29 September 2014
MotoGP Aragon: 20th to 5th for Bradley Smith
"I went on numbers and not on gut instinct, because I've gone on gut instinct before and it's left me wrong!”- Bradley Smith.
Bradley Smith recovered from 20th on the opening lap of Sunday's Aragon MotoGP to finish in fifth.
The result matches Smith's career best finish in the premier class, after he narrowly beat both Tech 3 Yamaha team-mate Pol Espargaro and Gresini Honda's Alvao Bautista across the finish line.
Smith was clearly pleased to have shown strong pace in the dry stages of the race, however he felt the harder compound wet tyre cost him time in the final laps.
The race started strongly for Smith however contact with Valentino Rossi compromised the Englishman and Aleix Espargaro at turn five, before a clash with the Pramac Ducati of Yonny Hernandez dropped him to the back of the field.
"It was very eventful! I knew from eleventh that I needed to make things happen and I made a great start to put myself there behind Aleix," said Smith. "I knew that he'd be fast but I wanted to get past him as soon as I could so I went up the inside, and for me it was a clean move, but I got stuck with Valentino and I ran into his rear swingarm and I had to pick it up and that's when Aleix had to run wide and off the track.
"I think that it was one of them racing incidents where I went for a move and Valentino was waiting for guys to leave the corner, so I got pinched into there and I lost a couple of places in Turn 5 and then Yonny came into the side of me at Turn 7. After that I was back in 20th and I thought that this was going to be a long race but I had good pace."
With some light sprinkles on the sighting lap, a flag-to-flag race was always a distinct possibility. Having fallen back through the pack Smith was at least able to take advantage of using the midfield runners as a reference for the grip available and his speed in the first half of the race was impressive as he recovered to the top ten before pitting.
"I started to take some more risks than the guys in front of me when the spots of rain started to come down but that was more because I could use them as a reference. I couldn't see anyone crashing so I thought that there must still grip out there. I think that I made the perfect call for when to come in but I didn't have any pace at all on the wet tyres and I think that we should have gone with the soft option."
While using the riders around him as a barometer for available grip, Smith was also keenly aware of when he should decide to make the switch to the wet bike. Having struggled to make the call at the right time in the past Smith decided to take a data-driven approach instead of relying on his feeling of the grip level available. Once his lap time was outside a range he would make the decision to pit and change bikes.
"I went on numbers and not on gut instinct, because I've gone on gut instinct before and it's left me wrong! So today I went on numbers and I saw that I did a 1m57s on slicks and I saw that I was going a good chunk slower, from my display I could see that I was over ten seconds slower than my best lap and it was over a 2m lap, and as soon as it was over that time I knew that it was the right time to switch over to the wets.
“As soon as I knew that I could go faster on the rains than on the slicks. It was a little bit of 'do I or don't I' because there were only six laps to go and would I make back the time that I lost but then the rain came down harder?"
Aragon was Smith's third flag-to-flag race and, having struggled in such stations in the past, Smith was asked what he has learned since his first bike swap race.
"That you are accountable for paying attention to conditions and lap times and you have to become the brain of the team,” he replied. “You can't rely on looking at other guys, you have to go on numbers inside your head and deciding that 'this is what I'm going to do.' Also my changes have improved massively. We did the hop over from bike to bike today and the first time that I did that was this morning during warm-up, the second time was during the race. That won us some time. The way that I came into the pits, going out of the pits. At Philip Island I lost six seconds and today I lost 1.5s. Like I did at Assen I went with what I wanted to do and didn't rely on what other riders were doing and that seemed to pay off today."
While there were plenty of positives to take from the race Smith also admitted that he needed to find improvements in the wet. Smith lost 19s to Cal Crutchlow after they pitted together to change bikes. Using a brand new hard compound tyre didn't help, but Smith felt improvements can be made to the Tech 3 Yamaha package in such conditions.
"I think that I lost 19s to Cal in six laps, we left the pit lane at exactly the same time and he pulled 19s on me so that's somewhere that we have to look into for the future especially with the possibility of rain in the next few races. Overall though to come away with a fifth after such an eventful day, I'm pretty chuffed.
"We don't seem to have Ducati pace because it seems that they've got an extra bit in the wet, today it was a lot. We made a mistake by putting on the hard tyre because with six laps to go the soft tyre would have been perfect. I had a scrubbed soft set in the garage but instead I went out on a new hard tyre and I knew going up the first hill when Cal went around me on the outside and I was floating around!
“It's frustrating and something that we need to look at because 19s in six laps is silly but Jorge was able to do some good laps so maybe we'll be able to learn from what he was able to do and it'll give us some direction for the final four laps."
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