2012 Sepang 2 MotoGP Test Preview: Now, The Hard Graft Starts

Where the first MotoGP test at Sepang at the end of January was an emotionally-charged affair - returning to the Malaysian circuit for the first time since the tragic death of Marco Simoncelli, and with massive anticipation of the brand new GP12, designed and built in record tempo over the winter break - the second test there seems almost humdrum in comparison. With just four weeks between the first and second tests for the MotoGP class, there has been no time for radical changes to the bikes that rolled out here in January, the focus instead being on the hard grind of crunching the numbers on the massive quantities of data that are gathered at every test, analyzing and testing the setup of the new machines, and finding out exactly how to go fastest with the bikes.

But if the glamor of the first test is missing, these will be a far more telling and a far more important three days than the first run out of the year in January. The easy improvements, achieved by grinding off the rough edges of the machine, have been found, and now the teams will focus on polishing, polishing and more polishing, looking for hundredths where previously they sought tenths of a second. The data from this test will form the basis for the bikes in race trim.

There are those that argue that the Honda RC213V is pretty much already there. Over the three days of Sepang 1, improvement for the Honda was limited, with Casey Stoner only improving his time by1.3 seconds during the test. The fact that he was fastest on both of the two days he rode - he missed the first day with a back problem - and fastest by a comfortable margin, with only three other riders within a second of his best time says there is not much wrong with the Honda, or with Stoner's form, given that he was not 100% recovered from the seized muscle in his back.

The Hondas do have one problem, however. With the introduction of the 2012 Bridgestone tires came improved grip and faster warm up, just as the riders had asked for. But along with the grip came a different problem, a large amount of chatter in the rear tire, the back wheel vibrating heavily, especially under braking for corner entry and into mid corner. The problem has affected the Hondas badly, but not just them: Yamaha riders Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies also complained of chatter at Sepang 1, as did Colin Edwards on the NGM Forward Racing Suter BMW, who said the chatter was costing him at least a second a lap.

The problem is severely vexing, as the cause is complicated to pinpoint and even more difficult to solve. There are many approaches which can by attempted - suspension settings, modifying the stiffness and flexibility of the chassis and swingarm, bike geometry, tire pressures, and even something as seemingly simple as chain length and tension - and hitting on exactly the right combination of factors to solve the problem is extraordinarily difficult. Both Yamaha and Honda brought modified chassis to the Sepang 1 test, but neither of those solved the problem. Honda's main focus, HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto told the British publication MCN, was fixing the chatter ahead of the first race at Qatar.

Beyond the problem with chatter, the Honda is more or less ready to race, and right on target in terms of development. While not quite where the Honda is, Yamaha's M1 is much closer to their main rivals than they were in 2011. Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies had pronounced themselves happy with developments over the winter, complaining mainly of a certain amount of aggressiveness in the throttle response. Over in the Tech 3 satellite team, both Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso were asking for more rear grip, to get out of the corners faster. Electronics will the main focus of the Yamaha team, working on anti-wheelie strategies, throttle response and drive, along with looking for solutions to the ubiquitous chatter caused by the 2012 Bridgestone tires.

For Ducati, this test will be vital, as the brand new bike gets just its second run out. The good news for the Italian factory was that the main goal of the redesign (rotating the engine backwards, so the front cylinder bank is more upright, and lifting the engine up) had been achieved; the front end now provides the feedback that Valentino Rossi requires to go fast, the crucial element that was missing all last year. The bike responds to adjustments in the way that Rossi, his veteran crew chief Jeremy Burgess and the rest of his pit crew expect. It is a good basis from which to start.

But there is still some way to go before the bike is ready to race. Rossi complained of a lack of grip at the rear, with the back of the bike suffering serious pumping on corner exit. Ironically, this is one of the issues the team solved with the introduction of the GP11.1 mid-way through 2011, but it is easier to ride around rear pumping than it is to sort out a lack of grip at the front.

Solutions could well be at hand. At the MotoGP CRT test in Jerez last week, Ducati test rider Franco Battaini spent most of the three days working on electronics strategies, performing numerous test starts and working on solutions for both corner entry and corner exit. Afterwards, Ducati pronounced the tests extremely fruitful, and will be bringing a new software package built using the data from that test to Sepang for Rossi and fellow factory Ducati rider Nicky Hayden to test.

The satellite Ducati riders also benefited from some extra testing last week, though in the case of Karel Abraham, that test proved to be a double-edged sword. Both Abraham and Hector Barbera got to spend more time on the satellite version of the Ducati Desmosedici - currently dubbed the GP Zero, based as it is on the aluminium twin spar chassis debuted at Valencia in November last year - after Nicky Hayden was forced to miss the test to have surgery on his shoulder. But Abraham also crashed heavily at Jerez, damaging his shoulder in the incident. Just how fit Abraham will be remains to be seen.

Abraham is joined in sick bay by Nicky Hayden, the American deciding to have surgery to repair some of the damage done to his shoulder in a training crash shortly after Christmas after suffering badly at the Sepang 1 test at the end of January. The surgery repaired some cartilage and should have solved his problem, but it may still be a little early for Hayden to be back to full fitness.

For Andrea Dovizioso, this second test should be easier, his collarbone now nearly back to full strength. The Italian had broken his collarbone whilst riding a motocross bike three weeks before the Sepang test, and although he had the bone plated as soon as possible, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider complained of a lack of strength in his right shoulder, meaning he was losing several tenths a lap in the right-hand corners around the Sepang circuit. With a fit Dovizioso, and the satellite Yamahas very close in spec to the factory bikes - as Cal Crutchlow proved with some very impressive times last time out - the gap to the factory machines should be much reduced this test.

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David, have you ever written (or can you point me to somewhere that has) an article about Bridgestones testing process?
When and where they do it, who rides the test mules? How they come up with a tyre that gives everyone chatter?

Since the introduction of the spec tire, tire testing has wound right down. At the moment, development is done based on the data collected from the MotoGP tests and races, with testing done during the tests themselves. At Estoril and Brno last year, factory riders were given some new tires to test, and the feedback from those went into creating the 2012 tires.

The problem right now is that the single tire rule has meant that bikes are designed entirely around the characteristics of the tires. If the tires change - and they had to, in response to safety concerns, after a number of high-profile high sides which saw riders seriously injured - then suddenly, there is a mismatch between the chassis, swingarm, wheel and suspension stiffness and the tires, and strange problems such as chatter appear. It is almost inevitable, and has more to do with the single tire rule than a lack of testing.

Sepang was the first time the riders got to ride with the full 2012 tires, so it is natural that this was the place that problems would start to appear. With the new tire spec fixed, the factories now have to go away and match their chassis to the new tire again.

David, do you know what tyres Franco Battaini and Carlos Checa used in January when the took the Duke out for the 1st time this year?

Much anticipation on that level. Good summation David. Nothing was cast in stone after Sepang 1, but this test is going to shine a light as to 2012 full prototype potential with the usual suspects twisting the grip whilst assaulting the lap times. Lap times ? Indeed yes ! Many resort to 'its only testing' outcries year in and year out, 'don't pay too much mind'. Not so ! They will all be testing everything from the womb to the tomb in terms of elapsed time for qualifying and race distance.
No matter what,the GP Season gets underway in a short 6 weeks time.
Failure by any outfit to be on the pace by Thursday will probably exacerbate the situation by the time they get to Jerez, and Qatar will see them on the backfoot immediately barring weather and misfortune.

I don't wish to venture down that road. Suffice it to say that Valentino is as closely associated with their testing/development direction as he was with Michelin back then. I can't quote you chapter and verse,but it was well publicised around 2009/10.
As for the rest,Bridgestone have a host of local 'test mules' running this and that collected off data passed on by all the teams/riders race in and race out. I enjoy reading their post race summaries. Generally they have done a great job, since the forgetable Mugello/Nakano/Kawasaki/337km/hr wipeout.

Ducati and VR46 need to be ready more than Honda or Yamaha. No complaining of the tires either since Rossi is Bridgestone's ambassador, testing and marketing guy. Ducati knows that the electronics are their weakest link so far since the tires were secretively developed for VR/Ducati! MotoGP/Carmelo needs Rossi to be up front racing for wins to mask the CRT ups and downs during this year's transitions. In any event, Rossi will have most of the headlines regardless of where he finishes in Qatar.

"Rossi is Bridgestone's ambassador, testing and marketing guy"

can you please expand on this. maybe provide a source or two. something to make it sound at least partially credible.


A Marketing Service Agreement was signed between Rossi and Bridgestone Europe in February 2011. Under the agreement, Valentino Rossi and Bridgestone will work together to promote the passion of motorcycling to end users and enthusiasts throughout Europe. Rossi will act alone as a professional rider; his MotoGP team and sponsors are not involved in the deal.

Rossi’s role will include his evaluation and opinions as an Adviser on the performance of Bridgestone motorcycle tyres, particularly in the hyper sport, racing and sport touring sectors. Bridgestone in turn will use his input in tyre development to deliver road tyres with better performance and improved safety margins.

“Valentino Rossi is a great ambassador for our company” said Takashi Tomioka, SVP Sales & Marketing, Bridgestone Europe. “By having advice and recommendations of the greatest motorcycle competitor of all time, we will ensure that we bring the best new Battlax tyres to the market”.

Bridgestone entered MotoGP in 2002 and riders using Bridgestone tyres stood on the podium in the second season and took the chequered flag twice in 2004. After steadily expanding its team portfolio, the first World Championship title on Bridgestone tyres came in 2007 and then again, with Valentino Rossi and the Fiat Yamaha team in 2008. In 2009 Bridgestone became the first Official Tyre Supplier to the MotoGP World Championship.

Press release courtesy of Bridgestone Europe

From conversations I have had with Bridgestone people last year, the relationship has nothing to do with racing. Rossi is being involved mainly as a marketing asset, but he also has some input as an advisor for their street tires. This, I was told very pointedly, had nothing to do with racing whatsoever, his input - though highly appreciated - was sought on and applied to road tires only.

His value as a marketing asset diminishes each race he's off the podium. Its in Bridgestone's best interest to assist the Most Marketable Of All Time to get back on the podium. They'll do it on the sly, but they will do it. They won't be the first company to say one thing and do another.

EDIT: And as far as technical advice for road tyres, what could he possibly contribute more than "Make them better". I doubt he'll ever do a lap on a worn touring tyre, or street/sport tyre. Rossi being the darling of the motorcycling media surely we would have had a press release about a test, or at least "leaked" YouTube video.

Also, I have not seen one Bridgestone + Rossi ad in any magazine or online since this press release.

By the process of elimination, I think Bridgestone have made it clear what they plan to do with Valentino's input.

given he is one of the most recognizable athletes in Europe; one of the highest paid athletes in world sports; and the against the backdrop of a 9 Times World Champion, I think it safe to say that the brand-conscious marketing executives within Bridgestone are well aware that Rossi will help them sell some tires.

Now you went and made me sound like a "fan boy"!!!!

I have seen adverts throughout the UK motorcycling press. The one that springs to mind is Rossi painting the kerbs of a corner on the road.

Please move along. Its only a top rider contracted to give technical advice to one of the spec equipment providers. Completely fair, transparent, etc, etc, etc.


Please let us in on the secrets and your sources otherwise this is silly conjecture. In the days of tire competition that may well be true as it would be a part developed for a particular sponsored team and lead rider. Today with the control tires that would be something that could only hurt Bridgestone as an international tire maker in effect ruining their reputation which is a major reason they even participate. It would also seriously smear the entire series. I'm sure Dorna, the other manufacturers, the teams, and the riders are very keen to such espionage. Not saying entirely impossible but the biggest parties involved have a lot more to lose from such a thing than gain. Bridgestone, MotoGP, and Ducati will be around long after Rossi retires. I say flawed theory here.

If Rossi starts winning races, even if he doesn't win a championship, it would only still further cement his reputation as GOAT. Stoner is currently in a different dimension than the rest of the paddock, and will be a hard man to beat though. Lorenzo is in top form as usual and I expect him to win races. I also believe Ben Spies will be a championship contender in the 2012 season, winning races. Pedrosa is always there, too if he doesn't fall and break himself. I keep wondering how Hayden will go, he's always a dark horse.

Can't wait to see what a sorted mid-season CRT can do at Laguna Seca, later this year...

so dark as to be almost invisible since winning the 2006 title.

If Rossi wins 2012 this would cement his GOAT status? If he wins 2012 it may plaster over some mighty big cracks in his reputation from 2011. I can't see anything concrete though.

This whole GOAT thing is silly. I'd like to plaster over the entire notion. Ain't no racing in the past. There's only right now. The outright numbers say Ago though despite whatever our personal faves are.

Rossi's reputation as the GOAT? Very debatable, contentious and unproveable. It is impossible to ever say if Rossi is better than Agostini, Hailwood etc. We can't even agree if Rossi is as good as Stoner right now, and they are racing against each other in the same era. How can Rossi be the GOAT if Stoner was the better rider in the 800 era?

I can see Rossi winning the occasional race, but how that does anything to enhance his reputation I don't know. The Ducati has had to be completely redesigned for him. Maybe he will recover something of what he lost in the disastrous 2011 season. In the highly unlikely event that he wins the world championship it would certainly enhance his reputation, but that's purely speculative at this point in time.

In other words good lap times are conclusive of direction and progress. Erratic or off pace lap times are inconclusive as these are tests. No one knows the focus of individual runs or entire sessions. This is true for all tests but more so for the earlier ones and less so for the ones closer to 1st race. I imagine the difference in times between Sepang 1 and Qatar race weekend will be inversely proportional to maturity of design. The Honda and Yamaha will be working on hundreths; the Ducati, tenths; the CRT,seconds.

It's a new formula so I'm sure there will be good developments all season long. With Ducati & the CRTs though I think it will be a season of testing while racing. I've a hunch though that Ducati will have the season this year they hoped for last year. Positive progress if not outright competition with the other factory machines.

If a rider does not set good times during a test that is pretty indicative that he can't with the current equipment. The whole point of testing is to see how fast you can go with the supplied parts. Yes, you may be testing various swingarms, electronics, settings, etc, but they are all in search of setting a faster lap time.

Most handling, tire wear, and fuel use problems only occur at race pace. The only reason to not be lapping at race pace during a test is an inability to do so.


I simply restated what the article points out another way. Test times are a snapshot of the development scene. Some bikes are much further along in development than others. They are closer to getting base setups and refining things. Basically closer to race ready. Others like the new Ducati and CRT's have almost zilch for data or team/rider experience on track. We can read deep enough but don't read too deeply into test times. That is all. No need for anyone to get excited or worried yet. The teams and riders aren't.

David, as a friend of mine asked you a couple of days ago on Twitter, and you confirmed, this one tyre rule is escalating costs. Quite a lot from what I can see. In these times when Dorna are looking to reduce costs via CRT, does it not make more sense to get rid of the one tyre manufacturer rule?

Also, I don't understand why if the teams gave feedback on last years tyres in order to help develop THIS years tyres, how does that help anyone out THIS year?? Every teams now got 200cc more, and that can only change the handling characteristics of the tyre that's been developed? And, all the work every teams put in end of last season, and indeed the testing so far is all fairly moot isn't it?

I have to say, the way Bridgestone are going about developing tyres, leaves me a little puzzled to say the least..

Didn't think the GOAT comment would be such an issue. No one is saying he's unbeatable, just based on his achievements he has a pretty good argument for that title.

It also seems to be the opinion of most of the guys who have ridden with him on track, soooo...

Responses to the usual place please.

Deleted? Oh well, and rightly so I guess, I was being a bit of smarty.

Please accept my apologies David.