Blog: Close season over

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November 2 2006

MCN MotoGP reporter Matt Birt exclusively shares hs views post Valencia.. Matt has spent years living out of a suitcase to follow the MotoGP circus around the world, to get the inside scoops for MCN…

Well I’ve got to say I really enjoyed a relaxing time during the off-season… all 72 hours of it.

The gripping 2006 world championship is still fresh in the memory yet today preparations began in earnest for the 2007 season!

No rest for the wicked eh? Today down here in a slightly cooler Valencia, the big hitters were all out on their new 800s as we got a first proper glimpse of the future.

Among the interesting sightings were new world champion Nicky Hayden getting his first ride on the Honda, which is called the RC212V for the record. Fair play to Nicky, his new bike was sporting one of the biggest number one plates I’ve ever seen. Hey, why not shout from the rooftops if you’re world champ and beat Valentino Rossi to do it. We saw Casey Stoner make an assured debut on Ducati’s GP7, Valentino Rossi came out of hiding having not been seen at all since his shock defeat on Sunday, and Marco Melandri rode an old RCV on Bridgestone tyres for the first time.

Testing is a whole different structure to the day than a race. At a race you know the boys are out on track for just two hours. And you know exactly the times when you can speak to the riders.

At a test, to be honest sometimes they can be excruciatingly dull. The general rule is that riders will only speak at the end of the day. That’s fair enough as they hardly need the distraction of speaking to journalists when they are trying to get in crucial early development miles on new bikes. The information they give engineers now could be make or break for the start of next season. But that makes the end of the day completely manic. You just basically have to hang around outside garages and when a rider emerges you pounce. The only problem is a lot of the time they all come out at once and you have to speak to everybody to get the proper story.

It can be hectic, but tonight I’ve got 45 minutes worth of interviews with Valentino, Melandri, Nicky, Casey and Chris Vermeulen. That’ll do for starters.

With a fair bit of down time it is always good to get out trackside to see what’s going on. Now I’m not going to give you loads of BS that I am a riding guru and can tell you exactly what’s going on.

But been doing this long enough to give you a little insight. What struck me straight away, apart from the noise – man those things are loud – was the increased corner speed. They look like big 250s and the corner entry is phenomenal too. I watched Melandri follow Loris Capirossi for a bit – bearing in mind Marco was still on a 900cc RCV. But it looked to me that Capirossi is braking as much as 20 metres later. I asked Marco tonight and he said it felt like Capirossi was riding a 950 and not an 800.

You can also tell these new bikes don’t grunt out of the corners as much, and Nicky certainly wasn’t able to rear wheel steer anywhere near as much as we’ve become accustomed to. But then again acceleration was bound to suffer with 200cc less. The only real difference on the straight though seems to be when the 990s hit fifth and sixth gear and really started to stretch their legs. No prizes for guessing that Ducati’s GP7 was fastest through the speed trap times that I managed to get hold of. Capirossi did 185.7mph. Best speed last weekend was 197mph, so think somebody was being economical with the truth, as I’m not convinced the gap is that big. So much for slashing top speeds and lap times for safety eh? Both are almost the same and engineers have got six months to fettle and tweak their toys, so by Qatar next season, given the rate of development in MotoGP, there could actually been an improvement.

Another thing that struck me were the lap times and how close they are all were. I know there was a real genuine concern that somebody would take a gigantic leap and some of the early races next season would be strung out affairs, a little bit like they were when we consigned the old 500s to museum relics in 2002. Last season produced some of the most enthralling races we’ve ever seen, mostly due to the fact that Honda, Yamaha and Ducati were all so closely matched on the track.

Remember those early days when Valentino Rossi and Tohru Ukawa would just be racing each other while the others took their time to play catch-up. Well the switch might thankfully not bring an unwelcome return to those days.

If you discount the new Ilmor project, the seven riders on 800s today were split by just 0.5s. And that featured the new bikes from Ducati, Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki.

Fastest by a whisker was Valentino from Capirossi by the way. I was writing a story earlier on and I started it off with former world champion Valentino Rossi. Bloody hell did that feel one of the weirdest things. Speaking to him tonight he still looked shell-shocked at losing the championship. You could tell that last Sunday was like a dagger to the heart for him, and this morning he even went out for one last blast on the YZR-M1 before getting on the new Yamaha. He went out to find whether he could workout what had caused that catastrophic crash on Sunday. And the answer was no I don’t understand even now…

Another funny aspect to testing is getting the lap times. Times are always the only gauge in racing. It’s all about the human, the bike and the stopwatch.

There’s never any official timing at these tests so you can always see hacks scurrying around to get lap times less than five seconds after the track has closed. There’ll be a big huddle of us making sure we’ve all got the same times for everybody.

There was a classic moment tonight while we were waiting for Valentino to emerge for his debrief. He always speaks to the Italian reporters first and then does his chat for the international press. As it was the international contingent number two people, and one of those was the author.

While waiting for Valentino, Jerry Burgess emerged from the Camel Yamaha garage and the Italians went straight for the jugular desperate to find out Valentino..s best time. One of the pack said: ‘What about the time?’ To which Burgess just went: ‘It’s 5.20,’ and promptly walked into the back of the Camel Yamaha truck to grab a diet coke. Brilliant.

Later. M.

MCN Staff

By MCN Staff