MotoGP: Grand Prix of San Marino Preview

Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli will host Round 13 of the MotoGP world championship this weekend.

Valentino Rossi

MotoGP Preview: Valentino Rossi

Misano's 16 turns and 2.626 miles per lap lie close to the Adriatic Sea, six miles from Valentino Rossi's hometown of Tavullia. Seen from above, this stop-and-start course somewhat resembles an anchor. The track was dropped from the GP calendar following Wayne Rainey's paralyzing crash in 1993. It was resurfaced in 2006 and, the following year, with its direction reversed to clockwise, once again became an important part of MotoGP.

Misano has a festival atmosphere that is owed to its central location in the Rimini “holiday area,” yet the event has done well to draw 53,000 in its best year.

A peculiarity of the direction change has been that Turns 12, 13 and 14 now are progressively tighter, obliging riders to brake hard, harder, hardest while leaned over. Misano can be looked upon as five or six miniature straights, connected by 180 degrees of turning, with a chicane thrown in. As a result, the maximum speed attained is in the low-to-mid 170s.

Again considering the track as an “anchor,” it has its three first-gear corners one at the shank end and two at the flukes. There are six second-gear corners, and the bends in the middles of two of the straights are taken in fifth gear.

Turns 6, 10 and 16 lead onto straights, giving them special importance as “launch pads,” just as the Daytona chicane determines the speed at which a rider rejoins the high-speed banking. Maximum rear-tire grip and good tire condition are essential to these launches.

Dani Pedrosa

MotoGP Preview: Dani Pedrosa

Bridgestone’s very experienced Hirohide Hamashima has characterized Misano as having “relatively low grip,” which is part of the reason that company did not see fit until recently even to supply asymmetric rear tires for this event. He also commented that Misano’s constant turning, with little upright time in which tires can cool, is responsible for fairly high tire temperatures. The highest temperature is reached in Turn 11, the “Curvone,” located in the middle of the track’s fastest sequence, T10 to T13, at the point of the “anchor.”

About Misano, current MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner said, "You can't really get flowing," and with his usual asperity, termed it "a go-kart track" for its many little turns. Previously, Rossi had said, " was bumpy from new. Now, it is even worse." This means that the softer-rate springing and damping required to absorb roughness must compromise with the series of hard-braking zones at the ends of the short straights.

Earlier this season, Honda factory riders Stoner and Dani Pedrosa struggled with braking stability as the "33" front tire mandated since Silverstone provided anything but stability. With Stoner sidelined by injury, the sequence of hard, leaned-over braking required in T12, 13 and 14 will provide a test of what Pedrosa and his crew have found as solutions.

Because of the progress Honda has made during this season, easy generalizations declared at the start of the year about Yamaha’s advantages in stability, direction-changing and kindness to tires now appear to have lost force. Yet Honda, having evidently gained somewhat in those areas, has lost nothing in power. Here are the top finishers from the past five years, plus additional pertinent information:

2007 2008 2019 2010 2011
1. Stoner Rossi Rossi Pedrosa Lorenzo
2. Vermeulen Lorenzo Lorenzo Lorenzo Pedrosa
3. Hopkins Elias Pedrosa Rossi Stoner
4. Melandri Pedrosa Dovizioso Dovizioso Simoncelli
5. Capirossi Vermeulen Capirossi Stoner Dovizioso
Top speed 155.5 172.3 173.8 174.2 173.6
Weather dry dry dry dry dry
Ambient/track temperatures 79/108 95/118 75/106 81/102 82/95

When practice begins this Friday, we will begin to see how all these variables add up. Will there be a great mano-a-mano contest between current points-leader Jorge Lorenzo and Pedrosa? Or will one of them achieve an edge in machine setup that enables him to pull away from the other, as Pedrosa has lately done?

Stoner, who rode to a fourth-place finish at Indianapolis on August 19 despite injury, was not present at the last round in the Czech Republic owing to an operation. He will not ride at Misano, either, with World Superbike star Jonathan Rea taking his place. Also hurt at Indy, Nicky Hayden appears ready to compete at Misano.

One of the central issues in MotoGP has been the difficulty some riders have had getting their Bridgestone tires to working temperature. The problem predates the current spec-tire era; some riders in the 500cc two-stroke era had the same difficulty. In a way, it is analogous to how downforce works in Formula One. Because downforce depends upon speed to work, you can lose grip in a corner by lapping too slowly! If the feel of a bike, combined with the difficulty of heating the tires, adds up to a vote of no confidence by the rider, then “he can’t get there from here.” As a result, certain riders have had to leave MotoGP and go to SBK.

Partly for this reason, and partly to make safer the first three laps of every race, when tires grip less well during warmup, Bridgestone sought to make its 2012 MotoGP tires come to temperature faster. Because all aspects of tire design are so intertwined, it is not possible to change one characteristic without changing others. The troubles that the Repsol Honda riders have experienced with the new front tire perfectly illustrate this issue.

With tires—as with life itself—everything doesn’t have to make sense. We just have to cope with it.