2014 Phillip Island MotoGP Friday Round Up - Special Tires For A Special Circuit, And The Rules For 2016

Phillip Island is a very special race track. That has an upside – it rewards courage and talent, and has provided some spectacular racing – but it is also special in the more pejoratively euphemistic sense of the word. It challenges not just the riders, but motorcycle designers and racing teams as well. Above all, it challenges tire manufacturers: with wildly varying temperatures, strong winds blowing in cool and damp air off the ocean, an abrasive surface, high-speed corners, more left handers than right handers, and the most of the lefts faster than the rights. It can rain, be bitterly cold, be bathed in glorious sunshine, or in sweltering heat. Try building a tire to cope with all that.

After last year's fiasco, both Dunlop and Bridgestone tried to do just that. They came to the track in March to test tires and gather data to build tires for this weekend. The only minor problem is that the test came at the end of Australia's long summer, and temperatures were much more congenial than now, as the country emerges from its Antipodean winter. The tire selections brought by Dunlop and Bridgestone are much better than last year, but they are not quite perfect. At any other track, that wouldn't be a problem. At Phillip Island, even being not quite perfect can land you in trouble.

That tires are an issue was evident from the number of riders who crashed, both in MotoGP and in Moto2. Most crashed in right handers, a lot going down at MG, which would be one of the most difficult corners of the year wherever it was located, but a fair few followed suit at Hayshed, the right hander that follows on from Siberia (the most aptly named corner on the calendar) and precedes Lukey Heights. There were crashes at the Honda hairpin as well, the other right hander, where hard braking is at a premium.

Temperature played a role in both Moto2 and MotoGP. With track temperatures around 35°, it was a little too warm for the extra soft front tire, and not quite warm enough for the soft tire. Making it much more difficult was the wind, sucking away any heat the riders managed to get into the right side of the tire. The asymmetric front, which has a softer compound on the right side, was a little better than the symmetric version of the same tire, but even then, the right side rubber was a little too hard, some riders felt. Aleix Espargaro said he would have liked the asymmetric tire to have the extra soft compound on right, and something halfway between the extra soft and the soft on the left.

Conditions should improve over the rest of the weekend, with temperatures expected to rise as the weekend goes on. The one problem which many MotoGP riders were worrying about is the fact that the race on Sunday starts late, at 4pm local time. That is right about the time when it starts to cool down a little, making choosing a front tire a very difficult choice. The extra soft tire – the 31, to use its Bridgestone denomination – might just work if it cools off enough. But the focus for Saturday will be working on the asymmetric tire. With a day's experience and two sessions of data to work with, the teams will come up with better solutions.

The rear tire is less of a problem, though the much harder compound being used to give it endurance means that the lap times are nearly a second slower than last year. That had been a deliberate choice: the tires tested in March were only half a second slower than last year's race tires, but even they did not have the endurance to last a full race simulation. The compounds which Bridgestone have brought would definitely last race distance, the riders agreed. That left the teams with a lot of work to do, however. "We have to work on set up to stop the tire from spinning too much," Rossi told reporters. The rear spinning was a problem for everyone, however, the result of the choice of a harder option.

Is Bridgestone's choice of a harder tire the right one? The rider consensus says that it is. Phillip Island is indeed very special, and it was always thus. "This track is very, very difficult for the tires," Valentino Rossi told reporters. "Also in the past this track was very critical in terms of blisters, even on the 500s." A repeat of the 2013 fiasco has been averted, with Bridgestone telling teams to run 0.35 to 0.4 bar extra in the rear to help prevent blistering. But creating a perfect tire for Phillip Island may only be possible by violating the laws of physics.

So who did best? Jorge Lorenzo made his intentions perfectly clear, lapping quickly both morning and afternoon, and maintaining a very consistent pace. Marc Marquez was second fastest, but not far off Lorenzo's time, and if anything, even more consistent than the Movistar Yamaha rider. Marquez had struggled with rear grip in the morning, but his crew had worked hard to find solutions. That progress should worry his rivals.

The Ducatis were fast, but not happy. Both Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone complained of a lack of feeling from the rear tire, making it easy to push over the limit. At a track where the Ducatis should be at a disadvantage, they are surprisingly fast. If they can create a bit more feel at the rear, they might even be competitive.

The improvement is not just down to the Desmosedici GP14.2, either. Cal Crutchlow is much more competitive here than he was a few races, the upward trend from Aragon continuing. The gap to the front is much reduced, and the Englishman is 7th, sandwiched very tightly between the two Espargaro brothers. Crutchlow's improvement confirms the theory that it takes about a year to get used to the Ducati. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for Crutchlow, that knowledge won't be much use to him next year. But as he'll be on a Honda RC213V, I doubt he'll be too worried.

The man who may be worried is Dani Pedrosa. The Spaniard struggled all day on Friday in the low grip conditions. Playing on his mind, perhaps, may be the news that his long-time crew chief, Mike Leitner, told him that he would not be back at his side again in 2015. Though Leitner said officially that it was largely due to personal reasons, he also made it clear to the German publication Speedweek that the decision of Pedrosa to replace two of his mechanics had played a part. There had been rumors earlier in the year that Pedrosa had been thinking of dropping Leitner as well, and that cannot have made for a solid working relationship. Who will replace Leitner is as yet unknown. Leitner himself has put forward Ramon Aurin, who is currently Pedrosa's data engineer. Leitner himself will take three months off to think about his own future, though as an Austrian living just an hour from the KTM factory in Mattighofen, he would make the ideal technician to help guide KTM's MotoGP project, due to debut in 2017.

There have also been discussions among the existing manufacturers on the future of MotoGP. The new set of regulations for 2016 only specify the use of the spec ECU and spec software, 17-inch wheels and the return of Michelin as the single tire supplier. The remainder of the rules are still open, though there are only three real questions on the table: fuel, weight, and engine allocations.

According to Moto.it's Giovanni Zamagni, the three current manufacturers all have slightly different ideas on the subject. As you might expect, Honda want to keep the fuel allowance as stingy as possible, proposing to raise it only be a single liter to 21 liters. Yamaha would be happy with either 21 or 22 liters, while Ducati want 22 liters. Dorna are keen to have the fuel allowance as generous as possible, making 22 liters the more likely limit. At most circuits, that would be more than enough, with only Motegi and possibly Misano being a real problem.

Where Ducati and Honda do agree is on the minimum weight. They would like to see the minimum dropped to 156kg from its current 160kg. Yamaha, however, are keener on 158kg, as their bike is both physically larger, and they have taller and heavier riders, as a rule.

The real bone of contention will be engine development and allocations, however. Both Yamaha and Honda want 6 engines per season, and engine development frozen for the year. New factories would be allowed 8 engines, and be free to develop their engines, as is currently the case. Ducati, however, want up to 9 engines a season and free development, though they are willing to compromise, allowing two or three update moments during the season. Honda, especially, have raised the engine durability regulations as one of the major R&D benefits of MotoGP at the moment, and with the electronics removed, this will be more important. Honda may be willing to compromise on one of their three demands, but not on two.

Most likely is that some form of compromise will be found along the lines of the current competitiveness concession for Ducati. Factories who have not won a given number of races in the last few years may be given extra concessions, to allow engine development and more engines. Those concessions could be taken away if and when they start winning. With that in place, Honda may be willing to concede 22 liters of fuel, and both Honda and Ducati pushing through 156kg as a minimum weight.

Any final decision will probably have to wait, though. More meetings will take place at Sepang, with a preliminary agreement either at Valencia or in December. The factories won't start concentrating on 2016 until the preseason tests in February and March have finished, and the grid assembles at Qatar for the kickoff of the 2015 season. That gives the factories a little more leeway and a little more time to reach an agreement.

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I don't like this trend of pushing races into bad times of the day in flyaway races just because some guys in Europe can't be arsed getting out of bed. Events at Suzuka a few weeks ago should have highlighted the folly of such decisions, and with Phillip Island having some of the most fickle weather conditions imaginable, having racing at anything other than the optimal time of day seems like inviting disaster.

Given what they've done to TV viewing numbers while chasing the short term dollars from pay tv stations, it seems unusual that Dorna even care how many are watching the race anyhow.

Go Lorenzo!

I agree with you, it's half 5 in the morning in the UK and Q2 is about to start, I've been up since half 4 when fp4 started. It makes no difference to me if I get up at 4,5 or 6, as I will tomorrow. They are crazy to think an hour later this early in the day is going to affect fans decision to get up.

I personally love the flyaways, it's dark and completely quiet because everyone else is asleep, perfect! Ha ha

"Some guys in Europe can't be arsed to get out of bed" is just about the most banal word sequence I have yet read in posts on this site.

As a European and a fan of MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 (especially Moto3 of recent years; actually that's not entirely true, I'm a fan of any racing where there is frequent overtaking at the front) I will get out of bed early, stay up late and sometimes even travel great distances for races. Like you, I'd much rather the racing timing suited my circadian rhythm for sure. Unlike you I adjust without saying daft things, and unlike you I prefer scrappy racers to time trial specialists.

It is the time trial specialists who are more responsible than anything Dorna could do for any decreased spectator interest. Even my interest waned at the sport's bleakest moments, watching Stoner and Lorenzo trying so hard to get into situations so as to not require passing manoeuvres...

The time trial specialists are hence the far greater real risk to the financial needs of our favourite sport, rather than the precise hour that the Europeans prefer to watch races.

You've rather missed my point, mate. It had nothing at all to do with me or when I wanted to watch the race.

The race was run 2 hours later than normal to suit [predominantly European, since that's the main market] TV scheduling, that is simple fact. They moved the race to a potentially more dangerous (for the riders) time of the day because they believe more people will watch it if it's at a more convenient time slot in their largest markets.

As I predicted, the weather at that sub-optimal time of day played a part in the outcome of the race. In this case it was a lot cooler than it would have been at the normal race time of 2pm, which contributed to a lot of accidents. To put it plainly - the riders were exposed to an unnecessary degree of extra risk to try to make it more convenient to view the race in their largest markets. This precise reasoning is why the Suzuka F1 race was run in the dark and in a monsoon, with farcical and tragic results.

As for the rest of your rant, you are perfectly entitled to voice your own opinions but you should perhaps avoid jumping to conclusions about others - particularly when they're so wrong.

I am discouraged to hear that there is even CONSIDERATION of a fuel limit as low as 21. Please Dorna, err on the generous side re fuel and engines. Honda had its turn with the rulebook already. Please make it a 5 - 6 manufacturer discussion and take equal consideration of Suzuki and Aprillia.
HRC = Have Ruined Competition

Go Rossi!

In a world of hybrid F1 cars and ever-increasing fuel economy for street vehicles of all types, why would racing vehicles with increasingly WORSE fuel efficiency be attractive to the boards of directors of those other manufacturers that you're trying to attract? Those directors are the folks who have to sign off on the multi-million-dollar race programs.

There's a reason that Honda, Yamaha and Ducati are all within one liter of each other in what they want, and that Suzuki and Aprilia are entering next year under Factory rules, not Open. And that means 20 liters, not the 24 they could have chosen.

Just my 0.02.

To answer your question, because MotoGP is for *racers* and, sadly, it has been a good long while since F1 was for racers. And BTW, Suzuki and Aprilia will be on 24 liters next year, along with Ducati.

I'll stand corrected on the fuel (although it remains to be seen how much fuel the Suzuki and Aprilias actually will have on-board).

But please, spare me the "MotoGP is for racers" hyper-romantic hyperbole. It's a business with tens of millions of dollars at stake, and no multinational conglomerate goes racing for funsies.

The idea that anyone builds a MotoGP bike because "MotoGP is for racers" is an idea that is as detached from reality as Jared's belief that Eugene Laverty ceded a place to Max Biaggi at the Moscow WSBK race in 2012 because of team orders.

Just a shame that when KTM brought their 'KERS' unit (a small generator taking power from engine braking and providing less than 1hp extra acceleration) to the 125cc class, it was banned, at the request of the manufacturers.

I agree - banning a technology like that would be a shame. It will be interesting to see hybrid and other powerplants on racebikes a decade from now. People laugh at electric bikes, but when Michael Barnes (IIRC) told me at the MotoGP event at Laguna a few years back that his electric bike was faster across the start-finish line than any of the 600s there, I went to check, and he was right - by like eight miles an hour. But there's always the balance between R&D and what you're selling.

What the slight relaxation on fuel capacity proposed by the factories means (to me) is that Honda and Yamaha have learned what they wanted to learn by going that direction - for now. Same with reliability - they've gotten what they wanted along those lines, for the moment. You still have to sell the R&D thing to the board so they'll fund your race team, so now I am wondering - what is the next push toward? It will be interesting.

You can always tell when the manus feel they've gone far enough down a path and they feel that they've learned what they wanted to learn for the moment. They'll agree to stop working in a particular direction.

Case in point: the electronics package. I suggested a while back that the manus agreed to the "spec" package and software because the technology had matured to the point where the hardware is cheap and the knowledge base had expanded to the point where you can get the bike to do what you want it to do with a relatively cheap box.

Check out Chris Ulrich's on-track review of the BMW racebikes in the latest Roadracing World. The BSB bike, with spec software and a spec box, was a kitten to ride. Chris said Kiyonari's bike was so docile that it felt like the TC was turned on and that the engine braking system felt like one that was banned in BSB. And the electronics on Sylvain Barrier's EVO-spec WSBK machine, based on a $2,500 kit ECU, were mind-bogglingly good. (Funny thing was that the most evil beast was the IOM machine, which was built almost like a land speed record bike.)

Of course, you have to have the team and the factory behind you to make it work. Such is the nature of the beast ...

The above consideration of fuel limits is regarding the 2016 season - sincere question, am I missing something re rules in being under the impression that everyone falls under one set of rules there?

Morbidelli, overemphasizing the relevance of manufacturer's interest/need in developing fuel efficiency for production bikes seems really similar to me as under considering it. Are you sure you want to swing it that far? There are LOTS of venues for them to address that focus. HOW pertinent it is in MotoGP seems a more valuable perspective to me than IF.

And of course the E bikes are on a big development trajectory, and I am interested as well. It has been fun here locally to conect with Michael Czyz re his E bike challenge.

Honda has goal oriented reasons to over represent their actual value received from fuel efficiency dev in GP when it benefits them in particular to lower the fuel allocation. So on and so forth, there is a ton going on here of course.

Respectfully submitted,

My "Grand Unifying Field Theory of How To Get Your Corporate Board To Sign Off On Your Racing Program" follows this line of thinking:

You, as the race department, have to be able to make an argument (with a straight face) that racing is necessary to develop XXX technology or to push the limits of said technology. Whether it's electronic rider aids, fuel consumption, engine longevity or whatever, R&D has to be part of the sales pitch.

This next bit is critical:

It doesn't have to be the SOLE reason for going racing. It just has to be a CREDIBLE part of it.

If the Board of Directors just feels like going racing, signs the checks, then gets called on the carpet by shareholders for spending money on racing, the board members need a fig leaf for their actions. R&D, combined with marketing, etc., serve that function. (Brief aside: How much publicity and positive PR has Suzuki gotten from a MotoGP bike that hasn't turned a lap in anger yet? Pretty cool, huh?)

The tech argument works as a fig leaf in another way: If you get your ass kicked (which, let's face it, Aprilia and Suzuki are likely to experience) but get a little R&D done, then you can make the argument to the board that the racing expenditure was not wasted.

So it's a balance between the two. And I suspect that what we're seeing is Honda and Yamaha's racers saying, OK, we've done really well in the fuel efficiency department over the past couple of years. Reliability - just wow. An entire MotoGP season on five engines? Did well there.

What do we have that's new that can we sell to the board?

And honestly, I don't know what they've got up their sleeves. But I'm fascinated to see what they come up with next.

(If I'm betting, it's braking and ABS).

My thoughts.

p.s. My understanding about 2016 is the same as yours - same max fuel, electronics, etc., for everyone. If Honda and Yamaha really wanted to use the rulebook to screw the other manufacturers, they'd simply say, let's all stay at 20 liters. And the mischievous part of me is saying, if Honda and Yamaha can kick everyone else's butt with 20 liters, what are they going to be able to do with 22?