The Portuguese Grand Prix at Estoril was a washout, at least on Friday and Saturday. Torrential rains and high winds battered the MotoGP circuit, leading to only two riders completing full laps on Friday morning and Saturday’s qualifying session being canceled altogether.
After a wet warm-up session on Sunday, the weather improved for the MotoGP race although ironically it actually made the situation even more tricky as the sighting lap for the race was the first dry running of the entire weekend, giving teams and riders no time at all to work on their dry-weather setups.
One man who got it right was runaway MotoGP winner Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha M1) who finished ahead of Fiat Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi and the Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso, who pipped race-long rival Marco Simoncelli (San Carlo Honda) to third across the finish line.
Q&A with Tohru Ubukata – Manager, Bridgestone Motorcycle Tire Development Department
Q. What specific challenges did the weather pose for MotoGP tires over the weekend?
TU: “Because every session for the first two days and warm-up on Sunday was wet, every rider only used wet tires which meant the most wet running we have conducted all season. In this form the challenge for our wet tires was displacing such a lot of standing water, coupled with the cold weather.”
“Our wet tires are designed to go from full wet to almost dry conditions, to the point at which slick tires can be used, and they managed this well in the drying afternoon session on Friday, but the sheer amount of rain that fell this weekend made conditions really very difficult. It is unusual for a qualifying session to be canceled because of the weather, but this indicates just how bad it was.”
“Then on Sunday for the race the challenge was for the slick tyres, which were being used for the first time during the weekend. The track conditions were very slippery and greasy because of all the rain and no dry running and the teams and riders had no time to work on their dry setups, and this situation always makes it very demanding for the tyres. Still, even considering this our slick tyres performed well and offered good warm-up performance which we knew would be important here.”
Q. There hadn’t been much wet running until the weekend. How much could be gained from the MotoGP wet practices?
TU: “We used more wet tires this weekend than we have done all season so we were able to gain a lot of data from them and validate our durability data across a range of conditions from full wet to drying. Although it made the riding very tricky and uncomfortable for the riders, we were able to get value from the wet sessions for these reasons.”
Q. Conditions at the start of the MotoGP race, when riders were using slicks for the first time, were very tricky with low temperature and many wet patches. What can you say about this from a tyre perspective?
TU: “It is important to remember that the riders were going out onto a patchy wet track using slick tires for the first time all weekend, having to get straight into a race rather than having the usual time to refine their dry setups. This meant that the teams were relying on setup data from last year, and the riders had no feel for the circuit on slicks. For these reasons, warm-up performance was even more important than normal in giving the riders confidence in the opening laps.”
“Unfortunately for Ben he crashed on the sighting lap, but the feedback from the riders about warm-up performance has been positive, especially for the extra soft compound that we used in the left shoulders of our rear tires so I am satisfied with the way our slicks worked in these conditions.”