Cold Conditions Defeat the CRT Machines at Aragon Test
While it was the wind that curbed the CRT riders assembled at the Motorland Aragon circuit on Thursday, on Friday it was the turn of the cold. Though the wind had dropped, temperatures remained low, leaving the CRT riders with problems keeping heat in the tires for more than a few laps, and badly curtailing their already cramped testing plans. The legacy of the wind was a dirty track, with sand having been blown onto the surface, making it rather treacherous, and facing a cold, dirty track, most of the riders put in only a few laps on Friday, concentrating on other areas instead, such as riding position.
This was what both members of the Aspar Power Electronics team spent a lot of their day doing. Both Randy de Puniet and Aleix Espargaro had received new seat units, to alter their position on the bike. Some of that work could be carried out in the garage, but despite only putting some 10 laps or so on the bike, Espargaro pronounced himself happy with the new seat, saying he felt much more comfortable on the bike. The runs that the teams did do were very short, tire temperatures dropping off quickly after a couple of laps, as James Ellison found to his cost, highsiding the PBM Aprilia on his third lap out of the pits and giving his crew a lot of work to deal with during lunchtime. Espargaro also spent some time working on the clutch, doing a number of test starts to improve performance off the line. Randy de Puniet, like Espargaro, took delivery of a new seat which helped his position, but the Frenchman could not hide his frustration at not being able to ride at the test, describing the test as two days for nothing.
The only team that did not appear to suffer quite so badly with the cold was the Avintia BQR squad of Yonny Hernandez and Ivan Silva. The Avintia riders took to the track early, while De Puniet, Espargaro and Ellison sat in their garages, working mainly on the setup of their bikes. A new tank meant that the weight distribution of the FTR Kawasakis could be altered, putting more weight towards the rear to try to gain some traction. The biggest problem facing the Avintia riders is front end chatter - a surprise, as the other bikes suffering chatter have mainly complained of it at the rear, rather than the front - which the team has yet to solve, and the limited track time meant that they were also forced to defer plans to test electronics and traction control strategies until Jerez in two weeks' time. But Hernandez told MotoGP.com that he was very happy with the test, having had some time to test so many different things.
The fact that the Avintia riders managed to ride during the cool of the morning and have front-end rather than rear-end chatter would seem to point to the FTR Kawasaki still needing a lot of development. The benefit appears to be that the bike can generate more heat in the tires than the Aprilias can, perhaps unsurprising given that the FTR Moto2 chassis is famous for having lots of rear grip, but less feedback at the front than, for example, the Suter. However, drawing conclusions from the CRT test is difficult: the Avintia press released reported Hernandez as having the fastest time, but his lap of 1:53.34 (MotoGP.com reports Hernandez as having lapped at 1'53.588) is over 4 seconds off the pace of Casey Stoner's 1'49.046 lap record from 2011.
The CRT teams have now packed up and head to Jerez, for the final IRTA test before the 2012 season kicks off at Qatar. Jerez will prove to be a proper showdown, with the Aprilias finally facing the full factory prototypes for the first time. Though the factory riders will be streets ahead of the CRT machines, the real measure of the CRT project will be how close the bikes can get to the satellite Ducati, Hondas and Yamahas, and how much progress the bikes have made since the beginning of the year. From March 23rd to March 25th, at Jerez de la Frontera, Spain, the truth will out.