With the field in MotoGP being so incredibly tight, the value of testing has increased exponentially. The more equal the bikes and manufacturers are, the more important testing has become. Smaller and smaller gains are making a bigger and bigger difference.
But as part of Dorna and the FIM's attempt to control costs in MotoGP, testing has been reduced to the bare minimum. Beyond the bare minimum, perhaps; there will be two days of post-race testing in 2023, but next year, that number has been bumped back up to three days.
Post-race tests are a fantastic opportunity to try new things at a circuit where the teams have a whole weekend's worth of data. The downside is that the circuit is also covered in Michelin rubber, meaning the grip is spectacular, which can hide all sorts of problems. And in 2023, the two post-race tests are taking place at Jerez and Misano, useful circuits for sure, but not great places for trying new aerodynamics, as the top speed is limited, and there are few corners where you are accelerating from very low speeds.
But the teams and factories made the most of the first day of in-season testing in 2023, and used their day to pursue their testing programs. For some factories, that meant working through piles of new parts to assess their performance, for others it meant tweaking setup and a few minor parts. Here are the highlights of what each factory was testing at Jerez.
Aleix Espargaro underlined the challenges of testing on the Monday after a race. "I've been the fastest of the whole weekend on used tires, but when you are alone on Monday, it's difficult to understand the performance."
In Sunday's race, Espargaro complained of getting stuck in traffic and being unable to overtake, as the temperature of his front tire went up. That became the focus for the test. It seemed like every time you poked your head into pit lane, there would be an Aprilia doing practice starts at the exit. Aprilia are working on improving the feedback from the clutch at the start and making the bike less sensitive when following other riders.
"We tried many things, trying always to remove a little bit of pressure, weight from the front tire," Aleix Espargaro explained. "I know, it's not the same to ride alone than in the race, but as I cannot simulate the race, I am trying to remove a little bit of pressure on the front tire. We are trying something on the starts, we are trying a full tank, we are trying to remove a little bit of weight and put it in other places, we are trying a new swingarm."
But it was especially important to focus on race starts, Espargaro explained. "The starts are part of our sport," he said. "They were not so important in the past, but here we did four starts instead of one. It's amazing how important they are. Everybody knows that you cannot overtake. I had the same pace as Bagnaia more or less, so I'm sure that if I started P1 or P2, I could fight for the victory or second place."
The new swingarm tested was a revised version of one used in Portimão, with aero wings added to the side of the swingarm, similar in shape and size to the ones at the front of the bike, below the brake calipers on the front wheel. Aprilia also rolled out a new version of the fork wings debuted in Portugal, which looked wider, and had a greater surface area.
The big news in the Honda garage was the arrival of the chassis built and designed for HRC. There was only the one frame, which spent most of the day in Stefan Bradl's garage, until the German test rider crashed the bike. In the afternoon, it migrated into Joan Mir's garage, but the Repsol Honda rider only did a single lap on the new frame, the bike developing an electrical fault and cutting out at Turn 6.
The chassis was difficult to spot, unless you looked quite closely. The shape looked very similar to the frame which first made its debut at Portimão, though the rear of the beam holding the swingarm pivot was much straighter, and a hole for a fastener had appeared in the upper beam. But it was the swingarm pivot which gave away its provenance.
By good fortune, a Moto2 and Moto3 test is scheduled to take place at Jerez on Tuesday, and a little further down pit lane there were Kalex Moto2 machines being warmed up. That allowed us to do a visual check on the design of a Kalex frame, and that was when we spotted that the swingarm pivot on Stefan Bradl's chassis was almost identical to the ones in the Moto2 Kalex frames.
It looks like Kalex have done more than just copy a Honda frame and build it to very tight tolerances. Instead, they have used the Honda frame as a base, but integrated it into the chassis as a whole. The Kalex swingarm now connects to a Kalex frame, and the triple clamps are attached to a Kalex headstock. That gives Kalex a bit more control over how the frame behaves.
Bradl's crash meant that Joan Mir only got half a lap on the bike, yet he managed to give a little bit of insight into the new frame from what Bradl had told him. Mir warned to treat his comments with caution. "We had an electrical problem so I could just make one lap, and one lap you can't make any conclusions," the Repsol Honda rider said.
"Stefan was happy," Mir said of test rider Bradl. "Obviously the riding style of Stefan is a bit different. I'm sure that bike is different. On the out lap, you feel that it's different. But I don't know if it's faster. So this is what we have to find out."
But it did feel different to the bike he had been testing. "You understand that the concept is a little bit more different," Mir told us. "You have probably more feedback on what's happening on the wheels. But that's it. So I cannot say so much, because in one lap riding warming up the tires is not the proper way to speak about it."
Mir also spent the day finding a setting with a frame based on one he had tested at Sepang, but rejected at the time. With time to work on it, he managed to get some of the front feeling which he has been searching for since he joined Repsol Honda. Despite a crash – being "too optimistic" braking for Turn 6 – Mir felt he had made progress at the test.
Honda also tried some new aero, aero which Stefan Bradl had used at the race weekend in Jerez. It featured an extra section on the lower side of the fairing, looking similar to the side sections on the Pramac Ducatis.
The aero got a very mixed reception. Joan Mir and the two LCR Honda riders, Alex Rins and Takaaki Nakagami, had all tried the new fairings, but not found a great deal of difference. Rins explained the program they had worked through. "We did many different configurations with the wings, about the aero, and honestly, we tried like five sets of different packages. Like front, side, swingarm, and all these things. And more or less the feeling was very similar. Some wings turn a little bit better, the others have like better stability on brakes, but in the end, we make the back to back with the standard one, and the lap time is very similar."
Nakagami was positively disappointed. "We did some aero packages that we tested as planned, but honestly, at the end we went back to standard," the LCR Honda rider told us. "So unfortunately, I couldn't find any big steps. So it's a little bit disappointing about the performance. Because I expected... this is a really important test and also from outside it's a different shape, so I believed something big changed, because now the aero is one of the big things to change the bike. But the performance, not so much changes. And we are still missing edge grip, rear grip, and with some aero, less turning, so even worse."
The two Yamaha riders were also slightly disenchanted. Yamaha had brought plenty to test – a new exhaust, which sounded very different, a revised version of the aero package debuted at Sepang, and a new chassis, but all this were small steps, when what was needed were big steps, Fabio Quartararo said.
"Little bit happier, let’s say," is how Quartararo described himself. "We were working, especially on the new tire with low fuel and with really hot condition. We made the lap time quite early, with more than 50 degrees on the ground and we wanted to check the difference, so I was able to make a good that time compared to the race weekend."
The new exhaust had been aimed at producing more power, but on a short track like Jerez, where the top speed barely touches 300km/h, it was hard to evaluate properly. "It was to see if there was more top speed, but in this track it depends a lot on Turn 5," Quartararo opined.
The fairing and the frame were very similar to the package both Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli have been using all year. "We tried different wings, but it was really similar and, for me, a little bit worse," Quartararo said. The chassis was a slightly more positive, there was more feedback from the frame, it seemed but the difference were small and hard to be sure about.
Quartararo reiterated the fact that the Yamaha has less aero than their rivals, and as a result could not control wheelie as well. But they could not use more aero, because they did not have the horsepower to overcome the drag that comes with more aero downforce. Until the Yamaha gets more horsepower, they faced a very difficult challenge, Quartararo said.
KTM had an awful lot of parts to test, including two different aero packages, based on the one used by Dani Pedrosa in his weekend wildcard entry. The most notable one was a large sidepod which stretched from the upper fairing, all the way down the side of the fairing, and meeting again at the bottom.
Jack Miller complained of having a full testing program, but when we asked him about exactly what he had tested, he restricted himself to the "some positives and some negatives" platitude, and then his debrief wandered off into several fascinating tangents that had little to do with what needed testing.
Ironically (perhaps), the world champion and championship leader Pecco Bagnaia had very little to do. He had used the test to try out the new long-stroke Ohlins front forks, which provide a little better feedback in braking. But that was not the feedback Bagnaia was asking for.
"I tried the bigger one, the longer one," Bagnaia said of the forks he had been testing. "And it was the second time, because I tried also in Sepang this winter. And sincerely, I think that have a great potential, but still work to do because in in my case I like when I feel the tires moving."
Bagnaia liked the feedback from the front tire when it is being squeezed under braking, as that allowed him to judge the limit. But the long-stroke Ohlins forks removed some of that feedback. "With tire movements, with this one it’s a bit more filtered, so we have to work. We have to find the balance with the suspension because have more margin. But maybe we had to change a bit our suspension setup," Bagnaia said.
The other Ducati riders were working mainly on settings, in search of improved feeling. Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi were looking for confidence in turning, but Marini had failed to fix the issue in Turn 4 and Turn 8, which had been his biggest bugbear. In Gresini, Alex Marquez was trying starts and setup, and Fabio Di Giannantonio had changes his position on the bike, to better manage the feeling at the front.
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"then his debrief wandered…
"then his debrief wandered off into several fascinating tangents that had little to do with what needed testing"
Ok now we need to hear these!
In reply to "then his debrief wandered… by Helmet22
Ha ha ha ha, it wasn't just…
Ha ha ha ha, it wasn't just me who thought this!
MC News .au always has more from Jack, their hometown boy. This has an "extended cut' of his post race interview.
Hipefully they'll write about his post-test comments also.