Q&A with Toru Ubukata - Manager Race Tyre Development
Bridgestone Motorsport left Phillip Island on Sunday evening with its eighth podium finish of 2006 after Suzuki's Chris Vermeulen extracted all the performance from his wet weather Bridgestone tyres to claim his debut
Mr Ubukata, an excellent result for the Suzuki team after quite a turbulent weekend for Bridgestone?
Toru Ubukata: "It was certainly not a straight-forward weekend for Bridgestone, but I am pleased with our overall performance and with the podium result for Chris and the Suzuki team who made the best of tough conditions in the race. From Friday, we could see that our tyres were competitive in dry conditions with both Ducati and Kawasaki teams running strongly throughout the day and regularly among the pace setters. In the end it was Randy de Puniet who was quickest on Friday on a qualifying simulation but that was after he had set some encouraging lap times on race tyres."
What tyre specifications were evaluated on Friday?
TU: "Because of the technical challenges posed by the Phillip Island track, we had prepared special tyre specifications for this race. The track places a great pressure on the left-hand side of the tyre that is unlike any other venue, so we focussed on that and especially on performance through the final left-hand corner which proved to be as critical as we had expected. The Ducatis both tried a new profile rear tyre on Friday afternoon which helped traction, an improvement that Loris was especially pleased with. Both he and Sete decided they preferred to race with that specification dry tyre, while Kawasaki and Suzuki both opted for alternative tyres to suit their respective packages."
Unusually, Bridgestone appeared to struggle in qualifying.
TU: "On Saturday morning, we continued in our efforts to find a good set-up with our teams in preparation for the afternoon qualifying session, but we noticed that our qualifiers were finding it hard to last the entire quick lap. This meant that riders found it hard to improve their best time set on race tyres and we got the first indication that qualifying could be tough. In the qualifying hour itself, we confirmed that our race pace was up there with the best, but the behaviour of the qualifiers was still a concern. Loris had experienced some issues with his main bike and was limited to just one qualifying run but our other riders had to find a solution to get a full lap from the tyre. Shinya Nakano and the Kawasaki team achieved this with a great end result. By backing off in the early part of his quick lap, and especially through the demanding long left hander coming onto his quick lap, Shinya was able to prolong his grip for the all-important final sector and his reward was second on the grid in spite of the difficulties."
Ultimately, the race was affected by rain. To what extent did that ruin Bridgestone's Australian GP?
TU: "It would be wrong to say the rain ruined our weekend considering that Chris finished as runner-up to score a great first podium for Suzuki. Sete and Loris were quick off the line as they needed to be after qualifying and they shot into the top ten. John also rocketed up the order as Shinya had started to pull out a big lead in front. When the rain came, we experienced the first bike swap pit-stop in MotoGP. Our wet tyres worked well when the track was wet and we were looking strong. The difficulties came when the track started to dry quicker than we had hoped it would. Our teams correctly opted for soft wet tyres which helped Sete, Chris and Loris in the initial stages of the wet race, but as it dried the rear wet weather tyres could not find enough moisture and were left exposed. Chris rode amazingly well to defend his second place. Sete, Loris, Shinya, Randy and John all picked up points but given the performance in dry free practice conditions, all could surely have achieved more with a totally dry - or even totally wet – race."
Would a harder wet tyre compound have helped?
TU: "It is difficult to say whether a harder compound wet tyre would have produced better results. The harder compound would perhaps not have shown the competitiveness that the softer compound had in the immediate aftermath of the rain shower, which helped Sete and Chris to make up ground. The teams did not know how the weather would develop, so we believe they made the right decision in the unpredictable circumstances."
Was the end result reflective of Bridgestone's performance in Phillip Island?
TU: "The end results were actually quite good in terms of positions but we do feel that our dry weather performance would have demonstrated the real potential and improvement that our tyres had around this track. Even in spite of a difficult qualifying, I think we would have been on for some strong race results with each of our teams. Nevertheless, we learned a lot of valuable lessons for future races and I am generally encouraged by our weekend's work."