Honda's much-awaited 1000cc MotoGP contender, the RC213V, was unveiled at a Repsol Honda news conference last week prior to three days of official testing at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia. The RC213V replaces its 800cc predecessor, the 2011 championship-winning RC212V, with much riding on the shoulders of Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa for the new season.
The word dominate doesn't even begin to describe the performance of the Repsol Honda team in last year's Moto GP season. Stoner won the title by 90 points, Andrea Dovizioso finished third, Pedrosa came in a close fourth and overall the team notched up 13 wins in 17 races.
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In 2012 the rules have changed ... and so have the bikes. The MotoGP class rules now stipulate a maximum engine capacity of 1000cc, a maximum cylinder bore of 81mm and a maximum of 4 cylinders, although it can be a V-4, inline 4 or a flat 4 ... and no, a radial 4 won't work. Minimum dry weight of the motorcycle is set at 153 kg. Multi-World Champ Valentino Rossi has been a strong advocate of an increase in engine capacity since the reduction from 990cc to 800cc in 2007.
For Honda this means going from the 800cc RC212V to the 1000cc RC213V.
RC213VSpeaking about the new bike, Shuhei Nakamoto, Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) Executive Vice President, kept his cards close to his chest.
"The engine and chassis were developed last year because of the regulation change," said Nakamoto. "We kept the same concept from the last years 800 machine. We expect this machine to be competitive enough to win the championship again this year. Even with the 800 machine you must reduce the power from first through fourth gear. With the 800, fifth gear, sixth gear, we could use the full power, then in a straight line. Of course this machine is a little bit faster. But time was gained only in fifth and sixth gear in the acceleration area. At the same time, the top speed is higher, meaning sometimes you must brake a little bit earlier. Then the cornering performance, if the chassis or tyres are virtually the same, it means that the cornering performance is exactly the same. So the new engine couldn't make such a big difference. Then if you want gain the time, therefore you need more braking stability. And also we are having our chattering problems that we have to fix. Then I expect, of course, the lap time is better than 800, but not such a big difference, I expect."
On the trackAnd so Nakamoto's predictions came to pass. In three days of testing in hot, stifling conditions, Aussie Stoner set the fastest ever lap of the Sepang circuit despite a re-occurrence of a painful back injury. Taking advantage of the cooler morning sessions he set a time some 0.591s ahead of Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo, but not without some concerns. Testing confirmed that the extra speed puts a greater emphasis on braking, particularly stability before the corner, and this needs improving. Likewise the electronic management that controls power delivery. Already electronics was limiting the amount of power in the 800 's first 4 gears, and the greater torque of the 1000cc engine made matters worse. Thirdly, the extra weight, power and speed proved more physically demanding, particularly for the diminutive Pedrosa. Tire chatter with the latest Bridgestone control tires also plagued the riders during the tests, but may prove to be less of a problem at other tracks.
"It's been a good test in general," said World champ Casey Stoner. "We only managed two out of the three days, unfortunately, but the weather has been really good to us and we've been able to do what we planned. The day I missed hasn't affected us too much and we've managed to complete our testing program. To be honest, I think track conditions on the first day weren't that great anyway, as the lap times were not so fast. I'm still not feeling great with my back, but the bike is ok, so we've made progress in reducing the chatter a little more and trying a few different things, some small settings on the shock that we haven't tried before amongst other points. So far it's been pretty positive, we'll just have to wait and see what we have for the next test and hopefully improve a little more."
Team mate Pedrosa was a little less up-beat with the effects of the high temperatures and punishing testing regime taking a physical toll. "Three days testing here in Malaysia is very tiring," he commented. "Anyway, it been worth it to do a general test of the engine, chassis and tires and overall it is the biggest test we have done on this bike and we have good data to analyze and can start to build up points we need for the second test. As I said yesterday, the biggest point to improve is on braking, and we are also working on the electronics to improve the management of the power and the grip level. The chatter is still there; I know it's something very difficult to fix, but I am sure Honda is working hard on it. In general, it's been a positive test for us and we will come back here in three weeks with new ideas. This bike is physically more demanding, you feel the power in the acceleration, the speed under hard braking and also the extra weight, but it's alright. I will keep working hard physically to prepare for the second test".
The next three-day Sepang test begins on Feb. 28.
Honda RC213V specifications
- Overall length (mm): 2,052
- Overall width (mm): 645
- Overall height (mm):1,110
- Wheelbase (mm): 1,435
- Road clearance (mm): 115
- Weight (kg): over 153
- Engine type: liquid-cooled, four-stroke, DOHC 4 valve, V-4
- Displacement (cc): 1000
- Maximum power (KW): Over 170
- Frame type: Aluminum twin-tube
- Wheels: Front (inch): 16.5, Rear (inch): 16.5
- Suspension: Front: Telescopic fork, Rear: Pro-link
- Fuel tank capacity (litres): 21