The return of Casey Stoner to Ducati as a test rider has raised more questions than it answered. Fans and media alike are in a state of confusion about his intentions, especially given the times he was setting on the Ducati Desmosedici GP15. What was he doing? Will he race again? When will he test again? To try to put this test and Stoner's role into perspective, here is what we know, what we think we know, and what we don't.
What was Stoner riding?
Casey Stoner spent all three days on the Ducati Desmosedici GP15. He did not test the GP16.
If he's a test rider, why didn't he test the GP16?
A lot of reasons. The GP16 is a brand new bike, and there aren't that many of them yet, so Ducati can't afford to have a test rider destroy one if they crash. The GP16 is not that different to the GP15, so there was plenty for Stoner to test which is transferable to the GP16. Stoner hadn't ridden a MotoGP bike in a year, and hadn't ridden a Ducati since 2010. He hadn't ridden Michelins since 2006, and MotoGP is now using a spec software. For this test, Stoner's aim was to get up to speed, learn and understand the Ducati and a 1000cc era MotoGP bike, complete with Michelins and spec software, and prepare himself for the next test, so that he can provide better input at the next test.
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.
Press release previews of the Sepang MotoGP test from Avintia Ducati and Repsol Honda:
Ducati issued the following press release after Michele Pirro completed the second day of Ducati's private test at Sepang, in preparation for the main test which starts on Monday:
Casey Stoner's return as a test rider for Ducati has captured the imagination of fans and generated a huge amount of attention from the media. Given Stoner's role at Ducati is one of both test rider and brand ambassador, his return can be judged a success, no matter what the times set on the track.
Stoner spoke to the media after the first day of the private test at Sepang, used by the factories to prepare for the main test which starts on Monday. Being a private test, rather than an official MotoGP test run by Dorna and IRTA, Dorna do not hold the exclusive video and audio rights at the test. This allowed our enterprising friends over at GPOne.com to video the entire media debrief, where Stoner spoke the press present at the track.
Casey Stoner got the first testing miles of his return to Ducati under his belt on Saturday. The Australian started slowly and steadily doing a lot of short runs to get a feel for the Ducati Desmosedici GP15, on which he spent most of the day, before upping the pace later in the afternoon. Journalists present at the test said Stoner looked a little stiff in his early laps, not getting either elbow or knee down, but soon started to relax, and look more like his old self.
MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
MotoGP’s big change
The balance of MotoGP is set for a dramatic change as the bias moves from the front of the bike to the rear
Next week MotoGP undergoes its biggest technical shakeup since the arrival of the four-strokes back in 2002: one-size-fits-all rider aids, Michelin tyres and plenty else.
Which will have the greatest effect on the racing? No contest: it’s the tyres, the final interface between motorcycle and racetrack.
The switch from Bridgestone to Michelin will change the whole balance of MotoGP, because over the past seven years MotoGP riders enjoyed a front tyre that was better than the rear; now they have a rear that’s better than the front.
Press releases from the World Superbike teams who tested at Jerez:
Octo Pramac Yakhnich Press Release: Pramac Celebrates 15 Years in MotoGP, Presents Redding and Petrucci
The Pramac Ducati team issued the following press release after presenting their 2016 MotoGP team in Siena in Italy today:
Pramac Racing celebrates its 15th anniversary in MotoGp and presents Octo Pramac Yakhnich
Pramac celebrates 15 years at the MotoGP starting line. The celebration is taking place at Pramac’s headquarters in Casole d’Elsa, Siena, where it all began in 2002. After having experienced Formula One, Pramac turned towards the two-wheeled world and entrusted the rider Tetsuya Harada with the Honda NSR 500.
The first major success for the team came in 2003 when Makoto Tamada won third place at the Brazilian Grand Prix, and the following season brought Pramac Racing and Bridgestone to the highest spot on the podium of the historic Japanese GP.
In 2005, Pramac Racing signed an agreement with Ducati, and in 2007 Alex Barros won third place at Mugello.
The hero of the 2008 season was Toni Elias, who won two consecutive podiums, the first at Brno (second place) then at Misano (third place).