HARDRIDER MOTORCYCLE MAGAZINE

Michelin is no stranger to Grand Prix racing, but it will definitely require some time before coming to par with a breed of racing motorcycles that have evolved considerably since the last time Michelin-shod bikes won races back in 2008. We should also not forget that Dorna’s spec ECU wasn’t available for testing until last October, so at least one year of tire development was essentially carried out with the previous generation of factory electronics. Are five months adequate to come up with a product at this level of sophistication, especially if it has to perform faultlessly on several different motorcycles? During the first testing sessions ahead of the new season several riders – among them Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso – noted that even identical-spec tires would occasionally display different traction characteristics. Then came Loris Baz’s horrific accident at the Sepang MotoGP test last February. When his rear tire came apart while his Avintia Racing Ducati was travelling at 290 km/h (180 mph) on the Malaysian circuit’s home straight, Michelin immediately withdrew the specific compound for the rest of the Malaysian test. Although the first race of the season in Qatar was rather uneventful as far as tires are concerned, the events of the Argentinian GP proved to be the exact opposite. A disintegrating tire on Scott Redding’s Octo Pramac Ducati prompted Michelin to withdraw all the soft and medium compound tires. Literally at the last hour, Race Direction announced shorter race duration and included a compulsory pit stop for fresh rubber to ensure no rider would find himself in Redding’s place during the race. Perhaps serving as proof of the inconsistencies that Dovizioso pointed out, Valentino Rossi’s team still cannot understand what was that made two identical motorcycles with the same setting and same tires perform so differently before and after the mid-race bike swap. Tires are quintessential in determining the outcome of a race, and it is clear that Michelin’s rubber is still in development phase. This practically means that unforeseen problems are bound to arise and it will not always be a safe bet to rely on tire performance when designing a race strategy. As far as electronics are concerned, the issue raised by Dorna in 2012 – when it started talking about enforcing a spec ECU – escalated to a heated bargaining process behind closed doors. The Manufacturers’ Association (MSMA) finally conceded after drawing its own red lines, starting with a five- year freeze on the class’ regulations. The spec ECU is made by Magneti-Marelli, but this does not include all the hardware. The teams can still use their own sensors and acquisition devices, including the Inertial Measurement Unit, provided that they have been submitted for homologation to Dorna. This is essential in order to ensure there is no foul play, like a second ECU masqueraded as a sensor – as Ducati’s Luigi Dall’Ignia pointed out. Based on the ECU that was used by the Open teams during the last two years, the new electronic management is designed to make things a little bit more even. The new Aprilia, Suzuki and KTM bikes have been designed and developed with this very ECU from the onset, while Ducati ran its team last year under the Open class rules. Honda and Yamaha opted to employ their satellite teams to gather data of the specific ECU on their bike. Several other rule changes introduced for 2016 include 22-litre (5.8 gallon) fuel tanks for all motorcycles, 17-inch wheels instead of 16.5, a total of seven engines per rider for the whole season and setting the minimum allowed bike weight down one kilo from last year to 157 kg (346 lb). The engine development freeze is still in force, as well as testing limitations that allow factory contracted riders to test their bikes only on specific official events. There are exceptions designed to favor new teams and those that haven’t met success during the last three years. Factories that haven’t scored a win (in dry conditions) since 2013 enjoy the privilege of running 12 engines per rider, can test freely with their contracted riders and are also allowed to develop their engines. As soon as they start visiting the podium though, concessions are gradually lost. And finally there are the winglets. Ducati was the first to use them in MotoGP’s modern era in search for a solution to the front-end problems that have marred the Italian bikes ever since they ditched the steel frames. Initially the aerodynamic wings were all but laughed at, yet seeing them on Jorge Lorenzo’s championship-winning Yamaha M1 and occasionally on Honda’s factory bikes means that they actually do work. Their task is to generate downforce that will help the front tire find more traction, but they are also at the epicenter of some

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