Matt Bond, 21/03/08 – 24/03/08
After a successful test in Almeria I was looking forward to jumping aboard the new bike and seeing just what changes there were from the old machine to the new. I also couldn’t wait to meet my new team mate, Australian Gareth Jones, and his parents, Glyn and Gill.
As soon as we wheeled the bike out into pit lane it felt different. The bike felt a lot lighter, sharper and more nimble. It was as if someone had completely removed the front end of the bike and just left a single strip of metal with some bars and a wheel. It was a quite odd feeling.
On track the prepared engines felt really crisp and smooth on acceleration and had a load of top end grunt also. The initial set-up on the bike wasn’t too bad, thanks to using the settings from Almeria as a base. A few tweaks here and there helped keep the bike settled on the brakes and turn in, and once the new performance friction pads had bedded in, the bike was stopping really well, and felt very stable.
After a couple of sessions it was apparent that the forks were at their limit, and although Gareth decided to put the new Ohlins cartridge items into his bike, I opted to stay with the standard set until day two. I just focused on the lines I was using and the reference points I was going to be using over the test weekend.
With the new forks fitted it was time to do some hard laps to get a feel for the new cartridge kit and to find a good setting from which we could work on and improve the bike.
The front end was noticeably different and gave loads more feedback and feel, especially mid turn at the apex. It did feel odd at first until the fork settled in and got some oil around itself, after this we just focused on getting it to travel the full stroke length and compress at the correct rate when braking hard.
We made a few more changes to the rear end to try and help the bike maintain side grip and also we raised the rid height just to help turn the bike faster. It put more emphasis on the front end of the bike as well, which was good as it helped me to carry more corner speed and hold a good line on the mid turn and exit of the tighter bends.
It was gutting to see Gareth hit the deck at turn one about half way through the session, especially when we’d both started going forward and posting some top lap times. I just focused on continuing our forward progress, and get a decent qualifying lap in for the afternoon’s “Open Race”, which would see all the fast guys out in a time trial event.
With a rolling lap starting the race it was a bit manic with riders n bikes all over the track on the opening lap and I just had to dive up the inside of some of the 600 guys entering the first turn. A couple of laps in and I had settled into a comfortable third place and began to chase down the two riders in front, one on Superbike and the other being Jonathan Gallina, who I will be competing against in a couple of weeks! I made a few mistakes and had to relax back into my rhythm and once done my times started to improve once again and then it started raining and I just pulled straight in, there was no point in risking falling in a fun race that didn’t mean anything to be honest.
With the weather back to the expected glorious Spanish sunshine of the first day I was keen to get in a large amount of laps and try some new set-ups with the ride height of the bike, with the plan to help keep the bike balanced, but maintain turn in and lower weight transfer from opposing ends of the bike, also.
The first half of the day went well with the new set-up taking a bit of time to get used to as it all felt too slow and unstable, but after a number of laps and a few more tweaks to the suspension we managed to pretty much sorted any worries I’d previously had.
Being higher up on the bike certainly helped improve the feel and feedback form both the front forks and rear shock, and it really reduced the weight transfer when braking hard. It meant I could brake later than before and still turn in just as hard, making it easier to ride the circuit, and helped make the lap times more consistent as well.
I spent the afternoon just focusing on my riding techniques to try and help me find out what I needed to do to improve my lap times. It was mainly standing the bike up onto the fat part of the tyre and firing out of the turns which were my priority. I gained a clear idea of how to do this after following Gareth for a few laps; it was amazing to see how different we each ride the bikes. I tend to run more corner speed, whereas Gareth tends to stop, turn and fire out. I guess we can both learn little bits from each other over the season!
The final day of our test was going to be used to further improve the set-up on the bike and also to push hard towards improving the best lap time I had already set. Some laps in the morning were fairly clear as many of the riders form the previous days had gone home, but some new guys had turned up for the track day and were extremely dangerous and very slow! I had some really close calls when they just decided to sit it up mid turn n pretty much stop on the racing line while I’m coming through at full pace! It’s not the best situation in the world.
Anyway, we still got in some useful testing and pretty much had the bike dialled in really nicely, after solving a few rear end grip issues. The bike was now turning good, holding the line superbly and had just the right amount of traction and spin when exiting the bends. The only problem we had been with trail braking and turning in while braking, but this was something we can resolve back at home, by removing a few mils of oil from the forks.
We put a new rear tyre in the bike and kept the 20 lap old front tyre in and just gave it three laps to go hard and see what we could come up with, lap time wise. It was really good, the bike felt smooth and fluid and despite the lack of front end grip and the problem with the brakes I posted my fastest lap, at 1.40.1.
It was really good, a big improvement over last year and now I just can’t wait for the opening round. It’s going to be good and I’m really looking forward to seeing and racing the whole new field of teams and riders. Ciao for now!