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Wed, 2017-08-30 16:05
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The Misano test made a big difference to Valentino Rossi. Suddenly, he was competitive


All well for Jonas Folger on Saturday. His luck would not last through Sunday


Dani Pedrosa has more reason than most to hate F1. Their bumps gave him a hard time


Machine defeats man by breaking down on him. Jorge Lorenzo sprints back to the pits during qualifying


Maverick's seat sticker is safe until Duke Nukem lays eyes on it


From Aprilia to KTM: Sam Lowes heads back to Moto2 for 2018, aboard a KTM


Johann Zarco changed tack, went for the hard tires at Silverstone


The Tech 3 team is a family affair. Brother Jérôme prepares Zarco's bike


One day, the gremlins will leave Aleix Espargaro alone


Silverstone, flattish

 

 


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Sat, 2017-08-26 10:27
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The old man is quick when the sun is out at Silverstone


The winglet replacement aero package is the magic wand Jorge Lorenzo had been looking for


Home boy fastest at home


KTM showing real signs of progress. Pol Espargaro was 7th fastest on Friday


Marc Marquez brings the hustle


Communication is a vital part of the rider-crew chief relationship


Though sometimes messages take a while to sink in


Future? Unknown. But Sam Lowes has offers from several top Moto2 teams


Scott Redding slides his way through Northamptonshire


The Misano test brought more power off the bottom end for Aleix Espargaro


The disadvantages of being light: being tossed around over the bumps like a boat in a storm


The past, present, and future of the sport


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Mon, 2017-07-31 19:58
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The day is done and the battle is won. Yamaha claimed their third consecutive Suzuka 8 Hours on Sunday. The victory put a stamp on their dominance of the one race each year that the Japanese manufacturers place more emphasis on than any other. We take a look at the Yamaha Factory Racing Team's YZF-R1.

It's often said that endurance racing is the last bastion of design and technological freedom in motor sport. Whether it was Audi's decision to use a diesel engine on four wheels or the current breed of two-wheeled endurance bike, it's clear that there is plenty of innovation on the grid.

At this weekend's Suzuka 8 Hours, the Yamaha Factory Racing Team fielded arguably the most advanced YZF-R1 on the planet. With open regulations for electronics, a tire war and plenty of scope for innovation in the rulebook, the machine raced by Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark is very different to their regular WorldSBK mount.


The office, rider's view

“It's been really good to be able to compare the Suzuka bike to our WorldSBK bike back to back,” commented Van der Mark on the eve of the race. “When you race one and then jump on the other to go testing it really shows what each bike does well and where we maybe need to develop the WorldSBK bike.

“The engines are different between the bikes because the Suzuka machine has to last eight hours but the electronics are very different. On the Suzuka bike they are so smooth. There are some small differences which make the bike feel easier to ride. It still has the same character as the WorldSBK bike but it's so much easier to control the power with the electronics on the Suzuka bike. I'd love to have that on my bike!”



Simple switchgear belies complex electronics

Everything on any racing machine is built with speed in mind but in endurance racing it is also built with speed of maintenance in mind. Being able to change wheels quickly and to save time while repairing crash damage is crucial. Any seconds gained in the pits are as precious as gold dust and being able to work efficiently is a prized asset for any team.

Everything is designed with a tolerance for working with the minimum of intrusion. Compared to a WorldSBK or MotoGP bike, this machine is designed with quick release mechanisms and ease of work at the forefront. Being able to replace a chain, top up fluid and even how fast you can hoist the bike on a paddock stand are all leading priorities rather than an afterthought – the focus remains on speed, but with more than a single eye on the stamina required to go racing over eight uninterrupted hours.

Tires were an integral part of Yamaha's third consecutive victory inthe blue ribbon race. While the Endurance World Championship Yamahas are shod with Dunlop tires, the Factory Racing Team were once again using Bridgestones. This is a key advantage, with the Japanese rubber having been the tire to beat in the heat for years, and another insight into the challenge of endurance racing.

While we have grown accustomed to seeing control tires in MotoGP and Superbike racing around the world, it’s refreshing to see tire competition still play a part in racing. For the riders, the tires provide a very different feel to their WorldSBK Pirellis - but performance is key and the Bridgestones certainly prove their worth.

Kayaba rear shock on Suzuka 8H Yamaha R1
Tires aren't the only difference - Suzuka R1 uses Kayaba suspension

The feedback from the Suzuka races played a role in the development of the MotoGP tires used up until 2015 and the feeling is very similar. The tires give a strong front-end feel and plenty of confidence once they are into their operating window, but if they should fall out of that window there can be a high price to pay – and that’s when the ability to quickly repair damage returns to the fore.

With three riders on the bike, it will never be perfect for any one rider. The challenge is making sure it’s a bike that all three riders are happy with. For this year, that meant Yamaha adapting rider positioning to suit Van der Mark's tall frame, compared to the smaller Lowes and Nakasuga - they had to change their requirements on setup to find the best compromise for all of them.

Footpeg of R1 placed for best compromise
One size fits all: footpeg, seat, and handlebar placement has to suit all three riders

In 2015, Yamaha's first win of their recent successes, Bradley Smith was the “third rider” paired with Nakasuga and Pol Espargaro. It's not a diminished role and is just as important as the other two but as the Englishman explained, it did mean that he had a different task to undertake:

“There are three riders and you don't really ride that much,” said Smith. “I missed out on doing a lap in Superpole which is hard to accept for any rider, but I was the third rider on the list all through the weekend. Those types of things you have to take with a pinch of salt and not take it too personally. We’re there for our team result not for our personal result.

“During testing and the race weekend I spent a lot of time working on the tire and trying to understand which one was better. Some were going to be better for 20 or 30 minutes but not for the whole hour. That meant that I would tell the team the direction we should go with the tire and then we'd change the setting to that direction because I was confident that that’s the right one and it paid off. Consistency is the most important thing.”

Endurance racing is a cycle; a study in risk assessment and stamina more than sheer speed. Go too slowly or too carefully and you'll be off the pace and not able to get close to the podium - but risk too much and you could be relying on your pit crew being able to work efficiently in getting the bike repaired. It's all about compromise and these bikes are the epitome of that compromise; built to be the best over 220 laps and thousands of kilometers – for the whole team.


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Wed, 2017-04-26 22:21
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Marc Marquez. Always riveting in Austin


Over the hill? I don't think so


Bad starts are a thing of the past for Dani Pedrosa


Maverick's magic streak came to an end in Austin


Miller and Rabat play follow my leader


Plenty to think about for Johann Zarco


Eyes on the prize for Lorenzo. But the prize is still a little way ahead


Romano Fenati gets a sense of perspective


"And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven;"


How Jonas Folger deals with the stress before the start


Technically, that is know as running wide


It all goes pear shaped at the start of the Moto2 race...


Stefano Manzi's enthusiasm got the better of him, taking Julian Simon out in the process


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Sat, 2017-04-22 17:15
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This is what total control looks like


Hustle by Petrucci


HRC are experimenting with a different exhaust, to modify the engine character. Results so far not promising


Dani Pedrosa, about to crest T1


The changed seat position is working out for Lorenzo. But it's not a magic wand


One end of the KTM


The other end of the KTM with legal winglets/aero fairing


The mystery continues at the back of the Ducati GP17


One of Tech 3's rocketship rookies: Jonas Folger


Cal Crutchlow holding his own after Argentina


A dry clutch, or spinny roundy bit, to give it its technical name


Tech 3's other rocketship rookie: Johann Zarco


Scott Redding is outshining his teammate so far. Not being given the 2017 lab bike turns out to be a good thing


Still crazy after all these years


One way of fighting wheelies: get as far forward as possible


Andrea Dovizioso is a big fan of motocross. Not so much of race tracks which have MXGP style bumps


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Sat, 2017-02-25 14:58
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Melandri's back, and as fast as if he had never been away


That's one thing the new Honda Fireblade does well. Saves on tire wear too


Which is a serious concern, especially on the left side


Thousand yard stare


Sure, the same three riders were on the podium, but this really didn't feel like 2016 all over again


Alex Lowes gets ready


A familiar look


Technique


All Italian


Nicky Hayden's "I'm not entirely convinced" look


Josh Brookes has a point to prove. Didn't manage to make it in race 1


Baptism of fire for Stefan Bradl. The Honda CBR1000RR still needs a lot more development before it's truly competitive


Take me to your leader


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Wed, 2017-02-22 13:16
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"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."


Throne


Josh Brookes is on a mission to prove a point, on a privately funded Yamaha YZF-R1M


Warning from the Surgeon General...


Lorenzo Savadori is looking a good deal more dangerous this year after switching to the SMR Milwaukee team


Stefan Bradl on a Red Bull Honda. Still a lot of work to do for the boys at Ten Kate


The real energy drink


The biggest obstacle between Jonathan Rea and a third WSBK title. Insurmountable?


Time to relax with a quick Sodoku before the next session


High hopes for Alex Lowes in 2017


The business end of an MV


Tuning forks


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Sat, 2017-02-18 13:21
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The mystery box. Now Danilo Petrucci has one


Watch out. Marquez is ready


Marquez better watch out. Viñales is ready too


A quick peek inside Suzuki's aerodynamic ducts


Johann Zarco has impressed down under


Redding. Loves life


Jack Miller at home. In several sense of the word


The dark horse emerging from testing. Alvaro Bautista


Now that's what I call braking


And that's how you keep the brakes warm enough to brake that hard


Alex Rins hadn't looked good after Valencia. His prospects have turned around completely at Phillip Island


The Brains Trust: Crew chief Silvano Galbusera, data engineer Matteo Flamigni, and some old Italian guy


Go time


Corner speed is still an issue for the Ducati. But not that much of an issue, obviously


Jonas Folger, making Hervé Poncharal look like a genius


The rough and tumble of a factory rider, visible in Pol Espargaro's leathers

 


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Wed, 2017-02-15 23:40
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He may be old, but he's still plenty fast


99 problems


A novel way of keeping the bike narrow. External clutches


Marc Marquez is impressively consistent at Phillip Island


Bradley Smith is having to completely relearn riding a MotoGP bike. The KTM is the very opposite of the Yamaha


Michele Pirro: not just a test rider, now Jorge Lorenzo's track analyst


Impressive once again from Viñales


Lukey Heights: stunning at any time of year


Andrea Iannone has taken to the Suzuki like a fish to water


Trying. Always trying.


Test start time


That's plain rude, Jack Miller!


Aleix Espargaro plays peekaboo


Tough day for Sam Lowes. This was one crash


Sliding along the tarmac


Then hitting the grass and sliding


Looks fine on one side...


Not so much on the other


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Tue, 2017-01-31 17:56
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What looked like a wasted day quickly turned around at Sepang. Tuesday started wet, the streets and circuit taking a while to dry after Monday evening's torrential rain. Sepang's weakness was once again exposed: the track took a long time to dry, wet patches remaining on the track for several hours. It was not until 1pm that a few riders started to venture out, and by 2pm, the track was full with riders trying to make up for valuable lost time.

Some riders made use of the conditions, as far from ideal as they were. Jorge Lorenzo put in ten laps in the wet, and Johann Zarco put in eight laps. The reason? To help build confidence, for Lorenzo in the wet, for Zarco, to try to figure out what a MotoGP bike is capable of.

Zarco rode a pair of wet tires to destruction, feeling how the soft, moving rubber exaggerated every movement of the bike. It served as a sort of magnifying glass for how a MotoGP bike behaves, amplifying the feedback and making it much clearer to fully understand, Zarco explained. By the end of the run, he had learned a lot, and made a massive step forward.

How much difference had it made? When the red lights came on for the end of the session, Zarco's name was still fifth on the timesheets, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider less than a tenth behind Valentino Rossi, and half a second behind Maverick Viñales in second. The Frenchman had found a way of understanding where the limits lay, without pushing himself over the edge.

Trust the timesheets?

The timesheets made for interesting reading at the end of the day, both in terms of headline times, and in underlying pace. Three different manufacturers graced the top three places, the top nine consisting of a Suzuki, four Yamahas and four Ducatis. Marc Márquez was the first Honda rider in tenth place, over a second behind fastest man Andrea Iannone, and nearly seven tenths slower than Viñales.

Iannone was quickest by a considerable margin, well ahead of Viñales and the remarkable Alvaro Bautista on the Pull&Bear Aspar Ducati. Bautista has taken to the GP16 like a duck to water, showing strong pace on both days of the test. Rossi headed Zarco by a fraction in fourth and fifth respectively, then came an armada of Ducatis, captained by Hector Barbera. The Avintia GP16 man was quicker than both factory Ducatis, Andrea Dovizioso less than a tenth quicker than Jorge Lorenzo. The second Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider, Jonas Folger, took ninth, with Márquez rounding out the top ten.

The headline times do not tell the full story, however. Iannone's time was a single fast lap, set pushing on a soft tire. Maverick Viñales did his best lap as part of a string of three laps in the 1'59s, the only rider other than Iannone to get under the two-minute mark. Iannone managed it only once, however, not three times in a row.

Viñales had by far the best overall pace. In addition to the three 1'59s on a new tire, he also did nine laps in the 2'00s. Only Alvaro Bautista did more two-minute laps, racking up ten of them, but Bautista did not get under two minutes on Tuesday. The two Tech 3 riders both managed six laps in the 2'00s, though Folger's laps were slower than Zarco's. Marc Márquez, meanwhile, may have been only tenth, but he also managed six laps in the 2'00s, at the same kind of pace as Valentino Rossi's four two-minute laps.

Obviously fast, and secretly fast

What conclusions can we draw so far, however preliminary they may be? Maverick Viñales is genuinely fast, and spent the day working on his race pace on worn tires. The parts Yamaha have brought for the M1 (apart from the fairing, but more about that later) are aimed at exactly that: conserving the tire in the second half of the race, to be able to maintain the pace for as long as possible. On Wednesday, weather permitting, Viñales will take the new frame and try to use it for a full race simulation.

If Viñales is fast, Marc Márquez is probably also quick, though he is hiding his speed a little while he works on the Honda's engine and electronics. Márquez was clear that this was his only focus at the test, and in reality, the only problem the bike really has. The chassis is fine, but the engine is still too aggressive, and lacks grip. Despite switching from a screamer to a big bang configuration, the rear tire still spins until it grips, and when it grips, it wants to loft the front wheel.

That was what Andrea Dovizioso had seen while following the Repsol Honda rider. "I don’t know if Marc have a really used tire so it’s difficult to know the real speed but he didn’t have a lot of grip and acceleration," the Ducati rider said. "He was very good in the braking," he added, always a strength of Márquez.

Omertà

"The problems of the wheelie and the acceleration is still there," said Márquez. The problem was different, but still present, much to the frustration of all the Honda riders. When asked about the new engine which Honda have brought, Cal Crutchlow did his best to emulate former Malawian dictator Hastings Banda, repeatedly answering "I can't tell you that," to our questions. The timesheets told us all we needed to know, he hinted.

Yet Márquez was still optimistic, despite the issues which remain with Honda's new engine. They were working hard at sorting out engine maps and electronics to help control the bike, he said. That was mainly a matter of time on track, and time to work through the data to figure out what is going on. Though the complaints he is making are familiar – we heard them at Sepang in 2016, and a year before in Sepang in 2015 – Márquez believes there is a bright side to his current situation. Is the situation better or worse than Sepang last year? "At the same time last year here, yes, we are in a better way," Márquez replied.

The wings are back, in a fashion

If Honda's work is largely happening unseen, as engineers crunch numbers and enter matrices full of values to control the behavior of the bike, Yamaha tested a highly visible development at Sepang. Anyone who had applauded the banning of the wings as a blow for aestheticism found themselves cruelly deceived.

Images had been doing the rounds on the internet, of a double-walled fairing with a large section stuck on the upper half, including vanes inside it. When I first saw it, I wrote it off as a poor fake done using Photoshop, the Movistar upper clearly not fitting with the black carbon fiber test fairing.

But on Tuesday morning, Italian website GPOne.com published shots taken by Italian photographer Mirco Lazzari, of Yamaha test rider Kouta Nozane's M1 sporting the exact Movistar-liveried fairing pods on top of his CF test fairing. Confirmation soon came from pit lane, MCN's Simon Patterson quickest off the mark, and then Crash.net's Peter McLaren also capturing the new fairing, a copy of which he kindly provided to us.

Yamaha's 2017 aerodynamic fairing

The clearest demonstration of what has changed came in this side-by-side comparison photo from Malaysian photographer Hazrin Cric. The upper half of the fairing has had a sort of side pod attached to it, containing a series of vanes, to provide downforce to replace the now-banned winglets.

Legal and devious

Does this violate the winglet ban? I checked with MotoGP Technical Director Danny Aldridge, and he was categorical. "No," he told me. "The fairing is a single surface, with nothing sticking out." As long as the fairing is a single, unbroken plane from top to bottom, with no appendages sticking out from it, there were no problems. Yamaha had submitted the design to Aldridge before testing, and he had approved it.

It would be foolish to believe that Yamaha are the only factory to be working on such a design. There has been widespread speculation that factories would turn up with double-walled fairings with aerodynamic forces generated internally, rather than externally. Ducati have hinted at having some form of aerodynamic help to replace the winglets, and Aleix Espargaro told us yesterday that he had tested a "very strange fairing" in the wind tunnel for Aprilia. The rest will not be very far behind. Pandora's box has been opened, and the plague of aerodynamics is now blowing on the wind.

The truth will out, at some point

Does it work, though? Both Movistar Yamaha riders had been banned from talking to the media about it. When asked about testing the new fairing, Maverick Viñales was blunt: "I tested it but I can’t say anything," he told us.

Valentino Rossi was a little bit more forthcoming, but not much. "They tell me I cannot speak about the new fairing. But sincerely speaking, first of all, it is very beautiful! I like it," he said. "It don't make a lot of difference, but it is more beautiful. So we will continue to use and try also tomorrow."

Of note is Rossi's emphasis that the fairing did not make much difference. Both Rossi and Lorenzo said the same about the winglets Yamaha tested at Aragon in 2015, and started using in earnest last year. By the end of the season, they had rather changed their tune, saying that losing the winglets would have a big effect on the bike. A pinch or two of salt may be in order when it comes to official pronouncements from riders on the efficacy of aerodynamic appendages.

Lorenzo picks up speed

While all eyes were on Yamaha's new winglets, Ducati's new rider had made a serious step forward. Jorge Lorenzo had closed the gap to the leaders, and was just a few hundredths of a second behind his teammate Andrea Dovizioso. The improvement had come with time on the bike, and with getting to understand it better. He was more comfortable with the GP17, he said, and that had been a big help.

Improvement had come in large part due to adapting better to the way the Ducati brakes, he said. "Today I could brake later and better, to stop the bike in less meters, and this has been a huge improvement," Lorenzo said. There was still a lot of work to be done, of course, but at least he was over what he described as 'the shock' of struggling on the first day. "Still a long way to arriving to the limit with this bike on this track, but we are much closer, and the progression has been huge."

The teams have one more day to test on Wednesday, if the weather can hold. So far, all is well, with the roads outside my hotel, just a few kilometers from the circuit still dry, and no sign of rain on the horizon. The forecast is not looking good, with rain due to start at around 10am, just as the riders are due to take to the track. But on the other hand, every forecast I have seen this week has turned out to be completely wrong. So anything can happen tomorrow. And probably will.


Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2017 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.

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