2014 MotoGP Sepang 2 Day 2 Round Up: The Old New Tire, Lorenzo's Lamentations, And Ducati's Open Future (Again)

A cleaner track made for better times at the second MotoGP test at Sepang on Thursday, but conditions remain far from ideal. The track was still greasy, and the added heat made the situation worse. That meant the track remained empty for large parts of the day, the riders waiting for temperatures to come down at the end of the day.

When the riders did go for their fast laps, the usual suspects raised their heads. Aleix Espargaro was quick, Alvaro Bautista was quick, but if anyone was in any doubt about where the real power lies on the MotoGP grid, Dani Pedrosa quickly disabused them of their misconceptions. The Repsol Honda man posted two scorching laps, faster than anyone else was capable of riding. At nearly three tenths of a second, the gap was convincing. When Dani Pedrosa decides to exert his authority, the world listens. Especially when his teammate is absent.

Pedrosa spent the day working on the front of the Repsol Honda, and deciding on which of the two chassis to use for the rest of the year. The quicker of the two options was also less forgiving under braking, meaning Pedrosa elected to pursue the slower of the two frames. Sacrificing a little bit of speed for more stability and less effort to ride seemed like a suitable trade off.

But the talk of the second day of the test was not Pedrosa's speed; that is taken as a given. The biggest talking point of day two was the lack of speed from Jorge Lorenzo. The factory Yamaha rider ended the day down in ninth spot, sandwiched between the two Tech 3 bikes of Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith. He was over a second slower than Pedrosa, the biggest gap since the rain-hit race at Le Mans last May. Worse still, he was the fourth-fastest Yamaha, with the Open Yamaha of Aleix Espargaro and the factory bikes of his teammate Valentino Rossi and Tech 3's Pol Espargaro ahead of him. His problem is simple: he cannot get the new rear tire to work. Whatever they do to the bike, Lorenzo simply has no grip, and no confidence.

So frustrated was Lorenzo with the situation that he refused to talk to the press at the end of the day. He had nothing new to say, the situation was exactly the same as on Wednesday, a spokesperson told the assembled media. Instead, Lorenzo's team manager Wilco Zeelenberg spoke to the media, explaining that the problem was the rear tire, and not Lorenzo's riding style. Lorenzo has always been fast at Sepang, he was fast at the first test with the old tire, he was fast last year, he was fast the year before. But now they are forced to use the new construction tire, the Spaniard is struggling. His team have turned the bike upside down searching for a solution, but so far, none has been found.

What Lorenzo and his team are hoping is that the problem is specific to Sepang. If the situation remains the same at Phillip Island next week, then they will be in real trouble. In the mean time, crew chief Ramon Forcada and the rest of the team have a thousand and one options to work through, in pursuit of more rear grip.

Lorenzo isn't the only rider struggling with the new tire, all of the Yamaha men are unhappy. Valentino Rossi explained that the problem was down to the reduced edge grip, meaning that the bike tends to move around when leaned right over. This is a bigger problem for Lorenzo than for any of the other Yamaha riders, as Lorenzo's strength is in exploiting the edge grip of the tires. Take it away, and he finds himself in trouble. Rossi also has problems – understeer, and a lack of grip under acceleration, he told the press – but the gains he is making in braking are easing the problems with the rear tire.

To call the rear Bridgestone a 'new' tire is something of a misnomer. The tire which Lorenzo is struggling with at Sepang is the same tire he used to win the race at Mugello. The tire was used at Assen, the Sachsenring, Mugello, Indianapolis and Phillip Island last year, Bridgestone's chief motorsports coordinator Thomas Scholz told German-language website Speedweek.com. The tire was modified to prevent overheating, with a special layer added to the side which is more heavily stressed. Bridgestone has decided to use the same construction at all of the circuits, to allow the teams to gain more experience and gather more data with the tire. In theory, this should make setting up the chassis for the tire easier throughout the season, though on the evidence of Sepang, Lorenzo and his crew would dispute that assertion.

Lorenzo need not count on much sympathy outside the Yamaha camp, however. When asked about Lorenzo's difficulties with the tire, Dani Pedrosa gave him short shrift. Yes, the tire had less grip, Pedrosa admitted, but that was a question of working to find a set up that worked. Pedrosa also referred pointedly back to 2012, when Bridgestone introduced a new, softer front tire which had created massive chatter for the Hondas. 'We had to put up with this s**t all that year,' he added colorfully.

Bridgestone's Thomas Scholz held a similar view. 'First, [Lorenzo] needs to go faster than Pol Espargaro. When things don't go well for him, then everything is always complete s**t,' Scholz told Speedweek.com. Scholz also pointed to the problems with Honda two years ago, adding that Yamaha had pushed for the front tire when it became clear that Honda was struggling. 'You can't please everyone,' Scholz said.

The root of Yamaha's problems lies, just as it did for Honda two years ago, with the spec tire rule. With Bridgestone contracted to supply a single spec of tires to all of the teams equally (with minor variations for hard and soft tires, and an extra construction for the Open class bikes), the tire becomes the central parameter around which the bikes are designed. When the tire changes – always in response to requests from the riders and the teams, and usually in response to safety concerns – that means bikes need changing too, to adapt to the new circumstances. This is, of course, putting the cart before the horse. After all, modifying the design of a tire can be done relatively quickly and easily. Modifying a bike to cope with a different tire can take months, and many, many iterations of chassis, modifying stiffness in varying directions, as well as suspension and electronics set up.

A better solution would be to offer multiple designs of tire for the teams to choose from. That, however, costs money, which Bridgestone has no interest in investing. Being single tire supplier is an expensive business, as the Japanese tire company has to pay Dorna a substantial sum for the privilege. Some form of return to a tire war, albeit in cost-limited, open access form, would surely benefit all parties. The Australian Superbike series had the right idea, but whether that could be implemented in MotoGP is open to question.

Lorenzo's tire travails took a little bit of the limelight off Ducati a fact they were grateful for. The Italian factory took another step on the road to going Open on Thursday, sending both Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone out on the spec, Magneti Marelli software with extra fuel on board. Dovizioso was suitably reassured by the experience. Though he had not matched the time he had set in the morning with the Ducati software, the championship software had not been as bad as he had feared. The electronics were a little worse, the traction control less sophisticated, and the anti-wheelie – one setting for the entire circuit, not separate settings for each individual corner – not as good as Ducati's own. But the difference was small, offset to some extent by the extra fuel allowance for the bike. That, Dovizioso told the press, made the engine feel a little better, but once again, the differences were small.

Dovizioso will continue working on the Open configuration on Friday, trying to find improvement with the software. These developments make the impending switch to Open status inevitable for Ducati, though the ability to avoid the engine freeze is perhaps an even more compelling argument. Whether an announcement will be made on Friday remains to be seen. It is equally likely that Ducati will want to wait until their official launch in Germany on 10th March. Much will depend on whether the FIM will send out revised entry lists after 28th February, updating the status of the entries. Given the governing bodies notorious sloth in sending out press releases, Ducati might just get away with it.

Ducati's defection will leave Honda on their own. Yamaha will have what is in effect a near-factory bike using the championship software, in the shape of the Forward Yamaha. Ducati will be all Open, with all of their bikes using the championship software. Only Honda will be lagging behind, using the Open software on their RCV1000R, a bike which is several steps behind the factory RC213V. Will they hold out? Probably. Their rearguard action to retain the right to develop their own software will last as long as possible, and perhaps even until 2017. But though they may win the occasional battle, it is looking more and more likely that they will lose the war. What happens then is anybody's guess, but one thing we know for sure: Honda hate losing.

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Not just Honda, everybody hates losing. Ducati have turned it into a lamentable art. Jorge has had it his own way with a perfect tyre for him, for a while now...and it must hurt to be that far down the timesheets. If it wasn't for the Force of Nature that is MM93, Jorge would still be king. He hates that too. I bet Dani enjoyed telling him basically, to suck it up.

If Bridgestone aren't willing to put money into giving everyone a choice of tyres then maybe it's time the series looked to another solution, or we will continue to get this same crap every year that forces teams into bike revision after bike revision, and frustrates riders well into the season. It's madness. If Dorna's aim is to make it cheaper for people to get into and reduce the need for teams to spend so much on R+D every year, then can we please ditch the stupid %$^#$^% control tyre rule.

I'd bet factories spend more on working around the spec tire problems than if they could develop tires to fit their bikes

And of course the whole thing could be structured so everyone has access. And only the factories got to develop tires essentially making for 3 different tire sets for everybody

Tire wars are brutal and very expensive. And they always devolve into a situation where the spectators are among the victims, because competitive results are so dependent on the tires. When one tire brand gets the upper hand, then great bikes with great riders who have the wrong tire brand finish mid-field or worse. And we the spectators feel robbed by the lack of competitive balance caused by those black round devils.

And good luck with the dream of "limited warfare" or a model like Australian superbikes. No disrepect to our friends down under, but in the world racing context, that is a small-market, semi-professional series that uses production racing tires. I seriously doubt that tire companies would seek out Australian teams to develop special tires that uniquely suit individual bikes or individual riders.

Essentially all roadracing and oval track racing series, both 2 wheels and 4, operate with single tire suppliers. And the results are certainly not perfect, but they seem better than the alternatives. I doubt that MotoGP will be any different, IMO.

So, Dani went for the slowest, but safest of the 2 chassis options. Makes you wonder what Marc's choice would have been (provided he was given the same options). Somehow it didn't surprise me.Typically Dani: safety first. Very sensible. Maybe it pays off when it just helps him to avoid a future crash. But what if he constantly is falling short of winning, just that tiny little bit that could make the difference between finally a championship or just another second spot. Hmmm.... I guess we will see soon.

Did you think the same think of Rossi when he first went to Yamaha and choose the smoother slower engine option over the faster but harsher handling engine option?

The fastest bike over a single lap is not always the fastest bike over race distance, particularly if it wears out the driver.

Would have gone for the ultimately faster chassis option, without shadow of a doubt. Some riders have the knack of using difficult but fast equipment to their advantage. Doohan was also a prime example of this.

He did the quick time earlier in the day IIRC, he didn't use the open package until later in the afternoon.

I wish Lorenzo would give the Forward Racing machine a try. Perhaps with that tire he would be much closer to the front -- look at A. Espargaro, who nobody thinks is in Lorenzo's class!

Not sure if Aleix is in Lorenzo's league, but he's certainly a long way beyond Colin Edwards' league right now.

The most important thing in racing is tires, tires and tires. And apparently MotoGP tires are made to a budget with little available for R&D but lots for marketing.

>>The tire was used at Assen....last year...........The tire was modified to prevent overheating, with a special layer added to the side which is more heavily stressed.

So its a high durability tire being used at tracks that don't need a high durability tire. Fewer variations to produce means it is cheaper for BS to manufacture and stock them. Its not about safety, rider feedback or anything, its about the dollars. Speaking of tire changes and safety, has anyone seen Loris Capirossi around? Is he still a safety officer?

>>In theory, this should make setting up the chassis for the tire easier throughout the season

How? Teams have info from last year on all the tracks/tires they used. Change the tire/track combination and they have to start over. Yamaha are suffering but the Hondas are having to find a new setup too, only they are doing it successfully. I don't see any way that this would simplify things for teams.

>>Thomas Scholz held a similar view. 'First, [Lorenzo] needs to go faster than Pol Espargaro.

Really? That's the tire guy's comments? To me that's out of line.

>>Yamaha had pushed for the front tire when it became clear that Honda was struggling.

Seriously? He said it out loud? I mean we all know that corporate politics has an effect on the paddock but this is what GP racing is reduced to? Lobbying spec suppliers to disadvantage an opponent instead of doing your best and hoping its good enough to stand on its own merit is pretty low.

>>Being single tire supplier is an expensive business, as the Japanese tire company has to pay Dorna a substantial sum for the privilege.

Wow, I would like to be a fly on the wall for those negotiations! Listen, you're going to supply us hundreds of tires a weekend for bikes that punish tires, have to deal with riders bitching and potentially embarassing events (PI 2013 comes to mind) AND write us a check for X. Nice horse. By the way, have you ever met my friend here, Luca Brasi?

>>That, however, costs money, which Bridgestone has no interest in investing.

This whole situation started because Dorna had to play with the tire rules requiring riders to pre-choose a fixed allocation before the weekend started. Before that Michelin dominated but BS was making good progress starting from nowhere and eventually challenging and winning at some tracks. But that was not enough and Dorna had to try to 'level the playing field' and handicap Michelin. That eventually led to rider defections, tire companies pulling out, the decline of an underdog manufacturer's fortunes, boring races, tire and bike development (in that order) subject to one company's marketing budget and many other unintended and unforseen consequences. There are lessons to be learned here.

>>Only Honda will be lagging behind

Funny way to describe the company that produce the fastest bike and doesn't want to take a step backwards.


BS are there to make money. Not by the sale of tyres to MotoGP but by being the "chosen" brand for MotoGP and enabling "the show".

I thought it was quite refreshing for the comments to come out as they did (but that just might be my upbringing). It was no secret that Yam were quite happy to keep the tyre that created chatter for Honda, they would be stupid to do otherwise.

The ONLY comment that might have been a tad harsh (IMO) was the one where he felt Lorenzo needed to get the times in front of Pol before he would listen. Personally, if I had a rider whining because he couldn't get fast times compared to his competition I would only start to worry if it looked like there was a saftey issue. As I understand it though, this tyre was developed with the saftey issue in mind. The fact that it appears to have penalised one bike over the other is possibly regretable but maybe unavoidable given that we are with a single tyre rule.

just saying, that's all :-)

Having said that I am hoping that it doesn't lead to a completely non competitive Yam at all tracks.

....all of the teams, except factory Honda, went to Open category. Repsol Honda would only be "racing" against themselves and the real racing would be all of the other riders and teams. Essentially pull the rug out from under Honda. "Ooooh, Honda you won." And if they didn't win every race or even if they didn't win the championship that would be huge egg on their face. Just a thought.

It seems that every year we have complaints of cost around certain technologies and it gets described as a 'war'. Recent times have seen tyres and electronics as the 'problem'. To me, the cost of tyre competition is an acceptable and balancing element if it provides teams with a short-cut solution to performance problems.
I believe that BS are a relatively lazy company using the contract clauses to avoid spending money on providing choices. The consequence has (probably)been a huge amount of money spent on other technology to attempt to overcome the shortcomings of these tyres. I am not referring to 'electronics' here , as that was going happen just like ABS, double clutches, auto-shift, and active suspension were going to happen unless they were banned.
The Sepang tests appear to be showing that the Open hardware/software package is competitive and well-suited to racing these powerful machines.
That's good IMO.
I'm not a huge JL fan but I feel for the guy because his big trick has been compromised and he doesn't know if he can get it working again. I felt the same for Elias (perhaps not quite the same grade as JL but the problem was similar) and there will be a number of riders who have the such issues at different times.
I don't like the engine freeze/gentlemen-seal-your-engines-for-the-season type approach that much, but requiring teams to have no more than 'x' number of choices at any track and no substitutions once the teams have arrived at the circuit seems a sensible, workable, and balanced compromise.
I'm sure that the quantity of tyres produced for a wider choice will increase and that's a cost. However, my understanding is that the bulk of tyres are shipped by sea and the 'specials' flown. That latter method does seem to be an undesirable cost, and clearly disadvantages the already disadvantaged teams with lower budgets who cannot access such services.
Drop that and allow Michelin and Dunlop, and whoever else wants to, back in the premier class.

The fact that the previous tyre worked better for Yam(apparently, you wouldn't have thought so last year (Marquez)or the year before, it was rider error, on hondas part, that gave Jorge the title he was 2nd best for 8/10ths of it but won.) and now works better for Honda makes a complete mockery of the phrase 'level playing field'. It is clear that bridgestone are now free to determine who wins the championship...Alot of power for a tyre supplier..
However this is partly down to yamaha throwing all their eggs in one basket. Only Jorge rides that way so the chances of the tyre suiting his bike over all the other competition was a huge gamble that isn't paying off and has in turn handicapped the other yam riders who now have to ride around the yams core design philosophy(currently)which is a crazy situation. I suspect its also the main reason all the yams, except Jorge, lost out massively on the brakes last year.. It's the same issue ducati had though to a greater extent and shows to an extent how worried they were about Stoner and the honda. Ironically Yamaha's success rate with the pre Jorge, more neutral bike(2004-end of 2010), knocks any success Jorge has had into a cocked hat they should stick to what they do best.

god knows what series you watch and follow or remember.

if jorge was 2nd best for 80% of 2012, i wonder how he won 6/18 races which is 1/3rd, so he was 2nd best for 2/3rd of the season and my dear deluded friend, there's a big difference between 80% and 66.66% :)

"I suspect its also the main reason all the yams, except Jorge, lost out massively on the brakes last year" << so you clearly chose to ignore or not remember, basically have a selective memory perhaps, when for at least 5 races (that time around brno, indy, laguna etc) lorenzo attributed braking issues as the major reason he was unable to stick with the repsols once they outbraked him and passed him over..in addition there were some more races early on too where brakes bothered him bigtime as well..if at all anything, it was him missing out on brakes bigtime when entangled with the repsols...only in the last 1/3rd of the 2013 season situation got less problematic for him in terms of bike.