For fans of world championship motorcycle racing, preseason testing is like Christmas. Actually, it’s better than Christmas, because the gifts—26 riders representing 12 teams on six brands of deafening 1000cc prototypes—keep on giving.
On Tuesday in Valencia, Jorge Lorenzo rode a Ducati for the first time but his contract with Yamaha does not permit him to speak about the experience. Ex-Monster Yamaha Tech3 pilot Pol Espargaro, now with Red Bull KTM, is under a similar gag order.
How do you separate what is useful from what is worthless? I asked Randy Mamola, who spent 13 seasons in Grand Prix racing's premier class, to put this week's two-day test at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit in perspective.
“This is just the beginning,” Mamola said, “and there are going to be many, many more hours in the coming days, not just here but other places, before we see the first race next March.” That being said, Mamola also provided the following observations.
“The Honda definitely has a different tone—a flatter note—which is probably their new engine. It sounds like they have taken away the peakiness of the engine to make the progression from opening the throttle from half to three-quarters to full more linear.
"Dani Pedrosa has always been a smooth rider, but watching Marc Marquez, who is always willing to let it all hang out, not just on the gas but even while braking, the bike seems more stable, more in line. When they want to spin it, they can still spin it.
“Honda has always been one of those companies that says, ‘We’ll do it our way.’ I was surprised in the race here on Sunday that the acceleration of the Honda and the Yamaha were so similar. At the beginning of the year, the Yamaha could easily pass the Honda.
"Jorge Lorenzo on a Ducati? He looks like Lorenzo on a Ducati. He has kept his style, which I didn't think he would ever change. Valentino Rossi called it some time ago: We're stupid if we think he is not going to be there.
“Question is, will Ducati make the bike easier for him to ride? I’m sure Gigi Dall’Igna has a process for Jorge to get him to understand the current bike, and tomorrow he will ride the new bike, which, I hope, will turn even better.
“At the moment, it isn’t turning too badly, but that is at 1-minute, 31-second lap times. Jorge got around here in qualifying on Saturday in 1:29.4. These guys’ brains are so sped up—everything is slow to them—it takes a long time to get anything to work.
“Andrea Iannone switched from a Ducati to a Suzuki. We know Iannone can ride a motorcycle aggressively, passing and so on. Even doing that, the Ducati never really looked like a Honda with Marc riding it, even though Iannone got it out of shape a lot.
“Maverick Viñales rode the Suzuki aggressively. The bike was moving all the time, the rear tire was spinning, and it worked. That doesn’t work with the Yamaha. It doesn’t accept extreme loads. It needs to flow through the corner to get the lap time.
“Iannone looks good on the bike. Suzuki Team Manager Davide Brivio said he expects a lot out of Iannone, and he is already performing like that. But the Suzuki has already won a race and was on the podium a few times with Viñales.
“If you look at the Ducati, with Andrea Dovizioso, Iannone, and, now, Lorenzo, you’ve got three different riders who were or are able to be in the top five or six with it. The demands that Jorge is going to want might only take a few tweaks.
“Whether they can get it done here by manipulating the electronics is yet to be seen. But Lorenzo has made a great start. It took him a while to get to a 1:31, but we’ve seen people crash today and look silly. Last thing you want to do is throw it down the road.
“Jorge is one of those guys who will put 10 or 12 laps together at a very fast pace during race weekends. A lot of guys have picked up on that, but there are still a lot of young people who do three or four laps and then cruise around or pull in.
“I’m glad this happened. If Jorge stayed at Yamaha, next season would have been a boring year. It’s tough to celebrate when both sides of that garage didn’t enjoy each other. The engineers and mechanics are very professional, but it was hard.
"I think it was a smart move for KTM to bring in Pol Espargaro and Bradley Smith. The engine sounds more like an older Honda. The bike looks very forgiving. It seems to handle well, and Pol appeared to gel with it right away.
“KTM has beaten the odds in everything they have entered, including Supercross. Those guys know what it is like to go head-to-head with the Japanese, and they’re not shying away from anything. They took the Moto3 title again this year; those bikes are trick.
“Everything they do is geared toward not just entering but winning. It is great to see that orange team in this paddock. I’ll tell you what, Aprilia has to be shaking. KTM is another European manufacturer that is strong competition for them.”
MOTOGP RIDER QUOTES
Andrea Iannone, Suzuki Ecstar: "We work without pressure, without stress, to understand the situation. At the moment, everything is okay.
“The guys inside the garage are fantastic. Tomorrow, we will try to change a little bit small parts on the bike to understand the effect.
“The crash was unfortunate, but when the track temperature at Valencia goes down, it is very dangerous in the right-hand corners.”
Valentino Rossi, Movistar Yamaha: "It is a positive day because I am second and the lap time is not so bad. But I did it with the old bike.
“We tried the new engine, which, seriously, is not fantastic. I expected more but there is not a lot of difference. It’s just the first version, but I think we have to work.
“The first feeling with the new chassis was okay, but I crashed on the hard front—not enough grip on the right for our bike. I damaged the bike and I didn’t have time to retry. So, now, the guys work, and I will try the new chassis another time tomorrow.
“Vinales is first, so it is a great debut, but I expected that he would be fast from the beginning. Also, Lorenzo was good at the end. And Iannone was fast from the first laps—very positive first day from them.
Alvaro Bautista, Pull & Bear Aspar Ducati: "A lot of things changed from last year—bike, team, and engineers. Today was to know the bike and start to work with the people to understand. For sure, the work plan is different from last year.
“I’m happy because I start to understand how I have to ride this bike. At the moment, I feel I am too far from the potential of the bike, but step-by-step, I am getting used to the bike’s character.
“I have one 2016 Ducati—no winglets—so the bike is the same as I will use next year. Michelin didn’t bring the new front; we are using the old profile. I’m really happy with the guys working with me. I have a couple of engineers from Ducati.
“We will need to push more and make a better time. For sure, it will be more difficult but, at the moment, everything is okay.”
Alex Rins, Suzuki Ecstar: "I am really impressed with the Suzuki, the team, with everything. The first laps that I made were impressive because I started without traction control and without anti-wheelie. It was incredible.
“Lap by lap, they were putting in a little bit more electronic parts. I ended the day very happy because the progression was good. The handling is very good, but I think the most important thing is to learn the bike. It’s my first day, and I can learn a lot.
“For the moment, the Michelin tires are working really good. When I am faster, maybe I will have more problems. I was impressed also with the carbon discs. I never used them before, and the first lap you need to brake a little bit to get them warm. They are special.
“I learned to not open throttle a lot because, if I do, the tire starts spinning. I also learned to brake harder and do good corner speed. For sure, I am tired—this is a big bike with a lot of horsepower—but I am happy for my progression.”
Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda: "New bike, new engine, but about the weak problem at the moment, there is no difference. We need to work more. The character of the engine is the most important to be faster. Today, we were not so fast.
“For riding, it looks a little bit easier, but we need to adjust the electronics to this new engine. All of the torque maps, all the engine brake maps, are made for the 2016 engine. They have a lot of job to do.
“I did the first run with my current bike, and then I started to work with the new bike. With the current bike, I can be faster, like in the GP. Tomorrow, we will concentrate all of the day on the new bike. Maybe at the end of the day, we will make some back-to-back to understand well.
“For me, it was a long day, waiting a long time in the box. We tried some different concepts on the bike to try to learn how to improve the acceleration for the future. Tomorrow, we will try to work more deeply on the details.
“I already expected Maverick’s performance. The Yamaha is a bike that is working well, and he is a fast rider. Lorenzo is maybe the biggest surprise, no?
“Some people say that his riding style doesn’t fit and he will not adapt. I was already thinking he will be fast, and, in fact, he is fast. Also, Iannone with the Suzuki is fast like on the Ducati.”
Dani Pedrosa, Repsol Honda: "Today was a decent day. The track was a little bit colder, so at some point, we suddenly saw many crashes. So, in general today, I was trying to save energy. I did very short runs because I also want to ride tomorrow.
“Basically, I focused on just trying the bikes; I didn’t go much into the details or the setting. We had no big issues. Also, it was interesting today to see all the changes in the other teams and riders.
“I tried the new engine. The feeling was okay. The bike was running, and we had no issues. One of the biggest points of the new engine is the endurance and reliability.
“Tomorrow, if I’m okay, we can do a little bit more because it will be the last day here. Then, I have some days to recover.”
Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia Racing Team Gresini: "I'm really happy. I like the team a lot. They are really enthusiastic and waiting for my comments, so this is great.
“Today, I tried both bikes—Stefan Bradl’s bike and Alvaro Bautista’s bike. I felt good points in one and good points in the other one. But the thing is that we know clearly which direction we have to go.
“The thing that impressed me most was the stability of the bike. It really reminded me of the Forward Yamaha. Really stable bike on the brakes. Maybe I was expecting a bike that turns a little bit less, because that is what Alvaro and Stefan said, but, actually, turning is not that bad.
“We need to work a little bit on the acceleration. The torque in the first touch of the throttle is quite low. I think that is a priority right now, but the bike is competitive. Tomorrow, we will try to make more laps to understand a little bit more, but already I am really happy.”
Andrea Dovizioso, Ducati Team: "We tried to create a similar setup as the previous bike, and, fortunately, nothing is worse, so now we have a chance to work in a different area.
“We decided to keep the winglets today and tomorrow because it is more important for us to decide the different material we have and to fix the bike for next year than to spend a lot of time to reset the bike and try to find a good balance without the winglets.
“We have a lot of horsepower, and if we don’t use the winglets, the front wheel almost never touches. Before we brake, the front wheel doesn’t touch so many times we lock the front. I think the improvement of the new engine on the bottom is a nice feeling.
“We are working in every area, especially the chassis, because we have a two-and-a-half-month break, and we would like to go home with a clear idea about our base.”
Bradley Smith, Red Bull KTM Factory Racing: "So much to take in, but I am surprised by how well everything feels. So many things are different—engine, chassis being tubular steel, WP suspension—but the feeling is there. It feels like a bike.
“The feedback from the Michelins is there. You understand it. It reacts to normal changes. It’s logical. We mainly worked on electronics today. My and Pol’s riding styles are quite different from Mika’s, so we’ve gone more in the direction of trying to roll through corners rather than stop and go.
“I think that Mika doesn’t mind the bike sliding into the apex and then point and squirt because that is what he knows. The good thing is, Pol and I went in a similar direction and had positive feedback from it. The bike is super consistent. It doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary.
“The character of the engine is very different. I think the sound confused me the most. You don’t really know where you are or where the TCS is because it’s so completely different. Each run got a little easier, and I understood everything a little bit more. It’s not lacking power, especially in fourth, fifth, and sixth. It is just lacking structure in power deliver, but that’s something we can work on.
“I can’t really say there is a big weakness, only that the difference between old tires and new tires is too much for me. The lap-time difference between a second run on these tires and the first run is too much, so that’s something we need to work on.
“I think 1.8 seconds off considering this bike still hasn’t done half the kilometers of anything else out there is quite impressive. Pol and I seem to be working on the same things, complaining about the same things. So that’s good we’re working in parallel.”