Defective Tire Or Set Up Error: Why Did Jorge Lorenzo Struggle At Le Mans?

Jorge Lorenzo's disappointing performance at the French Grand Prix at Le Mans has been the cause of some debate. The factory Yamaha man finished a lowly seventh, his worst finish (other than DNFs) since his rookie season in 2008, and finishing off the podium for the first time since Indianapolis in 2011. To say this was an uncharacteristic performance from Lorenzo is something of an understatement.

So what went wrong? Immediately after the race, Lorenzo made it clear that he believed the problem was with his rear tire. He had had no grip whatsoever, and been unable to get any drive from his rear tire. He told the press afterwards that the only logical explanation he could think of for his problems was a defective rear tire. Lorenzo had been fast in the morning warm up, though it was a little drier then, and the set up used was very similar to then. In 2012, Lorenzo had won at Le Mans by a huge margin, so he could not understand why he was struggling so badly in France.

Bridgestone naturally denied there had been a problem with Lorenzo's tire. After the race Bridgestone officials told the press that they had examined the tire together with Yamaha engineers and found nothing wrong with it. In their customary post-race press release, Bridgestone's Motorsport Tyre Development Manager Shinji Aoki reiterated this stance. "As is always the case in these situations, his engineer thoroughly examined Jorge’s race tyres which were found to be in good working condition," he is quoted in the press release as saying. "In addition, I examined the tyre myself and personally discussed the matter with the Yamaha engineers and we all agreed that Jorge’s lack of rear grip was not attributable to his tyre."

What do we know ourselves? Though nobody is saying anything other than official statements, there are still some clues we can piece together from the data available. The key fact is visible from the race footage, available to those with a video pass on the official MotoGP website.

Jorge Lorenzo rides the sighting lap using the harder of the two wet compounds on his front tire. The hard front is clearly visible at the point 1'43 in the footage (from here on in, all times will refer to this official footage), as it is the tire without the white banding on the sidewall. The white stripe on the sidewall is used by Bridgestone to signify that that particular tire is the softer of the two compounds available.

Lorenzo arrives at his grid slot 30 seconds later, and engages in a hurried discussion with his crew. He clearly asks for changes to be made, for at 2'32, Lorenzo's crew chief Ramon Forcada points at the front tire. A few seconds later, Lorenzo can be seen explaining a problem with the bike to a member of his crew (the team member has his back to the camera). Lorenzo's body language is clear, showing the front tucking, and the front wheel shaking. He appears to be indicating that he has a problem with grip at the front of the bike. A flurry of activity follows, as his crew begins to work on the bike.

On the basis of this advice, his crew decide to change the front tire for the softer option. This is borne out both by the tire selection sheet issued by Bridgestone after every race, and also by footage from the race. At the 22'14 mark in the footage, as the riders rounded the double right-hander at Raccordement at the end of the second lap, the footage shows a shot of Lorenzo's front wheel, in which the white stripe is clearly visible.

It seems a reasonable hypothesis to believe that the front tire swap was accompanied by a set up change, altering the balance of the bike to exploit the grip of the softer front tire. Whether or not they reverted completely to the settings used in the morning warm up when the track temperature was lower, and Lorenzo used the same tire combination, is unknown, Lorenzo only saying that the set up was "almost identical" to the set up used in the morning, with "slightly softer rear suspension". 

But with neither Yamaha nor Bridgestone finding a problem with the tire, it seems safe to assume that it was this set up change which left Lorenzo without any grip. If a rider comes in from the sighting lap saying he has no grip on the front, then the natural reaction is to move the weight forward or lift the rear of the bike to put more weight on the front tire. Putting more weight on the front logically means you have less weight on the rear, and that results in less grip at the rear. That can be solved with suspension changes, but making those changes on the grid after the sighting lap gives you no chance to test that you got them right. In such difficult circumstances, with grip already lacking, a small miscalculation can have major consequences.

Logically examining the situation, it seems that the problem with Lorenzo's bike was not down to a defective rear tire. This conclusion would appear to be supported by Lorenzo himself, as the Spaniard deleted a couple of tweets on Sunday night, which he had posted earlier, and in which he suggested his rear tire was to blame. Was this an error by Lorenzo's crew? Arguably, but given the circumstances, such errors are easily made and impossible to rectify. Lorenzo made the best of a mediocre set up, coming home in seventh, but more importantly, coming home in one piece, and with a healthy 9 points scored.

The season is still long, though Lorenzo's deficit to Pedrosa of 17 points is larger than he would like. His poor result at Le Mans would appear to be just bad luck, one of those things that happens in racing. Ironically, for the second race in succession, Lorenzo has lost points due to what might be regarded as 'a racing incident'.

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Just an understandable error from having to rush a change on the grid and a very plausible explanation to the inexplicable!

I'm quite sure JL will be right up there and challenging for more wins this year.

A logical explanation based in a real-world understanding of how racing works. I love this site. Thank you!

Although, come on, we all know what really happened:

Carmelo leaned on Bridgestone to give Lorenzo a bum front tire, hoping that the crew would make a hurried last-minute change on the grid and screw up the setup, thus dropping Jorge down the order and elevating Rossi up the finishing order, thus driving up television viewership numbers and increasing Dorna revenues. But Yamaha mis-translated the secret orders from Dorna that are transmitted through the special factory M1 ECU and put the settings intended for Rossi onto Crutchlow's machine. How furious Rossi must have been when he crashed, because he believed that the secret front ABS system had been programmed by Dorna to allow him to brake where he did without crashing. Cal, on the other hand, was trying desperately to crash out and earn his secret "Move Rossi Up The Finishing Order" bonus that comes directly from Yamaha Japan and that Herve doesn't know about, but couldn't, because his bike - unbeknownst to him - had been accidentally fitted with the special Rossi non-crashing ABS system and settings.

I can't believe you missed this story, David.

You are hilarious!

"Cal, on the other hand, was trying desperately to crash out and earn his secret "Move Rossi Up The Finishing Order" bonus that comes directly from Yamaha Japan"

Not just that statement, almost the whole thing you wrote. Lol!

Great article David. As always.

This is probably the funniest comment here since I read this site!
Its also the compressed knowledge of the whole season so far:)Rock on!!!

Yamaha will actually let on what actually happened last Sunday. I have to say, after reading the very strong "nowt to do with us guv" from Bridgestone, the only conclusion I could come to was a setup error from the garage.

As rare as these errors are, they do still happen. What I take from all of this is how Jorge has dealt with it all. 2 years ago, he's have spat his dummy so hard it would have still been climbing. For sure he's had some choice words with people behind closed doors. But it's not been the public toy throwing it used to be.

Fair play to him (and I'm betting Sen. Forcada) for his ever steadying hand on Jorges temperament.

Still, this all bodes well for my pre season prediction of Dani winning the title. Nothing would please me more.

After all the effort he has put into MotoGP, few are more deserving than Dani. And while I am not a huge fan, I am certainly rooting him on.

Of course, the best rider should win (with sufficiently competitive equipment,that is). But I just think that - out of the four guys who have the biKes to do it - anybody other than Dani winning the championship would just not be fair.
And come on: it wouldn't even hurt anyone. Jorge has two titles already. Rossi has nothing to prove and if he finds his way back to being a WC contender, he's still got one season in the factory team left to do it. And Marquez wouldn't be too sad to not win the title in his rookie season. And I'm sure that there are plenty to follow for him anyway.

The BBC mentioned during the race that Lorenzo's pit crew held out a board with G4 on it, with Parrish alluding to this perhaps being a setting for Jorge to switch to on the bike. Any ideas what G4 is? Or was it Lin Jarvis passing on the news the Nick Buckle had left Group 4 Security and he was applying for the job?

I remember after the test at Jerez, Jorge said he was going to use the new chassis they tested at Jerez during the race weekend at Le Mans. Perhaps this bike reacted differently to the last minute grid adjustments then expected.

MM: "That can be solved with suspension changes, but making those changes on the grid after the sighting lap gives you no chance to test that you got them right."

Please take these with a grain of salt as I'm just thinking aloud naively.

Either R1200GS or Multistrada/Panigale bikes have electronic suspension adjustment on the fly. It's just couple of clicks when you still enjoy riding. If a rider is suffering all these just because he wasn't able to test the latest -suspension- settings, there must have been a way to, at least, reset it on the go.

If MotoGP is the pinnacle of the motorcycle racing with all the glorious electronics, why not they have electronic suspensions that can be adjusted in ride? Is it because the benefit doesn't satisfy its additional weight? Is it because the technology is not there yet to cope with the forces our beloved riders can have the bike generated? Or is it because I'm having blonde moment now and just missing the giant elephant in the room?

I think David is not referring to setup changes like "Comfort", "Sport", "Super Sport", etc.

Great story on the conspiracy theory.., i have laugh a lot :-))
Great story as always David.

"If MotoGP is the pinnacle of the motorcycle racing with all the glorious electronics, why not they have electronic suspensions that can be adjusted in ride?"

They could easily make adjustements based on real live data they see on the screen from the pit...but (un)fortunately it is illegal.

And with this question, the lid to Pandora's box creaks as it opens ... because the OP is right: In five years, every high-end sportbike is going to have ABS and suspension that adjusts itself 'in ride,' while the 'top-level' prototypes won't.

And we wonder why Bridgestone never wants to admit guilt? Nice article David.

What David forgot to add was that this year's Le Mans race was run at a significantly faster pace than last years'.