2011 MotoGP Sepang 1 Day 2 Roundup

Day 2 of the Sepang test saw HRC pick up where they left off yesterday: with five of the top six on Honda RC212Vs, and Repsols in first, second and fourth. Wednesday saw Dani Pedrosa take top spot, getting within a couple of tenths of the pole record. The Spaniard setting the time very early, on just his 4th lap out of the pits when temperatures were still bearable. Yesterday's fastest man, meanwhile, waited until the end of the session to set his fastest time, Casey Stoner jumping from fifth into second as the track began once again to cool.

If the competition is worried now, things could get even worse: Pedrosa tried Honda's new engine at Sepang, which provides even more top-end power than the current one. It is also more aggressive, something that all of the Honda riders have complained about for the past few years- all except Casey Stoner, that is, who describes the Honda's power delivery as "smooth". With a high-power engine underneath them, and a chassis that is working very well except for a little chatter mid-corner, Hondas riders are already the hot favorites for 2011.

Further proof of Honda's supremacy comes in 5th and 6th position, Marco Simoncelli just edging his San Carlo Gresini Honda teammate Hiroshi Aoyama, three quarters of a second off Pedrosa's time, and a tenth or so behind Stoner. Simoncelli's time is less surprising, given the fact that he is a factory HRC rider, albeit in a satellite team, but Aoyama's time is a strong indication, the Japanese rider sat aboard a genuine satellite bike.

Most worryingly of all, though, is the position of Kousuke Akiyoshi: 11th fastest on day 1, 14th fastest on day 2, and consistently on the pace with the Ducatis. Akiyoshi is HRC's test rider, and was decidedly mediocre when he subbed for Aoyama during the 2010 season. He should be down with the Yamaha test riders about three seconds off the pace, but instead, he's two seconds off the lap record. The 2011 Honda RC212V is fast. Really, really fast.

The exception to all this Honda joy is poor Toni Elias. The reigning Moto2 champion is once again suffering with the Bridgestone tires, complaining he has no confidence in the front end, and no feeling at the rear. In the days before the spec tire, Michelin brought a special front tire for Elias, with a much softer carcass to allow it to deform more. The Bridgestones merely seem to get stiffer every year, making Elias' job of adaptation ever tougher. It could be a long year for Elias.

Over in the Yamaha camp, matters proceed apace, with Jorge Lorenzo testing a new chassis and Ben Spies working on electronics and a few engine configurations. The new chassis clearly needs some work, Lorenzo complimenting the added traction, but complaining of vibration and a lack of stability under braking. Yamaha will probably be bringing another version of the chassis to the next Sepang test, in three weeks' time, which should help solve some of the problems.

But the bike is already pretty good as it is. Ben Spies posted the 3rd fastest time, with Lorenzo 7th, though there were just five hundredths of a second separating the pair, and Spies was less than a tenth behind 2nd place man Stoner. Monster Tech 3 Yamaha's Colin Edwards was close too, a little over a tenth off the pace of Lorenzo, and effusive in his praise of the engine, which pulls better. If it wasn't for the wall of Hondas ahead, Edwards would be very close to the pointy end.

As for Suzuki, the GSV-R continues to perform well in the heat of Sepang, Alvaro Bautista setting a highly competitive pace. The true measure of the bike will come when the bike reaches cooler climes, traditionally the tracks where the Suzuki has struggled. Bautista has a mountain of work to do, as the only man on a Suzuki, but the fact that Suzuki have brought a lot of developments to the track is itself a hopeful sign. Still, where Suzuki really stand will likely first be seen at Qatar: when temperatures start to drop in the desert night, a cooler track will provide a better yardstick by which to measure the Suzuki.

The Ducatis continue to struggle, though almost all of the Ducati riders made a big step forward on Wednesday. The problem that all of them complain of is getting the bike turned once the brakes have been let off, the bike unwilling to change direction, and an echo of complaints by Casey Stoner from the 2010 bike. Then, Stoner complained that the front would let go without warning once the brakes were released mid-corner. Now, Ducati appears to have solved that problem, but replaced it with another. The grip is back, but now the bike won't turn.

The other major problem for the Ducati is chatter, both Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden complaining of chatter at the front. Much work has gone on to soften up the front and provide more lateral flex, but clearly more work is needed to solve the issue. One of the downsides of the minimal subframe which the Ducati uses at the front is the lack of material means there is little room for using mechanical leverage to engineer flex into the front end. Carbon fiber mitigates some of that problem, but the shortness of the subframe remains a problem. The benefits of CF, however, far outweigh the downsides, as with the old trellis frame the Ducatis used, stiffness could vary from frame to frame by significant amounts.

Rossi's shoulder is still a worry, though the Italian told the press that riding is actually helping, adding flexibility and motion that was lacking, though strength remains a problem. Rossi quipped to his mechanics that he was like an old mobile phone: "charge for half an hour and then I only work for a few minutes!" Rossi feels he is able to provide development input for the bike, but not post a really fast lap. A 2'03 is comfortable, he told the press, but pushing into the 2'02s requires more strength than he has at the moment.

Rossi also revealed an interesting detail on those winglets. The Italian had been testing aerodynamics all day, and told the press that he much preferred the fairing without the winglets. The winglet version, he said, required significantly more force to turn in than the plain fairing, pushing the effort required well above his pain threshold. Unless the winglets really do provide more cooling (or in the official version, provide more stability at high speed), they could disappear at a lot of tracks this year.

Testing continues tomorrow, much of which will be given over to testing the new Bridgestone tires. With several riders complaining that they can't get the softer Bridgestone to work properly, it will be interesting to see whether the new tires are an improvement. Doubtless everyone will be going out for a fast lap too, to end the test on top, for the sake of pride if nothing else. Tomorrow's timesheet may prove a guide to qualifying grids, but how much relation it bears to race results remains to be seen.

Combined times from both days can be found here.

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Thanks for the input on the trellis frame. I've been curious why they'd sick with the carbon frame with all the issues they've had. I'd have thought they could get pretty consistent flex in the trellis frame with all the experience Ducati has with them.

The stories re the Ducati chassis woes are getting towards the realms of fantasy.Non-availability of suitable aluminum ? Go ask Bimota ! Steel frame flex variations ( assuming consistency of material specification/quality, welding type and sequencing ) should be identifiable and correctable in manufacture, unless they suffered from poor tolerancing on the engine/chassis fasteners and bores, i.e., someone oversized the chassis engine mount boss(es) to get alignment. Correctly sized engine/ chassis mount points, tying the engine tightly into the frame to lessen the flex was a 1970's AMA Superbike chassis fix !

You've identified precisely what the problems with Ducati's trellis frame was: in theory, it should be possible to produce a trellis frame with exactly the same stiffness characteristics reliable. In practice, it was a lot harder to achieve that consistency. 

Ducati were sub-contracting chassis manufacture to an outside vendor, in which case the quality control standards were either woefully inadequate or non-existent. It also make one question whether the measuring of torsional rigidity, mechanical tolerancing and geometry were standard race shop/R & D practice during the bike build process or something that was only addressed when they had handling issues. Saying that, their 2007/8 seasons ( 1st and 2nd) in the championships were not indicative of major chassis
problems. More questions than answers.................!

I hope Ducati's composite supplier is of F1 standard. Both Boeing (787 Dreamliner) and Peugeot (908) had serious problems with their Italian composite suppliers, Peugeot eventually changed to using a German manufacturer.

Ahh, David, I missed reading your excellent commentary during the off-season. Just wanted to say "Thanks" again for your insightful and original coverage.

like Ducati has it's work cut out to improve things. I'd hoped that they would be able to get things somewhat solved over the winter but it appears that isn't the case. It certainly sounds like it will be the Honda and Yamaha gents contending for the championship in 2011.

Great to have your reports again David and I'm sure you're like the rest of us and happy to have something of substance to write about again.

From a laypersons point of view on chassis dev, I still think that in practical application the carbon may not be easy enough to work with.
I remember the Cagiva 593 have the most amazing carbon work, with aluminum inserts that were absolutely beautiful- and yet they couldnt get that bike to work properly either.
The explanation of poor quality aluminum stock being available to the Italians is laughable, so I really wonder why they continue to travel this path. Is the potential upside of the carbon that much greater than the aluminum frames which are practical, well understood, and easy to modify?

Official Lightweight Battery Supplier of Yoshimura Suzuki, KTM North America, Rickey Gadson, and Orient Express Racing.

Laguna in 1993, was that an all aluminum chassis ? And was 2nd in 1994. I saw the 594's there, in their various carbon/ aluminum ( at least 2 ) versions, superbly engineered art !! I don't remember which version he won on.

Re Ducati and carbon chassis, Casey had a pretty successful 2009
season (spoiled by his illness) on the first carbon chassis bike. We will never know, but the differences between the GP 9 and GP 10 "chassis" would be real interesting. Would also be interesting to know if they ever did back to back tests against a GP 9 when the GP10 was a problem, but with the rider/test restrictions, maybe not possible.

F*****ing restrictions !!!

I was there as well those years. I thought the bike he raced on was aluminum. I am trying this without the help of a Google search, so I may very well be wrong.
Lil John was the recipient of a bit of luck, with Wayne being gone, Kevin looking at points, Doohan crashing in the corkscrew, etc...

I am getting old.

Official Lightweight Battery Supplier of Yoshimura Suzuki, KTM North America, Rickey Gadson, and Orient Express Racing.

It looks to me like a Spies vs Stoner championship battle.

Dani, J Lo, and others will show brilliance at a few races but the knock down drag out overall year ending trophy will go to one of these two guys I believe.

Kind of reminds me of Spies vs another Aussie in the AMA series.

There is a lot of parity in the first 7 riders. This should be a fantastic year in MotoGP. This is said every year - but this year I think it will be true.

Can"t wait!

I think you may be a little bit optimistic in your expectations of Spies.
To my mind , it will be between Stoner and Lorenzo.

Spies may get up there occasionally, but, he needs another year before he is ready.

I reckon that's a pretty good call... I wouldn't bet against it! I think people underate just how good Spies is. I'd probably add Jorge to the title fight though as I think he will be there no matter what.

Oh, c'mon Ducati, puhleese.. Germany is just up the road, the world is an international market, go down to your local metal shop most anywhere and you'll find material sourced from all over the world.

And - how smart is this as an excuse if you're planning to introduce an aluminium version of the c/f 'frameless' chassis? Suddenly you found a source of good aluminium?

This HAS to come from the same guys who invented the 'winglets for anti-wheelie control' story...

All Ferrari engines & the whole Ferrari 599 is aluminum cast/forged/extruded in house. We keep hearing about the Ferrari/Ducati alliance...don't you think it just might include some help with aluminum?

No, I believe the problem is NOT the carbon fiber & it probably isn't even the "frameless" chassis; it is most likely Ducati's lack of experience with the chassis design & material technology. Or, perhaps neither.

The early aluminum frames were noteworthy for their horrid handling & noodliness. It took years & all the Japanesse manufacturers' collective experience to get it right & Ducati has no one else to look to for experience with motorcycles.

Carbon fiber has been the ONLY material for chassis in F1 for decades. Why would they have abandoned aluminum if it had any superior qualities? Probably C/f's greatest shortcoming is its almost infinite design possibilites. Ducati will get it right & just like in car racing, aviation & bicycles it will be the material of choice (someday).