Many MotoGP followers, both inside and outside the paddock, were sceptical when news leaked that Yamaha had signed Pol Espargaro to a factory contract early in 2013. A year later, and halfway through his first MotoGP season, that scepticism has been replaced with admiration. The younger of the two Espargaro brothers is the best satellite rider in the championship standings, and has been competitive from the start of the season.
Yamaha clearly had a plan with Pol Espargaro. The riding style which young racers develop in Moto2 is very different from the style which came from the 250cc class. Where Moto2 racers use a sliding rear tire to help turn the bike into the corners, the 250 two-strokes rewarded riders who could brake early and carry as much corner speed as possible. The Yamaha YZR-M1 has been primarily developed around the 250cc style, but as riders schooled in the Moto2 class enter MotoGP, Yamaha realized they will have to adapt their bike to this new generation of young riders. By signing the reigning Moto2 champion, Yamaha have started to seriously examine how the new intermediate class is affecting MotoGP bike development.
Leading this development has been Pol Espargaro's crew chief, Nicolas Goyon. The Frenchman has been a data and electronics engineer in MotoGP since 2003, the first year in which the class switched over fully to four strokes. With the departure of Daniele Romagnoli, who followed Cal Crutchlow to Ducati, Goyon was given the role of crew chief to MotoGP rookie Espargaro. Since then, Goyon has been working with the Moto2 champion and Yamaha to explore how the Moto2 style can be made to fit to the Yamaha M1. We spoke to Goyon after the Brno test, to ask him about how he had adapted the bike and the feedback Pol Espargaro was providing.
MotoMatters.com: We know what the Yamaha style is to be as smooth as possible and to carry as much corner speed as possible and not upset the bike. That means braking in a straight line, keeping your wheels in line as much as possible. A few times, Pol Espargaro has been riding in more of a Moto2-style. First of all, why did he decide to do it, and did he talk to you about it?
Nicolas Goyon: Yes, of course. This is one direction Yamaha wanted to try, and obviously, Pol is the first Moto2 world champion working with Yamaha, and so Yamaha is really interested in this new style. We realize that all the Moto2 riders, the new generation of riders, they have a specific style, one we all know, they have the elbow on the ground, their bike is shaking from the rear on braking. Pol is really the first guy with this style working with Yamaha.
So Yamaha is really interested, especially in the way we want to catch Honda. When we see Honda, they have more and more this kind of style. So Yamaha invest a lot in Pol to try to develop this direction, to work on the braking phase. So we work on the setting of the bike, on the engine brake setting, on many different settings, to try to see if it could be one direction for the Yamaha.
MM: What do you specifically do to the bike to allow it to behave like that. What is it exactly you are trying to do? Get more engine braking? Get more braking from the rear?
NG: At the beginning, as we can see especially last year, the Yamaha in braking, the bike is quite nervous and it's shaking quite a lot. So we're trying to smooth this bike, and I think we've managed to do it. We especially started to work in this direction in Le Mans. So together with the setting of the bike, the engine brake setting, all these kind of things, we try to make it smoother, to load the rear, and to have a constant slide of the rear, that would put the bike in a better direction to turn. So we're specifically working in this direction, to try to allow a constant slide.
MM: And that is mainly about engine braking, electronics, a little bit of suspension?
NG: When I mean bike setting, this is the whole package. So this is the balance of the bike, this is suspension setting front and rear, because they are always working together, and the electronics, especially the engine brake setting.
MM: The Yamaha as it is now, does it work for the Yamaha, or does it mean there will have to be some changes?
NG: I think we have reached one of the limit for the bike, and as you said at the beginning, we know this for a long long time, that the strong point of this bike is the corner speed, going fast in the corner. This bike has been made to brake very strongly with the bike straight, and then release the brake and go into the corner really fast. So at the moment it's a little bit struggling with this new style of braking, which means we are still searching our way. We've tried to develop this direction, but at the moment it doesn't really fit with the bike behavior. So we cannot really say now we have found one direction. We have tried, we have seen the good points of this, the bad points as well, and we are trying to really find our way.
MM: And it varies from circuit to circuit as well? It suits one circuit much better than another?
NG: Yes, exactly. More specifically, in some circuits it works on some corners. So I would say the really hard-braking, tight corners, then this kind of style works. But then as soon as you add some fast corners that you have to brake with some lean angle, then it becomes really difficult to use this style.
MM: So it would work at Le Mans, Motegi, but it won't work at Phillip Island...
MM: So basically, you've been exploring this new direction, and have run into this limit, and you're at the point where if you go any further in this direction, you start to lose the good points?
NG: Yes, exactly. We realize that, especially in this track (Brno), we have been struggling a little bit by the end of the weekend, and we realize that maybe we have reached the limit of this direction. So maybe now we have to find another way, or to set the bike a little bit in the middle. But anyway, as you say, we cannot go any further, because we have no gain, and we lose some time, so that's not the target.
MM: Do you think that Yamaha will start to change the bike more towards this style? You have Jorge Lorenzo who is a world champion and capable of winning races, who has a totally different style, but then you also know you have people coming up through Moto3, Moto2...
NG: It's quite difficult for me to tell you, because I don't know the future of the Yamaha. But as far as I know, they are really really interested in this direction, and they invest a lot in Pol, because as we said in the beginning, he has a new style, so they are checking a lot of his data. And I believe they are going to bring some new things to help us try different things here in this direction, but I cannot confirm this for sure, this is a decision for Yamaha.