Despite being exhausted from a full weekend (make that a complete season) of racing, the entire MotoGP grid was once again out in force on Monday, turning the first laps of the 2015 preseason (full times here). All except Nicky Hayden, that is, as Honda have brought only one RC213V-RS to Valencia, and there was no point for Hayden to spend more time on the RCV1000R, as that bike will be replaced by the new RS for next season. Hayden gets his turn on the bike tomorrow, weather permitting.
There was both old and new on display at the test, some things virtually unchanged, others radically different. New riders joined the grid, as well as two new factories, and a reshuffling of riders and crew between the garages.
The biggest change was at Suzuki, which saw Aleix Espargaro move from the Forward Yamaha team into the new Suzuki squad, where he was joined by Maverick Viñales, fresh from Moto2. Both riders were very impressed with the GSX-RR, praising its handling and the bike. "It was much better than I expected," Aleix told us. The chassis was "fantastic" he said, allowing him to lap within nine tenths of his qualifying lap on Saturday. The bike was very easy to turn, and he could carry a lot more corner speed as the bike was more compact, allowing him to hang off the bike more.
The smaller bike was also a disadvantage, as the elder Espargaro is one of the taller riders. There was not enough room for his feet, and his helmet was catching a lot of wind. That was easily fixable, however, and something which the factory can work on quite quickly.
The biggest problem with the Suzuki was a lack of top speed. The engine is down on power, but this is something which Suzuki knew about, team boss Davide Brivio told us. Power, engine braking and the electronics were all areas which need work, but the basis of the bike is strong. Brivio also said Suzuki were investigating the reliability problems which had plagued the GSX-RR during the race weekend, Randy De Puniet losing two engines in practice. The engine blow ups had come as a surprise, as the GSX-RR engine had proved to be extremely reliable on the dyno, even when running race simulations. Suzuki had a few ideas, and were exploring possible solutions, trying to track down the root cause of the issue. When an engine is reliable on the dyno but suffers problems out on track, the finger of suspicion usually points to oil supply. We will have a better idea of whether Suzuki have solved the problem at the first race in Qatar.
Aprilia was the other factory newcomer, the new bike with pneumatic valves making its first appearance. But the first day of the test was just a shakedown, test rider Alex Hofmann spending the most time on track. Factory riders Alvaro Bautista and Marco Melandri – finally confirmed as a full-time MotoGP rider for 2015 – only appeared in the final hour, and put in just a few laps.
At Ducati, there was almost nothing to test. Andrea Dovizioso tried a few minor electronic changes, but the big changes for the Italian factory will come only in Sepang. The new bike, designed from the ground up, will make its first appearance in February, though whether it is at Sepang 1 or Sepang 2 is yet to be decided. With so little to test, Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone head home on Monday night, there being no sense in staying on at Valencia.
Yamaha spent their time working on reducing the weight in line with the 2015 rule package. They have dropped some 1.5kg of the 2kg they need to lose to reach the new minimum weight of 158kg, with half a kilogram coming from a new exhaust. That, more of an open megaphone than the previous version, is both louder and lighter, and changes the weight distribution of the bike.
The new exhaust is the most visible change to the bike, but much more is changed behind the fairings. The bike uses a new chassis, which improves corner entry according to Valentino Rossi. The changes were only small, with much of the work being down to find the right set up for the new chassis and the changed engine response caused by the exhaust. The bike was clearly strong, as Jorge Lorenzo topped the timesheets, and Rossi ending the day in fourth.
Sandwiched between the two factory Yamahas were the Tech 3 bikes of Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro. They had a new package to try, most of which had come directly out of the factory Movistar Yamaha garage. It was not the entire package which the team will start 2015 on, but it was enough to make a small improvement. Smith liked the bike best of all, saying that it made the bike easier to ride and therefore easier to turn. The bike seemed to do more itself, Smith said, rather than the rider having to use his body to move weight around and create traction. The difference for Pol Espargaro was much smaller. "I set my fastest time on last year's bike," the younger Espargaro brother said.
Stefan Bradl was a newcomer to Yamaha, having made the switch to the Forward Yamaha team for 2015. Bradl was quick to adapt, riding two tenths quicker than Aleix Espargaro had on the bike on Sunday. He still had some learning to do, however: he could carry a lot of corner speed, Bradl said, but he was having trouble braking. This is likely down to the different characteristic of the Yamaha, which needs the rider to brake early and then release the brakes to carry corner speed, rather than brake late and turn the bike into the corner on the brakes. Bradl felt he was doing well mid-corner, but needed to work on braking for the corner, and a little on corner entry.
The man who took Bradl's seat at LCR Honda had a good first day, spending the test getting used to his third bike in three seasons. Cal Crutchlow refused to make comparisons between the bikes – likely because of clauses in his contracts – but he praised the way the Honda turns. He could brake late and brake deep into the corner, and then still get the bike turned. The second half of the season on the Ducati would stand him in good stead, Crutchlow having learned to brake later than on the Yamaha, which requires the opposite style, wanting to brake early.
He still had a lot to learn, Crutchlow said. The bike was very different, especially in terms of electronics. It needed the rider to work to try and find traction, rather than letting the electronics sort it out. Perhaps its strongest point was its forgiving nature, Crutchlow said. You could make a small mistake, get the bike out of shape but still get into the corner. This allowed you to ride the bike very aggressively, he said, something he was looking forward to doing. He would have to change his style a little, but he should be able to adapt.
On the other side of the garage, Jack Miller made his debut in MotoGP, having what he described as the best day of his life. It was a solid debut, learning quickly and improving on every exit. I stood in pit lane and watched Miller's garage for a while, crew chief Cristian Gabarrini quickly bonding with Miller, the Australian also getting assistance from Alberto Puig and his manager Aki Ajo. Afterwards, Puig was impressed, telling Israeli reporter Tammy Gorali that Miller had not made a single mistake all day. The rapport between Gabarrini and Miller was also strong, Gabarrini listening closely and providing guidance where necessary.
So how do you break in a MotoGP rookie? Both Miller and Viñales were sent out with no traction control and no wheelie control for the first day of the test, standard procedure for new riders in MotoGP. The pair have to understand how the bike feels before they can get any benefit from the electronics, and so they were given a softer power map and sent out to experiment. With each exit, the teams step up the power, until the riders feel they have a grip on the bike. Only then are the electronics turned back up again, with riders chasing the performance benefits the electronics can offer.
Scott Redding also made his debut with the Marc VDS team on Monday, though his times were a long way off ideal. That was hardly surprising, given that he was on a different bike, with a new crew chief, in a team that was working together for the first time. Redding had not been chasing lap times, but instead, had focused on adapting to the bike. That was very different, he said, something which had surprised him. He had expected the bike to be like the RCV1000R, only faster, whereas in fact it was an entirely different beast altogether. Redding and the team will need all of the test before they can start to understand just how competitive they can be.
The factory Honda riders did little riding, Dani Pedrosa taking the 2015 bike out at the end of the day, the biggest change apparently being the size of the Red Bull branding on the bike. He was joined at the end of the day by both Marquez brothers, the Moto3 joining the MotoGP champion for what was in effect a few demonstration laps, the two riding together.
The two Marquez brothers on #93 Repsol Hondas was little more than a publicity stunt, what is known in the trade as a dog and pony show. It certainly worked, judging by the mass of photographers and TV crews packed outside the Honda garage. The wisdom of sending two riders out on a hot track to provide a bit of TV coverage is extremely questionable, however. Alex and Marc Marquez ended up balking several riders, forcing Pol Espargaro at one point to slip inside Marc and then round the outside of Alex at the fast Turn 13, not a particularly safe looking maneuver. Having Marc and Alex ride together to promote Repsol and Estrella Galicia is probably best left to a private filming session.
The riders all have two more days of testing to look forward to, though whether they will use all of it remains to be seen. Yamaha have already said that if the weather stays dry all day Tuesday, they will pack up at the end of the day. At the moment, it looks like there could be rain on Tuesday morning, but the forecast continues to change quickly.