Mandalika MotoGP Test Saturday Round Up: Real Work Starts And The Cream Rises To The Top

You could tell testing was underway in earnest at Mandalika on Saturday by the fact that for most of the day, Brad Binder's name was stuck at the top of the timesheets. The time Binder set was already well under Pol Espargaro's best time from Friday, hitting a 1'31.814 on his third exit from the pits. But nobody followed suit until the final hour or so of the test, with Luca Marini eventually ending up fastest with a lap of 1'31.289. The teams and riders were too busy with the hard graft of testing, optimizing parts and refining setup, figuring out the best base with which to launch their assault on the 2022 MotoGP championship at Qatar in three weeks' time.

A day of riding had made a huge difference to the track surface, with a clean line with high grip appearing. Off line, the track was still filthy, and quite dangerous – Raul Fernandez took a very big tumble and was wandering round on Saturday afternoon with bruises on his face from the impact, and one of Marc Marquez' practice starts ended in a massive fishtail with a lot of sideways motion and not much forward momentum.

But the track was usable. "You kind of still had to be pretty careful with it all out there. The grip wasn't fantastic, but on line it was alright," was the assessment Jack Miller made. That line, and Marc Marquez' abortive practice start, had riders thinking strategically about qualifying.

"If you want to prepare well your start for the race, you want to qualify in second, fifth, or eighth," Johann Zarco laughed, before continuing more seriously. "You need to use this line. Because we get out of Turn 17, and where we are going on the straight, it's pretty clean to make the start. But it's true that when you try from another position, it's tricky. I hope they will do something, because as I say, if not … First row is good, but perfect place is second."

The dirt on the track had been an issue for the WorldSBK series as well. In the wet, there had been a lot of grip, by in the dry, the dirt turned slick and difficult to manage. At a meeting of the Safety Commission held on Saturday night, the riders hade made clear that the situation needed to be addressed ahead of the race here in March, and Dorna and the FIM had taken note.

"We finished the safety commission and I think the situation will be much better than what we found on the first day," Andrea Dovizioso told us. "I think they will do the right things to prepare the track and it will be much more clean." The issue of the stones on the track, coming loose from the aggregate, was more difficult to solve. "About the stones, I’m not sure. I think they will do everything they can but I don’t know…. If you are riding you constantly break the asphalt. If that happens, they can clean every day, but to follow riders in this moment is painful!"

With a day of meaningful testing under their belt, it became possible to start to assess where the various factories and riders stood. A lot of riders had done longer runs, and put a lot of laps on used tires, getting a sense of who was in good shape for the race. Riders spent time on both the medium and soft rears, but while the soft was very good and remarkably durable, it probably won't be available for the race. There were concerns about overheating one edge of the tire.

The soft rear was fast, though. "This afternoon with more temperature and the soft, we managed to do 30 laps with the soft, and the last lap was two tenths slower than the fastest lap," Pecco Bagnaia told us. "So we were working on being as constant as possible, and we are very competitive."

Other riders had focused more on the medium rear, knowing that the soft might not be an option for the race. "I'm happy with the medium rear tire," Johann Zarco said. "I did a good improvement, and this is quite important because it's not sure that we are going to have the soft one for the race, because it's giving good grip, but maybe it's too on the limit for the hot temperature on the right side, so it was important to improve with the medium rear."

KTM's Miguel Oliveira had followed a similar thought process. "In the afternoon, I focused on the medium rear tire, because we had the information maybe are too soft for here, so probably it will be hard to have this compound for the GP weekend, so at that moment we shifted our focus to using a harder compound."

So who is fast in terms of potential race pace? The best way to find out is to ask riders, who make a point of looking at where they stand compared to the rest. I got very lucky with Alex Rins, who had been studying the analysis handed to him by one his engineers just before his zoom debrief.

"We have one guy in the team who sends us the average, the 15 fastest laps throwing away the fastest one," the Suzuki Ecstar rider explained, before running down the highlights. "So we have Quartararo first with 1'32.3, Espargaro Pol 1'32.4, Márquez 1'32.5, Rins 1'32.6. We are quite good. In terms of pace, we are in a good way, and then we have Viñales, Bastianini, Bagnaia, Oliveira, Nakagami, Mir." Rins was pleased with where he stood. "I'm quite happy. We are working good. Good feelings, so ready to start."

Rins acknowledged that it was still a bit early to be drawing serious conclusions. "It's preseason time," he said. "I mean, we have Bagnaia seventh at 0.5, Mir tenth at 0.5, I'm at 0.3. Everybody's quite close. You never know until you arrive to Qatar." There was one factory which had grabbed his attention, however. "For sure I think the manufacturers that are more ready to race if the race is tomorrow will be Honda. Because Pol Espargaro and Marc Márquez are second and third. Suzuki is in a good way, also Aprilia, they made a good step."

Rins himself was highlighted by Johann Zarco. "I'm pretty impressed by Rins," the Pramac Ducati rider told us. "He's doing a fantastic job since Malaysia. It means fast laps and many laps. You can see that physically he prepared himself well, and the bike is answering well. And we know the Suzuki in the race, when the tire gets used, they are usually stronger. So quite impressed by him."

Zarco was one of many riders who pointed to the Honda as being in very good shape. "With all the new changes on the Honda, difficult to really know the potential, but it's rare from the Japanese guys to try new things, new directions, but if they do it, performing as they are already doing, it means they will be there." As for his own bike, he felt the Ducati was not far off. "The potential of the Ducati for me is pretty high since a few years, last year it was pretty high, and it's still in this direction. Not perfect, very demanding when you need to go fast, but once you understand it, you enjoy a lot."

Pecco Bagnaia was very confident, after a strong day of practice. "I think that today we were one of the strongest with the pace, because we this morning we worked with the medium, and with the medium I was doing 1'32.7, 1'32.8, 1'32.7, like this. And the pace was good." His run on softs in the afternoon had been fast as well, putting well in front. "We were working on being as constant as possible, and we are very competitive. I think the only two riders that did the same work as me was Márquez and Mir today, maybe also Pol Espargaro. We just focused on doing laps with used tires."

While Bagnaia was confident, the other Ducati riders felt they still had some way to go. Jack Miller and Jorge Martin were still looking for a base setup, Miller struggling with a lack of front grip through the fast sections in sector 2. The GP22 has a new engine and aero package, and that is requiring a lot of work to set it up. Bagnaia's side of the garage appear to be further along in that respect, but if Miller and Martin still have a lot of work to do, that suggests the start of the season may not be the whitewash many had feared.

Suzuki and Honda seem to be much further along. The base package is good for both of them, which is quite the achievement for Honda, given how radically different the entire machine is. Pol Espargaro was confident. "Overall I think the day was great," the Repsol Honda rider said. "I think the bike is getting better and better and after today it feels like it's ready for Qatar. This is nice to feel that already before the start of the season, it's the feeling we didn't have last year."

The Honda was strong on race pace, and not that far off over a single lap, as Marc Marquez' second place demonstrated. Espargaro felt he was close too. "In one lap we have some small problems with the front brakes, but even with that if we put the ideal time together then we were second."

While other riders tapped Fabio Quartararo as having the best race pace, the Frenchman was concerned about his single lap pace. With fresh rubber, it was hard to find the extra time. "I don’t feel so great at the moment for qualifying," the reigning champion said. "That's what I'm more worried about because on the pace I'm not worried. I can go super super fast with the used tire and everything, but new tire and one lap I miss some compared to last year. So this is the biggest difference and I feel like to improve that area."

This is Yamaha's conundrum. The bike is incredibly fast over a lap, but Yamaha's design philosophy does not put a premium on horsepower, so the bike tends to be slower. There has been no improvement in that situation since last year, a situation Quartararo had resigned himself to. "It's what we have for the season. I mean maybe we can find something but it's our standard, last year we were at average 9km/h, today we are at 9km/h. So, we didn't make any steps forward."

In terms of pace, Quartararo was confident. "I think we are really strong. At one part of the day we were really slow because we used the soft front in the middle of the day with 55 degrees. But when we put our race tire this afternoon I did a really good pace, 1'32.4 with really used tire and I think tomorrow we will see our real pace because I will make time for a race simulation, a long run let's say."

The Yamaha's lack of horsepower was still something of a frustration for Quartararo, but he wasn't going to let it get to him. "It's something really big that is missing, to be honest!" the Frenchman said. "But then to be honest if I'm focusing too much on that, my mentality will not be the same. I go for the maximum. If the bike is not enough, I'm not an engineer. So at the end all I can do is to push myself to the limit and see what I can do to really fight for a championship and for victories. That for me is the most important thing, to fight for the championship. So to be honest we have not made the steps I expected."

How long Quartararo can push that frustration aside will be a major part of determining his future. The Frenchman and Joan Mir were the two biggest targets for other factories with contracts expiring at the end of the year. Mir is much happier now that the Suzuki appears to be competitive, which leaves only Quartararo straining at the bit.

Whether Quartararo will actually leave will depend on a lot of factors, not least whether other factories feel the need to pursue him to replace their own riders. And it will depend on whether Quartararo believes he would be better off on the bike offered to him. With the gap between the six manufacturers on the grid so small, the benefits of swapping to another factory were much reduced.

This was a point made by Miguel Oliveira. "This championship is about the detail, everything is very tight," the Red Bull KTM Factory rider said. "Every bike is great at this moment on the grid, and it's about finding what works for each rider, every rider adapting to his bike, the work that the team does, goes to the detail. Right now it's hard to say that I go from one bike to another and suddenly my career changes with results. So we need to keep working and we need to find whatever we can find with our bike, and push."

The teams and riders have one more day to push, a day which is likely to kick off with a bang as they chase a fast time in the morning. But with heavy rain forecast for the afternoon, they don't have much time to work on preparing their bikes for the start of the season. Qatar may be three weeks away, but the 2022 preseason ends in just a few hours.


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Comments

The Ducati looks more and like something Katsuhiro Otomo would draw every year, it's stunningly beautiful in a brutalist kind of way.

I like what Miguel Oliveira said "Every bike is great". I think all the riders are very good.

Luca Marini after one season on the GP19 goes fastest. On the new GP22 at a circuit he has never been to before!

Rookie DiGia is faster than M.O.88, Dovi and Miller. Fast learner as well as a rapid rider.

Even Marc Marquez will have to work hard in 2022. This season could be another 2016, Ten different victors this year?

Maybe even Johann Zarco could win a race. I would like to see that.

I think Pol had the best pace today, closely followed by Marc. Peco about half a second further back along with Alex Marquez, Zarco, Rins and Oli who kept that going for more laps than anyone. Fabio was as fast as the Hondas but less consistent. Some riders seemed to have a lot of issues. Aleix was all over the show. Enea also fast but not many laps. Franco not a good day. Interesting to see how certain riders get on. I hear a lot of positivity but...at least looking at the times it's BS.

This track, helpful for getting prepped to race there but not so for working on your bike for the year. Crazy conditions, brand new. Sepang is good, but still skews the picture. Tough waiting for Round 3 and 4 for "the real picture" revealed. When we got to Europe last season, we all said we could finally see the lay of the land. Still though, we are getting some good info...

The Honda impresses eh? Marc has adjusting and fitness improvement to do, but the bike looks good already and has more in the bag. Pol is fast. The Suzuki is better this season, expecting some good things. The new Ducati has a lot going on to be sorted still. They have bitten off a brave bite of work, and it looks very promising, if not menacing. The Aprilia is real deal! Just some chatter to tame, and it is the most improved bike along with the Honda. 

Question marks at KTM. Changes underway with their program, less with their bike. Yamaha have brought their 2021 bike with a fiddling of the chassis. Quarty, like Marquez, has to WAY override the bike to compete. (Just flip the brake bombing skating for corner entry speed). Pace in open track time may hide performance racing? 

Watched every bit of video I could find. Appreciating your lap time accounting too Wavey. The tech geeks should chime in as well, the new Ducati front end shape shifter, is it good for a 10th or two? What is happening at KTM (how to get that drive grip?)? Can this Aprilia win a race?

Well yes it is a new track and the condition is not good but what it does show is that, as things are now with new bikes, some bikes/riders/crew are having easier times than others. I noticed in some of the commentary that the tone has switched on the Ducati front. It started the year as 'hot favourites', 'rocket', 'best bike on the grid' and now 'has the biggest potential', 'a few teething issues' and will (they are sure) 'show it's true potential later in the year'. That could all change of course, get back to the same old tracks at the right time of the year and things will be different.

Pol and Marc have seemingly been able to produce laps with ease. Peco had a much easier time here than Sepang but it was 'a great day' because of...? Maybe because it was faster than Sepang or maybe because they got a lot of work done...no idea, each is a valid reason for a great day. Martin said he was one of the most competitive and I'm sure he knows better than me but looking at his times and all of the other Ducati....

I do think that it's a good sign for Honda and Yamaha. I don't think Fabio is over-riding anything. Maybe for his time attacks but then so is every rider in the paddock, some more successfully than others. Beyond the time attacks Fabio is one of the riders who in both tests has been able to produce laps times quicker than all but a couple of riders and the lap times he produces do not vary much. Same for the Honda boys. So, new track, difficult circumstances...and at some of the not new tracks this year there will also be difficult circumstances and all riders/teams will have to adapt, it's not just the bike but it is the bike also.

I'll make something before Qatar that'll figure absolutely everything and nothing out all at the same time.

Is it feasible for tracks to be surfaced with the grooved cement type surface you see on motorways and airport runways these days? Wet and dry grip is always excellent and with good drainage you can be sure of a useable track 99% of the time.

It’s exciting to watch the build up to the season. All 23 riders were within 2 seconds at one stage yesterday. These days that’s a fair gap but it wasn’t so long ago that anyone would have taken 2 seconds as not too big a disaster.

My three wishes for this year:

Aprillia to win a race, Remy Gardner to do really well and Marc Marquez to stay healthy. Of course I want everyone else to do well however for me those three things will make this a season to truly remember because they will influence so many other parts of the story. I have another wish and that is for Jack Miller to consistently manage his races better for the whole race. If he does he will shine!!!

Bring it on ….. oh and thanks for the excellent coverage David. Congrats on the scoop on the Ducati front end! 

^ Great wishes pom! I believe the grooved stuff rips up tires a bit. This surface is expected to be cleaned and used a bit before the race weekend. Fingers crossed.

Howzabout "Le Michelin Zamboni?" When GP tires are pulled from bikes, they go to a machine that mounts 10 tires wide on a roller. It is at an angle, driven by a motor. Drop it down, and the take-off tires scrub hard on the track. This reaches temp. Boom, clean and evenly rubbered in track. 

But then, SHOULD we make every track surface Goldilocks ideal? Nah. Just up over the threshold of necessary/sufficient. It was not for this test. It will be for the Round. 

Now, about that COTA resurface. And that one corner reconfiguration. 

Cheers!

My local track, Summit Point West Virginia for years had the worst surface in the USA. Many hours of diplomat driver school in big Fords with street tires would polish the stones and ultimately ripple up the pavement. Finally they put concrete in the corners, and that got polished. Then they scarified that stuff and it was "interesting". Scarified concrete makes a poor all around surface, because while the wet performance might be closer to the dry, the dry performance is greatly reduced. Made for great "local" knowledge when the National boys would come to town. I remember in particular a National 6 hour endurance race, the local BMW dealer wanted me to ride his bike, I was passing a GSXR 1000 on the outside of turn 3 while driving a big BMW twin. Beeping the horn the whole while. That corner like many during that period, was tarmac with a concrete patch, both scarified. Lines included inside the patch, on the patch or outside the patch. Knowing which was best was key.

Yes, good idea. I would be miffed if I turned up to a track day and the track was filthy like this, and I’m just your average Joe. Surely at this ultimate level of riding the track could be street sweepered in the days leading up to the event? I know tracks are wide and long but surely at Mandalika they would find many locals willing to drive the sweepers for a pittance? Seems crazy.

Do I get this right?  that the tires are pulling stones from the asphalt and flinging at following riders ?

Is this normal for newly laid track?    I don't remember hearing of this kind of problem before -- that the asphalt matrix succumbs to torque of tire.   or is it pebbles along with the dirt that create this "excitement"...

It's not only mud, dirt debris & detritus. the tarmac itself has some issues.

Some of the stones are coming out of the track surface. In the video (thanks 'Shrink & Simon Crafar) there has already been some patching done in turn one. The tarmac has been down for while. But if they are driving trucks on the track surface then it will get damaged.

Predicting this will become a longer story like Silverstone and the Circuit of the Americas. It is better to invest more in the beginning and have an asset that lasts. Rather than do the same work over and over again, and have a sub-optimal outcome anyway. I my humble non-civil engineer opinion.

Yes street sweepers, pto driven brushes, press wheel trailers. All this machinery is available.

Get the fire crews to wash the sh1te off the track. We wash the bloody public roads already. Us volunteer firies I mean. Gotta have the trucks at the circuit!

It should have been usable when the teams arrived. Yes I'm looking at you Dorna! You wanted to go to Indonesia. Do your homework and prep. Proper preparation prevents poor performance. Be professional. That is what you get all the big bucks for.

Pol fastest today at 1m 31.06 with more than 7 hours 30 mins to go.