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Catalunya & Jerez
After my 2nd test of the season in Valencia the next tests on schedule were the IRTA tests at Valencia and then Jerez 4 days later.
Leading up to the tests I was at home and the weather was mostly non stop rain and strong winds so I hardly rode any motocross or supermoto. The route which I usually do my mountain bike in the woods around my house was absolutely water logged. Horse riders use this route a lot as a trail and in the rain where they ride normally leaves a nice bog for me to tackle and leaves me thick and plastered in mud but that's half the fun of it!
We flew into Barcelona airport on Tuesday the 23rd. The 250 test started at 2.00pm Wednesday afternoon and ran all day Thursday up to 6.00pm which is the normal test ending time. I've had pretty mixed results at Catalunya in the previous years, probably my best race of the year on the 125 in '02 until the spark plug cracked but with the 250 I've learnt that the track can be really difficult to find a good setting at where I feel comfortable. The circuit is also rippled and very wave like because of the amount of F1 racing and testing that goes on there.
On Wednesday afternoon the conditions were pretty cold for Spain and there was also quite a strong wind. I ran in a new engine firstly and re-acquainted myself with the track.
After coming from Estoril and Valencia I knew I had a pretty good set-up for the tight stuff which involves a lot of braking but Catalunya has quite a different approach to it. The chassis needs to be set-up in such a way that you can brake pretty hard at the first moment but then be able to release the brake instead of trail braking so hard and keep good rolling corner speed as well as holding a tight line at the same time. This is where my problem lay. When I would try to hold some good corner speed the bike didn't want to hold a tight line and it was very difficult to pull the bike into the apex of the corner and then get on the gas. Also for the final 2 fast corners the bike wouldn't drop into the corner apex with ease, it was a real force to try and get the thing on line. For the remainder of the day we searched for a setting but couldn't find what I wanted.
Overnight my suspension technicians had an idea to try and improve my front end problems. My forks had to be taken to Ohlins to completely change the internal fork settings because in the cold weather the oil in the forks doesn't thin out like it normally would if it was warm so the forks generally stay quite stiff in cool weather.
On Thursday morning the conditions were slightly better than day 1. I went out a 11am as any time before then is not worth going out because the circuit is too cold. After I ran in new pistons I tested the new fork settings to feel for a difference but there were no big differences and it didn't do a lot to cure the main problem of holding the line but did help slightly with turning into the fast stuff. Again we searched hard and improved the bike very slightly over day 1 but the improvements were too small for me to feel happy about and I was disappointed with the test. I finished the 2 days way down in 21st place!
Me and my dad travelled down to Jerez on the Thursday night with Casey Stoner and his dad in their motor home and arrived about 8.00pm Friday night for the 125 test on Saturday and Sunday and the 250 test on Monday and Tuesday.
The 125 test had pretty miserable up and down weather for their 2 days. Usually raining in the night and then taking up until 1pm to get the circuit anywhere decent. The forecast for the 250 test was again rain showers throughout the 2days.
Come Monday morning the predictions were right and the ground was as wet as it was going to be. I went out at 11am and after riding in the wet at Jerez in 2002 I knew that the circuit had really good grip. I only did about 16 laps but felt comfortable and was in the top 5 behind West and Matsudo. We then decided to stop riding in the wet as there was nothing to prove and the bike felt good in the conditions.
The wind had become pretty strong and had dried the circuit quite nicely by 1.30pm. There was just the odd damp patch here and there. The problem with Jerez is that when it rains the water soaks down into the circuit and then comes back up through when it starts to dry so it normally takes twice as long as any other circuit to completely dry.
When the circuit was mostly dry I went back out to get some laps in and try the bike just in case it rained again. Luckily the rain clouds held off as this test was crucial for us to try and make some progress with the chassis at different styles of circuits. On day 1 I was having similar problems to Catalunya. I again struggled to hold a tight line in the fairly fast corners and on the brakes the rear was really unstable and kicking sideways. We couldn't change the fork settings like we wanted to because the Ohlins suspension technicians were at the Catalunya MotoGP test so we had to wait until the next morning for their service truck to arrive. For day 2 of the test there was a bit of rain overnight but because there was bright sunshine in the morning the circuit was dryer than it had been so far. The team told me in the morning that they would have to pack up 4 hours early to sort all the bikes and spares out to go in the flight cases to go to South Africa. Losing 4 hours of testing time was quite annoying because the conditions were good and even though we were far away from where we wanted to be with the chassis I felt we were edging slightly closer. I only did about 30 laps on day 2 and I had gone half a second faster than day 1 and semi managed to dial out the problem with holding the line but had developed a front end chatter problem when I put the bike on its side and trail braked at the same time.
Unfortunately that was as far as it got because we then had to stop. I felt that we still had a few big problems to cure and a lot of things to try. I obviously didn't expect to be in any sort of decent position at the end of the test because every other team had completed a full 2nd day of testing and the last 2 hours of the test is always when times drop so me and Johan watched ourselves get bumped back.
Hopefully we can go to South Africa with a good setting and get on with concentrating to bag ourselves a few points and kick off the season with a good start. With five factory Aprilias & four extremely fast works Hondas, this year is going to be really hard. Add that to the likes of Matsudo, West, Bataini, Guintolli & Vincent who all have semi-works kit, journalists are already predicting 2004 is going to be one the toughest 250cc years since the days of Rossi & Biaggi. However I am up for the challenge & I can't wait to get going!
© chazdaviesracing.com 2006