In part one of the Sepang MotoGP test review, I went over some of the more general aspects of the test. The fact that it was difficult to draw hard conclusions from a test which was both short and disrupted by rain. The fact that most manufacturers had brought updated engines, which means there is still a lot of work ahead to calibrate them and extract maximum performance from them. The fact that testing cleans the track and lays a nice thick skin of rubber on the track, creating much more grip than on a race weekend.
That doesn't mean that the test is meaningless. If it was, the manufacturers wouldn't bother, of course. But to understand the state of MotoGP after the Sepang test, we have to take a close look at what each factory was testing in Malaysia, what the riders said worked, what they said didn't work, and what the factories weren't telling us about.
So in the next few articles, I will breakdown everything we learned and what we saw at the Sepang test from each factory. But we start with the factory which ended the test fastest, and which received the most attention.
Ducati – pushing the envelope, again
Before the Sepang MotoGP test, we were all wondering who would bring some surprising new technology that would push the limits of performance again. It should therefore be no surprise that Ducati has once again found something that nobody else had either considered, thought feasible, or believed was not worth investigating.
As I wrote on Saturday night, after a tip from Tom Morsellino, what Ducati have found is a way to apply a ride-height device to the front of the Desmosedici. Hidden behind the aerodynamic fork covers sits a hydraulic cylinder, connected to the bottom of the fork leg. That is used to keep the front of the bike low on corner exit, working together with rear ride-height device to lower the center of mass, improve drive, and boost acceleration.
Ducati implicitly confirmed that I was on to something on Saturday night by what I saw on Sunday morning. Walking down pit lane, I saw that the Pramac mechanics had taped over the gap between the two halves of the fork leg covers, hiding the cylinder from view. That it was done to hide what lay behind it rather than to improve aerodynamics was obvious from the fact that it was only on the right-hand fork cover.
After writing about the front holeshot device, however, I began to have doubts. Conversations with ex-Moto2 crew chief Peter Bom and 500GP winner Simon Crafar, I began to have doubts. Crafar felt that lowering the front in the corner would be counterproductive. Front end feel is pretty much everything to riders, he explained, so confusing riders by having the front drop away from them in a corner would be a bad idea.
Talking to Crafar and Bom, I pondered an alternative explanation, that the cylinder at the front is being used as a way of triggering the rear ride-height device and lowering the rear of the bike. That would be adding a lot of complexity for a very marginal gain, however.
This morning, Malaysian photographer Hazrin Yeob Men Shah provided definitive proof. He sent me a series of photographs taken at the exit of Turn 14 which showed the Ducati with both ride-height devices engaged, and without them. That shows very clearly how much the bike has been lowered, both at the rear with the shock lowered, and at the front, with the forks still compressed. To illustrate, I created an animated gif of the two.
If you look at the front fork, you can see that even though the front wheel is in the air in both shots, the fork is compressed by at least 2 to 3 centimeters when the ride-height device is engaged. That means there is something keeping the front of the bike lower, more than just due to the weight of the rider. That is a very strong indication that the front ride-height device exists, and operates on the front forks.
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