Australia Test: MotoGP Test Report 2017
The riders and teams arrived at the island for the second leg of the MotoGP testing schedule before the season kicks off in Qatar. The abrasive surface of the Phillip Island track is a great starting point for teams to understand their race pace, the wear and tear of the Michelin tyres, what impact the wind has on the riders and how their bikes will be performing during a race simulation. The weather at the island is always a challenge and there is no doubt that some riders used it to their advantage whilst others were tested physically beyond their wildest dreams in particular the rookies like Zarco, Folger and Rins.
On day one the circuit was hot! We had track temperatures in the high thirties and low forties, which was testing the rider’s ability to stay on board their machines and the wind howling which was pushing them off their lines. Most of the accidents on day one were from the wind that is totally out of their control. Repsol Honda rider Marc Marquez was the fastest on day one and this included the use of the big bang engine, which is a sound and style at the same time. It appears that this engine has huge potential although it is still not 100% spot on. There are still plenty of issues to iron out. The engine is a different characteristic and the team is still in the learning process. Marc Marquez wants more of a connection between the engine, electronics and himself as a rider. Marc is fast however he wants reliability and consistency with the new engine and this is going to take time to perfect before round one in Qatar.
On day two Marc was incredible putting in 107 laps! The Spanish machine really showcasing his stamina when it comes to race distance time and time again. Marc stated in the press release that “It’s been a day of really hard work, and I’m a little bit tired, but it was the plan we had for today with the team and we did it! Together with my Engineers we decided to do many laps to try a few things, and we focused on riding as consistently as possible, trying to avoid any mistakes. I also did two long runs at the end of the day, to try different configurations of the electronics, and that allowed us to gather a lot of information. Anyway, as I said yesterday, we’re still missing something, because I’m not 100% comfortable, but we’re working in a good way.”
On the other hand, Honda rider Cal Crutchlow is still getting acquainted with his newer spec engine in Australia. It is the same engine configuration that they were testing in Malaysia however there are many positives and negatives with this engine that Cal believes requires work and attention before the first race. Repsol Honda is trying one thing and Cal’s LCR Honda team are trying another. This can sometimes prove to be very difficult as there is no instant answer as to what works best.
In regards to the winglets, they are not a concern for the Repsol Honda MotoGP Team. Dani and Marc did not rely on the winglets as much as other teams and feel as though the electronics and engine power are where they need to excel before the season gets underway. It was interesting on the second day to see the Aprilia Gresini debut a similar set up of fairings to Yamaha. A little bit of a copycat idea, which everyone predicted, would take place as early as the Phillip Island test. Lin Jarvis has made his intentions clear and that is to go for a triple crown and make their presence in the paddock known with Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi aboard. The testing livery that has been designed around Maverick to adjust is working beautifully already as his speed and talent are on display for everyone to see.
At the other end of the spectrum is Ducati. The Ducati MotoGP bikes are more aggressive to ride whereas it appears the transition for Maverick from Suzuki to Yamaha is much closer. Lorenzo has had to transition to a new bike and learn to ride it as opposed to just jumping on board feeling comfortable from day one. Lorenzo stated “It is very difficult for me because they are completely different bikes. They are the opposite way when it comes to riding and to get the maximum. Ducati for the moment does not have corner speed and we need to keep braking a lot of time. You need to be aggressive with the throttle on and off. Secondly, it is completely different riding. Little by little I am understanding this bike more and on the last day it was much better. I need more time and kilometers to get to the maximum.” Track time is the key to Lorenzo going faster and faster.
On day two Maverick Vinales put in a fast time of a 1:28.847 and Marc Marquez and Cal Crutchlow followed him. It appears the Yamaha rider is feeling quite comfortable and confident around the Australian circuit. Maverick was the only rider to get in to the 1:28’s. The riders had two new front compounds to test which aims to provide more feedback and to warm up faster so that early crashes are avoided. Currently the general feedback from the teams and riders on the tyres is good. On the other hand it was an unfortunate second day start for Dani Pedrosa who was feeling ill and had to sit out for most of the day.
Andrea Iannone felt like the bike was behaving differently to Sepang. “I still don’t have 100% control of the machine; it’s only the second test, little by little. I need to understand how to attack the track to achieve a better lap time and how to best read the GSX-RR, but I believe this will come with time, after riding longer and longer.” On the other hand, Davide Brivio believes that his team must find inspiration in attacking the design side and aerodynamics of the MotoGP premier class in order to be more competitive. In 2017 the main concerns have been around winglets, aerodynamics for speed and control and how the bikes will react in different weather conditions. Suzuki has been very secretive about their bike set up and designs. No one wants to give away his or her secrets too easily although Yamaha were keen to showcase their hand whilst in Sepang. Yamaha put their fairing and internal winglets design in full view for the entire world to see whilst others wait until Qatar to debut theirs. On day two, Iannone worked on his pace. There were variations in regards to his set up, electronics, and fairings. The new fairings were debuted on the GSX-RR. The priority for the team is data and to determine how the fairings react in various conditions.
On the last day of testing Maverick put a dent in to the time sheets with a 1:28.549. Jorge Lorenzo commented on Maverick’s times. “He is very fast”. It is fair to say that most of the paddock did not see Vinales sky rocketing to the top so quickly. Movistar Yamaha has been able to test practically everything on their testing program. This is impressive and a leap forward as they look to charge for the title. No doubt Maverick if he was to race for the title tomorrow would be strong. “I think today with all the conditions, then yes. 101 laps is quite a lot. I think the bike is quite there but we still need to improve a little bit the electronics and braking points. I have to improve to. I need to better for the bike and more smooth. Sometimes I am too aggressive and I move the bike so that I cannot be as fast as I could be if I had 100% smooth and going on the line.”
Overall, it was a positive test for most riders and Australian rider Jack Miller feels as though progress is being made at last. He is fitter than ever and hungrier to succeed with his team. Jack did not crash once at Phillip Island during the test, which is very positive and also pumped in a lot of laps to ensure the data, was well received by his engineer and crew. Miller is ready to race and take on the field. It is a refreshing test for the Australian who won his first ever MotoGP Grand Prix in 2016. In terms of the rookies, Jonas Folger was in fine form and is definitely going to be one to watch. He is very talented and has already started showcasing qualities of a race winner and potential future Champion. The dedication from day one has been on display for the world to see. We look forward to watching Jonas blossom throughout the 2017 season. Next up is Qatar testing before the first race of the year kicks off on 23-26 March.