After their return to WorldSBK in 2016 Yamaha did not shy away from admitting that there is plenty of work to be done to turn the YZF-R1 into a front runner. That work was certainly being undertaken at this week's Jerez test with Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes the busiest riders on track over the two days.
The pair completed a total of 283 laps of the Spanish circuit and with a host of new parts on the bikes it's clear that the bike should be more competitive in 2017. Lowes trialled a new underslung swing arm and while the Englishman commented that it didn't offer an immediate lap time improvement it did offer greater consistency over a race distance. For Van der Mark the improvements came with setup changes that improved his feeling on turn in.
"The bike is very new for this year," said team boss Paul Denning. "At the moment the engine is basically the only carry over from 2016 but it's due an upgrade as well. There is a lot of new stuff with the rest of the bike. The durability of the package has been good and we were able to see that the bike is easy to work on and maintain and while that's not very interesting for headlines it makes a big difference in WorldSBK with the one bike rule."
Lowes ended the two day test fifth fastest after a busy second day saw him complete 83 laps and a race simulation.
"We've tried a lot of stuff in this test," said Lowes. "I did a race simulation in the afternoon it was really good. I did every lap in the 41's which isn't as quick as the Kawasaki or Ducati but it's a good pace to have. Where we are with the bike it was a good run and I'm quite happy. There's a couple of things in terms of the balance of the bike, with the new swing arm, that we may be able to learn from to get the benefits of it from another way.
"There are positive and negatives to both swing arms. Over a race distance I think that the new one is better and more consistent...over a single lap with a brand new tire it's harder to find that difference. The older swing arm was a bit more flexible and you could push really hard with it, we had some good qualifying performances last year, but our race and consistency was what we wanted to improve."
Denning also commented on Lowe's race simulation.
"Alex did more laps than anyone on the second day and even though he was interrupted on his race simulation after a couple of laps he did 22 laps in the 1m41's. We didn't use the qualifier and were still able to set some competitive times. There's a long way for us to go to run at the front but it was a positive start to the year."
For Van der Mark the test is another step in his learning curve of how to get the most from the Yamaha. At the November tests he was given his first sampling of the Yamaha and immediately commented to feeling at ease with the bike. Having ridden the Honda for the last two years the differences are stark but this week he felt that he had made another step forward.
"This test has been easier for me and I feel much more at home on the bike compared to when I rode it in November," said the Dutchman. "There's a lot of things for us to do but I felt happier in this test, I thought that Ifelt happy in November, but when I got back onto the bike this week I felt a big difference. We have improved the turning this week and we made a big change on the second day and even though it felt good on Tuesday it felt even better on the second day. I didn't know that I needed us to make that step because everything is new but at the end I'm quite happy with the work that we have done."
There are still improvements to be made with Van der Mark commenting that drive grip needs to be found because, "when we pick up the bike, we are spinning sideways rather than driving forwards. This is the one area that we are missing with this bike at the moment."
While top end power was an issue for most of 2016 an upgraded exhaust made a clear difference in Qatar, allowing Sylvain Guintoli to finish on the rostrum. A new fairing also offered some improvement at this test with Lowes saying, "If you look at the speed traps here it looks quite good, the new fairing meant that I felt a lot less wind on the bike now."
The 26 year old did pinpoint a couple of areas that he will focus on finding improvement at the Portimao test.
"I'd like a bit more confidence as I pick up the gas and over a race when the front tire grip goes I'd like to find a better feeling on corner entry. It's quite simple really and they're the two main things that I want us to try and work on. We'll try and work on everything with the bike obviously but if I can find, say 5%, more feeling in those areas I'd be quite happy going to Phillip Island."
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