After the first test of 2016 at Sepang, Suzuki released a video featuring interviews with Maverick Viñales, Aleix Espargaro and team manager Davide Brivio. In the video, they discuss how they got on with the new 2016 GSX-RR Suzuki brought to the Sepang tests.
The biggest positive for both riders was the extra horsepower which the new engine had. For the first time, Maverick Viñales said, he had been able to follow Marc Marquez down the front straight, and not lose ground on top speed. The new seamless gearbox helped here too, improving the acceleration of the bike. Neither Viñales nor Espargaro were particularly enamored of the new chassis, however. Viñales ignored it altogether, while Espargaro spent time on it, especially on the last day. The two could not agree on the benefits of the chassis, Viñales saying the frame had grip but would not turn, while Espargaro said the bike was turning better than the 2015 item, but he had no grip.
Watch what the riders and team manager have to say for yourself below:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the final day of testing at Sepang:
What did we learn from the first proper MotoGP test of the new era of Michelin tires and spec electronics? More than we hoped, yet less than we think. A quick run down on the state of play after Sepang, with more to come over the following days.
The riders approached the Sepang test with some trepidation, fearing that Michelin had not fixed its wayward front that caused so many crashes at Valencia and Jerez. Their fears were unfounded, the new front tires which Michelin brought – a total of five different types, of varying construction and compound – were all a massive step forward. They were not as stable as the Bridgestones they replaced, but they had gained a lot of predictability and feedback. There were very few crashes which the riders said they had not seen coming.
That does not mean that all of the problems have been solved. A couple of people went down at Turn five on Tuesday, in crashes they described as strange. Casey Stoner (more on him later) had a typically concise and thoughtful analysis. "There's a little point after probably 45°, that [the tire profile] goes down just a little bit more, that it doesn't seem to match with the rear with some of the profiles that we've tested," Stoner explained. "That gives everybody a little bit a nervous feeling, and essentially why people are struggling into Turn 5, a big fast open corner, going in, when the bike goes light, it doesn't like that feeling. It makes the bike a little nervous, and I think that's when the front wants to break away."
If being the official supplier to a racing series is a double-edged sword, then being the sole supplier of equipment as essential as tires is doubly so. Leaving aside the complexities of exactly what a four-edged sword would actually look like, being official tire supplier to MotoGP is a role which offers massive opportunities for raising the role of a brand, and having it associated with the most famous names in motorcycle racing. It gets your brand name and logo in front of many tens of millions of race fans and motorcycle enthusiasts every weekend. It also sees your logo plastered all over just about every photo which appears in magazines and newspapers about MotoGP, as well as filling thousands of column inches on websites and in magazines. If you had to pay for the same exposure – a concept known as equivalent advertising value – it would cost you many, many times the €25 million Bridgestone were rumored to have paid for the contract.
There is a downside, of course. It is extremely uncommon to hear riders heap praise upon your tires spontaneously. Bridgestone had to announce they were pulling out of the role of official supplier to receive the praise they deserved, riders immediately paying tribute to just how good their racing tires actually are. By contrast, criticism from riders about the spec tire is both instantaneous and highly vocal. Allow a rider to speak about your tires, and they will expound in great detail on all of the failings, real and perceived of the product you have so lovingly produced. Should you suffer some form of catastrophic failure, or get something horribly wrong, then you face a barrage of coverage, all of it negative. As a tire manufacturer, you leave your PR people fighting fires for weeks, and sometimes months to come.
That is precisely the situation which Michelin finds themselves in this evening. At 10:40 on Tuesday morning, Loris Baz accelerated down the front straight at Sepang, and around two thirds of the way along, the rear tire of his Avintia Ducati GP14.2 exploded. As Dorna only has a couple of cameras at the Sepang Test, the video coverage is mainly from the HD CCTV cameras around the circuit, one of which is permanently trained down the main straight.
Press releases from the teams after the second day of testing at Sepang:
What did we learn from the first day of testing at Sepang? Exactly what we expected to learn. Some riders have adapted quickly, others less quickly. The Michelins have made a big step forward, and the teams have started to understand the Michelin tires better. The spec electronics still need plenty of work, but are pretty usable in their current form (and well liked by the riders). Yamaha and Ducati have adapted well, Honda not very well at all, with the possible exception of Dani Pedrosa.
Above all, we learned that it is too early to be making any judgment calls, and that everyone still has a lot of work to do, and a lot of room for improvement. Today's outcome is interesting, but not definitive. In other words, if your favorite rider is near the top of the timesheets, you can feel optimistic that they will do well in 2016. If your favorite rider is nearer the bottom, you can console yourself with the fact that there is hope, and that testing will solve the worst of the issues.
Testing at Sepang started where the 2015 championship left off: with a Yamaha 1-2. Unlike 2015, however, the first day of testing at Sepang was not even close. Jorge Lorenzo set the fastest time, well over a second faster than his Movistar Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi. But it was not just the time which was impressive – just over 0.4 seconds off the fastest time set by Marc Márquez on the first day of the 2015 test – but the outright speed which backed it.
Press releases after the first day of testing at Sepang:
The hour of truth is at hand. On Monday morning, MotoGP fans will get their very first look at how the 2016 season is really going to look like. We got a glimpse at Valencia, but it was not a uniform picture. Though the 2016 electronics and Michelin tires made their debut at the two-day test after the final race of 2015, there were still too many variables. Everyone was on the Michelins, but some riders were on the spec electronics, others were on the old proprietary software they had been using for the 2015 season, and the factory teams were using a mixture of both.
It was also the first time the teams had to focus solely on the new tires and electronics, without the pressure of an ongoing championship. Though for both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, the intensity of the season finale had left them drained, making it difficult to generate the necessary enthusiasm for testing. There was a lot of work to do, for everyone concerned, and nobody did anything but scratch the surface.
Since Valencia, there have been a couple more tests. At Jerez in November, Ducati, Honda and Aprilia continued the work they had left off at Valencia. At Sepang, Maverick Viñales took Suzuki's new seamless gearbox out for the first time, Aleix Espargaro forced to miss the test through injury. Michele Pirro for Ducati and Mike Di Meglio for Aprilia have continued their solid work as test riders, testing new parts, working on the spec electronics, getting data from the Michelin tires.
Our review of the 2015 MotoGP season continues, with a look at the riders who finished in places nine through fifteen. Part 4 covers Pol Espargaro, Danilo Petrucci, the Suzuki riders Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales, Scott Redding, Yonny Hernandez and Hector Barbera. If you missed the first three parts of our season review, you can catch up with part 1, on the Movistar Yamaha men, part 2, on two Repsol Hondas, and part 3, covering Andrea Iannone to Cal Crutchlow.
A reminder: we review the performance of each rider below, giving them a mark out of ten for their ability to live up to or exceed expectations. As every year, we cover the riders in the order they finished in the championship.
Pol Espargaro, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 9th, 114 points
This was not the year that Pol Espargaro had hoped for. After a strong rookie season in 2014, when he outclassed his Monster Tech 3 Yamaha teammate Bradley Smith, Espargaro took a big step backward in 2015. The Spaniard finished with fewer points – 114, vs 136 in 2014 – and never really looked like getting involved in the battle for the podium, something which many were predicting at the end of last season.
What happened? It is hard to pinpoint exactly where the younger Espargaro went wrong in 2015, but the issue almost certainly lay within himself. The success he experienced in 2014 left him hungry for more, and he tried to push as hard as possible to go faster in 2015. The trouble is, that doesn't work on a Bridgestone-shod Yamaha MotoGP bike. The harder you try, the slower you go. It is all about being as calm, smooth and precise as possible, as Bradley Smith demonstrated.
Aleix Espargaro has fractured a vertebra in a training accident. The factory Suzuki rider was out training on an off road bike, when he landed heavily from a jump, and felt pain in his back. He was taken to hospital, where an MRI scan revealed a flexion fracture of the vertebra, forcing him to miss the Sepang test planned for next week.
The injury suffered by Espargaro should not see him out of action for long. The Spaniard was discharged from hospital on Friday morning, and will now have to rest for a two to three week period to allow him to recover. No further complications were found when he was examined, and rest and physiotherapy should see him make a quick and full recover.
Espargaro's injury does mean that he will miss out on his first chance to try the new spec, or unified software to be used in MotoGP for 2016. At the Valencia test, both Espargaro and Viñales concentrated on learning to use the new Michelin tires, with their first run on the unified software scheduled for a private test at Sepang next week. Now, only Viñales will test it, along with Suzuki's test riders Takuya Tsuda and Nobu Aoki.
The press release from Suzuki appears below:
ESPARGARO OUT OF SEPANG TEST AFTER TRAINING ACCIDENT
Team Suzuki Press Office – November 20.
The final day of testing at Valencia was a repeat of the first day: a lot of crashes on the Michelin tires, the factory Hondas, Yamahas and Ducatis working on the brand new spec electronics, the satellite bikes and the Suzukis working on their own 2015 electronics. For the Suzukis, that was not such a problem. The new electronics were likely to be an improvement on their own electronics, both Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro said, so missing out now was not such a problem. Suzuki have another test planned at Sepang at the end November, at which they plan to switch the 2016 unified software. With two days of Michelin testing under the belt, testing the spec software should be easier.
Choosing to wait until Sepang could be a smart strategy. There, with more time and test riders to help, Suzuki will have the resources to make quicker progress with the spec software. Honda, but especially Yamaha, showed that progress was possible, both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi saying that their second day on the spec electronics had been much better than the first day. "Yesterday, the thing was it was just a check out of the system to understand how they work in which corner, but the power was not done to have the best performance," Jorge Lorenzo said. "We work on that for the next morning and I felt it was much better and I improved during all the day quite a bit." Valentino Rossi agreed. "From yesterday to today already the situation improved a lot. It is still not at the same level for sure, but it looks like we can improve I think quite quickly."
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the two-day test at Valencia:
The 2016 MotoGP season got underway this morning, as the sound of MotoGP bikes out on track echoed round the amphitheater of the Valencia circuit, chasing away much of the bitterness and recriminations left hanging there in the wake of the 2015 season showdown. With new bikes, new tires, new electronics, and new and old riders on new and old bikes, there was much to look forward to. It felt like MotoGP had a future again.
With new tires and new electronics, many teams had chosen to forego too many changes to their bikes, but there were still some novelties out on track. Honda had brought a 2016 bike, complete with a new engine. Factory Yamaha had an intermediate version of their 2016 bike, complete with fuel tank moved to the rear of the bike. Despite Gigi Dall'Igna's assurances yesterday that they would be testing nothing new to concentrate on the Michelins, Andrea Dovizioso confirmed that he had tried a new chassis.
At Suzuki, they spend the day working on adapting to the tires, and gathering more data for the 2016 bike. Engineers in Hamamatsu are getting that ready for the Sepang test – at least, that is what Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro are hoping – a bike that will produce more horsepower and have a fully seamless gearbox.
There was some shuffling of faces and equipment in the satellite teams, with bikes being wheeled from garage to garage, and a few riders moving along with them. The happiest moment of all for riders like Eugene Laverty and Jack Miller was to wave goodbye to the Honda RC213V-RS, a bike which one rider referred to as "a piece of ****". Miller jumped onto the standard RC213V, and was immediately delighted by Honda's electronics. Laverty, meanwhile traded his Honda Open bike for a Ducati GP14.2, and was immediately impressed by the red-shirted Ducati staff who had invaded the Aspar garage, a real contrast with the Honda. That had been a real customer bike: you paid your money, and you took your bike, and you were left to get on with it on your own.
Press releases from the teams after the first day of testing at Valencia: