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Trackside at Sepang with Wilco Zeelenberg

18 February 2013

During the Sepang test, Wilco Zeelenberg - team manager for reigning double MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo at Yamaha - met Crash.net and French magazine Moto Journal trackside at turn three, to talk through his observations.

Zeelenberg, who always makes a point of examining how the bikes are behaving on track, was a 250GP and WSS winner during his own racing career.

The Dutchman then made the successful switch to team management, helping Cal Crutchlow to the WSS crown in 2009, before joining forces with Lorenzo the following year.

During their three seasons together, Lorenzo has won two MotoGP titles and 18 races.

Turn three at Sepang (pictured) is a high-speed right hander, featuring a downhill entry before rising again on the run to turn four. It is also known for great shots of rear-wheel slides.

Upon arriving at the inside of the corner, Zeelenberg didn't park next to the trackside barrier, but steered his scooter off the service road and headed up the infield grass banking...

"You have to move back from the track to see the whole corner, to see the whole picture," Zeelenberg explained.

"Up here you can see the acceleration and also the difference in speed, when they go 2-3-4 kilometres per hour faster or slower it is important. Of course there is some 'guessing' when you are out here, but later you can check it on the data."

Zeelenberg then described why the turn three area is a good place to analyse grand prix bikes.

"Rider by rider and bike by bike you are able to see a lot of things in this zone. First of all acceleration from turn two is quite special. It is a very tight corner, downhill, so you can hear that the way of shifting up is very short, 2-3-4 in a split second.

"When they short shift so fast it means they have good acceleration out of the corner. Very good drive. If they shift more slowly it means acceleration is not good enough, the momentum is not good enough.

"If they are on a hot qualifying lap, they accelerate from turn two and they nearly don't have to shut off for turn three. Nearly. You don't hear the engine slowing. They have a lot of grip with new tyres.

"Then the exit of turn three is uphill, which is important for making time.

"These are very strong bikes, but they still have to push 220-230kg uphill. So to keep good momentum through the corner is very important, otherwise you lose a lot of time on the exit. You have to be very careful with the throttle.

"Also here, I think Casey [Stoner] was the first one last year, he was stepping out the rear and using the inside kerb to widen the track a little bit and keep the momentum."

Turn three is also a good test for the traction control.

"If you are playing with the traction control this is a very nice place to look, to understand the way the traction control interferes with the engine.

"There you go. You can hear nearly nothing [cutting out] on the Yamaha. It's not electronically controlled anymore. Before you had ignition cut, the 'da-da-da-da' sound. That kind of stuff is already nearly gone out of MotoGP. You just hear the bike smoothing out now.

"The bike gives the most power it thinks that the tyre can have at that point, but of course lean angle, speed and throttle position - everything is included in the calculation. It can be really important to see what problems they have with it here."

For the riders, body position is crucial in terms of anticipating problems and keeping the machine under control.

"The riders have to be prepared to open the throttle, let the bike spin-up and make sure that if something goes wrong they are able to 'swallow it' [correct it], body-position wise, before it becomes a big problem.

"You can see Bradley [Smith] is getting there with his body position, he just needs the finishing touch.

"Cal [Crutchlow] is more at ease compared with two years ago, when he was very excited and you can see that in his riding style."

As other bikes lapped the track, Zeelenberg added: "That was Bradl. You could see that the tyre was used a lot and you cannot have the same momentum as with a new tyre. With a used tyre you have to close the throttle into this corner.

"The Ducati is sliding a lot... The Yamaha looks controlled... That CRT bike is spinning too much, but it looks nice sideways!

"Overall this is a good area to spot any problems - and one problem they all have now is that it is starting to rain!"

It was time to head back to the pits.

Thanks again to Wilco Zeelenberg for the insight.


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