2011 MotoGP Sepang 2 Day 1 Round Up - And The Winner Is ...

Two-and-a-half weeks after they departed, the MotoGP riders are back in Malaysia, and it's almost as if they had never been away. The Hondas and - to a lesser extent - the Yamahas are dominating, with the Ducatis further back, and Valentino Rossi still a second off the fastest man, who, once again, is Casey Stoner on the Repsol Honda.

Despite the resemblances to the first Sepang tests, there are some subtle differences, however. Casey Stoner is clearly fast, but just how fast only becomes clear when you look at the Australian's lap chart. While a group of riders, including Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, Ben Spies and Andrea Dovizioso had managed a handful of laps in the 2'01 bracket, Stoner set fully 17 laps in 2'01, two of those within a tenth of cracking into the 2'00s. And he was on that pace all day, in the cooler morning and evening, as well as the heat of the day.

The Honda is clearly the bike to beat, as the timesheets will attest, and the bike is only getting better. Both Stoner and Pedrosa spent the first day of the test swapping between the 2010 and 2011 chassis, and neither man feels able to make a choice between the two just yet. A request by the Australian to combine parts from the two to get the best of both was met with a curt "No" from HRC, but given the shape the RC212V is in, that is hardly surprising. 

Honda have apparently solved one of the biggest problems they had in Malaysia last time, with Andrea Dovizioso effusive in his praise for the new clutch settings, which had eliminated the chatter on corner entry the bike had previously been suffering with. One Italian media outlet was convinced that this was down to HRC having fitted a Dual Clutch Transmission, taking that as the only rational explanation for the speed of the Hondas. The small matter of DCT being both illegal under the rules (see section 2.4.2 of the MotoGP regulations PDF file) and incredibly easy to identify during a technical inspection was overlooked by Sportmediaset's correspondent. The Italian TV company's reporter later explained himself to GPOne.com, saying that he had meant merely that Honda had applied technology learned from DCT to their MotoGP bikes, while still staying within the rules. Given that all three Repsol Honda riders had mentioned the work done on the clutch when speaking to the press at both this and the previous tests, there may be some merit in the idea, though perhaps not as much as the original story had suggested.

If the Hondas are fast, the Yamahas are right there with them, with Jorge Lorenzo, Ben Spies and Colin Edwards all up front. Biggest surprise of the day in the Yamaha camp was Colin Edwards in 4th, just over a tenth quicker than his old teammate Ben Spies, who has now been promoted from the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team to the factory Yamaha squad. But Edwards, like Hiroshi Aoyama, only picked up a few tenths at the end of the day, when a whole gaggle of riders improved their times on soft tires. The sole slow Yamaha rider was Cal Crutchlow, but while the young Briton's shoulder is improved, Crutchlow is struggling with a minor case of food poisoning he picked up on the flight to Malaysia. Added to the punishing heat and humidity of Sepang, food poisoning is robbing Crutchlow of the strength it takes to ride a MotoGP bike.

The good news for Lorenzo and Spies is that Yamaha, too, has found a few tweaks, with Lorenzo praising the extra rear traction that Yamaha's engineers have found. The new chassis also allows Lorenzo to carry a little more speed into the corners, and keep it through the turn as well. Spies, meanwhile, has been experimenting with some tweaks to his riding style, ironing out the last of his Superbike habits and integrating the things he has learned from following the fast guys around last year. He continues to be on pace to be one of those fast guys for 2011.

Meanwhile, all eyes are on the Ducati garage, and Valentino Rossi's continued progress and adaptation to the Desmosedici GP11. Most of all, the focus has been on the recovery of Rossi's shoulder, and with 53 laps under his belt, it seems like his shoulder is getting rapidly better. His problem, Rossi said, was still in right handers, the Italian still lacking sufficient strength to ride as he would like to. His recovery may be measured by his own estimation of what his shoulder is costing him in terms of lap times: After the first day of the Sepang 1 test, three weeks ago, he said it was probably costing him a second a lap, an amount that had been cut to five or six tenths by the final day of the test. Today, Rossi estimated his shoulder was costing him maybe three tenths of a second, and the Italian was optimistic he could be close to some semblance of fitness by the time Qatar rolls around, though still not at 100%.

Those three tenths due to Rossi's shoulder still leave a sizable gap to the competition, however. Though Rossi did not use a soft tire like so many of his rivals did, the time he set on a hard race tire was still six or seven tenths behind the race times of Stoner and Pedrosa. Minus Rossi's shoulder, Ducati still has to find another three or four tenths to be capable of fighting for wins, and though the new "flexi" package - a mixture of a modified front subframe and the 42mm Ohlins forks - is starting to work increasingly well. So well, in fact, that Rossi and his crew have stopped trying to soften up the bike, to try to get it to turn better, and have now switched focus to getting the best out of the existing package, a setup which Rossi referred to as a "Ducati setting, because it is more like a standard setting," he told Crash.net.

The worry for Rossi, and perhaps more so for themselves, is that the other Ducati riders remain stubbornly cemented to the bottom of the timesheets, with only the test riders, the sickly Cal Crutchlow and the struggling Toni Elias behind them. Hector Barbera was the second fastest Ducati, setting the 11th time over 1.6 seconds behind Stoner, while Nicky Hayden was just 12th fastest. The American was pleased that the chatter which had plagued the Ducati at the previous Sepang test had mostly disappeared, though his complaints of a lack of rear traction suggest that the solution to the chatter problem may have come at a price. There is still plenty to do for Ducati, but the gap has been brought back to something which may turn out to be manageable proportions. 

The good news for Ducati and Rossi fans is that Ducati is clearly making progress. The bad news is that Honda and Yamaha are doing the same, but faster. Two more days remain of testing in Sepang before the teams pack up and head to Qatar for the final test, and then the season opener. Those two days are going to be extremely valuable.

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David. Just a bit of clarification here please. I understood Rossi was using the industry standard 48mm Ohlins. Not the 42mm's of 2009 which Stoner reverted to in last year order to try and find some feel?

There's an audio interview with Burgess on GpOne where he says the 48 fork is what they're used to and it's never given them issues before. Therefore if the Ducati has "flex" issues ie. too rigid, the fork component is not the problem. Would not the softer front subframe and milled triple clamps be enough?

Not speaking Italian the audio is wasted on me, but I did hit the translate button and the reference to the 42 fork, along with the Chassis, is that it has yet to be tried by Rossi and maybe they will leave it?

Reading between the lines, Rossi said today they tried the standard "Ducati setting" and may well be using it as a base for the rest of this test. Does this mean they have adopted the 42? I don't know, do you for sure?

It would surprise me after the comments by Burgess but stranger things have happened. If they do end up starting in Qatar with them, it will kind of vindicate Stoner. Or has Rossi got it in his head he will try and win on that bike with as little change from what Stoner left behind, but not including the 42 which compared to the rest of the Ducatis was not standard, just to prove a point?

"A request by the Australian to combine parts from the two to get the best of both was met with a curt "No" from HRC"

The above quote regarding one of the best MotoGP riders of our day should be noted as evidence that the riders are not in the least responsible for the "development" of a racing machine. The development is done exclusively by the factory engineers. The riders simply feed information on how the bike feels.

Certainly there are differences on who is the best rider at describing what the bike is doing in different situations but I hope this puts to rest the myths regarding which rider is the best at "developing" the motorcycle - none of them.

PS: Stoner is flying. Bad news for the aliens and the rest of the mear mortals.

I would suggest that this is a dramatic oversimplification in understanding development. At this late stage, there is likely no time to do what Casey is asking for, if in fact that is an accurate story.
In my experience, works machines are so different from each other that making wholesale changes and combining the good parts of two bikes to make one, is almost impossible- certainly during a test in any case.
Good example- trying to move a complete set of forks from one chassis to another. Seems easy enough right?
Consider that the triple clamps may be different pitch, height, thickness, and offset. Then, they may use a fully different stem, again, offset in the chassis with different inserts for rake.
Now, we move to the fuel tank, which is specific to that set of clamps, since the offset is such that the tank was designed for it. Further, this particular frame is designed to work with that specific tank and airbox, as is all the bracketry for electronics and bodywork.

See where this is going?

Part of the reason that there are so few true works machines is that they are all designed as systems- to work as a whole, rather than a sum of bin parts.

No doubt the role of engineer is playing an ever larger role is bike development, but those designs are only as good as the stopwatch shows them to be. The rider still is, and will always be, the arbiter of what works.


I'm a bit confused. If you are dissagreeing with me, it seems that all your arguments support my position.

Brookespeed articulated my thoughts pretty well, in case I wasnt clear.

It is exactly the job of the rider to evaluate the "feel" of a bike being tested. Certainly we cant expect Stoner to fire up Solidworks and start to design a new linkage from his iPhone, right? His job is to provide feedback to the engineer for that.

I was really making the point that what Stoner was asking was literally not possible given the time constraints. It wasnt meant to be argumentative- I was just pointing out what Ive learned about the development process over the years.



Combining the good parts of both chassis may end up with a chassis worse than both and maybe the engineers know that. Flex seems to be the main criteria and if you revise a part that the part that works well attaches to it is no guarantee that the part that works well will still work well as you have changed the effective stiffness of the entire assembly. I know the sentence is a bit difficult to follow but if making a top level motorcycle was as easy as picking all the parts that work well suzuki and ducati would not be in the situation they are. The complete bike is the goal and as with any racing motorcycle a compromise must be had in many areas. Improve one area and introduce problems in another. Maybe they feel that the 2 chassis they have represent the best compromise that can be had, one focusing on one area, the other on others. Lap times seem to agree that both are good but riders (justly) always want more and better. I think honda is lucky that they have 2 good chassis, it is a better position than they have been in in a while.


A good experiment will only test one variable at a time. To add variables will render the rest of the data useless. If it's not on the testing schedule and they have limited time, it was probably right to tell him no. I'm sure they are not ignoring his feedback and denying a rider's every request is hardly an indicator that he's not in the least involved in the process.

Interesting answer Wosideg. Seems to contradict the utterings of Burgess and his assertion that the 48's are a known quantity and not part of the inconsistent feeling of the Duke's front end. But then Stoner and crew couldn't possible be right could they now?

You never know your luck Nostro..haha.
Oh and btw, looking at Caseys lap chart from today, I am very impressed..just don't tell anyone on MCN eh?

wosideg comments from someone you know quite well >>

" The Ducati has got the most powerful engine in GP. Rossi is gonna think he's died and gone to heaven when he taps that mofo open and doesn't have to worry about the slipstream..the twisty bits thereafter have never been a problem."

I thought a Dr K thinkpiece a couple of months back mused that the Duc has lost the speed advantage it had a few yrs ago.

I'm not pretending to know, but would sure love to know (that VR has a chariot of fire under him.

Thoughts welcolme ?

Really enjoying reading these 'round-ups.' they give the tests greater meaning than what the timesheets alone can tell us and are of FAR higher quality than what other sites produce.
keep up the good work.

Last year Honda was on par with Ducati on the straights.

I would assume that rest of the riders will only benefit from Rossi's and Burgess's work after they have found a satisfactory solution, meaning that other than Hayden and Rossi the other Ducati's are on the first spec GP11?

I reckon so to , they can only benefit from Rossi/Burgess input. There is an article on one site saying that Rossi has hardly tested anything new and has been concentrating on his position on the bike(something that he has always done). I think they have a lot more to give yet. But limited testing, injury and now illness aren't making it easy for them. Having said that the more difficult the challenge the higher the reward..

I don't doubt Rossi will be there despite the apparent strength of the Hondas. I think they may get in each others way they already appear to be racing each other. But he is cutting it fine to say the least. Also Ducati is playing the usual Rossi game of conflicting info at all turns giving the impression that they are in disarray. To believe that wholly you have to pretend the last 15 years never happened.