MotoGP A New Beginning

It was an interesting Valencia post season official test this year,

The post season test is normally has all the feel of the new season as for the first time we can actually see the new bikes compared with each other. It’s a time when riders move to a new team and for the first time get in the saddle of the new charge showing us whether they will have the potential to challenge for the podium. Will they gel with the bike –  will the team accept them – have they made the correct decision – all questions that have to be answered ahead of the following season and it’s the day when we can first compare factory developments.

Monday the first day of official MotoGP testing in Valencia saw a concerned Alvaro Bautista wandering down the paddock devoid of racing leathers displaying no obvious signs of getting on a machine. 

His problem – he was contracted to test with Suzuki, but importantly he was in negotiations with Gresini. Early Tuesday and after much talking  Suzuki chief Paul Denning admitted to being resigned to the lose of the Spanish rider, and with the deal sorted with Gresini Bautista was left with nothing more than to announce to the press his decision.

This time around we had the added attraction of being able to welcome a new generation of bikes as MotoGP evolved into the 1000cc generation. We were to be treated to the spectacle of these machines sparring against each other having only witnessed them briefly at separate venues during the season.

Post Valencia testing though did have one thing in common with the 2011 season – Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner were busy showing why Honda dominance showed no sign of waning in the new era.

Off the track team managers were furiously working behind the scenes to get contracts while and media officers rushed to get press releases out and allow their respective new charges to participate in time for the test session.

Early Tuesday and with the departure of Bautista Randy de Puniet was seen ripping Pramac badges off his leathers before putting in three hours of testing on the Suzuki GSV-R.

With Suzuki still not committed to 2012 plans and only testing on Tuesday, there was a lot to prove in a very short time and De Puniet was not going to allow an opportunity to slip away. Posting the fourth fastest time on the 800cc GSV-R by the end of play, De Puniet finished ahead of the 1000cc Ducati and the Yamaha 800cc machines.

DePuniet will be hoping that it was three hours well invested and would be enough to persuade the Japanese factory that it is worthwhile to field one or two bikes next year and earn him a contract, despite the fact that the indecision would mean starting the year with 800s.

Over at Gresini the newly arrived Bautista on Hiroshi Aoyama’s 800cc bike from the grand prix weekend, the Spaniard posted the ninth-fastest time, two seconds off the 1000cc pace. Bautista’s season will be one of proving his pedigree, taking over from Marco Simoncelli will be a hard task as his contract is with Gresini rather than Simoncelli who’s contract was with HRC, factory support will have to be earned rather than given.

Also riding an 800cc Honda for the two days of testing was Moto2 world champion Stefan Bradl, who on Toni Elias’s bike immediately impressed team manager Lucio Cechinello with his ability to adapt. It seems only a matter of days now before an announcement is made tying Bradl to LCR.

Andrea Dovizioso’s move to Monster Yamaha Tech 3, ending a career lifetime with Honda to take up a seat on bike which he was certain even before he rode it, would suit his riding style.

The factory Yamaha engineers were eagerly anticipating Dovizioso’s arrival and the input and feedback from the rider with seven podiums on this year’s championship-winning bike under his belt.

Dovizioso’s technical debriefs were held not only with Tech 3 crew chief Guy Coulon and his satellite crew, but also attended by the injured Jorge Lorenzo’s crew chief Ramon Forcada.

Dovizioso finished the test fifth fastest, +1.4secs off his old team-mate Pedrosa’s fastest time of 1min 31.807secs, but with plenty of testing and development over the winter it will be interesting to see how much he and factory counterpart Ben Spies’ +0.5secs gap is reduced in February once that feedback is put into development.

At Ducati, a forlorn Nicky Hayden was sidelined by his Valevia GP injury while team mate Valentino Rossi busily set about testing the new twin-spar aluminium frame, although the factory were quick to point out that the bike was in its experimental stage.

Rossi the sessions sixth fastest, 1.52secs off the pace despite a season of heavy modifications to the bike he was unable to make inroads into last season’s +1.58secs . What the factory do between now and Sepang will be crucial in what is to be a make-or-break season in 2012, but Ducati are confident the new rules on official testing will aid their development.

The CRT (claiming rule teams) – of the six CRT’s who have initially secured a place on the 2012 grid on one was in attendance at Valencia: BQR were testing their FTR/Kawasaki rider Yonny Hernandez, who steps up from Moto2 with them.

Forward Racing, the only other entry with a confirmed rider and bike explained their test absence was due to Colin Edwards’ ongoing recovery from a shoulder dislocated in the crash in Sepang.

Kiefer Racing have decided to stay in Moto2, while Marc VDS and Paddock GP are showing no further appetite for a move into CRT. Andrea Iannone’s Speed Master team were delayed due to the uncertainty as to the riders ambitions for the Gresini vacancy before Bautista signed on the dotted line and with Gresini’s CRT ride looking certain to be given to their Moto2 rider Michele Pirro Speed Master are back working on their CRT plan.

Three new teams were testing – Spanish teams BQR Inmotec and Laglisse along with Italian outfit Gapam .

The times were well off the leaders  but it is still early days and with more testing time available to them than the MotoGP outfits, hopefully we will see an accelerated development by the time the Sepang tests are completed.

Aspar were the only current team not to test in Valencia, which was not surprising as the team had no rider and their bike options for their new CRT project are still unconfirmed., 

It is unlikely that the CRT bikes with production-based engines will prove competitive from the offset in a world of million-dollar development budgets and advanced electronics the teams will have a hard task in front of them, although the idea seems to be that over time there will be more CRTs and fewer factories.

The main issue to overcome if this is to happen will be how they get around the ever increasing leasing costs the factories are charging the satellite teams which have seen Gresini and Pramac down to one leased bike each and Aspar to abandon their MotoGP project altogether in favour of becoming a CRT, something has to be done to tackle the dwindling grid numbers in the premier class.

In efforts to reduce costs this year has seen the rules relaxed on rider testing and Dorna chief executive Carmelo Ezpeleta has now hinted at a change in regulations regarding electronics – arguably the biggest factor in the four seconds a lap between factory and claiming rules bikes – saying “in the future there will be equal electronics for everyone”.

If all these CRTs actually start 2012 along with Paul Bird’s expected entry, we could see over 20 bikes on the grid next season. With 2012 being a first tentative step for both the new teams and the regulators, the future of CRTs is an exciting possibility.