Nine-time World Champion Valentino Rossi impressed throughout the 2015 MotoGP season opener at Losail International Circuit in Qatar. But it was during the final stages of the 22-lap race where the 36-year-old Movistar Yamaha MotoGP YZR-M1 pilot truly impressed.
The only rider in the top six using a hard-front Bridgestone slick, Rossi posted his quickest lap times towards the end before winning at Qatar – The Doctor’s 109th GP victory. His final lap was actually his third-quickest of the race, showing how much Rossi was able to conserve his tires.
Joining Rossi on the Qatar MotoGP podium were the Ducati Team duo of Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone, making for an all-Italian 1-2-3.
Bridgestone – the spec tire manufacturer for MotoGP through 2015 until Michelin takes over in 2016 – said weather was much warmer than previous years due to the race being held an an hour earlier; track temperatures remained a consistent 78 degrees F.
Bridgestone has provided some further analysis of Qatar MotoGP from a tire perspective; following is a Q&A with Shinji Aoki, Manager, Bridgestone Motorsport Tire Development Department.
Q. The Qatar Grand Prix was the competitive debut for Bridgestone’s 2015 specification MotoGP tires. How do you feel the first race weekend of the season went for Bridgestone?
Shinja Aoki says: “It was a good opening race for Bridgestone as all our slick tyre options worked well and the pace throughout the weekend was both quick and extremely competitive among the 25 MotoGP riders. To have the top 12 or so riders on different machinery split by one second a lap over a race weekend is a pleasing result as it means our development goal of delivering tires which are safer and are easy to understand were achieved.
“The performance of our tires at a circuit which is quite severe for tires was also very consistent. Despite Valentino Rossi and Andrea Dovizioso riding quite aggressively at the end of the race as they fought for victory, Valentino was able to set his third-quickest lap on the final lap, while the last lap was Andrea’s quickest of the race.
“Overall, what we have seen both in pre-season testing and the first race weekend of the year is that the riders are able to find a good rhythm with our 2015 specification tires quite quickly thanks to their improved usability and warm-up performance. This is a very positive outcome.”
Q. This year Valentino Rossi won the race using the hard compound front slick, ahead of five riders who all selected the medium compound front. What advantages did the hard compound front slick offer over the other options?
Shinja Aoki says “Tire choice largely comes down to rider preference and Valentino, as well as most of the other Yamaha riders were very comfortable using the hard compound front slick over the weekend. Compared to the medium front slick, the hard front offered an advantage in braking stability and durability, at a slight expense to warm-up performance and edge grip.
“The extra durability of the hard compound front slick may have served Valentino well in the final stages of the race, but the most important factor was that he obviously felt the hard front better suited his riding style. What is pleasing for Bridgestone is that our tire allocation at Qatar provided many different tyre combinations to suit the various riding styles and machine characteristics on the grid.”
Q. The desert sand at Qatar often causes issues such as reduced grip levels and increased tyre abrasion. What was the situation like this year?
“The sand on the track surface was an issue this year at Qatar, but it was nowhere near as severe as in recent years. For Free Practice 1, riders commented that grip levels weren’t optimal with selecting the soft compound front slick at the start of this session to ensure the greatest amount of front-end grip as possible.
“However, some riders also felt confident using the hard compound front slick in the first practice session, which is an indication that the sand didn’t have a great as an effect as in previous years. Also, the circuit condition improved throughout the sessions and we didn’t see much abnormal wear from the tires. The fact that five open-class riders selected the soft compound rear slick for the race reflects that high abrasion wasn’t a problem last weekend at Qatar and riders were confident of having strong, consistent performance over the twenty-two lap race from their rear tires.”