It rained today in Jerez. Boy did it rain. The heavens were open for much of the day, with the intensity of the rain varying between a light drizzle and an absolute deluge, sending people scurrying for cover when the skies darkened too much. A few brave souls ventured out to put in laps, but they did not last very long in the conditions. Until around 3pm, that is, when the rain let up, at least for an hour or so, and everyone took to the track. For two hours, testing was at full tilt, before the rain returned to chase most of the MotoGP men back into the pits.
Though having that much rain is hardly what the riders ordered, it still has its advantages. "It's good to be able to test on a fully wet track," Wilco Zeelenberg said after testing. "Normally, it's that half-wet, half-dry stuff, which is hopeless." Real work could be done on a wet set up, and lessons learned for 2013.
One of those lessons proved to be that the rain tires Bridgestone brought to Jerez are not as hardy as they may need to be. "The performance drops a lot after six, seven laps," Valentino Rossi told the press, explaining that the center of the tire wears very quickly. He was not the only one to complain: all of the factory riders, along with Cal Crutchlow, complained of the same thing. They had all destroyed two sets of rain tires in just a couple of hours, and with just four sets of rain tires to last the three days, they would not be able to manage if it rains on all three days.
The reason the tires are being destroyed is fairly simple: the asphalt at Jerez is extremely abrasive, and provides an awful lot of grip even in the wet - the fact that Jorge Lorenzo's fastest time on a fully wet track was just 8 seconds off the dry race lap record speaks volumes of how much grip there is in the wet. Combine that with the fact that the extra horsepower provided by the 1000cc MotoGP machines means they require a different riding style, standing the bike up much earlier to get the bike onto the fat part of the tire and using the extra acceleration of the bike. In the wet, the extra power and the stand-it-up-early riding style is shredding the rear quickly, especially on the abrasive Jerez circuit. At greasy tracks like Le Mans or Sepang, that won't be so much of a problem.
Speaking of standing it up, I spent some time at the hairpin, before the front straight, watching the riders during the busiest part of the day. I had gone specifically to watch Marc Marquez, having heard reports from people in Sepang of his extraordinary riding style. There, it was the fact that the young Spanish prodigy was starting to tip the bike in while his rear wheel was still in the air, something that was impossible in the wet conditions at Jerez.
At Jerez, what makes him special was visible on corner exit: it was clear that Marquez was getting on the gas earlier than any of the other riders, standing the bike up early to grab as much drive as possible. But how he did that was remarkable: accelerating hard shortly after the apex, he seemed to be using the tendency of the bike to fling itself outward to help get the bike upright, before catching it and giving it even more throttle, accelerating even harder before getting completely upright and firing off down the straight. It looked eerily similar to catching a highside, using the centripetal force of the bike to help get it stood up, done twice in short succession on the exit of the corner.
LCR Honda's Stefan Bradl was using a similar style, but where Bradl seemed to be using a lot of physical effort to get the bike upright, Marquez looked to be letting the bike do all the work. It is a risky strategy, because if the bike does too much work, then Marquez could easily find himself on a flyby of the International Space Station, but it is similar to the method he used in Moto2, where he won by exiting corners faster. It is also reminiscent of the man he replaced, Casey Stoner. Stoner's style looked ragged and aggressive, but it was only the bike that moved around when Stoner rode it, the Australian himself sat perched smoothly and calmly aboard the bike. Marquez is much the same: he looks wild, spectacular, but look just at his body, and he is in total control, not expending much effort at all.
I also had time to watch Valentino Rossi at the hairpin, and good place to watch riders under braking and getting the bike to turn. It was a totally different prospect to the man I watched on the Ducati, exuding confidence, pleasure, looking totally at ease on the bike. Rossi's problem is that he is still two seconds behind his teammate, and a second behind the two Repsol Hondas, but it is hard to compare times precisely. Though Rossi was effusive in his praise of his teammate, pointing out that a 1'47 lap in conditions like that is an extraordinary feat, but he also said that timing of laps was crucial. Going out with a new tire at just the right time, when the standing water and rivulets crossing the track had disappeared, was key to turning a fast lap, and Rossi had not got that combination right. It is not something you can plan for, with only four sets of rain tires, and wasting a set of tires just to chase a fast lap was not worth it.
He had also had a recurrence of the electrical problem he had suffered in Sepang. Rossi fans had feared that the Italian had inherited the bad juju which had plagued Ben Spies when he was in the garage next to Jorge Lorenzo, after a series of niggles had halted progress in Sepang. But Rossi told reporters that his problems were down to a single part, rather than the multiple problems Spies seemed to suffer. Rossi's problem kept on rearing its ugly head, and neither Yamaha nor his crew had found a solution to it just yet. The problem being down to just a single part is hopeful, meaning that it should at least be something which can be fixed.
Rossi was also full of praise for both Michele Pirro and Andrea Iannone. Pirro's fast time was to be expected, he said, given the number of laps Pirro had done and the tires he appeared to be using. But Iannone being so fast - the Pramac Ducati man ended the day in 4th, ahead of both Pirro and Rossi himself, and half a second off the time of Pedrosa - that was something impressive, Rossi said.
Cal Crutchlow had a lot to say after the first day of testing, though not much of it had to do with the testing itself. The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha man made no secret of his disappointment at the gap between his bike and the factory Yamahas, and Yamaha's chosen strategy of having clearly different levels of development between the satellite and factory machines. At Honda, the approach is different: all four bikes start the season in almost identical trim, the factory machines getting upgrades first, with satellite bikes following a few races later. That was not the case at Yamaha, Crutchlow said. "My bike is basically the same bike which Lorenzo started last season on," he said, adding that they were a year or more behind the factory team.
The bikes of Bradl and Alvaro Bautista were identical to the Repsol bikes, Crutchlow said, joking that even Bautista's suspension was the same. The Gresini team are using Showa, rather than Ohlins suspension, but Bautista's bike was using "Ohlins painted black" Crutchlow quipped. The Tech 3 man accepted that this was what he had to fight the season with, but said he was disappointed in the lack of support from Yamaha. "If I'm even half competitive with what I've got, if they give me something else I could be even more competitive," he said, but he wouldn't bother asking for updates. "Yamaha have a clear policy, a factory team is a factory team, and a satellite team is a satellite team."
This lack of support, in Crutchlow's eyes, could have consequences. If Yamaha needed help to fend off the challenges from Marquez and Pedrosa, Crutchlow was not inclined to be supportive. "I have no interest in helping anyone," Crutchlow said. "Why should I? I'm not contracted to Yamaha." Crutchlow had signed to return at Tech 3 for this season on the tacit understanding that he would get more support. That has not been forthcoming, in his opinion, and so the Englishman is likely to leap at the first chance of a factory ride that he gets. With the Yamaha and the Honda seats full, that will have to be elsewhere. Though it is very, very early days, it appears that Crutchlow's time with Yamaha will not extend much beyond this season.
Testing continues at Jerez on Sunday, and the concerns over the lack of rain tires look set to be unfounded. Right now, some time after 1am on Saturday night local time, the skies are clear and the stars are out. Rain could fall in the morning, but it will be only a smattering, not a full-on downpour. Sunday could finally see some dry track time for the MotoGP men. The times set in the wet today may have been interesting, but they are hardly a reflection of the real standing in the paddock. Tomorrow, we should know more.
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