Now that the riders have seen the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, (though so far, only on foot, bicycle, or scooter) they can at last express an opinion on it. The consensus so far is entirely unsurprising. "It's quite similar to Austria, the layout, but it's very flat," Danilo Petrucci summed up the feeling of most. Petrucci did not mourn the lack of elevation, however. "I don't know if this is maybe a good point for me, because in Austria I always struggle a bit, even though I have a Ducati."
Johann Zarco agreed with Petrucci. "I was watching many videos of the World Superbikes, and the first feeling is that it looks like the Austrian Grand Prix at Spielberg, but flat." But the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider was broadly positive. "Finally I did many laps with the scooter, and I also ran on the track. I like it. I think it's going to be easy to learn, but easy to learn means that all riders will be so close, and the gap between maybe the first ten or fifteen positions will be very small. So that can make the game complicated."
When a track has fewer secrets to unlock, Zarco explained, it meant that everyone got the knack of the track quickly, leaving little to differentiate between them. No Casey Stoner at Phillip Island, no Marc Márquez at Austin. "I think it's easy to learn, you quickly know which line to use. I think Texas is more complicated to learn, with 20 corners. But easy means that many riders are able to be fast, but there is only one winner. That's the difficult point," Zarco said, before pausing and joking, "Well, in Superbike they have two winners, but in MotoGP, we have one!"
Ducati, Yamaha, or rider track?
Two long straights and one short straight should mean this is an easy target for Ducati, but Zarco was also positive about the chances of the Yamahas at the track. "We really expected that Ducati could be so strong, but finally – I hope – but I see advantages for the Yamaha also," the Frenchman explained, "because from Corner 5 to 12 it's only turning, you need to be smooth, so I think this is a good point for the Yamaha to have all this corners, from corner 5 to 12. Changing direction, and always quite constant speed for all the corners. This makes me happy to see."
Cal Crutchlow, ever the odd man out, felt the track was more like Argentina than Austria. "Maybe Argentina," was his initial judgment. "It's hard to say, but the only reason I say that is because it's a new track, the surface is really black like Argentina, I presume it'll be quite slippy, same as Argentina and it's got some fast corners like Argentina. But I'll probably change my opinion after riding it tomorrow."
He was complimentary about the facilities rather than the circuit itself. "I prefer the facility to the track I think… The track is a little bit boring for me at the moment, but it's strange because this type of track I will probably go quite well. It's my style of track." He was enthusiastic about the fact that Thailand was getting a race, however. "Great to have a Grand Prix here in Thailand for us and the fans."
Crutchlow was also dismissive of the idea that Austria was a Ducati track, a reasonable hypothesis given Petrucci's admission that he never got on at the Red Bull Ring on the Desmosedici. "But I think that Ducati at the Red Bull Ring could be the rider as well. The year before it was the rider, but at the moment that rider is just not interested. I think last year was as much Dovi as Ducati," Crutchlow opined. "You can't say Red Bull Ring is just Ducati. What about Malaysia? He won in Malaysia in the rain? What about Australia where he was really deep [down the field], but in 2014 I was two-seconds off the leader when I crashed on the last lap. So that was not a Ducati thing. Tracks now, I don't think it's a case of one bike suiting a track any more."
Gearing up for Buriram
Whatever they think of the track, the factories at least came prepared, for the most part. Or rather, those factories with a WorldSBK team came prepared. Asked if he had any data from the Pata Yamaha WorldSBK squad, who have already raced at the Buriram track for three years, Johann Zarco replied "The factory Yamahas, yes, and we have like a base to say which gear we can go into the corner in, but then we need the feeling for the rider and also the experience, we know which gear to use into the corner. But with that, after the first day we will also have a better idea of all the gearbox ratios, if we need to do a short third gear, or a long sixth gear. We will play with that."
Most of the work to be done on Friday was dialing in the electronics, Zarco explained. "With the electronics we must fix so many things, so we will go immediately when the track opens tomorrow, to do like the first three exits just to fix the electronics, fix the power in a few corners, to have like a bike that then you can push. So that's the first plan, and then after, when you get a better pace, always try to stay focused and push to be on a good pace, to take good rhythm, and after that, work with the tires."
Zarco will have two 2016 Yamaha M1 chassis to use at the test, having decided to switch back to the old frame at the Sepang test. "I made a decision to have a clear way in front of me for this season," Zarco said. "I enjoyed so much last year and overall the last races, fighting for victories was so good. Now I want to use this potential with more experience, better aerodynamics also and also better engines, so all these things put together for me, I know where I am, I know where I am going, and that's OK."
The devil is in the distraction
The decision typifies Zarco's approach to racing. He tries to eliminate as many distractions as possible, preferring to focus on getting everything he can out of what he has, rather than worrying about what might have been should he have been in some hypothetical other situation.
This determination to eliminate distraction even goes so far as not riding with a Camelbak, despite the heat. "I don't want to be disturbed by something in my mouth, or something like that. At that moment, I want to be really focused and don't think about drinking. Which is why I prefer not to use it," he explained.
"Even here, it's so warm but the moment in the weekend when you do the most laps is the race, and I try to prepare myself to not drink for at least 40 minutes," was how Zarco explained his preparation.
My kingdom for a camel
Danilo Petrucci was more in need of refreshment. "Here I sweat a lot, I think like three riders together, so I don't need a Camelbak, I need a camel!" the Italian quipped. Sweating so profusely had another downside for him. "In Malaysia, just because I was curious, I weighed myself naked, and I was 77kg after the session, and my weight with the wet leathers because it was very wet was 91kg. So it's 87, 88kg dry, but for example, at the end of the session, it's 13, 14kg of things and at least 3 or 4kg are water inside the suit. It's quite hard for me, because I sweat a lot, and I don't like the heat so much." It is a particular problem for Petrucci, which he is working on fixing with his leathers sponsor REV'IT. The Dutch company had been working on finding a way to reduce the weight of the combined airbag jacket, suit liner, and suit, and make it less absorbent.
Petrucci had a novel approach to preparing for the heat: a stationary training bicycle set up in a Turkish bath. "Sometimes preparing for Malaysia, we have like a [training bicycle] inside the Hammam, so you go very very slow, and the first time you feel like you have died, then the second time better and better and better. Yes, I don't know if it works or not, but at least I start to suffer, to understand that at least my body is still right, that I am still conscious, because one of the most important things is in the heat when you lose a lot of water, you start to be not so focused on the track, and maybe you are fit, but your pressure is very very low, and it's difficult to be more conscious and more focused on the track."
So far, said Petrucci, the heat had not been as fearsome as he had expected. It was very hot, but the humidity he feared was not present. "For sure it's very hot, but I imagined it would be more humid like in Malaysia, but this it's not. But here, the sun is burning, and as you know, I don't like so much the hot temperatures. But anyway, it's the same for everyone."
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