The torrential rainfall at last weekend’s Malaysian Motorcycle Grand Prix in Sepang may have cut the race short, but yielded a great joint result for the Ducati Team, whose riders both demonstrated the bike’s potential in very difficult conditions.
Team Manager Vittoriano Guareschi commented after the weekend: “It was certainly a strange Sunday, with conditions that we hadn’t ridden in the whole weekend. We started with the tyres as an unknown and opted for the hard rain, which in the end turned out to be a good choice. Our bike performs very well in wet conditions, and both riders took good advantage of that.”
It was in fact a tyre lottery for the whole grid at the start, with almost all riders on the softer option rear tyre suffering with too great a degradation and struggling immensely towards the latter part of the race. Having opted for the harder rear, the Ducati pair of Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi were able to push their bikes right up until the red flags came out and halted the race for safety reasons. Hayden finished in his season-best result in fourth, while Rossi fought back from an early error to come in fifth.
Hayden stated after the race: “Those were really tough conditions. I got a good launch, but when [Andrea] Dovizioso got sideways in front of me, I shut off the throttle and lost positions. I was able to recover, but I lost some confidence when the rear tried to come around a couple times. I had to be really patient in the beginning, but once I got rolling, I had good rhythm. It was clearly the right decision to call the race. There was a lot of water those last couple of laps, and it was almost impossible to see, although the rear lights on the bikes helped a lot.”
Yet despite his good result, the American is not getting complacent and knows the team must improve:“In dry conditions, I would’ve been thrilled with fourth, but I know our potential is higher in the wet. It would’ve been amazing to give my guys a podium today, but it’s a decent result. Hopefully, it can help me come out of the difficult period and give us something to build on.”
Rossi, who at one point was suffering with problems with his visor, was able to come back through the grid after a costly mistake in turn seven half way through the race: “Our race wasn’t bad because I got a great start despite being so far back, on the fourth row, and then I managed to be pretty fast. I was riding with Dovizioso and [Casey] Stoner, when unfortunately I started having some problems with my visor fogging, and in those extreme conditions, with low light and a lot of water, it was very difficult. I made a mistake in Turn 7, and I was lucky not to crash because it was the same point where Dovizioso, [Ben] Spies and then [Stefan] Bradl went down. Without that mistake, I could have finished fourth because honestly, Stoner was a bit faster than I was, especially in T2. In general though, it didn’t go bad. Of course I would’ve liked to finish the full race, but there was really too much water. I think the decision to stop was correct because in these conditions, the bikes can aquaplane and you can go down in any corner.”
After an eventful summer break, where the Ducati Team and Valentino Rossi announced their split at the end of 2012, the Italian outfit is fully focussed on the upcoming Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix this weekend.
The infamous Brickyard, which has hosted MotoGP™ races in the past four years, will be a challenge for teams and riders alike, who not only have a very varied layout to deal with, but also some interesting surface changes. It is a counter-clockwise race, and puts tremendous strain on the left shoulder of the tyre, which is why Bridgestone will be providing asymmetrical tyres featuring harder rubber on the left side.
Jeremy Burgess, Rossi’s crew chief, explains the challenges that the team will face: “Indy’s an interesting track. It’s left hand – same as Laguna Seca. It’s got a fast straight, a lot of slow corners, and in particular it has some surface changes, so the track is difficult for a lot of riders. And the last sequence of corners coming onto the straight are very much to the left, so you put a lot of temperature into that side of the tyre, which can make it difficult to enter onto the straight well. So, the setting of the bike is quite difficult, or has been, for us in the past. So it’s quite interesting.”
The Australian also doesn’t believe that the now increased engine capacity will give any significant advantage or disadvantage: “I don’t think we’ll see much difference. The circuit at Indy is nothing special in terms of 800cc or 1000cc – the corners are very flat, because it’s laid out within the confines of the oval circuit of course. And that itself is interesting, but it’s a good circuit, and I enjoy going there.”
Rossi, despite his decision to leave, has pledged to do his upmost for the team before the end of the season: “This break served as an opportunity to make important decisions for the future, but now I want to return to thinking about the races because we want to improve, and during the weekend it’s important to focus completely on what we have to do on the track. Indianapolis isn’t one of my favourite circuits, although I do have a win there. It’s a particular track because it’s one of those that goes in the opposite direction, so the lines are a bit strange in many of the corners. It’s a tricky track, but we’ll try to do our best and have fun.”
Teammate Nicky Hayden, for whom this is the closest track to a home race, is hoping to do well in front of his local crowd: “Laguna was fun, but Indy is really my home GP, just across the state line from Kentucky. Hopefully we can do a good result. We struggled more at Laguna than I expected, but Indy is much faster, with more opportunities to open the throttle. It should be nice to ride that track on the 1000s, and it will be fun for the American fans to really get to see them in action. Last season, tyre wear was critical there, but hopefully the pavement will come in a bit better this year. I hope to be competitive starting on Friday, and I’ll definitely be disappointed if we don’t get the best result of the season so far.”