MotoGP Phillip Island Preseason Test, Day Two

Rossi says Marquez is the man to beat after two hard days of testing in Australia

Maverick Vinales Phillip Island test
Maverick VinalesCourtesy of Yamaha

Okay, a few things are emerging. Marc Marquez, still feeling a “disconnect” between his Honda’s engine and its electronics, nevertheless reeled off a fast and consistent two-section race simulation. Maverick Vinales, with the fastest lap time by 0.462 seconds, is again at the top, just as he was in Sepang.

The factory Ducatis of Andrea Dovizioso (fifth) and newcomer-to-the-brand Jorge Lorenzo (15th) are still lacking mid-corner grip at the moment of brake release. “The bike is difficult to turn,” Lorenzo said. This is something team principal Gianluigi Dall’Igna mentioned even before testing began as a Ducati problem.

Dall’Igna expressed the hope that Lorenzo, with his long experience of optimizing side-grip on the factory Yamaha, might be able to improve. Doctor, heal thyself, is the present message. Lorenzo also said, “In some areas, the engine is a little bit too nervous. We’re improving little by little. But the most important thing is that we are every day faster.” Because Alvaro Bautista (fourth on a GP16!) “is much faster than me in the corners, we have to understand what is going on.”

Marc Marquez Phillip Island test
Marc MarquezCourtesy of Honda

During hard braking, almost all load transfers to the front tire, squashing it out to form a large footprint that grips well. But releasing the brake returns the front tire to just the load it normally carries—usually a bit more than 50 percent of total—and to a reduced footprint. The Yamaha that Lorenzo is used to is described as “long and low,” making it less quick to transfer weight forward or back during braking or acceleration.

Is the Ducati’s wheelbase moving weight too rapidly to the rear as throttle is applied, making the front push and head for the outside? Or are we talking about a condition after brake release but before throttle up? What is it about Bautista’s settings that is allowing him to be so far up the times list?

Andrea Iannone Phillip Island test
Andrea IannoneCourtesy of Suzuki

Vinales said, “At the moment, I feel ready [to race], but you never know. Maybe we arrive for the race and struggle. Every year, I improve a little bit, and every year, I feel more intelligent. I feel more what the bike needs. What I see is that we have a really good acceleration and we are stronger, but Honda is constant all the time on lap times. We need to work hard on that part. Marc is constant, but the others are not so constant. We did a lot of laps on the tire, but still we have to improve the rear grip, especially from lap 10 to 15 to the end of the race.”

Other riders noted that Vinales was sliding a lot, but this has become general. These bikes are so well-balanced and their tires and suspensions so consistent that they now slide like racing cars—sliding into the corners and sliding through them. Remember this: Tires are developed to handle the needs of the top riders, and as the nature of tires evolves in this way, riders whose styles are no longer evolving have sometimes found themselves unable to bring the latest tires to operating temperature.

Alex Rins Phillip Island test
Alex RinsCourtesy of Suzuki

Valentino Rossi (eighth) acknowledged that his teammate, Vinales, is very fast, but is more impressed by Marquez’s pace. “In all these tests, Marquez and Vinales are the faster [riders] but Marquez more, especially in the pace. It looks like Vinales is very good with the new tire. It looks like Marquez, with the race rhythm, is the man to beat.”

Teams seek “trends of improvement” and try to follow them to their peaks, but they can be misled and have to start in a fresh direction. “This afternoon,” Rossi said, “we had some important tests to do, try a long run, and modify something on the bike. Unfortunately, it didn’t work well, and I wasn’t fast enough. It looks like we followed the wrong direction, so after the interviews, we’ll go back to the box to try to understand better for tomorrow.”

Valentino Rossi Phillip Island test
Valentino RossiCourtesy of Yamaha

One way this can happen is by over-focusing on just one of the four different motorcycles a rider needs to get around a corner:

  1. The braking motorcycle, designed to be stable during hard deceleration and long enough not to lift the rear wheel too easily
  2. The turn-in motorcycle, with a short chassis for quick steering and hard suspension to minimize suspension delay
  3. The turning motorcycle needs weight distribution that doesn't overload (or waste!) either tire, soft suspension to maximize mechanical grip, and stability
  4. The accelerating motorcycle, which is a dragster with enough basic turning ability not to push the front, long enough in wheelbase to not wheelie too easily

At one point in his career, Kenny Roberts focused on number three, resulting in a bike that teammate Graeme Crosby said, “Felt like riding a push-bike with its front wheel turned around backward.” Which compromise will give the fastest total race time?

Jorge Lorenzo Phillip Island test
Jorge LorenzoCourtesy of Ducati

Rossi turned 38 years old today, and his younger competitors very much respect his experience and ability to continue evolving his riding style. He has finished second in the last three MotoGP world championships. Serious ability.

Cal Crutchlow was a solid third today, continuing to show the speed that up to now has been available to him only intermittently. Let’s hope he can continue to be fast. His remarks—usually so interesting and informative—suggest that one of Honda’s “security officers” came by last night to warn him to make only content-free statements. Sounding like John Kocinski in 1997: “Today was a more productive day for the LCR Honda Team. Yesterday, there were a few teething problems perhaps, but today we seemed to be able to keep a good pace throughout.”

Andrea Dovizioso Phillip Island test
Andrea DoviziosoCourtesy of Ducati

Dovizioso said, “In this moment last year, we were farther away than now, so I’m happy about the position I am in now, but I know that what we have now is not enough. We have the same limit as last year. In the middle of the corner, we are not fast enough and when I follow somebody on the track I can confirm this. I’m happy because the speed is there, we are not so far, but I know that we need that improvement. In this moment, at this track, Marc and Maverick are on a different planet. We are in the second group.”

Marquez is doing the work like anyone else in this paddock, making 107 laps. “My hands are destroyed! We are working hard to try and find these small things. We are very consistent—this is true. But today, Maverick was the fastest one. Not only one lap; his pace was also really good. I’m very consistent, I’m quite fast, but still there is something I don’t understand. I don’t feel so good with the bike, but then I pass the finish line and—bam!—I see the lap time. Yeah, it’s coming.

Aleix Espargaro Phillip Island test
Aleix EspargaroCourtesy of Gresini

“It was a busy day and I’m a bit tired, but it’s what we had planned for today and we completed it. With my engineers, we decided to do a lot of laps and test out a few things, so I concentrated on riding in a consistent rhythm and avoiding mistakes. At the end of the day, I also did two long runs to try two different electronic settings. They should help us say where we can make a step forward.”

You can see why Rossi says Marquez is the man to beat. To go this fast (second to Vinales, but 0.462 second off) and be this consistent when his new engine and electronics are not yet fully cooperating is impressive.

MotoGP preseason test results
Official results from day two of the Phillip Island MotoGP preseason test.Courtesy of MotoGP