A new circuit presents new challenges for everyone in the paddock. Whether its riders learning the layout, engineers understanding the compromises required of the track, or the challenges facing a tire manufacturer, a new circuit has so many variables.
This weekend in Argentina, the WorldSBK paddock will face that task. For a rider, the build up is spent trying to learn the track with videos or track maps. For an engineer, they'll use the information to hand, length of straights and corner design, to try to come up with a baseline setting for the weekend.
“Usually it's quite easy to learn a new track,” explained Pata Yamaha's Alex Lowes. “We ride at so many tracks that after a handful of laps you typically know the layout and understand where you need to be. I've always been quite good at learning new tracks; if I think back to 2014 and my rookie season in WorldSBK I was up to speed quite quickly at circuits that I hadn't ridden at before.
“There's a lot of ways that you can try to speed up the process and the easiest is to find some on-board laps from circuits or old race footage. Even from the cameras around the circuit you learn a lot about the lines and where you have to be. Obviously, for this weekend in Argentina we don't have a lot of information to use because it's brand new, but we have enough information to know what to expect.”
For a crew chief, that challenge is initially to find the right gearing. Eugene Laverty's crew chief, Phil Marron, explains:
“The gearing is the biggest element to get correct,” said Marron. “Once you have that, you can build the rest of the settings around it. Here in Argentina it will be difficult, because it's a brand new circuit with a surface that hasn't been used. It will be dusty and dirty and the track will evolve so much throughout the weekend.
“Typically teams will use their normal base settings, or soften them slightly to find some grip, because the rider will improve so much as the session progresses. Once the grip starts to develop on track the approach of the rider changes and they are able to ride more aggressively and brake deeper. They try to carry more roll speed through corners, so what was initially in first gear becomes second gear. Once you have the right ratio for the straight, you work backwards with your gear patterns for the lap, and then work on the settings as the sessions progress.”
Where the rubber meets the road
For Pirelli, the sole tire manufacturer in WorldSBK, the challenge is unique this weekend. With a brand new surface that will change and evolve considerably through the weekend, the Italian manufacturer has taken the decision to bring as many tire types as possible to El Villicum.
With three compounds of front and rear tires, Pirelli are covering their bets as to what tire will work this weekend. They have brought their smaller profile tires with established construction and compounds to ensure that a wide base is offered to teams and riders throughout the weekend.
At a new circuit, the goal posts change with every session, but the ultimate goal remains the same; find the best solution possible for any given set of circumstances.
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