2015 MotoGP Sepang 2 Preview: Seamless Gearboxes, Brand New Ducatis And Fast French Rubber

The engineers have had two weeks to pore over the data from the first MotoGP test at Sepang, identify problems, analyze strengths, and find more ways to go faster. Their analyses have been translated into designs, into new parts, into yet more software, ready to put their theories into practice. On Monday morning, at 10am Malaysian time, the MotoGP riders get to try out all of the new parts and ideas thought up by their factories and teams in search of a few more fractions of a second.

The eyes of the world will not be on what the engineers did between Sepang 1 and Sepang 2, however. Attention will be focused on Yamaha and Ducati, who will be testing hardware which has been a long time coming. Yamaha is bringing its fully seamless gearbox to the Sepang 2 test, and Ducati will roll out its Desmosedici GP15 for the first time. Both could make a significant impact.

In the short term, Yamaha's seamless gearbox is likely to be the most important development. It has not been officially confirmed that Yamaha will be bringing the full seamless gearbox (seamless in both upshifts and downshifts). Officially, people wearing Yamaha shirts will tell you that nothing has been decided yet, but well-informed gossip says that the seamless gearbox will be there, for both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. Yamaha's test riders have been using it for several months now, Colin Edwards having tested it extensively at the end of last year.

Will it make much difference in terms of lap time? That is not directly what the fully seamless box is aimed at doing. The new gearbox will help tire life, and will make the bike a little easier to ride, taking away one more thing for the rider to think about. The Yamaha YZR-M1 will not suddenly be a tenth or two a lap quicker, but over race distance, the new gearbox should offer some gains. At the team presentation, Yamaha's MotoGP project chief Kouichi Tsuji said the goal was to cut 2 seconds over a full race distance. That will be hard to see from the timesheets showing just a single lap, but we may be able to see it once Rossi and Lorenzo try race simulations, towards the end of the test.

The Ducati Desmosedici GP15 should be a very different story. The new creation, the brainchild of the Ducati Corse department under the direction of Gigi Dall'Igna, is aimed at fixing the understeer which has plagued every Ducati since the introduction of the spec tire. The bike is smaller, shorter, with a radically redesigned frame (see my analysis of the bike from the launch, here), and even the engine sounds different, as you can hear in this video posted on Instagram by Andrea Dovizioso. This bike has to be faster round the track than the GP14, or Ducati Corse will have failed its design objectives.

Will it be faster by the end of this test, though? This bike is completely new, and almost completely untested. The GP15 has had a single run out at a secret location, which neither Paolo Ciabatti nor Gigi Dall'Igna would disclose to me at the launch. All they would let slip was that it was not 'a suitable location', explaining that Michele Pirro had only really given the bike a shakedown. The bike runs, and will withstand a certain amount of riding without destroying itself. Ducati have a starting point for the GP15, nothing more.

What that means is that the Andreas, Dovizioso and Iannone, will not get to ride the bike on Monday, the hard work being delegated to Michele Pirro. Though that will be frustrating for the two Andreas, it is an understandable course of events. First, Pirro has to go out and test the bike at speed, on a proper, full-sized race track under punishing conditions. If the brand new engine can withstand the punishment, then the Andreas will get a go. Should it turn out to have a serious problem which they had not yet uncovered, then it will be test rider Pirro thrown from the bike, and not a factory racer. Test riders are expendable, and part of their duties is to risk injury trying out completely new parts. If Pirro gets through Monday unscathed, then the factory riders get their hands on the bike on Tuesday.

Even when Dovizioso and Iannone do get on the GP15, they will have their work cut out for them. Their teams will have to look for a base setting, a starting point from which to try to improve. Ducati will no doubt have a range of other parts to test with the bike, looking for the right combination with which to start the season. There is so much work to be done on the new bike that they cannot even think about chasing lap times. All Dovizioso and Iannone will be doing is getting a feel for the new bike, and trying to fathom its behavior.

If we won't be able to see the difference in the lap time, how will we know if the GP15 is a better bike? That should be clear the first time Dovizioso takes off his helmet. If the smile is large enough, then the operation can be regarded as a success.

While the big changes are at Yamaha and Ducati, the work at Honda is rather more subtle. After working their way through four different iterations of the 2015 RC213V at Sepang 1, Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa will be focusing on refining the chassis they have selected to go forward with. Both settled on a frame which improved braking and corner entry, but was still weak in drive out of the turns. Honda's engineers – both hardware and software – will have been working on solutions to create more grip. If they are successful, then expect to see the two Hondas at the top of the timesheets once again.

At Suzuki, the focus will also be on refinement, as they work to prepare the GSX-RR for the start of 2015. The engine blow ups at Valencia last November caused a major delay for the Hamamatsu factory, as they were forced to focus on solving that most pressing issue before doing anything else. Suzuki's engineers spent the winter working on reliability, rather than chasing the extra horsepower the GSX-RR so badly needs. With Sepang 1 having proved that their quest for reliability had been successful, engineers can turn their attention to providing more go. That is neither simple, nor fast, however, and Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales will have to be patient.

Espargaro will be the man leading development, as his rookie teammate continues to settle in. Viñales was deeply impressive at Sepang 1, his rate of learning exceptionally rapid. If he continues on this path, he will be matching his teammate very soon. If Suzuki give him some horsepower as well, things could get very interesting indeed. For the moment, the gap to his teammate is the key factor to watch.

The fifth factory in MotoGP faces much more of an uphill task. Aprilia debuted a new bike at the Sepang 1 test, and while the engine was a clear improvement, neither Alvaro Bautista nor Marco Melandri had any time for the new chassis. The new bike sat discarded in the Aprilia garage, with only Michael Laverty giving it some time on the track. There is clearly masses more work to do for the Noale factory.

Most of that will have to be done by Alvaro Bautista. The Spaniard was strong at Sepang, despite being a long way off the pace. Bautista was motivated and sharp, unlike his teammate. Marco Melandri looked like a man who would rather be anywhere than riding Aprilia's MotoGP bike, and ended the test dead last, behind the Open bikes, behind the factory test riders, and even behind Alex De Angelis on the Ioda Racing Aprilia ART, the much older and much slower version of Aprilia's MotoGP machine. Melandri will have to turn himself around, before he can work on improving the bike.

While the satellite and Open class riders are unlikely to be getting any new parts, they too will have their hands full. Especially in the Honda garages, where the pace of Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding was well below expectations. Crutchlow was struggling with rear grip – a familiar refrain from the factory riders as well – while Redding was surprised by how very different the factory RC213V was to the Open class Honda RCV1000R he rode last year. Redding spent his test working methodically on making progress, and will continue that for Sepang 2. Hopefully, he will have figured some things out for this test.

As for Crutchlow, he will be chasing the one fast lap which he needs to build his confidence. After a big crash at Valencia, he made slow progress at the first Sepang test. He too will be working slowly, methodically, looking for the feel which will give him the boost he seeks. After the team's high profile launch in London last weekend, the pressure will start to rise on the LCR Honda rider.

Though there is much to interest MotoGP fans on the first three days, the fourth day of the test could be the most interesting. Then, the factory riders will get to test Michelin's development tires which they are preparing for the 2016 season, when they take over the spec tire contract. Michelin will have three different types of tire for the factory men to try, in pursuit of the right direction to follow.

Once the factory riders have ridden the Michelins, there will follow a very delicate PR dance. Bridgestone still have the single tire contract for 2015, and though they have been gracious enough to allow Michelin to test, it puts them in a tricky situation. On Wednesday night, Bridgestone stickers will be removed from the bikes, and from the riders leathers and helmets, so that no tire branding is visible when they test. The factory riders will be allowed to speak to the press about the tires, but comparisons with the Bridgestones have been explicitly banned. They will be able to give their opinions on the Michelins, saying what they like about the tires and what they don't like, but they will not be allowed to say that the Michelins do something better than the Bridgestones, or something worse. The media and the fans will be left to extrapolate the message from the words the riders use.

It will certainly be interesting to see just what times the factory riders post on the Michelin tires. The test riders were already lapping very quickly on the Michelins, and some were suggesting that once the factory riders get on the tires, they will soon be lapping well under record pace. Thursday could provide a very fascinating glimpse of the future.

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Facts can change on the ground. Late on Sunday night, Ducati changed their minds, and decided to let Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone go out on the GP15 after all. So both rode that bike on Monday.

ghostdog6 suggested that as one of the main rationales for the seamless gearbox is to be able to change gears mid-corner without upsetting the bike - and that there's not many corners where the rider needs to go from 5th to 6th while leaned over - there's no real need for the added complexity for the 5/6 shift. Sounds pretty reasonable to me.