Once upon a time, a post-race test would see almost a full complement of riders taking part. But in the past couple of years that has changed, as spec software has meant fewer things to do. The spec software, the engine freeze, the aerodynamics freeze: there is less to test, and so more factories are opting out of the one-day post-race tests. So it was at Jerez on Monday that the factory Ducati riders, the Ecstar Suzuki team, and the Gresini Aprilia squad all decided to skip the test at Jerez in favor of some private testing at Mugello later in the week. Behind closed doors, they can work a little more freely, away from the prying eyes of the press, and especially of a contingent of photographers.
There are other reasons to be wary of a post-race test. The track is in as good a condition as it is going to get on the Monday after a race. It has been swept clean by a weekend of racing, and the last class to smear its rubber all over the track is MotoGP. So the bikes are treated to a clean, well rubbered in circuit, allowing lap times to drop. The average improvement between the race and the test was nearly 1.3 seconds a lap. About half the 16 permanent riders who took to the track on Monday improved their times from qualifying. It is fair to say that Monday tests can be deceptive.
That was certainly Maverick Viñales' view of the test. "Well, Monday is always positive but we have to be positive on Sunday," the Movistar Yamaha rider said. "We didn’t solve nothing." The Spaniard ended the test as fourth fastest, behind Johann Zarco, Cal Crutchlow, and Dani Pedrosa, but he put it down to the conditions. "In the morning it was really different – much more grip, and much easier. Easier to do 1'38 lows. During the weekend it was impossible to do that."
Viñales' view of testing was colored by the fact that he had very little to actually test. When asked what he had been working on, he replied, "Just setup, I had a little bit smoother bike or aggressive bike. We were trying, trying many things in the afternoon to solve those problems."
Looking to the future
His teammate Valentino Rossi was a good deal more optimistic, despite also having relatively little to test. "We have something different, but it was already in the program, and sincerely, are small details, something that can help a little bit," Rossi said. "But also knowing what I had to test before the test I don't expect to make a big step, sincerely. We also made an important work for the future, where we found something good for the acceleration, but it was just a first step, so we need a bit more time and I hope that in the next test, not at Mugello, but after Barcelona, like this we can improve and try something more important."
That "something more important" sounds for all the world like an electronics update, something Rossi has been demanding for months, though he was very public about his demands only yesterday. "Sincerely, I spoke a lot, and I said something quite hard, but if you were there, I was quiet, I'm not angry. Because sincerely, I explained to you a situation that I already know for some months. I like to work with Yamaha, I trust in Yamaha, for sure it's a difficult moment, and I hope saying these words to them, to make more motivation. Today was not the day to do the difference, today we tried something else, the next months will be very important."
Rossi needs Yamaha to hurry, he said, because he realizes he no longer has forever to try to win another championship. "I am more in a rush compared to the Yamaha. Because Yamaha will maybe race for another 100 years, and I know that I don't have a lot more time. So I try to push to shorten the time." There was never any doubt in his mind that he is still capable of winning a title, however. "This is always the target, why I continue to race."
Honda had something more visible to test, running the gamut of aerodynamic packages, with at least three different fairings getting a run out. The most striking one was a version resembling Yamahas. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, HRC was paying Yamaha some fairly outrageous compliments with the new fairing.
That was what Marc Márquez had been almost entirely focused on, he said. "Zero setup today. We just test aerodynamic things. A lot of aerodynamic things. I mean a lot of fairings. I think three different types. But yeah, we are working on there. I mean everybody has tried to work on that area because it improves the wheelie, improves the turning." The test had been something of a success for the Spaniard, but the results needed validation at a different track. "Still we need to re-try in another circuit because as you know we have only one chance to homologate one more fairing. But we had some positive things, so I'm happy."
Honda will need the aerodynamic fairing at Le Mans, as the stop-and-go layout of the track means a lot of hard braking, and a lot of acceleration from slow corners. Wheelie Central, as a result, and a new aero package could help combat that. "Le Mans is coming up, and it looks like will be important there," Márquez told reporters. "We don't know if we will homologate before or not. Still we are not sure and we need to analyze well. Le Mans will be important to have a good aerodynamic because the wheelie is one of the keys points."
The Repsol Honda team are heading to Mugello, where they expect to start testing on Thursday. The main objective is to be ready for the race, which happens in just under three weeks' time, Márquez said. "In Mugello we will work in another way, first of all we will concentrate on the set-up of the bike to find a good base for the race weekend. And then of course we will try the fairings again there and if the same, like was working well here, is working there maybe we will use our 'joker'. But still we don't know."
Orange is the new black
For KTM, the test was a little easier, as the Austrian factory is at Jerez for two days of testing, not being subject to the same testing restrictions. On Monday, it was the turn of Pol Espargaro to get a go on the new 2019 engine, and he was clearly delighted with it. How much nicer was the 2019 bike? "It was one second nicer!" the Spaniard joked. "We've been much faster, yesterday we were around 1'40.3-1'40.4 and today with a race distance tire we did a 1'39.4. So one second. I'm happy to know it. For sure it's good to know we have something in the pocket. Even if we cannot use in the next races I think to have something that for the future is going to be nice just keeps you positive and keeps you working even on the stuff that you think is not going to be super. It's good to know that we have a bullet in the pocket."
Though KTM staff have been expressly forbidden from telling us whether the new engine has the direction of rotation of its crankshaft reversed (so it is turning backward rather than forward), the way Espargaro described it was a perfect explanation of how a backward-running crankshaft can help a race bike handle. "Well it's better turning. What we are missing with our bike now is turning and this bike is turning double or triple. So maybe we lose in other places but overall it's much faster."
Just where was he losing with the new KTM? "A little bit in the grip when the bike is straight, but this is the kind of thing we can improve by settings. By chassis or swingarms, or whatever. But in turning I think we’ve reached a point with the old bike now that we couldn’t improve. So it feels good to find a new way like this," Pol Espargaro commented.
With Espargaro monopolizing the engine, Bradley Smith worked on lots of other areas of the bike instead. That included frames, swingarm, chassis, as well as the WP Suspension which KTM uses. Smith was very positive about WP overall, however, saying that the front forks were as good as, if not better, then the Ohlins forks he used when he was on a Yamaha. The rear shock still needed work, but showed a lot of potential. Smith gets a chance to swing his leg over the brand new 2019 on Tuesday, when it becomes Pol Espargaro's turn to do the donkey work.
While the factory riders worked on new parts, the satellite men worked setup, and getting their bikes ready for the upcoming races. Johann Zarco was chasing the right base setup, the starting point for each weekend. The Tech3 Yamaha rider suffers problems with the electronics just as the factory riders do, though he appears to cope with it a little better. The fact that Zarco finished fastest overall is surely proof of that.
Taka Nakagami was working on setup, and on trying the aerodynamic fairing again. He was positive about it in Jerez, after having dismissed the idea of using the aero fairing after the Sepang test at the beginning of the year. Jack Miller was mainly concerned about getting the right base setup, to take forward to other tracks.
Michelin had also brought a new spec tire to test, a new softer compound aimed for use at Mugello this year, and here at Jerez for next year. The overall consensus was that most people were happy with the new tire, praising its grip. Only Jack Miller didn't like it, saying it was too soft for practical purposes.
The paddock packs up and heads in part to Le Mans for the next race, and in part for Mugello, where private testing awaits. Testing where the factories get a say over who can attend the test, rather than the small group of diehard journalists who stay on after the test.
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