2017 Sepang MotoGP Test Round Up, Part 2: Suzuki, Rookies, Aprilia, KTM, And Tire Talk

While Maverick Viñales and Marc Márquez emerged from the Sepang tests as clear favorites, with Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa, and Andrea Dovizioso close behind, Andrea Iannone established himself as a genuine dark horse. The Italian was fastest on Tuesday, and left the test as second quickest behind Viñales.

Iannone has inherited a bike that is already well developed, and Suzuki brought engine upgrades to Sepang which got them even closer to the front. It was telling that Iannone did not spend much time testing parts, but rather focusing on race set up and working on extracting maximum performance from a used tire.

Tires were a bit of a problem for Iannone on the last day of the test. He crashed three times, including once as he was attempting a long run, the front washing out at Turn 1. The issue proved to be a vibration in low speed corners. "I have a small vibration in the slow corners," Iannone said. "In the fast corner the bike is perfect. There is no vibration, no chattering. But in the slow corner, especially in turns four, nine, 14 and the last corner, we have a small vibration at maximum lean angle." That vibration got worse as the tires became more worn.

Needle in a haystack

Was it a faulty tire? Michelin boss Nicolas Goubert said that the French tire maker would be examining all of the tires after the test to check for problems. But preventing vibrations in tires is complex. The tires are balanced on laser balancing machines after they have been fitted to wheels to ensure they are as perfectly balanced as possible. They are then given to the teams, who roll them away and put them in tire warmers, ready to be used.

From that point, a multitude of factors may change the behavior of the tires and wheels. Temperature variations due to imperfect tire warmers can slightly alter the shape of the tires. Small knocks while the wheel is fitted in the bike may cause a minor imbalance in the tire or wheel. Brake discs and hubs can wear unevenly, causing a vibration. Suspension can have a huge impact on tire wear and bike behavior. Pinning down a vibration to a single cause is notoriously difficult. That is both convenient for Michelin and a pain. Teams can point at Michelin, and Michelin can point at teams, and it is impossible to tell who is right.

Rins and repeat

Iannone's teammate Alex Rins had a very good test at Sepang. He had started slowly on Monday, looking to build his confidence after the massive crash he had at Valencia, his first outing on the MotoGP bike. He quickly got his speed back, cutting 1.8 seconds off his lap time between Monday and Wednesday, more than any other rider present. He ended the test in twelfth, just a fraction behind his teammate, and ahead of established riders such as Danilo Petrucci, Jack Miller, Hector Barbera and Scott Redding.

But Rins was not the most impressive rookie. That, in the opinion of almost everyone present, was Johann Zarco. Zarco had spent Tuesday morning riding on wet tires on a drying track, trying to get to deepen his understanding of where the limits lay on a MotoGP bike. He improved his time by nearly 1.5 seconds over the three days, and showed good consistency.

Rookie rampage

Valentino Rossi had told the media he had been impressed by both Monster Tech 3 Yamaha riders. "Zarco made a very good job," he commented afterwards. "Also Folger was fast. I followed him, and he rode very well." Zarco – a sensitive soul, serious and intense – was deeply touched by Rossi's words. He had gone racing after watching Rossi on TV, so to be complimented by his idol was something that left him moved.

Jonas Folger may have been slower than his teammate, but the German had also made good progress. He had not improved his times much – just 0.3 from Monday to Wednesday – but that was more a function of how quick he was on Monday, rather than how slow he was on Wednesday. Folger had clearly benefited a lot from the test he had at Sepang in November.

Last of the rookies, Sam Lowes, has perhaps the hardest row to hoe. Lowes, like Rins and Zarco, also had to regain his confidence after a big crash at the end of last year, and had a lot of adapting to do to the Aprilia. The RS-GP has made big strides forward, but still lacks horsepower compared to the other bikes. Lowes had improved his time by 1.6 seconds over three days, only Alex Rins and Bradley Smith having improved their times more. He ended the test 1.2 seconds behind his teammate, but looking forward to Phillip Island for a track that would allow him to understand the bike better.

Aleix Espargaro was pleased with the progress Aprilia had made, but still had one real complaint about horsepower. He was not using any traction control, he said, because the bike was not powerful enough to need it. The chassis was good, the bike turned, but he was simply suffering in acceleration. More horsepower is needed to fix this. And as I wrote on Monday, Espargaro has already tested a special aerodynamic package in a wind tunnel in Italy. That "very strange fairing" as he described it, will make an appearance at a later test.

KTM's workload

The younger Espargaro has a lot more work to do. The KTMs ended the test just under two seconds off the best time of Viñales, but that is closer than Suzuki ended in their first Sepang test when they returned to MotoGP. Both Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith had been impressed by the work which KTM had done, but also overwhelmed by the amount of material they had to test, and the scale of the work ahead of them. The potential of the bike was very high, and they still had a lot of work to do to get it there.

Standing track side, it was clear how much work was left to do. The KTM RC16 was clearly a handful, the bike moving around under braking and on acceleration out of corners. I asked Pol Espargaro whether the bike was physical to ride. "Yeah, so much," he replied. "It’s really different than the bikes that we are used to riding. It’s physically demanding."

That was taking its toll physically. "It needs to be ridden wild," Espargaro added. "But even like that you get really tired. Even though the bike is wild the electronics and things make the movements of the bike even bigger. You have to hold it with the body. This is so physical."

The upside of that is that the KTM rewards a physical approach. "For sure the KTM is a bike that, when you push more, the lap time comes. You can make a crazy lap and the lap time comes." The problem is that maintaining that level of physical intensity was hard. "Making consecutive laps is really difficult. That’s what we were trying today – not just to make one lap, but trying to repeat with a used tire. This is the most important point right now. We can make one good lap but after this the bike becomes too aggressive and too nervous. We are trying and I’m happy. We’ve made big, big steps."

KTM had brought a stack of parts for Espargaro and Smith to get through, in reality, too much to do at one test. But they were fairly settled on their choice of chassis, with Smith preferring it a little more than Espargaro did. They also had swing arms to test, but that was not the priority. For both Espargaro and Smith, getting the bike to turn was the biggest challenge the KTM faced. Once that was working, they could focus on rear grip and drive.

Tires test too

It wasn't just the factories who had brought new parts to test. Michelin also had some new front tires for the teams to try, two with a different construction, and two with a different compound. The construction was aimed at providing better warm up, and the compound at improving the grip. The tires were generally well-received, though the difference they made was rather small.

That, in itself, is telling. The biggest difference Michelin had made came at Valencia last year, when they brought a front tire with a new profile. That had created a larger contact patch on the edge of the tire, and provide better grip. That profile will form the base for Michelin's tires in 2017.

The fact that there were so few crashes was a sign the new Michelin front was working. The tire is good enough, and the riders and teams have the balance of the bike dialed in well enough to be able to understand where the limit is well enough to avoid crashing.

There were a few riders who fell, but the only serious faller was Tito Rabat, who crashed very heavily on Tuesday in mixed conditions, a huge highside in which he broke bones in his foot and hand, and opened up a nasty wound on his knee. Rabat has already undergone surgery to fix the problems, but he is likely to miss out on the next test at Phillip Island.

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I've been a fan of Bradley since I started watching MotoGP. His ability to accurately explain what is happening on the bike from the rider's perspective is always appreciated. I look forward to seeing the factory's performance this year. They seem to have brought a winning approach to the other classes. I know Stefan Pierer was clearly against road-going superbikes when they axed the RC8, but part of me hopes to see another true sportbike out of Mattighofen after this concerted effort in roadracing.

< a multitude of factors may change the behavior of the tires and wheels. Temperature variations due to imperfect tire warmers can slightly alter the shape of the tires. Small knocks while the wheel is fitted in the bike may cause a minor imbalance in the tire or wheel. Brake discs and hubs can wear unevenly, causing a vibration. Suspension can have a huge impact on tire wear and bike behavior> 


Temperature variations - check, brake discs - check, hubs - check, suspension - check. Small knocks while fitting?, God forgive a rider getting either the front or rear wheel airborne and it impacting back on the road or bouncing over the kerb or running through the gravel or hitting a fat grasshopper at 300 plus- was that part written by Michelin?

To follow up on what twistedmember there said.

Even if all those factors are accepted. All those factors applied when Bridgestone was the supplier too.

So surely the real question is are the Michelin's perceived as appreciably less or more consistent than the Bridgestone's. Put another way is there room for improvement from Michelin.

The unqualified (so perhaps wrong) impression I get from articles like this one. Also the number of reports last season with claims of anomolous or bad tyres. Is that they're seen as less consistent.

I would definitely agree there are more complaints now than there were with the later Bridgestones. That could be because the teams and riders have a lot less experience and data with the Michelins. If the tires are very sensitive to set up, then they may get the settings just wrong enough to generate chatter or a vibration. A lot of the complaints have been about vibration, so there is reason to think there is something in this.

The proof will be in seeing what happens in year 3 and year 4 of the contract. By then, the teams should have a greater understanding of the subtleties of the tires. The cause is much more likely to be Michelin by then.

It is worth pointing out that the spec tire supplier brings a lot of tires to each race. Some 350-400 tires get used every race. The sheer power of raw numbers will produce the occasional duff tire.

Thanks for the thoughts. I agree it's unfair to compare Bridgestone at the end of their many years experience and Michelin in their first years. As I did.

Though, if you do make that unfair comparison, I do think there's a suggestion of a higher ceiling of quality control they can strive toward.

I'm sure if they don't get there it won't be for a lack of effort.

Suzuki has a unique frame design to enhance lateral frame flexibility for corners while keeping high stiffness axialy for braking and acceleration. They hold their engine with carbon fiber struts from the frame which can be changed out to suit the track like tuning forks.

You can see these in the photo below. In particular the leading one which is paitned like a peice of body work (the "k" in SUZUKI) is actually part of the frame and can be swapped out with a few bolts .


You can also read about their overall concept towards frame designs andlateral stiffness in this published paper.


Suzuki and other manufactures try to match their chassis to best perform with the tires lateral and radial stiffness.  The tire is the first spring in what is effectivly a double mass spring system. Such systems are notorius for instability and need to be dampend or designed out by careful selection of the spring pairs over some assumed range of input forces.

When a bike is vertical the forks are the second spring and have fluid damping, when leaned over the chassis lateral stiffness is the second spring and has no fluid damping so it has no defense against unwanted vibrations should the surface conditions and frequency of their input line up to excite the natural ring in this this double mass spring system.

The Bridgestones were naturally stiffer tires, riders calling them Brickstones after the switch from Michelins provides an indication. Having a softer carcus means it can move around more and take shape to the under load, it also means designing out vibration is harder as points where this movement can become more a potential issue are more prevalent.

The comments above from Iannone are intresting because they pinpoint a particular speed of corner, in otherwords a specific range of input load and frequency, where the problem occured.

This confirms the issue is not the tire alone here but rather how it fits in with the bike in this multiple spring-mass system.  Look out for Suzuki to fill their "tuning forks" with a fluid of somekind or jell next.

WELL SAID. Just thinking the same but much less articulated. The Michelin is giving different feel (and perhaps just plain more info re feel). Same when going from commonly available road race Dunlops to Pirellis for instance. Softer carcass. And the bike leaned over is a whole "instrument" of resonance.

Btw this is coming from Iannone. About the rear at lean.
He has gotten on the Suzuki and pushed it right to here. I don't want to sound critical of him, and see a strength here that he just grabs the bike and goes fast. But he isn't particularly particular nor nuanced. Hope Tsuda (and Aoki?) has development duties well in hand. Hoping Brivio's experience with development can help, and that someone on the team has a good read on what needs doing when they get Iannone style feedback about complex resonance feedback.

Tip of the hat to Iannone and pace btw. I remain one of the more encouraged about his possibility. And hopeful about the Suzuki.

But more so, what ^ Kenup said!

Great summation part one and two David. I am lookng most forward to the 2017 season, much like I did the inauguration 800cc 2007 season. 

2016 was a transition year, 2017 is the real deal. Aprilia and KTM are catching up at rate of knots. The establishment is due for a long overdue 'shake-up' and it looks like the cards are in place. Hats off to Michelin! They have done a remarkable job. Sepang test was an 'iffy' test, yet a trending one. A dry PI test will give us a better perspective as the Sepang surface and weather switche's scupper many bottom lines. Most impressive for me in Sepang 2017 has been Alvaro Bautista. The anticipated top guns were expected and delivered as expected. Old news.

I agree w you on every point here Pit, and would add that while Beautista has impressed that he got on a sorted bike and made it go fast. I don't expect much from him over the season. Didn't of Barbera either although he amazed some last yr.

Vinales is news. It is happening. That doesn't put some octane in your fuel?
And the whole field is so CLOSE.

"bike moving around under braking and on acceleration"
"bike was physically demanding"
"needs to be ridden wild"
"too aggressive and too nervous"
I'm pretty sure I've heard 'em before...
Oh yeah, the early years of the Desmos up until '09, when they were using - what else - steel trellis chassis. The only difference was engine power.
Both Pol and Bradders could use some advice from Casey Stoner, I reckon.

The Ducati trellis GP bike was just as much a frameless design as the carbon one that superseded it, mounting direct from the engine top works and not extending down to the base of engine or swing arm mount. You can see that here.


It was also rock solid under braking which was never deminshed until the Gigi bike to try and improve cornering.  

The other remarks about physically demanding is more about the CG placment of the bike.  

Here  the engine layout is a predominant player and the analogy holds true, but it also does for other mfgrs with similar V4 layouts, such as Honda, with the least physically demanding bikes on the grid being the Inline-4's.

KTM are very close to where they need to be and a few small changes here or there on the trellis as simple as putting in some gusset plates can give them what they neved. Time to pack a welder and hand grinder in the bags to Austrailia. How cool would it be to hear sounds of real work taking place a a GP paddok once again.

Kernup thankyou for the post. I had never linked physicality to engine configuration before, but now after your explanation it makes perfect sense.

David I would seriously pay double subscription fees if you could get kernup283 to get technical explanations on developments throughout the year.
He/she seems to have some insider knowledge, but even if they don't the way the concepts are explained is outstanding. Not to mention there are pictures!

I will never forget my first time on a Ducati 998R turned loose on a track. Such sweet feel! I know, apples and oranges, but I believe in/have faith in what I have experienced more than anything. The KTM project is SO cool!

There was more to the struggles of Duc in MotoGP pre Gigi than the materials of the frame. But there IS something about which materials are best consistently suited to work well with the demands of this level of performance dynamically. So much is coming together in Orange that we have not yet seen elsewhere. Staying curious.

I really want it to work for KTM THEIR way.
Exciting times!

I never did find issues with the trelis frame anchored by the L-TWIN pivot as a load bearing chassis component. It was a super stable platform, but admittedy did not turn as quick as one would like, so you had to muscle it in the slow bits and rear wheel steer to an extent. The twinspar alloy beam frame that Gigi is developing is what he has been lumped with circa Preziosi axing and Rossi failure circa 2011/12.

Thing is, since 2012, the L-4 Ducati still does not turn quick and stable even with twin spar alloy frame. For Ducati much of a muchness....trellis, CF, Alloy twinspar. Give KTM some slack 2017 and watch the trellis L-4 space. As ever I will be rooting for Ducati 2017, but will surely be 100% cheering on KTM and Aprilia(give 'em another 20 BHP). On the other hand what I did like about the Aprilia setup is that Aleix said the bike is so down on brute BHP, they don't need traction control. I guess Aleix has a deft throttle wrist. Sepang is a mixed circuit, PI flows, like Mugello, ever faster. Look forwaed to the next test.

and I know exactly what you mean with the stability/agility trade-off that seems almost inherent in Ducati's DNA. Of course they realise this themselves with their road bikes and offer adjustable head stocks to compensate, but it was really only the 749R with adjustable rake AND trail that really hit the right mark in stock form, right up until the Panigale forsook evolution for revolution. Everything else needed alternate triples and longer swingarms (conveniently offered in the Corse parts catalog "Step this way and bring your cheque book with you , sir!") when you started getting serious on track. It's been a lean few years for those us who used to hang out for the annual journo comparo of the season's MotoGP contenders. So it was an interesting treat to read this test by Neil Hodgson of Iannone's GP16. It sure sounds like a brave new world for both machine set-up and riding technique! And it also confirms that inherent Ducati stability over agility DNA. It would be so interesting to read a comparison against the other bikes......is this a common approach, or are they forging their own path? http://www.motorcyclenews.com/news/2016/september/riding-andrea-iannone-...

Two great pre-season articles to whet the appetite for the coming season, thanks David. Looking forward to the new season even more now!

Loved the 'Rins and Repeat' btw, one of the added bonuses about this site is the writing style :) l know my subscription monies are in safe hands. Although being a Dutch resident I thought maybe gabber was more your scene than deep house?!

kenup283 that is a great photo. thanks for sharing the short article is good if brief.

Thanks for the report David. Intersting times.

The tire id system sounds good. barcode & scanner simpler, cheaper & safer than rfid tech. I think it should work, wonder how long itle take. I must say I personally hate my barcode scanners.

See yiz at P.I. for the supers.

Such an interesting shot

You people are awesome.

If every team gets a control tire it is a compromise that suits the bikes in the middle of the bell curve. if your bike is different in any way then most likely the control tyre will be less suitable. Ducati's problem in the cf frame/chassis days was being different. the control tyres are not made for different front ends therefor we are stuck with telescopic forks u.f.n. Do the same as everyone else plus one percent you may have some success. trying something new generally not rewarded. sadly.


I can't help thinking that unless you are NASA you have almost zero chance of "out HRC-ing" HRC by trying to build a better conventional V4 in an alloy beam frame.  Throw in Marquez and the chances are about as good as receiving a positive on Greek bank shares.  And I haven't even mentioned the many decades headstart KTM have given their rivals in the top tier yet....

So my feeling is that Ducati and KTM have taken the right path in subscribing to the theory: if you want to go as fast as your rivals do exactly what they are doing....if you want to beat them you must do something different.

Talking of Ducati, my understanding of the reason for ditching the trellis frame was nothing to do with handling (that came later).  Instead the issue was one of packaging: the frame as such was a small "pipe" structure hanging off the front of the engine and compromised the airbox space/design.  So the carbon "frame" was a brilliantly simple design where the frame was the airbox. 

In contrast KTM have gone ultra-traditional with a frame that uses the engine as much less of a stressed member, supporting the swingarm pivot with the frame spars.  Compare this with even the early Desmosedici frames, which have always been much more abbreviated leaving the swingarm to pivot from the engine cases alone.  So you hear "trellis" and assume they may be fairly similar but in reality the KTM approach is quite different to anything Ducati have done.

Ducati went round the houses a bit to get to the solution with a few iterations of the carbon and alloy frames.  The real issue was engine packaging as they couldn't move the engine to where it needed to be without a front wheel clash.

The GP15 addressed the packaging with a smaller more compact engine that could be repositioned and rotated to assist the handling.

Casey Stoner seemed even to have their back when he was riding the RCV by publicly stating the 90 degree V angle wasn't Ducati's issue when they were soul searching for a solution. 




IIRc that wa the same week that the RCV was photographed in naked form sporting a 90deg V4 - and winning the championship.