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GP Week : Issue 1
13 M oto GP news >> THE factory Honda team has started the season in an increasing state of confusion. While satellite team riders enjoy the solid performance of the rental bikes, the factory riders are suffering severely. How severely? Badly enough that Honda rushed over a pair of last year’s bikes for Repsol team riders Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa. The machines were hastily assembled from parts after the final Qatar pre-season tests, where both riders were disappointed by their times. Hayden had been fastest at Jerez tests, but at Qatar he slumped to seventh. Pedrosa, still recuperating from hand injuries, was 13th, while satellite-team riders Randy de Puniet and Andrea Dovizioso were both faster than the factory bikes. The satellite bikes are replicas of last year’s factory machine, as used by Pedrosa to win the final race at Valencia. The factory riders should have been on an all-new bike, with a different angle for the V4 engine, and pneumatic valves … but that engine had already been withdrawn for further development, after proving fast but hard to ride in earlier tests. Instead, they were using an interim model, with the latest chassis, and last year’s engine modified to fit. The official reason was that the old bikes were here “for comparison, to help mature the 2008 machine,” according to HRC managing director Kosuke Yasutaki. But Hayden elected to race the old bike, while looking enviously across the garage at the latest version of the 2008 chassis that Pedrosa chose. Yasutaki explained the move. “At the Qatar night tests, we couldn’t get good times, and both riders had the comment that the front-end stability feeling was different. “The main reason to bring the old bike was so they could test the feeling of the bike.” Last year’s bikes had already been reduced to component form, and HRC staff had a 24-hour day putting them together, along with the latest step-up parts, he said. In the end, Pedrosa’s choice proved correct, the Spaniard making an electric start to eventually snare an unexpected podium. – MICHAEL SCOTT Honda in a chassis quandary “Real” 2008 Honda not due until after Round 3 HONDA’S real 2008 machine, complete with pneumatic valve engine, will not be seen again until after the third round, the Portuguese GP. “It will be ready for tests after the race,” said Yasutaki. The motor had shown well in terms of top speed in tests, but since motorcycles spend more time at part throttle, that is not the most important aspect, and responses in that range have been erratic. “We are working on the power delivery,” said Yasutaki. The mid-range needed improvement, and bench testing back at Tokyo HQ was aimed at this. The new engine is completely different from the old, quite apart from the valve- spring system. One difference is lower internal friction, said Yasutaki. This was only partly because of the lower inertia of pneumatic valve springs compared with steel. He admitted that they have been experimenting with different valve systems, but stopped short when asked if these included desmodromic (positive springless closing), currently the exclusive preserve of Ducati. “Even if we were, I couldn’t tell you,” he said. But, he continued, mechanical valve closure was very complex, with a large number of precision parts involved. “We prefer a simpler system.” Honda is now the only company without either desmodromics or pneumatic valve springs. Kawasaki and Suzuki both used pneumatics last year, and Yamaha also brought a pneumatic bike out for an increasingly desperate Rossi later in the season, only for it to fail mid-race. This year, both he and factory team- mate Lorenzo have pneumatic valve springs, while the Tech 3 satellite team riders Edwards and Toseland have been promised them for later in the year. – MICHAEL SCOTT