Independent riders discuss tyre issues during wet Assen GP

Is it fair to judge the performance of new tyre manufacturer Michelin's wet tyres at a meeting such as Assen GP where heavy rainfall caused the race to be stopped midway through? Interviews with the independent riders highlighted issues they experienced with the new tyre supplier for this season's soft and hard compound wet tyres.

Independent riders discuss tyre issues during wet Assen GP
The independent riders discuss tyres during the really wet race at Assen - Facebook - Pramac Racing

Like Aprilia Racing Team Gresini rider Stefan Bradl stated, “It was definitely a race that will spark a lot of discussion.” The ninth round of the 2016 MotoGP season is one of them races that will not be forgotten in a while. The Motul TT Circuit Assen is very unique; the track is long and thin which means that although it could be raining at one end, the sun could be melting the tarmac at the other.

Harsh weather caused tough race conditions

Thunderstorms hit during the race causing it to be red-flagged, a decision that had to be made surely by Race Direction as it was becoming highly dangerous; and Movistar Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi accidentally did not have his rear light on, which is needed in these conditions to enhance visibility, whilst he battled for the lead.

The last wet meeting took place in Argentina, but even then it had dried out before the MotoGP riders took to the track. So since tyre manufacturers Michelin took over, the riders have little experience if any in testing the wet tyres and so they had to use the small amounts of data they collected during Free Practice, even though the conditions were nothing like what was witnessed during the race.

The race had to be stopped

Initially the riders were expecting a ‘wet race’ of full race distance and so the vast majority opted for the hard option which would most likely have been the best option as the track dried out in the opening laps. But things became increasingly difficult as not only did it rain, it poured, meaning the hard tyres struggled terribly in the conditions.

There was a lot of standing water, decreased visibility and a lot of the independent riders seem to regret choosing the hard rear; meanwhile Yonny Hernandez (Aspar Team MotoGP) had opted for the front and things were playing right into his hands before he crashed.

Can Michelin be blamed for the hard tyre not being effective enough?

It is early days for the French manufacturer, they have not experienced race conditions as bad as these since they became the supplier to the MotoGP class, and the bikes have changed so much since they last were.

The spare bike of Bradley Smith in put lane as they waitied in hope for the rain to ease - (Bradley Smith)
The spare bike of Bradley Smith in put lane as they waitied in hope for the rain to ease - (Bradley Smith)

Factory rider declared soft rear caused more front end issues

Factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso was leading the race at one point; in the first half of the race when using the hard rear he led for several laps before Petrucci got past him to briefly take the lead before the flag went out. He, like everyone who initially opted for the hard rear, made the change to the soft rear when the race restarted, but then he like many others crashed out collected a DNF.

He confirmed that the soft rear tyre had “a lot more grip” which was more suited to the conditions but that it “created even more problems at the front”. The Italian said that this was the “reason for all the crashes yesterday and today”.

Petrucci had passed Rossi and was in pursuit of Dovizioso - (Pramac Racing)
Petrucci had passed Rossi and was in pursuit of Dovizioso - (Pramac Racing)

Dovizioso claimed, “Valentino and I both knew that we were the fastest riders out there and we pushed ourselves on to be as fast as possible, but in the end we both made mistakes.” Although he knows he cannot make excuses for crashing out he questioned the fact, “When there are so many crashes in two days in the wet it’s important to understand the reason why!”

Another Ducati rioder struggled with the tyres

Things were difficult from the start for Aspar Team MotoGP GP rider Eugene Laverty who was “the idiot who crashed” on the sighting lap, he said, “The tyre just felt like ice, it was so slippery!” He had to change bikes where he experienced “a problem with the front brake which was stuck”; the Irishman blamed this for his bad start to the first race.  

Eugene Laverty trying his best in the heavy rain - (Eugene Laverty)
Eugene Laverty trying his best in the heavy rain - (Eugene Laverty)

However during the second part Laverty said, “I almost crashed so many times and with so many riders crashing out around me I had to be really careful.” However it was not all bad for the Irishman who said, “Over the last five laps the front tyre started to come better again and I was able to go really fast.” After running out of time to catch the leaders he had to settle for seventh place.

Espargaro noticed significant improvements with the soft rear

Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider Pol Espargaro said it was “bittersweet” as he was happy to collect fourth at a “tricky event” like Assen, but he was gutted as he “just missed out on the podium again”. He did admit that “Scott (Redding) was clearly faster and able to push a lot more on the front tyre.”

After switching to the soft tyre he said, “My feeling with the bike was much better straight away.” It helped his confidence as he feels he can now believe that he is “competitive in wet conditions for the first time” since he joined the MotoGP. He admitted though that he was aching all over his body “from the tension” from riding in the conditions. Something I have personally experienced from riding on the roads and can only imagine is multiplied racing at this level.

Comparing the Yamaha to other manufacturers he felt that although the bike worked well though the only issue they had was they “struggled to get a feeling with the front tyre”. The Spaniard said, “The crashes from Valentino, my teammate (Bradley Smith) and Jorge’s (Lorenzo) underline how tough it is for us to find the limit at the front end so it was challenging to fight with the Honda and Ducati riders.”

Independent rider Bradley Smith ahead of former MotoGP Champion Marc Marquez in the wet - (Bradley Smith)
Independent rider Bradley Smith ahead of former MotoGP Champion Marc Marquez in the wet - (Bradley Smith)

Smith also caught out by soft rear affecting front grip

Pol’s teammate Smith (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha) initially had the hard rear and spoke of how it was the first time they had tried it all weekend and as a result he said, “It took me a long time to get a general feeling.” However had they raced the race distance on them he felt they were the right decision.

He felt “a lot better” with the soft rear on the restart where he “immediately made up a lot of positions in the opening lap”, (one of his most competitive laps he has ran all season) but then he “lost the front”, crashing out with 11 laps remaining; like Dovizioso he felt it was “pushed too much by the extra grip from the rear.”

Significant changed noticed by Barbera

Avintia Ducati rider Hector Barbera felt the first race was a disaster as his hard rear “had no grip at all” and he spoke of how the “bike was spinning even on the straight”. The Spaniard who finished sixth in the race said he was, “Just pointing to the corners, the bike was sliding” and that he “did not enjoy riding in these conditions”.  He felt the “bike changed completely” when he switched to the soft wet tyre and the “difference was so big” that he had to use several laps to adjust to it.

Barbera’s teammate Michele Pirro, who is standing in for injured Loris Baz, felt he “had the chance to fight for seventh place in the second race” on the soft tyre, however he crashed. He felt he “had no warning” and that “the limit was so narrow” that he “couldn’t save it”.

Crutchlow comfortable during first part of the race

LCR Honda rider Cal Crutchlow said after the race, “I am not happy as you can imagine.” The British rider crashed on the first lap after the race restarted and was extra disappointed as he “felt great in the first part of the race”. He is British, it rains a lot over here and Crutchlow will have been used to similar conditions.

At the start of the first race he said, “The tyre wasn’t working properly” and he felt he was “struggling to get heat into it”. He knew that as soon as the track started to dry that he was “the fastest man on the circuit” and he felt that he “would have won the race”.

He changed to the soft tyre and said he “had no experience on the tyre apart from qualifying” the day before when the “conditions were so different”. When he crashed he said, “I got caught out with a cold front tyre” and expressed his disappointment. He remained extremely pleased for race winner Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS), saying, “If there was anyone else on the fird I’d want to win apart from myself, it would be him.”

Great results all round for Estrella Galicia 0,0 Marc VDS

Miller was the first independent rider to win a MotoGP in ten years; Toni Elias was the last in 2006 in Portugal. I feel the team had two reasons to celebrate as his teammate rookie Tito Rabat finished eleventh claiming five championship points. His first race on a MotoGP bike in these conditions and the rookie was in the top ten at one point. He said, “I’m not normally so confident in the rain conditions but I felt really comfortable.”

He knew he was faster than factory Aprilia rider Alvaro Bautista (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) who he was chasing but after he “carried a bit more lean angle at turn 11” he knew it was a “huge mistake” and crashed. He did not pass opinion on the tyres but he did comment on how he gained a “lot of experience of the bike, tyres and electronics”.

An example of the poor visibility behind the riders as the rear tyres kicked up spray - (Eugene Laverty)
An example of the poor visibility behind the riders as the rear tyres kicked up spray - (Eugene Laverty)

Was it a fair test for Michelin?

A lot of the issues were down to confidence, they cannot be blamed! I have seen other sports events cancelled due to less harsh weather conditions but the riders still continued and tried to push. It is still working progress for Michelin, they and the riders can make a lot of use of the data collected over the weekend, but hopefully it will be a while before we witness conditions like that over.

In a way it is a shame that so much rain fell, as, had the conditions been slightly less dangerous, it would have certainly been interesting to see whether the hard tyre will have been the right choice after all. I feel it is unfair to judge the performance of a tyre during conditions so hazardous that the riders probably should not have been riding in it, never mind judging a tyre that did what it could do judging by the pressure it was under.

Either way, I take my hat off to each and every one of them for braving those conditions and trying their hardest to push and take advantage of the claiming the championship points on offer that the factory riders struggled to get.