2012 Jerez MotoGP Friday Round Up: Of Weather, Tires, and Why the Ducati Works in the Wet

There were plenty of big names to watch out for at Jerez, but the real star of the show was the weather. She turned out to be such a prima donna that she almost completely halted on-track action for the first session of MotoGP, though not so much through her ferocity as by her fickleness. A rain shower at the end of the previous Moto3 made the track just greasy enough for it to be no use for slick tires, and nowhere near wet enough to get any useful information from wets, and so the vast majority of the MotoGP grid spent all of FP1 suited up but twiddling their thumbs.

A few brave souls did venture out - 9 of the 21 MotoGP riders eventually set a time - but for most, it was little more than a quick lap to test wet settings once the rain started falling in earnest. With the afternoon session taking place on a much wetter track, the CRT bikes took their very first scalp. Ivan Silva, riding a Kawasaki-powered Avintia Blusens bike topped the combined timesheets from both sessions of practice, though the place was more a reflection of the amount of work Silva and his team had to do rather than his natural pace in the wet. Silva has a new chassis to test at Jerez, a combined carbon fiber/aluminium hybrid built by Inmotec and based on their Moto2 bike, a chassis that won a race - admittedly in a downpour - in the Spanish CEV championship last year. Jerez is the first shakedown for the chassis, and so Silva had plenty of reason to be out, whatever the weather. After setting the fastest lap of the day on the FTR chassis, focus switched to the Inmotec, which obviously is in need of a lot more work.

The afternoon session was a little more ordinary, though the weather still played a significant role. Practice started wet, but the track started to dry out relatively quickly, causing huge problems for the tires, though times were a long way from record pace. But at the end of FP2, it was Dani Pedrosa who nabbed the fastest time, the Repsol Honda man the rider who complained least about tires. Ducati's Valentino Rossi took second - yes, you read that right, again more of which anon - finishing ahead of Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner, with the second Ducati of Nicky Hayden in 5th.

Monster Tech 3 Yamaha's Cal Crutchlow had a simple explanation for Pedrosa's speed: "he's lighter than everyone else, so he's not loading the tires as much, and they're lasting much better. He'll be lapping riders pretty quickly." Pedrosa was also concerned about tire wear, though his worries were more about the front, but his comments were merely part of a massive chorus of disapproval about the tires and the way they were being destroyed within three or four laps - or just one lap, if you put your mind to it, according to Andrea Dovizioso.

Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Andrea Dovizioso; everyone you spoke to said the same thing: in the half-wet, half-dry conditions that have prevailed at Jerez - a mirror image of what happened last year - the wet tires started spinning, getting way too hot and shedding their tread as a result. Despite switching to a harder compound for the wets, the result was the same, tires that destroyed themselves in just a few laps.

That a Bridgestone rain tire should destroy itself so quickly comes as something as a surprise. In the early days of competing in MotoGP, Bridgestone sent test riders out on rain tires to ride on a fully dry track, to find out how long the tire would last before it was destroyed. Casey Stoner was adamant that the older generation of Bridgestone rain tires were indeed much better when the track started to dry. "With the old Bridgestones, we used to get movement in the tire, but it would stay together," Stoner said. The new tires were the opposite, much more stable, but they were tearing themselves apart within four laps.

Jorge Lorenzo's displeasure was visible even on the TV screens: at the end of FP2, Lorenzo stormed to the back of the garage, angry at the rate of tire wear and the inability of his crew to find a solution. The tire dropped off too much and too quickly, he said, and this was something they had to fix.

That, however, may well prove to be impossible. Though he too was disappointed by the rate at which the tires destroyed themselves, Andrea Dovizioso regarded it as inevitable. "It's impossible to make a tire for these conditions," the Italian said. Rain tires are never going to last once the track starts to dry.

Several journalists raised the question of intermediate tires, but here opinion was split. Casey Stoner dismissed the idea out of hand, saying that he had never found a use for intermediate tires, preferring to run either full wets or chance it on a slick. Cal Crutchlow, however, viewed it differently: if conditions were to be anything like they were on Friday, then his preference would be to start on an intermediate, and hope that it would last the difference. With intermediates having been banned since the introduction of the single tire rule, Crutchlow would instead choose to start on a rain tire, and then pit early and gamble on it staying dry enough to use slicks. With the tires dropping off so quickly, matching the times of a destroyed wet with a slick on a damp track should be easily possible.

While the general tone among most of the riders was one of irritation, the mood in the Ducati garage - or at least, Rossi's side of the garage - was very different indeed. The Italian was, if not delighted, then at least very pleased with his 2nd spot, and his result had reawakened a belief that he could be competitive in the wet. After 18 months of looking tentative on the bike, at Jerez, Rossi at last showed some aggression, pushing the bike hard and looking for the first time like he was really trying. No doubt his outburst of frustration on Italian TV had relieved some of the tension for Rossi, and imbued him with a new sense of purpose. Watching him ride, it certainly looked like it.

Rossi has his sights set on a podium, which he believes is entirely possible if it is wet. Teammate Nicky Hayden even described the Ducati as "the best bike in the wet" and that was an opinion share by Valentino Rossi. The session today had confirmed what Ducati had hoped for the new bike: that it would be as good in the wet as the GP11 was, and that had given Rossi heart.

The problem is, though, that Ducati do not understand exactly why they are so fast in the wet, while they continue to struggle in the dry. Both Hayden and Rossi were mystified, though Rossi explained that when the bike had the carbon fiber chassis, they believed that it was the stiffness of the chassis that actually helped. "Our chassis was too stiff in the dry," Rossi said, "but in the wet, all the chassis are too stiff." The theory was that the very stiffness of the chassis helped work the tires harder, making them warm up quicker and providing better grip. The problem with this theory, Rossi acknowledged, was that the same thing happened with the aluminium monocoque chassis that had replaced the carbon fiber at Aragon last year, and the aluminium twin spar chassis currently housing the Desmosedici GP12 also showed the same behavior.

It appears that Ducati do not have an adequate explanation for why their bike works in the wet but not in the dry, but a process of deduction points to a number of possible candidates. Firstly, what is clear is that the style of chassis is frankly irrelevant; the bike behaved the same with the CF chassis as it did with aluminium, and both the monocoque and full twin spar showed the same tendency to run wide and not give feedback. Rolling the engine back so that the V is at 45 degrees to the horizontal has helped, at least in terms of easier setup and the bike responding to changes as expected, but the GP12 still runs wide, and it still won't turn the way the riders want it too.

The response to rolling the engine back is a positive aspect, but the real benefit would come from having a narrower V angle. A tighter, more compact engine would produce a better weight distribution, and allow Ducati to put more weight over the front wheel without compromising rake or trail.

The other problem is clearly one of power delivery. The engine is too aggressive, and this makes managing the throttle through the corners quite a handful. Too much electronic intervention is required to tame the power delivery, and this is interfering with the connection between the rider's right wrist and the power at the back wheel. The reason the bike improves massively in the wet is because the engine never really gets into its power band, the bike spinning up well before the engine turns vicious. Andrea Dovizioso put it very well, when he said "the best riders in the wet are the ones that use the least throttle." Gentle, smooth, coaxing the bike forward is the way to go in the wet. Once the track dries, and the wet mapping cutting power by 20-odd percent is replaced with the full-fat fire-breathing one, the bike once again becomes unmanageable.

Ducati's savior may come in the unlikely form of Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta. Ezpeleta is determined to push through a rev limit - looking increasingly like it will be set even lower than expected, at 14,500rpm, rather than 15,000 - and such a rev limit will terminate Ducati's wild goose chase for power. Filippo Preziosi seems to believe that Ducati's strength lies in exploiting the advantages of the desmodromic system to create more power at high revs, while all of the riders say that the engine is already too powerful and too aggressive. A lower rev limit will force Ducati to create an engine with a wider powerband, while still benefiting from the lower power losses of the desmodromic valves when compared to a conventional spring. If Carmelo Ezpeleta gets his way - and he will, you can be sure of that - then he may just turn out to be the reason that Valentino Rossi returns to winning ways. Dorna have long been accused of manipulating the series to favor Rossi, but in this case, the Italian could well be the unwitting beneficiary of a rule aimed at something completely different.

What the weather really will do on Saturday and Sunday remains to be seen. More rain is expected, but the forecast is changing from hour to hour. What the riders really want is for the race to be either completely wet or completely dry, but knowing MotoGP's luck with weather, it's going to be very much neither fish nor flesh. Which should at least make for a very entertaining race.

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Conditions like this cry out for a return to legality of the "cut slick" which is simply a slick (duh) with grooves hand-cut with a special tool.

Ahem, "Assen", ahem.

Seems to me like Pirelli-Bridgestone should swap WSB-MotoGP since apparently Pirelli know how to make a choice of tyres that work on a drying track.

What I find strange with ducatis (and to a lesser extent hondas) gp bike is how much of an antithesis it is to their road bikes, which are renowned for their rock-solid front ends and smooth tractable power delivery.
Why did they abandon that ethos?

@ ed. Yes, it's illegal to use cut slicks because when you have a 5 million euro bike it makes a lot of sense to save money on those pesky tires.

I don't get it!!!

If the race turns out to be 'half wet' and they don't have a tyre for the conditions it will turn out to be an unmitigated disaster for everyone concerned. "Irritation" doesn't seem an adequate response.

I hope I'm wrong, or that nature will ride to the rescue with a Full Wet or a Full Dry race.

Maybe it's time to apply a reality check on the journalist-engineering on the Ducati:

1. If the issue was getting weight on the front, they would have had the engine further forward in the GP11: Prezioso pointed out there was still plenty of space, and anyone can check the photos. Same for the GP12, with the engine completely behind the radiator. None of the other bikes have the engine jammed up against the front wheel either, even though many journalists describe the Yamaha that way. I presume they are so comfortable in their knowledge that they haven't looked at the photos. And for that matter, do you really think all the bikes would have the fuel tank under the seat if they were chasing a front bias?
The game has changed: with the huge rear tyres needed to use the excess hp, it makes more sense to get the weight back a bit and get the load onto the rear. There is also the benefit of being able to brake harder.

2. Closing the v-angle from 90° to 70° would move the heads about 40-50mm closer together. So there would be a very slightly more compact mass distribution (remember the 20kg of wheel, suspension and tyre hanging at each end of the bike... relatively, it's a tiny effect). However, let's hypothesise that's what makes all the difference between a Honda and a Ducati. In which case, the difference between the Honda and the Yamaha should by 5 times as great, no? Yet strangely, the Honda and Yamaha appear to be on almost the same level, despite the far more compact Yamaha engine.

So could we at least speculate about something credible? How about this: a narrow-V engine and an inline-4 with a cross-plane crank have one thing in common: imperfect balance. That could potentially be fixed with a balance shaft, which if it was gear-driven off the crank would be counter rotating. So it would cancel some of the effect of crank inertia when closing the throttle going into corners, or opening it coming out...

Interesting post. My thoughts:

1. Under braking, the front wheel on the Ducati was almost hitting the cylinder head. There have been reports of rubber marks on the cylinders during the 990 days, which is why they raised the angle at first from a few degrees to about 17 degrees. If you see the Yamaha with its fairings off, the engine is at the front of the frame, and you can see the mass is also mostly forward.

2. The angle between the V doesn't just move the cylinder heads together, it moves everything else together as well. The fuel tank can be located further forward or lower down, there is more room to locate the airbox. The extra space gained - even if it is small - allows lots of other bits and pieces to be moved closer together. It is about mass centralization of ALL the components, not just the cylinder heads.

That's not to say that there are not also other benefits, such as a counter-rotating balance shaft, which may well help. But mass centralization is very important as well.

David, the 990 was almost 6 years ago... and the head to tyre contact was due to an under-spec frame design.

Here is the GP11:


And here is Crutchlow's M1. Look where the pipes are through the fairing vent. For that matter, just look where the clutch is: unless they have primary drive gears the size of dinner plates, the crank is not far forward:


Then I remake the point re Honda vs Yamaha: if 70° is a different world to 90°, how can 70° compete with 0°?

Finally, let's not write off the frame issue yet. It seems that because Ducati have built two alloy beam frames, they've tried everything in the world of alloy frame design. Ask Colin Edwards about the difference between different alloy beam frames... or all the Moto 2 teams who are jumping from FTR to Kalex. If it took Honda 5 frames to get the 2009 RCV working, and Suter built 10 (??) different M2 frames last year, it would be remarkable that Ducati built the best frame possible in two tries (in fact one, with the current engine config).

re: "It is about mass centralization of ALL the components, not just the cylinder heads."

believe it or not, there's such a thing as TOO MUCH mass centralization. sure "mass centralization" is a nice catch phrase that's been bandied about in the past decade, but there can be too much of good thing. i here/tell this is the mistake honda made early on with the 213. only after they relaxed their stance did the bike come good. with it's undertail pipes, bulked up SSA, top side fuel load and wide angle V, there hasn't been anything remotely "mass central" about a ducati superbike in 20 years. so it begs the question... "how important is mass centralization again"...?

First, this tyre issue. If the teams were as professional as they like to believe, they would have quick-change wheels etc and be ready to switch to wets/dries when the rider thought it was appropriate. They would need to run steel discs on both sets of wheels; on slicks on a drying track, carbon brakes would not be needed. The gains you'd get from going to slicks when a hint of a dry line appeared would be massive. But I cannot understand why on earth the rules forbid intermediates. Cut slicks should certainly be an option.

Now to the Ducati. Forget this chassis material nonsense and forget all this 'weight bias' baloney. They have the steering axis in the wrong place. The 1198 is a paragon of virtue in terms of front-end stability and it has a 90 degree V-twin engine - much bulkier than a compact 90 degree V4. Remember when Carlos Checa rode those awful Yamaha 500s - you know, the ones that tucked the front and folded at the merest provocation? He crashed so much he was ridiculed. Now he rarely crashes. When asked the secret of his success on the Ducati Superbike, he said "because with this bike, I can put it where I like and know the front will always stick."

The 1198 is around 775mm from steering axis to swing-arm pivot and it has a SHORT swing-arm. Stoner got his team to push the rear axle forward at Aragon in 2010, set pole and won his first race of that season. The race time is still the race record. And that was on the carbon-fibre monocoque Ducati. And Hayden also made the podium there.

Think chassis GEOMETRY - not material or 'weight bias'.

When was the last time you saw a team using a set of scales to set-up their bike?

re: "Stoner got his team to push the rear axle forward at Aragon in 2010"

and here i was thinking i was the only one who remembered this. and if i'm not mistaken, they either picked this lil' set-up revelation only after seeing rossi/burgess do this with effect on the M1...? or yamaha started doing it as well after corse began doing it...? not sure the order, but this new philosophy is actually being implemented in both camps.

a man in the know. Great final point too. Let's not forget the most adjustable part of all though, 60-70kg of rider on top who can place his weight anywhere (relatively speaking) during the various dynamic movements involved in racing a motorcycle.

A recent article by Neil Spalding on the D16 vee angle in MCN Sport - the annual preview of the upcoming season - was disappointingly high on hyperbole and low on common sense detail as Graham describes.