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GP Week : Issue 148
Well, some CRT are go. The nine bikes span a wide range in terms of lap times, but by the end of 22 laps in the desert, the best of them came within less than two seconds of catching the last of the prototypes. That was Ben Spies’ Yamaha, admittedly somewhat stricken. Colin Edwards’s next potential target, Rossi in tenth, was still a whopping 25 seconds further down the track. Edwards is now in his 10th MotoGP season and oldest rider on the grid. With his For ward Racing team, he has worked wonders with the sole Suter BMW. The same bike was a laughing stock in early tests last year, and remained equally off the pace in tests this year as well. The stop-watch concealed amazing progress with the bike’s major weakness – electronics that were still in their infancy. By Qatar Edwards was neck and neck with the only other really impressive CRT entry – Randy de Puniet on the Aspar Aprilia ART, who until then had been in a class of his own. They might have had a good race, had de Puniet not run wide and lost touch on lap five after catching and trying to pass the faster-starting Texan. Another amazing run came from Yonny Hernandez on the little-regarded FTR Kawasaki, if only in the early laps, when he was able to stay with Edwards. He ended up 14th, still within sight of de Puniet. But it was not a close battle in the underclass. The last of the seven CRT bikes to finish, James Ellison’s ART, was almost a full minute behind. All the same, it wasn’t a bad start for the B-team boys. It’s hard to know what will be the heavier burden for Rossi. Is it the fact that he was 10th and more than half-a-minute behind the leaders in his first race on the revamped Ducati? Or that his team-mate Nicky Hayden was a fighting sixth, after beating him hollow in practice and qualifying? Most of all, perhaps, the knowledge that yet again a glimmer of light has turned out to be a false dawn, and that after more than a year the illustrious rider and his illustrious team are still searching in vain for the combination that will make the bike respond the way he likes. Respond not only to rider input, but also to setting changes – this basic need remained out of reach at Qatar. Ducati has changed just about everything possible: from carbon-fibre to aluminium chassis, as well as canting the engine backwards to shorten the package and revise weight distribution. It’s worked quite well for Hayden, who appears at least in with a fighting chance, which is an improvement on last year. But not for Rossi. He has two main targets. The first, as ever, is to eliminate the understeer, which, paradoxically is made worse when the rear starts to slide. “Then I lose the help from the rear to turn the front.” The second is to tame the harsh delivery of the plentiful power: “We have a lion in the cowling,” he said. But neither of these aims can be achieved until they find the key to the bike’s responses to setting changes . . . and they were still hunting right up until race time at Qatar, conspicuously without success. Neither the rider nor his crew can be ruled out. If anyone can find the key it should be them. But boy, it’s taking a long time. And with no major new parts until the third round at Estoril, it’s going to take a bit longer still. CRT ARE GO! ROSSI AND DUCATI: SLOW PROGRESS, OR NO PROGRESS? 25 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: MOTOGP >>> QATAR