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New 800cc prototypes quicker than 990cc predecessors

New 800cc prototypes quicker than 990cc predecessors

As the 2007 MotoGP grid continue to fine-tune their 800cc prototypes during preseason, the evidence mounts that the historic transition to smaller engines may in fact lead to quicker race times at several Grands Prix this year.

As the 2007 MotoGP grid continue to fine-tune their 800cc prototypes during preseason, the evidence mounts that the historic transition to smaller engines may in fact lead to quicker race times at several Grands Prix this year.

The final day of this week's first Official MotoGP Test of 2007, in Qatar, saw Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa record a scorching best lap time of 1'55.471 on his new 800cc RC212V. Of course recorded on qualifying tyres, but nonetheless quicker than Casey Stoner's 990cc pole position qualifying time from the 2006 Qatar Grand Prix of 1'55.683 achieved on the RC211V.

Meanwhile, when Pedrosa undertook a race simulation his best lap time of that period (1'57.165) outstripped that of the fastest rider in last year's Grand Prix at Losail, Valentino Rossi, who during that race notched a best race lap time of 1'57.305 on his 990cc YZR-M1. Indeed Pedrosa was continually matching 990cc race-pace during his extended run.

Similarly, on the final day of the 2007 preseason test at Sepang, Yamaha's Colin Edwards recorded a time again under 990cc pole position record. Edwards' achieved the fastest time of the test overall, clocking a lap of 2'00.248 - quicker than the qualifying record of 2'00.605, set by his Italian team-mate Rossi last year.

The main reasons being quoted by the riders and their teams for such improvements in record lap times are that while the new smaller, lighter bikes are slower on the straights they, allow for later braking and faster corner speeds. The riders can enter corners at higher speeds and accelerate earlier once the apex of the corner has been reached, due to the improved mobility of the 800s.

As Ichiro Yoda, Kawasaki Racing Director puts it: "The 990cc bikes had so much power that a lot of our development time was spent trying to counter the tendency to lose rear grip under acceleration. The bigger bike could feel quite nervous to the rider on the throttle, and when it did lose rear traction it did so suddenly. It is interesting that, despite having less power at his disposal, Randy de Puniet was faster then he's ever been before at Sepang during our first test there."

The increased focus on corner speeds puts further pressure on tyre manufacturers Michelin, Bridgestone and Dunlop, at a time when the new rules on restricted tyre numbers are already giving them plenty to think about. Therefore, the data being collected for them during preseason by their respective collaborators is perhaps more crucial than ever, in particular for Michelin with their new 16" front tyre development in conjunction with the arrival of the 800cc prototypes.

However, the new smaller bikes may not be quicker at every circuit, as the recent unofficial tests at Phillip Island highlighted. The final day at the Australian venue saw the test close with reigning World Champion Nicky Hayden riding his Repsol Honda RC212V round in 1'29.52, nearly a second slower than his own fastest lap record set in qualifying for the 2006 Grand Prix.

The geometry of each individual circuit puts varying demands on the riders and their bikes, so the older models were more suited to certain tracks than others. Indeed the new bikes themselves may be more suited to certain riders than others, a point to which Hayden himself might testify after experiencing an inconsistent preseason to date, toppling from his mount on occasion as he continues his recovery from shoulder surgery.

Significantly, Hayden described his initial contact with the new RC212V in Valencia tests in November, by saying: "The bike definitely feels quite small and has a different feeling that I'll have to get used to. We're already going around the corners faster than the 990cc bike and it's going to require a different style of riding and be a different breed of bike. It does have high corner entry and corner speed and I'll have to adapt a few things with my style."

For many former 250cc riders or simply riders of smaller physical stature, such as Pedrosa and Shinya Nakano, the 800cc models appear to be somewhat easier to get maximum speed from.

Earlier in preseason Nakano himself commented: "I know some riders are struggling with the fact that the new 800cc machines are much smaller than the 990cc bikes, but my feeling is that I'm very happy with the smaller, more compact size of the RC212V as it suits me very well."

Certainly once the season proper gets underway further comparisons will be drawn between the new prototypes and their 990cc predecessors as analysis takes place on maximum speeds, average event speed, fastest lap sequences and overall race times compared with last year.

This season witnesses the dawn of a new era, but the one unwavering element of MotoGP racing is that the entire grid will once again be pushing 100% to achieve the best possible results and entertain their adoring fans.

MotoGP, 2007

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