Photo Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha
Yamaha straight out of the gate looks to be in good shape for 2016, but Valentino Rossi cautions that it’s still too early to tell.
The 2016 season marks a new era for MotoGP, a spec ECU and a new spec tire with Michelin. So all eyes are on pre-season testing to see how things shake out. Now that the first test of 2016 is in the books, it appears that the Movistar Yamaha squad is off to a good start. Valentino Rossi’s teammate Jorge Lorenzo set the pace over the three days (Danilo Petrucci’s top-time was set on the softer compound tire before they pulled it from the allocation). Rossi himself had a good showing, finishing fourth overall on the hard compound tire, but the nine-time World Champion cautioned that it was too early to tell.
“For me a little bit [more power] but more or less the speeds are similar,” Rossi said. “At this moment we don’t know exactly the level of our top speed compared to the Honda and Ducati. Is a great issue for us, we need to suffer a little bit less because last year it was the only weak point of our bike. But I think we have to wait for the first race to understand.”
Another change for 2016 is that there’s no longer an Open classification so the factory teams (excluding the formerly classified Open factory bikes, i.e. Ducati) get two more liters of fuel for race day and two more engines for the season. Will that help Yamaha out with more revs for horsepower?
“I think yes,” Rossi said. “I hope that we can have a little bit more horsepower for the top speed, but also Honda have more liters… So maybe we close the gap on Ducati, but we need to understand how much Honda improved. I think we will know when we have the official top speed.”
Yamaha brought a couple of options for Rossi and Lorenzo to test, including a new ’16 M1 with a chassis designed to compensate for the performance of the Michelin front tire compared to the Bridgestone, but so far both Rossi and Lorenzo preferred option two – the one more similar to the 2015 machine.
“With the ‘16 we have something good, but in braking we are a bit in trouble,” Rossi explained. “We are not in a hurry. For me it is also interesting to try in Phillip Island one time, the new bike, because you have another track.”
Photo Courtesy of Movistar Yamaha
Yamaha brought three options to the Sepang test: a 2015, a 2016 with a conventional fuel tank and a 2016 with a fuel filler in the rear (pictured here).
Rossi went on to explain why the 2016 version wasn’t the option of choice: “They try to modify the bike with the tire of last year, the Michelin of last year. Now Michelin make a step, so maybe we don’t need.”
After running Bridgestones for nearly seven years, was Rossi going to have to adjust his riding style to the new tires?
“If you asked the question last year the difference was bigger, but now with this front we are closer,” he said. “Okay, so is in a way different under a lot of point of view, but more similar to last year.”
Rossi went on to explain the difference and what it was going to take to go fast.
“Easily speaking the rear is a little bit better, the front a little bit worse, compared to Bridgestone,” he said. “But is everything about the weight distribution of the bike and the way that you make work the tire. This is important to understand.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the first test of the year was the big improvement to the front tire. Even with the new tires and new spec ECU, the times weren’t far off of the Bridgestone days. The other surprise (and a less-nice one) was Loris Baz’ epic rear-tire failure on the front straight that had Michelin pulling the softer-compound tire from the allocation. Baz was fortunately okay and Michelin are working on finding the exact cause. Rossi nearly got a front-row view of the failure, being the first one behind Baz after the incident. How did Rossi feel about it?
“Like I said before, if you start to think [about it], it’s better that you take the bag and go back home,” he said. “Because, f#@k… I think it is one of the most dangerous things that could happen. I think that Loris [Baz] was very, very lucky. Everybody have to say thank you. But now the important thing is that Michelin understand why. Because when you ride the bike and you are on the straight, the feeling is very comfortable. You don’t feel that you go so fast, but if something happen like this… it is scary.”