On the Monday after the Austin round of MotoGP, the Suzuki team stayed on to do an extra private test. Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales had hoped to start relatively early, but heavy overnight rain left the track both wet and dirty, taking some time to dry out. When they did start, the times were poor – around 2'08, rather than the 2'05s both riders had been posting in the race. But conditions improved as the day went on, and the session turned into a very productive test for both riders.
After two race on back-to-back weekends, there was little time to be testing new parts. Both men had some new electronics to try, aimed at helping the seamless gearbox be a little smoother. They also both tried the 2016 chassis again, after having spent the first three races on the 2015. Aleix Espargaro was not entirely convinced, saying the frame was stiffer, but it was also less agile. That meant balancing braking stability against cornering ability. For Espargaro, the time lost in the corners would not be made up on the brakes, certainly not in qualifying.
Maverick Viñales was a good deal more positive, saying the 2016 chassis was a big improvement for him over the chassis from last year. After the test, he regretted not using it in the race. "We’ve been comparing the old chassis with the new one and we are quite surprised because here looks like the new one was a bit better. So I want to kill myself!" Viñales joked. The bike stops better, and he can turn the bike better while on the brakes, he said.
Viñales was so convinced of the 2016 chassis that he said he will be trying it at the next race at Jerez, which features a number of hard braking zones entering corners. But the 2015 chassis was still better in agility, and he felt he could switch between chassis at different tracks. At stop-and-go tracks like Le Mans and Motegi, the 2016 chassis may be the better option, while at more flowing tracks such as Mugello, Assen, the Sachsenring, he could use the 2015 frame to take advantage of the faster changes of direction.
There was still work to be done, both riders said. The Suzuki GSX-RR still lacked rear grip, they both told us, which was a big factor in their lack of acceleration. Viñales pinpointed stability under braking as the bike's biggest weakness still. "I feel so strong in fast corners like Sector 1, but then when it is hard braking like Sectors 3 or 4 I have problems," he said. It had been a focus point for the test, and both Espargaro and Viñales said they felt they had made progress in that area.
The test was also a chance to get more data on the Michelin tires. Espargaro said he was able to use the medium front for the first time, and get some feedback from it. When he had used it during the race weekend, he had always ended up crashing, so understanding how that front tire worked was a big step forward.
Viñales splits with manager, may not secure Yamaha contract
After the test, news emerged which could affect the future of Maverick Viñales. The Spanish youngster had split with his former manager Aki Ajo, and switched to Paco Sanchez, who used to handle Pol Espargaro. It could be a relatively expensive affair: sources suggest that Viñales will have to pay a penalty of 25% of his agent's fee to Ajo for breaking the contract.
The news that Viñales was splitting from his manager saw a line of rider managers hovering around the Suzuki garage. In the end, Viñales elected to have Sanchez handle the legal side of his contracts, while keeping the contract negotiations in his own hands. Given the pressure of racing in MotoGP, that may not be the best possible solution.
Viñales' new manager may not be able to get him much in the way of a new ride, however. Though reports on Motorsport.com suggest that Viñales currently only has an offer on the table from Suzuki, he may not have much choice in the matter. According to Speedweek – a German-language website with close ties to Aki Ajo – the contract Viñales has with Suzuki has a stipulation that Suzuki can extend the contract for another year if Viñales gets on the podium in 2016. Given Viñales' strong form so far this year, that seems increasingly likely.
That would leave Yamaha with a problem. The Movistar Yamaha team are pushing to sign Viñales to replace the departing Jorge Lorenzo, but if Viñales scores a podium, they would not have the option of the Spaniard. Suggestions that Viñales would deliberately miss out on a podium to secure a Yamaha ride are frankly laughable, wildly underestimating the ambition and hunger for success which all young riders have.
If Yamaha cannot secure the services of Viñales, then they may offer another rider a one-year contract, as a stop-gap for when Viñales does become available. Valentino Rossi suggested that either Andrea Iannone or Dani Pedrosa could take the place of Lorenzo, though how willing Yamaha would be to allow Rossi to choose Lorenzo's successor remains to be seen. Yamaha are reportedly unwilling to place Alex Rins directly into the factory team, instead wanting him to serve time in the Tech 3 satellite squad. Rins is unwilling to sign for a non-factory team, and consequently it looks like he is headed to the Repsol Honda team instead.
At the moment, the only certain move is that Lorenzo will be signing for Ducati, with an announcement expected in the run up to Jerez. That announcement will trigger a further round of intense speculation and horse trading between the rest of the riders on the grid.
Below is the press release from Suzuki, issued after the test.
VIÑALES AND ESPARGARÓ MAKE PROGRESS AT COTA TEST
Team Suzuki Press Office – April 12.
Team SUZUKI ECSTAR’s Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaró stayed in Austin for one more day after the GP of The Americas to test updates for the factory GSX-RR machines and to review the data from the first three races.
The first three 2016 MotoGP events provided plenty of feedback to the Suzuki factory race department in Japan, resulting in some updates in terms of set-up and electronics. The main focus has been on the new 2016 chassis, exploring different options in set-up, plus further developments in the electronics package.
Light rain in the morning restricted track time, but both Viñales and Espargaró were able to take advantage of the exclusive Team SUZUKI ECSTAR test session and both riders reported positive progress at the end of the day.
After three races it was important to re-evaluate the progress to date in a non-race, low-pressure environment and although the riders’ impressions and feedback differed in some respects, they agreed on the future direction to provide the most rapid improvements.
For Suzuki, the Team SUZUKI ECSTAR project is an important investment and the continued improvements are testimony of the company’s trust and emotional involvement in the ongoing MotoGP project.
“Today we tried some more configurations with the 2016 chassis to compare with the one we tested in pre-season and the one I’ve been using in the first three races and we are happy to have discovered that, on this track, these new configurations could have seen a more positive result in the race. After this test, I maybe now have a little regret at my initial choice, but this is normal - all aspects have positives and negatives and you need time to go in depth with the investigations. Sometimes it takes more time, so it’s good that we made this test because we could go really in depth of these two sides of the same coin and now know better the potential of both the chassis’. This gives us a double option and I don’t exclude that we might decide to adopt one or the other according to the specificity of the different tracks. Basically what we are looking for is some more traction and also more effective hard braking, which again has to do with the rear grip. The modifications in set-up we have done here proved to be effective, as my lap times were pretty good, and this is something that makes me very happy. We also made some steps forward with the electronics - it’s another thing that could help us, and it’s good to see that we are continuously improving. Testing here was very important - it’s good to review the situation after three races and to see where we are, so that now we can have a clearer idea which direction to take.”
“It’s good that we had this opportunity to test here because we were missing some information and now we have a clearer idea of where we are. We focused mainly on the chassis, where we had some new set-ups to be tested on the 2016 version so we could compare with the configurations that we tested in the winter and also on the 2015 chassis we have been using since the Qatar race. We started from the set-up we used in Qatar qualifying and moved on from there. The differences between the 2015 chassis and the new configurations of the 2016 are not that big, but their strong points are different and this gives us more options to exploit when it comes to better adapt from one track to another. Today my confidence improved, as well as my lap times, and this makes me happy after the tough three races so far. I’m still working on my riding style to make it more suitable to the Michelin tyres, and also for this we tried some little variations in my position on the bike. The electronics have been another area that we tested - we still need to go deeper to understand it better and any change is good for us to learn more. It’s good that we did this test - it helped me to re-evaluate my ideas and to re-focus on our path.”
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