15 June 2015
MotoGP Catalunya: ‘Maxed-out’ Smith leads stormy test
“We are pretty maxed-out on our package. But 0.3 a lap more yesterday would have put me on the podium” – Bradley Smith.
Bradley Smith set the pace during the second official in-season MotoGP test, held at Catalunya on Monday.
The Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider completed 18 laps including a best of 1m 42.018s, before spots of rain arrived at 11:30am. It was the first warning of what would be a torrential thunderstorm, prompting most riders to pack up early.
Smith's fastest lap was 0.8s under his best set on the way to fifth in Sunday's race and kept him 0.051s clear of Suzuki's Maverick Vinales. Vinales' team-mate and Catalunya pole sitter Aleix Espargaro was third, with Repsol Honda's reigning world champion Marc Marquez completing a top four covered by 0.179s - on a day when the dominant Movistar Yamahas failed to record a time due to the rain.
“I hadn't checked the weather but the mechanics told me it was going to rain so I said ok we have to start bang-on 10am,” said Smith. “I think we had six runs planned and we did four, so did pretty much everything that we needed to do. Our objective was to try and find a solution to my front end issues. We tried three different solutions. All of them work in their own different way. So it means we've got a bit more knowledge for the future.
“My biggest struggle is overloading the front tyre. It seems to have been an issue I've had since the beginning of the season. We can't change anything more chassis-wise. We just worked a little bit on suspension. Just configurations. Finding that complete balance of the right spring preload and this, that and the other. It was interesting to try.”
Pressed further on the front-end issues, Smith added: “It's kind of the final 50 metres of going into the corner and it means that I have to hold onto the brake too long, which for the Yamaha is a really negative thing. Like I said it stresses a lot the front end of the bike. Makes it nervous and then it doesn't really want to turn as well as I expected.
“It's all tiny steps unfortunately. We're at the point now where we are pretty maxed-out on our package. But 0.3 a lap more yesterday would have put me on the podium so we are not looking for much. We have to look at the big picture. 0.3 we know is possible to find. So we have to focus on that rather than the 27 seconds to the leaders!”
Indeed, even if Smith had found 0.3s a lap he would still have finished nearly 20-seconds from Factory Yamaha riders Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi in the race. How does he explain that gap?
“What can I say? At the end of the day it is a new bike. I'm still riding last year's bike and as we know every year bike's move forward and progress,” he replied. “Had I found the 0.3 then it's down to 19-seconds which is kind of where we've been at all season. We went conservative yesterday and probably cost us, unfortunately, a chance of a podium but got me fifth position. So we have to take what we can.
“Best way to describe it is that the Factory team are obviously able to generate more grip than we can and when it's a slippery track like yesterday it's easy for them to do. If we go to Mugello, Sunday morning when the grip is high enough for everybody I had very similar lap times to Jorge and faster than Valentino. In the afternoon when the grip drops it affects our bike too much.
“The Factory has made a big step in getting mechanical grip. They've got more mechanical grip than they need, so when it does drop a little bit they've still got plenty. Whereas we are always playing around with that mechanical grip and when it does drop it affects us a lot.”
Smith is currently last in the Yamaha pecking order in terms of new parts, with team-mate Pol Espargaro - contracted directly to the factory - running a different chassis. Smith still doesn't know if or when he will get the chance to try the modification, but as the leading satellite rider he also made clear he isn't keen to take a risk when things are going so well.
“Yamaha don't ever give a lot away about their plans [for new parts] but I got a big cheer from Tsuji [Yamaha's MotoGP project leader] when I came in after the race yesterday,” Smith said. “He was making his way to the podium for first and second place and he still made time to clap me in and say 'well done'. Everyone is more than happy with what I'm doing right now and also while it's not broken, why change it?
“Right now I know exactly what I have. The team knows exactly what I have and we don't get lost. We're struggling sometimes during the weekend but we always know the solutions. When you've got something new, maybe you don't know the right way as clearly. With such limited time, now with FP3 the way that it is, the easiest thing is to know what you have. Stick within one step to the right, one step to the left.
“In races you need to know what is underneath you 100% otherwise you can easily find yourself on your backside and zero points. An update won't get you anything if you are sliding down the track.”
Smith, who is sixth in the world championship, has scored 28 points more than at this time last year. He is currently 21-points clear of next nearest satellite rider Cal Crutchlow (Honda LCR) and 23 points in front of Pol Espargaro.
Round eight at Assen takes place at the end of this month.
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