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GP Week : Issue 47
>>Moto GPINSIGHT EYMOON IS OVER T YRE rule changes announced in the break between French and Italian GPs mark the end of the honeymoon for this year’s new monotyre regulation. The fact that the changes are so small – “only a tweak”, according to one crew chief – can be taken as proof of a ‘so-far so-good’ feeling through most of the paddock after four races with control tyres. Even the complete absence of intermediate tyres has not proved a major problem. This was amply proved at Le Mans, where even in the changing conditions of a drying track there was sufficient overlap between the performance of full wet tyres and the replacement slicks to give a wide pit-stop window – from laps five to 12. “Even last year we noticed that Bridgestone wet-weather tyres were incredible on a drying track – sometimes lasting even better than our cut-slick intermediate tyres,” said Yamaha Tech 3 chief Hervé Poncharal. “At Le Mans, Lorenzo stayed out until the track was already almost dry, and he was still setting fastest laps.” The rule change affects only front tyres. Each rider gets eight for the weekend, as before, but with a touch of mix-and-match. In the original plan this meant four of each type of the two compounds Bridgestone brings to each circuit. From June 24, riders will be able to favour one or other type of tyre, and may change the ratio to 5:3 in whichever way they prefer. The only catch is that they have to decide within two hours of the finish of the previous race. This does have the effect, as another in racing management pointed out, of introducing a new element of prediction (also known as ‘educated guesswork’) to the new landscape. Since there is the possibility of getting it wrong as well as right, this makes the playing field a little less level than before. It also gives Bridgestone the chance to adjust their tyre allocation. Since all supplies this year come to the tracks from Japan by sea rather than last year’s extensive air-freighting (another significant cost saving), they have to be despatched at least six weeks before the race in question. Pre-ordering a fortnight before the actual event gives a small window to air-freight any adjustments required. The rule change was requested by the riders, via the Safety Commission, confirmed race director Paul Butler. Since it was on the grounds of safety, it was passed on to Dorna, and thence to Bridgestone. “The new rule is working pretty well so far, with no complaints about the rear tyres, but some problems with the front allocation,”he said. The original request for more front tyres was firmly resisted by Bridgestone. The company’s alternative offer effectively does give a rider one more tyre. All riders will make the most of the new latitude, but it’s really being done with one particular rider in mind. Call it the Toni Elias Sanction; for his particularly acute case illustrates the problem for all. The erratically brilliant little Spaniard last year used special soft-construction front tyres from Bridgestone to suit his unique style. With the new control tyres, not only were the softer option not really soft enough for him, the harder fronts were quite useless. Effectively cutting his front tyre allocation for the weekend from eight to four. Now he can use five, and discard only three. He is not the only one. Capirossi’s Rizla Suzuki crew chief Stuart Shenton explains: “It’s normal that one of the two tyres will work much better for the rider, so it did sometimes get bit tight. You’d want to keep one for the race, leaving only three for all the practice. “The front tyre choice is very personal to a rider. The rear is not so sensitive,” continued the experienced Englishman. Both current Suzuki riders Capirossi and Vermeulen agreed with the Rossi/ Stoner view, that they’d prefer the harder-construction front tyre they used last year. But in general they all felt the single-tyre rule was working alright so far, “as long as they don’t change it. “Bridgestone have tried to be fair, and the choice is pretty conservative, to operate over a wide range. If the same range of tyres was available as last year, we would have wanted different ones. But they’re not. “Where before we could change the tyre to suit the bike, now we don’t have that luxury any more. We have to modify the bike for a smaller choice of tyres. We need stability of rules while we do that, and it could take two or three years.” Suzuki’s problems at present on the control tyre were that the bike seemed over-sensitive to changing conditions. “We can’t throw another tyre at it. We have to find out why: whether it is engine character, chassis stiffness ratios, geometry … “ From Poncharal’s view (he is president of IRTA as well as Tech 3 team principal), the rule change is just a small adjustment. “Bridgestone was very clear, and would not give in to pressure for more front tyres. But for me this is a more than acceptable compromise, if it is going to help some riders, and as long as it doesn’t affect the total number of tyres.” Elias is the worst victim of the one- tyre rule, and it is hard to know how to respond to his extreme case. He is somewhat isolated. Riders and teams alike have taken to the one- tyre rule with barely a ripple. Even Rossi, after speaking about how he is having to adjust his bike and his style to a front tyre that is too soft in construction for him “to ride as I like”, seems happy enough to add: “but it’s the same for everyone.” 43