2012 MotoGP Sepang 1 Test Monday Pre-Test Round Up: Phoenix Unveiled, HRC's Launch, And New Tires For All

So the day that MotoGP fans have been waiting for throughout the long, dark, bikeless winter break has nearly arrived. In a few short hours time, the MotoGP bikes will be tearing up the track in Malaysia once again in preparation for the 2012 season. Indeed, all day Monday, a few MotoGP bikes - the cynics and naysayers would refute that the Aprilia CRT bike is a MotoGP bike, but they are wrong - have been howling round Valencia, but as that is a private test it has not impinged upon the consciousness of MotoGP fans as much as Sepang has. On Tuesday morning, the winter is officially, finally over.

A very great deal of the interest in the Sepang test has been focused on Ducati, a rather logical result of Valentino Rossi's dismal debut year with the iconic Italian brand. In the break between the Valencia test and tomorrow's test at Sepang, the Desmosedici GP12 has been redesigned from the ground up, Ducati Corse boss Filippo Preziosi claiming that the bike is 90% different, even though it would look strikingly similar to the bike labeled the "GP Zero" by the press at Valencia. To further stir the interest of the fans - as if they needed any stirring - Ducati then failed to display the bike at their traditional Wrooom! launch event in mid-January, leaving even more room for speculation and conjecture. Even a private test of the bike organized by Ducati Corse at Jerez went off without anyone managing to sneak any photos or information out to the ever-eager press.

But they cannot hide the bike any longer. The first picture of the redesigned GP12 was revealed - fittingly, given his role in pushing for the redesign - by Valentino Rossi himself on his Twitter page, and though the bike does indeed appear superficially similar, there are a number of key differences, some highly visible, others which can be inferred, despite being hidden behind fairings. For an overview, see the illustrations over on Italian site Motocorse.com, but to summarize, it's clear that much has changed. The shape of the chassis is clearly different, hinting that the engine itself has changed significantly. From the way the relationship between the swingarm pivot point, the top rear suspension mount and the upper spar of the twin spar chassis has changed, the engine is radically different.

The tank is another clue: the aluminium tank shown in the photo appears taller than the original GP12 tank, though the difference in color schemes between the painted red of last year's bike and the raw beaten aluminium of the GP12 can deceive the eye. The new tank sports two huge dents at the front, cutouts for the handlebars, suggesting that the space underneath the tank has been occupied by something that wasn't there last year. Given that the part generally labeled "tank" on a racing motorcycle usually does not contain any fuel - mostly, they are simply covers over the airbox, with the ECU located behind the airbox - any change in tank shape means that major changes have happened underneath the cover.

The real clue, however, is the pair of exhaust pipes peeping out below the swingarm mounting strut. On the GP Zero, those pipes were routed over the top of that strut, coming as they did from a relatively upright rear bank of cylinders. On the GP 12, they have been routed underneath the strut, suggesting that the rear bank of cylinders is at a much greater angle from the vertical than the former design. This fits in nicely with all of the rumors coming out of the Ducati factory - though very few and far between have they been - that the angle of the engine remains at 90°, but that the entire engine has been rotated backwards around the crankshaft, in much the same manner that the Panigale 1199 V-twin Superbike engine has been.

Putting two and two together - the exhaust routing, the higher, shorter tank, the altered chassis shape - it seems a safe bet to conclude that the engine has been rotated backwards, and probably by a significant amount. The trouble with speculative mathematics, of course, is that the result you get putting two and two together can end up being spectacularly wrong, if you don't know the precise values of two that you are working with.

Whether all of the work put in - and Ducati have crammed between two and three years of normal work into a period of just a few months - will pay off will only become apparent on Tuesday, when Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi put the bike through its paces for the first time. Lap times from Tuesday will not tell much of the story - the bike is brand new, and much work will be needed to ensure that everything is working correctly and to find a base setup - but the response of the riders to the bike should be telling. After the intense work put in all last year, and intensified over the winter, the word "Stakhanovite" springs to mind to describe the efforts of Ducati. Whether the rewards showered upon Comrade Aleksei Grigorevich Stakhanov will come also to Ducati remains to be seen.

Much will also depend on the tires. Ducati's biggest problem has been getting temperature into the tires, and almost all of the changes have been aimed at using the Bridgestone front better. To some extent, Bridgestone is meeting Ducati halfway, as the Japanese manufacturer is bringing their all-new 2012 tires to Sepang. The front uses a less stiff carcass than last year's tire, making it warm up much faster, and improving the feel, something that all of the riders complained about last year - though notably, Casey Stoner was cagey about wanting changes, fearing perhaps, like Mick Doohan before him, that he may lose the advantage he had over his competitors. In Doohan's case, it was being able to handle Honda's 500cc two-stroke screamer engine; in Stoner's, it is the ability to use the treacherous Bridgestone front better than anyone else. Bridgestone will be spending much time liaising with newly appointed Safety Officer Loris Capirossi, who has already been extremely outspoken about the tires.

While Ducati was generating most of the buzz, HRC held the official factory Repsol Honda team launch in Kuala Lumpur. Casey Stoner presented the #1 plate he will be using for 2012, and Stoner and teammate Dani Pedrosa faced answers from the press. The color scheme is virtually unchanged from 2011, with only the hardcore fans able to pick out the minor details. The chassis is changed slightly, revised in line with input from Stoner and Pedrosa at the Valencia test and tailored to their specific requests, and both men will be comparing the new bike to the Valencia bike to evaluate progress.

The engine of the RC213V - HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto was typically cagey about capacity, saying only that it was "larger than 800cc, smaller than 1000cc" - is listed as producing "more than 230hp" in Honda's press information, but given that press handouts typically understate horsepower by around 10%, the bike almost certainly is capable of producing 250hp. All that power will add to top speeds, Nakamoto revealing that the RC213V was topping out some 10 km/h faster at Valencia than the 800cc, which was managing 310 km/h in the hands of Casey Stoner. Controlling wheelies will be the biggest problem with the new bikes, but apart from that, both Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner reiterated that they expected the bikes to be similar in riding style to the old 800s, with the added torque meaning the bike required less revs.

But HRC's budget was larger this year than it was last, Nakamoto revealed, a natural result of the change in regulations. Nakamoto was also careful to point out that even something like the increased minimum weight - introduced in December last year - meant increased costs, as the already designed bike had to be modified to comply with the rules. Nakamoto also responded to questions from journalists about their interest in an all-CRT championship, which he estimated to be zero. Given that an all-CRT championship is not on the cards - only the factories can afford the sky-high salaries of the top 6 or 7 elite riders, and the factories need MotoGP to showcase their brand and their technology - HRC should remain in MotoGP for a while.

Yamaha, meanwhile, were operating in the shadow of both their rivals, though the Japanese factory did announce a new oil sponsor, JX Nippon, confirmation of the news leaked earlier in the year. Yamaha, too, have brought revised bikes to Sepang, modified based on the input of Ben Spies and Jorge Lorenzo over the winter. For Lorenzo, it will be the first time he has ridden a MotoGP bike since October, when the Spaniard crashed out of practice for the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island, losing the tip of his finger in the process. His finger is now healed, and Lorenzo has been training on dirt bikes - a dangerous pastime, given the injuries to Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden over the winter - and he should be quickly up to speed again.

How the injured Hayden and Dovizioso hold up will also be a factor. Both men are in Sepang, and both are aiming to ride. Hayden's fractured shoulder blade has healed well, and Dovizioso has a plate in his broken collarbone, but how well their respective injuries cope with the stresses and strains of a MotoGP bike - especially a heavier, more powerful MotoGP bike, that will be arriving at braking points at much higher speeds, a particular problem at Sepang, with two long straights followed by two sharp corners - remains to be seen.

At least we don't have very long to wait any more. Covers will come off, engines warmed up, and bikes rolled into pit lane in just a few short hours. The 2012 season gets underway properly tomorrow.

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It's just possible that on the Ducati the tank actually does hold gas. The rear cylinder of the 90 deg V was blocking the place most bikes store their fuel. Rotating the engine backwards wouldn't help either?

By my calculations they're almost half way through the first session. Anybody got any times to publish? Seems too quiet around the forum sites?

re: "The real clue, however, is the pair of exhaust pipes peeping out below the swingarm mounting strut. On the GP Zero, those pipes were routed over the top of that strut, coming as they did from a relatively upright rear bank of cylinders. On the GP 12, they have been routed underneath the strut, suggesting that the rear bank of cylinders is at a much greater angle from the vertical than the former design. This fits in nicely with all of the rumors coming out of the Ducati factory - though very few and far between have they been - that the angle of the engine remains at 90°, but that the entire engine has been rotated backwards around the crankshaft, in much the same manner that the Panigale 1199 V-twin Superbike engine has been."

i'm still saying nope. i wouldn't read too much into those pipes either dave. they are aren't routed much different than on that NCR millona special... and the millona has ZERO bracing in that area to dodge. again, the D16 was already rotated back from it's inception in '02 (relative to the twin). it is after all what gave preziosi the impetus for the monocoque design. and that mass of "ally" we're all looking at on the GP12...? yeah... that just threw 25 lbs (+/-) over the front end that wasn't there before so there'd really be no need to open that can of worms. not YET anyway and not with only 2 months at their disposal. frames are cheap. chasing performance and reliability on retooled engines is expensive... MEGA EXPENSIVE...! expensive in the context of this being the last year of rossi's contract of which he may not renew...? and expensive in the context of ezpelata's announcement of all CRT rules come 2013. that's 2 scenarios that threaten to piss away any and all monies spent by ducati and their sponsors this year. i could be wrong, but i can't see the "tiny factory that could" goin' there. sure, honda went "all in" to win the last year of 800's, but ducati's not going to go "all in" to win the last year of MotoGp. all in would see them in receivership.

There more info than just that. Take a look at this:


Compared to the bike at Valencia:


You can see that the head of the front cylinder bank isn't sticking through the radiators any more. Unless they made the bike longer, they had to have either closed the v angle or rotated the motor back. Taken with the pics of the exhaust, I think it is pretty definitive that they have rotated the motor.




And as to cost, I'd be willing to bet that Ducati spent more last year than Honda. They managed to gather a huge bankroll when they brought on Rossi from a lot of people who aren't willing to see them and Rossi go down easily.

A BIG thanks goes out to David and everyone that made a positive impact with their posts during the winter months. But we are finally back on the grids with motorcycle racing around the world! Honda will be strong - that's a given- this season while Ducati hopes to duplicate the kind of impact they had back in 2003. Rossi and Ducati need to come out of the box swinging hard yet precise with technical patience to get the GP12 in the battle with Honda and Yamaha. Yamaha, on the other-hand, may be the sleeping Dragons this year with their new machines. We will only truly see come Qatar. The 2012 season introduction of the CRTs reminds me of when the 500cc 2-strokes were on their way out the door. But this time, the CRTs are not even close to the level of speed & performance the 4-strokes demolished the 2-strokes with...

Does anyone else think the new GP12 looks like it has eerily similar proportions to the Yamaha? It might just be me.

...and appropriate description of the magnitude of work accomplished by Ducati Corse. Also interesting were the notes accompanying the Stakhanov article about how Stalin maximized the PR value of the Stakhanovites. Stalin certainly could influence people effectively. Too bad that said influence was largely accomplished by murdering three to five TIMES the number of people murdered by Hitler. Stakhanov deserved/was worthy of a better PR manager than that.

Let's hope that Ducati Corse actually gets some GOOD results from their toils.

Why are decent comments being low voted, yet ghostrider11, who says nothing (with all due respect) has 3 votes for 5 stars?

What is the point of this system? Downvote everyone except yourself? Is that how it works? It's useless IMO.

People asked for a voting system, so I gave them a voting system. How people then use that system to vote is another matter altogether. Mostly, the responses have been positive. Suggestions for improvement are more than welcome.

limiting the voting system to subscribers only would ensure more serious/less childish voting but that would seriously undermine its original purpose...I don't see any solution.

At the beginning the voting system was very useful to discover comments most worthy of reading in sometimes extensive discussions and a good system to "reward" the most constructive comments.
Then as most things gaining popularity on the net it got "perverted" by a few users who like better playing little games, spoiling it for the majority of readers.

That's a shame, I think the voting system is becoming more irrelevant everyday but that's not too important, I still love this website.

I was one of the people asking for a voting system, but I really just wanted a way to give a "Thumbs Up" to posts that I learned something from and greatly appreciated. I don't even think there needs to be a "thumbs down" option, it's just instead of creating filler posts by saying "I agree!" or "Hey that was a cool story, thanks!" just hit a lil thumbs-up icon with a counter.

Honestly, along with David's articles/thoughts, I learn a whole heck of a lot from the comments people leave with their insights, too, and I like being able to show gratitude.

If you only give "thumbs up" and no "thumbs down" option, then voting would be limited to "how many people did like this comment" without any possibility for people playing games to down vote just for the "fun" of it.
And when you don't like a comment you simply don't give thumbs up...maybe I'm being too naive but I like this idea.
It's less realistic and probably less representative than the actual system but it seems a good way to avoid its downside.

In the words of George W Bush "You're either with us, or against us" In MotoGP terms according to many in the cybersphere that means you either love or hate Valentino Rossi. You will be labelled one or the other. The voting system is used as an extension of that by many on here depending on which faction a poster is considered to come from. No room for naunce.

Personally I rate my low star ratings highly!

I truly adore Valetino, and love the ducati but all we seem to hear about is the plight of this pair. Yes 9 or 10 world championships for the italian laddie, a much loved underdog European brand and their combination is compelling stuff but.... we have a new class bike lining up for the first time, new riders and some of the fastest riders this planet has seen (even if they are aliens) on the less loved Japanese varietal. The Asian Century is dawning, soon you might find your watching a whole field of bikes and riders you've never seen before.

Seven of the first eight paragraphs were devoted to the prince... Please give food for others...

The big story over the off-season has been the epic work done by Ducati. That needs to be covered. I'm sure other stories will come to the front as the furore dies down, but for the moment, you'll have to grit your teeth and bear it.

And to make the point before you do, I have been accused of being both pro-Rossi and anti-Rossi, and pro-Stoner and anti-Stoner. And of ignoring Lorenzo altogether, as well as wildly exaggerating his ability. I think the balance is about right.

So has Yamaha not scored a title sponsor yet? their livery looks eerily vacant???

Also, did anyone else get that sinking feeling watching Vale coming through turn 11 at Sepang? Motogp.com, upon Rossis's pre-entry, was focused on the single bouquet of flowers where SuperSic passed and then caught up with Vale as he was in the turn. Too bad and it still makes me upset to see. I know it has been months but still upset at the reminder of a complete stranger's passing.