The 2014 MotoGP Championship headed down under last weekend for the Australian Grand Prix, round 16 of 18. The race at Phillip Island was the second in three back-to-back rounds, and provided many challenges for the spec-tire manufacturer Bridgestone.
The problem – as occurred at Motegi the week before – was cooling track temperatures on race day. The challenge was what tires to use, considering Bridgestone had specially created a range of new asymmetric rear slicks to last the entire 27 laps of the repaved circuit that is brutal on tires, and a new asymmetric front tire. This was the first time Bridgestone ever offered this type of tire technology to teams.
Come race day, only 14 of 23 riders finished, the others crashing out at Phillip Island, including the newly-crowned MotoGP Champion Marc Marquez (Respol Honda).
Taking the win – his second of the 2014 MotoGP season and 82nd of his career – was Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi. Joining the nine-time World Champion on the podium was teammate Jorge Lorenzo and Monster Yamaha Tech 3’s Bradley Smith – the first all-Yamaha podium since Le Mans in 2008.
Following is a Q&A with Shinji Aoki Manager, Bridgestone Motorcycle Tire Development Department:
Q. Much like the last round at Motegi, temperatures for Sunday’s race were much cooler than compared to the previous day. How much of an effect did this have on tire choice for the race, and tire performance?
Shinja Aoki says: “The change in the weather at Phillip Island was much more pronounced than what happened at Motegi the previous weekend. A change late in the afternoon caused a dramatic drop in ambient temperatures, and also the wind strengthened and cooled down – these two factors combined to create very challenging conditions.
“This change didn’t have a big effect on rear tire choice as already most riders had already opted for the softer rear slick options, but for the front tire some riders did change from their original choice of the soft compound front slicks and swapped to the extra-soft compound front slick.
“The cool and breezy conditions definitely increased the challenge of racing at Phillip Island which has the highest average speed on the MotoGP calendar. Tire performance throughout the 27 laps of the race was very consistent, but unfortunately in the final stages there were a few incidents.
“The double cooling effect of low ambient temperatures and cool winds have often created challenging conditions in the past at Phillip Island, and last Sunday was another example of how quickly things can change at the Australian Grand Prix.”
Q. After last year’s Australian Grand Prix, all three rear slick options brought to Phillip Island last weekend were completely new. Are you happy with how these options performed?
Shinja Aoki says: “Our target for our rear tyre allocation for this year’s Australian Grand Prix was to provide tires that could provide full race distance durability with consistent performance.
“This target wasn’t easy to achieve given how harsh the Phillip Island track proved to be on rear tires last year, but through a vigorous testing and development program we could engineer a completely new generation of rear tires for this year’s race to achieve this goal.
“It was important that these new ti res would last the whole race, yet provide predictable grip throughout their life and I believe we met this target. We achieved this by utilizing a new range of compounds for the rear slicks, as well as a new construction which we will only use at Phillip Island.
“Overall I am really happy how our rear tires performed in Australia, as all weekend the pace among the front runners was extremely competitive, with Ducati, Honda and Yamaha all closely matched. The pace throughout the whole race was quick and consistent and durability exceeded our expectations.”
Q. Bridgestone introduced an asymmetric front slick at Phillip Island. Was this option used and what was the feedback from the riders?
Shinja Aoki says: “The rider feedback and data we collected on our new asymmetric front slick shows this new tire meets our development goal; namely, the same braking feel as a conventional tire but better grip and warm-up performance on its softer shoulder, which at Phillip Island was the right shoulder.
“The riders that used this tyre got good braking feel and importantly, didn’t feel any difference when transitioning between the zones of different rubber hardness. The fact that most of the riders selected this option for the race reflects just how good they felt riding it.
“What was evident during the race was that with the cool change that occurred, the riders on our softest front slick, the extra-soft option, fared better at the end of the race than those on the soft compound asymmetric front slick, but this was due to this softest slick option working better in extremely cool conditions, rather than being a shortfall of the asymmetric design.
“Overall, the design of our asymmetric front slick has given riders something they are quite happy with and we will continue to offer asymmetric front slicks in the future, including having a tire of this type in our allocation for the last race of the year at Valencia.”