2011 MotoGP Sepang 2 Day 3 Round Up - Be Afraid

The second and final test at Sepang is over, and if you needed to get a feel for the mood among the teams, all you need to do is read the press releases. The tone of the Repsol Honda press release is positively jubilant, and with good reason. As predicted - even by members of remote tribes in the depths of the Amazon forest who have never even heard of MotoGP - Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa smashed the 2'00 barrier for the first time on two wheels. Even more impressive was when: Stoner on just his second flying lap, Pedrosa managing it on the third. Both men followed up with an impressive race simulation, with a handful of 2'00s and a truckload of 2'01s, fast enough to have blitzed last year's race by a giant margin. The Hondas, as you have now heard ad nauseam, are fast.

Compare and contrast with Ducati. When the title of the press release is merely "Last Day Of Testing For Ducati Marlboro In Malaysia," then you know they're in trouble. Fastest of the Ducatis was once again Hector Barbera, the Mapfre Aspar rider ending the day in 10th, nearly 1.7 seconds off the time of Casey Stoner. Valentino Rossi, returning to testing after missing yesterday due to a fever, could manage just the 11th fastest time, 1.8 seconds behind Stoner, and with an identical time to his teammate Nicky Hayden.

Rossi was almost despondent in tone, speaking of his disappointment at being so far behind, and of his dismay at not being able to ride the Desmosedici in the way that he wanted. The problem is mid-corner, getting the bike to turn. The Ducati just does not go in the direction that he wants it to, and Rossi said he was losing time having to drop speed to get the bike to turn.

The amount of work that is going on is apparent from what is NOT being changed. Gone is the new fairing with the winglets, replaced by an older, more traditional, slimmer version. It was felt that the winglets were making the bike harder to turn, and anything getting in the way of turning is being ditched. Most of the new parts which Ducati have worked so hard to produce over the winter - the revised subframe, the 42mm Ohlins - have sat idle in the corner of Rossi's garage, as the seven-time MotoGP champ has chased a setup, working on his seating position and the balance of the bike.

None of that has helped. Rossi still cannot use the hard front tire, the one preferred by the fastest riders during the race, as he is still not getting enough feedback out of it. Ducati still has a lot of work to do.

Rossi's problems raise an interesting question, one that has so far been rather lost in the clamor surrounding the Italian's times. The difficulty Rossi has is mid-corner, at the point where he is just coming off the brakes and trying to get the bike to turn. It was exactly this point where Casey Stoner suffered his string of unexplained front-end washouts in 2010, which suggests there may be an underlying fundamental problem.

The finger of blame is being pointed - by the fans at least - at the carbon fiber chassis the Ducati uses. Though getting a CF frame to work is tricky, there are more ways in which the Ducati differs from the Japanese MotoGP bikes, and other candidates for causing the trouble. The length of Ducati's 90 degree V4 (which Ducati calls an L4) is one, as the engine's length severely limits the options for its location, and consequently the possibilities to influence the center of gravity. But also the shortness of the subframe, with short struts allowing less precise control over the degree of flex in the chassis, though this was one reason for choosing carbon fiber in the first place.

The minor kerfuffle raised over Honda's alleged use of DCT was also cleared up on Thursday, with the head of HRC Shuhei Nakamoto conceding that they did have something new in their gearbox, but that it was most emphatically not Honda's Dual Clutch Technology, neither was it illegal. It did help change gears quicker though, Nakamoto pleading ignorance over the precise details of the change.

While the clutch issue has been settled for the moment, the question of the chassis is still not entirely fixed. Casey Stoner had been caught between two versions of the 2011 chassis - one stiffer than the other - but has now decided which of the pair he prefers. Dani Pedrosa, meanwhile, told the press he had been testing a revised 2011 chassis and a 2010 chassis, but he was yet to make up his mind on which he preferred. Whether the chassis that Pedrosa and Stoner are talking about are all the same, or whether Honda has brought at least three, and possibly more, chassis for the Repsol Honda team to test is unclear. Whatever they brought to Sepang, they all worked.

At Yamaha, work is proceeding apace, the only complaint being a lack of power, and punch off the corners. Jorge Lorenzo is the more worried of the pair, voicing his concerns that the Hondas were probably half a second a lap quicker than the competition at Sepang. Lorenzo's team manager Wilco Zeelenberg was much less concerned, pointing to the fact that at other tracks, the Yamaha will be more than capable of matching the Honda's pace.

The performance of Ben Spies gives plenty of credence to that claim. Spies was quietly brilliant, fast, smooth and close to the Hondas, or as close as might reasonably be expected when Pedrosa and Stoner are in such blistering form. Spies expressed the opinion that should they have to race tomorrow, he felt he would be able to contend for the win. Spies confidence was echoed by Colin Edwards, the Texan veteran expressing his joy with the bike. The fact that Edwards ended the day ahead of Jorge Lorenzo will have contributed to his pleasure: if he can match the pace of the factory bikes, then he knows he is in with a chance of success in 2011.

The teams now leave Malaysia behind, and head off to Qatar for the final test, before the season opener on March 20th. If Ducati are to be competitive at Losail, they will need to find some solutions in the two weeks between now and the test there in two weeks time. Test rider Franco Battaini is at Jerez, with MotoGP director Filippo Preziosi, working on a bunch of solutions to their problems. Whether Ducati succeed or fail, it will not be for want of trying.

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Looks like the article was pasted in twice :)

Thankyou for a very good summary.

'When the title of the press release is merely "Last Day Of Testing For Ducati Marlboro In Malaysia," then you know they're in trouble.'

- why test twice at Sepang? It's neither Japan nor Europe. Do the Malaysians help with the costs, or is the track the best for gathering valuable development data?

- how is the relationship between Stoner and Pedrosa so far? I really hope they can work together and fight fair during the season.

- is Ben quietly and positively surprising Yamaha? Or has he met their expectations in regards to testing, feedback and development?

My assumption would be that Sepang, being in Malaysia and thereby the southern hemisphere, is currently the best circuit on the calendar to use weather wise. Japan and Europe, being in the northern hemisphere, are too cold and wet to use.

Malaysia is north of the equator, though only just. The reason to use Malaysia is that is that the weather is consistently hot year round. They have essentially 2 seasons, hot and dry, hot and wet, though technically they have 2 monsoons, most of the rain comes in roughly June-November. Being February for testing, they are all but assured hot weather without rain.

Thanks for a great article David, so much looking forward to the season starting.
Can you add anything as to why the revised flexi-flyer parts Ducati came up with remained untested despite their poor times?
Thanks for a great article David, so much looking forward to the season starting.
Can you add anything as to why the revised flexi-flyer parts Ducati came up with remained untested despite their poor times?

Sepang is a popular circuit to test at bc the weather is warm all year round (esp in the winter) which of course is favorable for tires. Also many of the turns at this track are very similar to certain turns in other circuits they race at. So their test results at Sepang can be applied almost directly to a lot of those other circuits during the season.

Last year during the winter tests Ducati wasn't that far behind like now. And I'm talking about Hayden and the non factory riders, not about Stoner being somewhere among the top 3.

Which could fire up the old (unresolvable) discussion whether Stoner is a good development rider, but it maybe shows that when you put most of the energy/resources into 1 rider, into Rossi in that case, and that rider can't pull the whole development team because he has health issues, it apparently hampers all other riders of that manufacture as well.

Or, as another explanation, by wanting to change the whole bike to please Rossi, Preziosi and his guys made so many changes that it substantially destroyed the (little) balance the Duke had.

in Sepang 2 last year, making it 2 Ducatis in the top3.
Lots of new parts have been discarded by Rossi but still, as David stated, the Ducati seems to suffer from the same flaws than in 2010...
Hayden being 7 tenths slower with the GP11 than last year at the same test with the GP10 must be a big concern for the reds.

If we can take the Yamahas as the nearest thing available to a 'control' bike between the two years, then the track was somewhere around 0.5 slower this year than last year - which brings Hayden's time back to only 0.2 or thereabouts slower. Accepting Rossi's estimate of the shoulder adding around 0.3 a lap to his times, that puts him only around 0.1 - 0.2 slower than Stoner's best time of last year.

However - that also means that Pedrosa is nearly 2 seconds quicker than last year (and yes, last year he was not at full fitness for the Sepang II test, IIRC).

Draw from all of that what you will.

Everyone that was on the same bike in Sepang 2 in 2010 as in this year went faster - everyone except Hayden. Dani, Dovi, Simoncelli, Edwards, Barbera, Bautista, Aoyama all went faster this year than last year. Jorge wasn't there, Spies was on a Tech 3, Casey was on the Ducati, and Val on the Yamaha. The fact of the matter is that Ducati went slower this year when others didn't. Casey and Nicky finished 2nd and 3rd at Sepang 2 last year and Ducati is no where this year. Even the Suzuki and Tech 3 of Edwards went faster this year.

Of course that is assuming they took exactly the same approach at the tests, Casey always goes for a fast lap and knowing his mo and his familiarity with the duke probably spent alot of the test trying to put a frightener down. Rossi is almost the polar opposite concentrating on race pace till satisfied then putting a time in. Even if he wanted to he ran out of time due to illness. It's hard to believe that Rossi was putting a couple of fresh softies on at the end of the 3rd day so far from having the bike how he wants it(the data would be pointless and a waste of valuable time. Before you start I'm not saying that anyone is quicker than anyone else, merely Casey rode it for 4 years as a recognised dung heap for the last two at least, and Rossi has barely had time to fix his seating position making any relevant comparison at this stage unrealistic. Still lots of work to do.

Whilst the times, gaps & improvements between the different makes have been fairly consistent over the 2 Sepang tests, is Sepang (or Qatar) a good indicator of where the different bikes are? I think that both are hit or miss tracks, you either get it right or you are nowhere. The Rossi situation gets more interesting every day. The constant argument is who is the best at setting up the bike but I think that it is the wrong question. The real question is which factory listens to the teams & gives them what they say they want. Casey has stated many times that Ducati gave them a new bike each year but did not supply any updates throughout the year whereas Yamaha/Honda supply updates at regular intervals. The difference in attitude between the factories determines what improvements are supplied. Is it an Italian thing, does the factory know best or does Jeremy know best? The best advise is the same every year, wait until we get to Europe & then see where we are.

Ducati is a relatively tiny company, so it's probably more a case of "run what you brung" than ignoring rider feedback (this may change with the dollars 46 brings in). Perhaps they should quietly refit Caseys 2007 frame, and leave the fairing on all year?

I think it a rather severe misrepresentation to single out Stoner as the only one having the problem of crashing on the Ducati last year. All the Ducati riders, with the curious exception of Hector Barbera, crashed a lot last year. Stoner crashed five times, Kallio six, Espargaro six, Hayden three.

And this is just counting crashes during the race. Hayden stated he had never fallen so often in one racing season in his entire life!

So either Hayden took much more risk in order to be competitive or the bike didn't provide him the feedback to know when to stop pushing. Both point towards the Ducati and it's chasis (or the chasis - electronics interactions).

These machines have evolved over the years piece by piece. It is obvious that at this point major updates are near impossible to come up with. Jerry Burgress should have known better than to boast about his 80 second front end fix - not to mention underestimating Stoners amazing abilities.

Honda found something about mid last year that give their machines a good step up in performance and they are further capitalizing on that again this year.

Yamaha is slightly more refined but have not been able to make a similiar step in speed. It's not easy to improve on near perfection.

There seems to be pretty good parity now in that some bikes will be fast on certain tracks and others will be fast elsewhere.

There are a lot of interesting ingredients in the machines and riders that are going to make this an exciting year from beginning to end.

And soon the show will begin!

Evolution not revolution

That's the question, if the Ducati has a fundamental design flaw in the chasis, can you evolve it out?

There seems to be pretty good parity now in that some bikes will be fast on certain tracks and others will be fast elsewhere.

There are a lot of interesting ingredients in the machines and riders that are going to make this an exciting year from beginning to end.

This might be good for the championship, but for the races this isn't good, because when 1 bikes dominate on 1 track it will be more likely to get a processional race.

"That's the question, if the Ducati has a fundamental design flaw in the chasis, can you evolve it out?"...

No I don't think they can. But, they can probably at least make it finish in the top 1/3rd rather than the middle 3rd.

"This might be good for the championship, but for the races this isn't good, because when 1 bikes dominate on 1 track it will be more likely to get a processional race."...

My guess is that at the fast tracks the Yamaha's will be competitive by drafting in the straights and fighting in the corners. At the slower tracks the Honda's will be competitive by hanging on in the corners and catching up (and oftimes passing) on the straights. At least I hope this is the case rather than watching Stoner clear off and everybody else fighting for the scraps.

Will it ever get started!!! (go Spies)

"At the slower tracks the Honda's will be competitive by hanging on in the corners and catching up (and oftimes passing) on the straights."

Wasn't this what Stoner did in 2007? He used the straight line power of the GP7 to blow past everyone, even if he fell behind or was passed in the corners.

No I don't think they can. But, they can probably at least make it finish in the top 1/3rd rather than the middle 3rd.

So if it isn't possible to evolve out the fundamental problems of the GP10, why didn't Ducati simply try to improve the GP10 with small evolutionary steps to have something usable to start in the 2011 season and build a complete new GP11/GP12 in parallel?


would it be for Ducati to slap up a triangulated steel front subframe for Guareshi to back to back at Mugello? I know it would be corporate egg on face but perhaps it would work. Surely they must at least be contemplating such a back to the future move?

The ducati has got steadily worse since 2007 becoming less and less competitive. It was hopeless last year even with Casey on it. Yes I know a few wins but the championship was already over, for the first half of the season Casey couldn't beat Nicky it was such a mess.
Add the fact that every other manufacturer has got better each year and it gives some indication just how far back ducati are. It's a complete myth that Casey was doing the bus on it. His performances on the honda should be enough to show that he was only best ducati rider not fighting for the championship. When all is said and done he's title assault these last two years for a factory rider has been incredibly weak. Making the ducati a contender is a monumental task.
Whilst the Honda and yam require more of the same the duke has to find a couple of years progress in a handful of days at a track it struggled badly at last year, hard enough even without an injured rider. I'll give them a kick of the ball before I judge their progress. If it was my house on it I'd pick the team that have it now to fix it, purely because they have the cv.

Has anyone heard anything about Ducatis test at Jerez?

Pride commeth before a fall.I don't have anything to add to what David has said.
The L configuration is a fantastic layout,but within the chassis,it needs to have 'quick fix' options available.Agricultural fixes if necessary. You cannot recast the CF bits overnight,but you can use an angle grinder and a welder on the steel trellis.
It worked for Ducati all these years and it's still working according to the Phillip Island feed.SBK.
Exactly where did Stoner go after they ditched the pipe frame and screamer engine ? Backwards.
Its as bad as the riders they chase.Casey was their last option in 2006 and gave them their best results ever for 4 years on the trot.
Now they sit with a factory team with an aggregate age of 30+ and no 80 second solutions overnight.
Melandri'esque season for them at best and no Casey Stoner to salvage Pride.

It might be important to note that the series is due for a good shakeup: larger displacements.

Under a poor economy, it might be a bad idea to build up an expensive GP11 (revolution instead of evolution) just to sink it the next year. I don't want to hand Ducati free excuses here. Just some alternative thinking.

sparky,Hugelean,Pit Bull,magic_carpet,SV650Nut, have all made excellent points/commentary (not forgetting Dr K of course).

Being VR's biggest world wide fan, I sank into the reality pit when VR arrived at the track racked with fever and aches (and how effective would the next day be?).

I thought it could be several races to get VR back to 100%, but now to also drop 1.5ecs - monumental (Hugelean).

I do wonder about Hagetaka's thoughts. I cann't believe there aren't huge expectations on Duc/VR. Multi mill investments don't come without strings attached.

Latest 'Australian Motorcycle News' has the headline " Rossi's Ducati gamble pays off! " (based on him being only 60% fit/1 sec down at Sepang 1). Wishful thinking huh.

Further AMCN >> "The Mystery Solved - The mystery of missing front end feel, which so blighted Ducati in 2010, has been solved....JB says it is all a matter of set-up."

Great I'm thinking: bit of considered intuition and lateral thinking knocks that on the head. Heck, only leaves turning to be solved ......... 80 secs? Well maybe lunchtime.

AMCN again: "Rossi on track to repeat history with better preseason start than Yamaha debut of 2004." ???

Preseason 2004 VR rode developement km's that would've taken him to Mars and back.
2011 ? 1 week all up.

Back to the real world: I believe VR is stating fact when he uttered "very worried."

VR - for sure an alien, but not a magician.

Oh Hugelean - might a little more decorum on MCN save you from demeaning yourself? (Just a thought - yes I know, you can rightfully suggest I mind my own ..).

Since nobody has yet mentioned the irony of Honda using information gained from one of their streetbike technology programs, the DCT, to improve the performance of their GP machine, I'll do it now. How ironic. If they are really getting smoother and faster shifting with the new secret clutch gadget that is going to be a decent advantage at every track until the other manufacturers can figure out how they do it. Without all the information collected from the DCT development they will be at a serious disadvantage in doing so. I wonder if next year or in 2013 DCTs will be allowed? That would allow them to use a forthcoming CBR1000RR engine with DCT in a GP framed bike. That last sentence is only speculation, but very possible.


What is most dishearting to an American Nicky Hayden fan is we went through this Bulls**t in 06/07. Nicky won the title in 06 and in 07 he was on a bike developed for Pedrobot. Nicky had a great yr in 10, and 11 looks like he is stuck on a bike being developed for Rossi. As excited as I was for Rossi joining ducati, my biggest concern is for Nicky. Honda turned a cold shoulder to Stoner in 07 and he adapted to the beast of the Ducati. Going from Jap to Duck is hard, going from Duck to Jap is easy. Or smoother in the motogp world.

I bleed Honda red, and Stoner has shown the bike has been capable of winning for the past 3 yrs, its just been in the wrong hands. Like I have said in he past, Hondas don't fail, the riders do. Congrats Casey, 2011 MotoGP World Champ.