On paper at least, Bradley Smith’s second MotoGP test in the space of three weeks at the Sepang track in Malaysia looked worse than it actually was.
Earlier this month in the opening Malaysia test he had got an early confidence boost after setting the eighth best time on the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 YZR-M1, which put him ahead of factory Ducati duo Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden.
During a rain-hit return this week, Smith dropped back to 10th and was just less than a tenth-of-a-second slower than he’d managed in Sepang 1.
A best time of 2.02.023 this week did move him marginally closer to the fastest pace though. In the opening Sepang session he had trailed Dani Pedrosa by 1.831s and this week the gap to reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo was down to 1.741s.
Despite slipping behind Dovizioso and Hayden at this week’s test, Smith said his positive performance wasn’t reflected on the final timesheets and he still left the Far East in a positive frame of mind with confidence high heading to the final test in Jerez later this month.
The 22-year-old, who escaped unhurt from a fast crash at Turn 7 on the opening day, told MCN: “I’m positive because I know a lot more about the bike when I first got here. I sat in the garage when everybody was in time attack mode at the end and pushing for a fast lap on a new tyre.
It is not that I didn’t want to go for the lap time but we are just trying to go step-by-step at the moment and look at the bigger picture to give me more of an understanding of the bike. So when we get to Qatar for the first race and I’ve only got 45 minutes to set up the bike, I know which direction to go for.
In case the bike isn't working we know what works for my riding style and the team know what works for me. The last two days were more about the team understanding my requests and my riding style to the changes that we need to make. I still don’t believe that we have a base setting for me to ride but at least we have a direction of which way I prefer.
Luckily for us it is towards the way Andrea (Dovizioso) liked it and that’s positive because we have got a whole load of data and experience from working with him.”
Explaining why he was edging closer to the set-up that Italian Dovizioso preferred on his way to six podium finishes for the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 squad in 2012, Smith said: “I am more of a rear end rider. If the rear end is somewhere near right then I am ok with the front.
I grew up riding motocross and you did all the riding with the rear. We both like a lot of rear grip going into the corner and going through the corner. We don't need the front tyre to be perfectly precise. The front can be doing what it wants but if the rear tyre is doing the right thing then we can do a good lap time. Today I did my lap time with 15 laps on the tyre and that’s a huge step forward from the last test.
Before I needed fresh tyres and be in full on time attack mode but today I could do it with older tyres. I suppose in terms of looking at the gap to the front it doesn’t really show the total picture. I would say we are in a lot better position now than I was at the last test although we haven’t gone faster. We still haven't cracked the good lap time at the moment but the package we have is more rounded.”
With only three more testing days available in Jerez later this month, Smith said it was still difficult to gauge his potential for the first race in Qatar on April 7.
He was 0.7s behind German Stefan Bradl in seventh place in Sepang this week and he added: “It is hard to say because in terms of one-off lap times on fresh tyres I am a long way off that next group. But as the tyres get older I am still able to maintain my lap time, so if I can make the next step then that group in front is within reach.
Looking at the Ducatis on old tyres over the race distance I am happy I can be in front of those guys. But I need to find something in Jerez that will enable me to go to that next level for a one-off lap time.”
For more coverage of the Sepang test, see a nine-page special in the March 6 issue of MCN.