in two laps my tire will drop, so he starts to pick up the bike and to save a little bit the tire, so it makes the tire life a little bit longer."
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