Good day and a very warm welcome to the sixth Tech Talk, courtesy of MV Agusta Reparto Corse. The long (too long) summer break is reaching its end, nearly one and a half months in which we have been denied the possibility to enjoy our favorite bikes pushing the boundaries forward in the search of the perfect corner, the perfect lap, the perfect race.
But things have not been quite amongst teams as some might expect. Riders make the best possible use of this period to train hard, and team’s development efforts reach a peak, thanks to the extra time that can be used for these activities rather than race weekend preparation. Best teams, namely Kawasaki and Ducati, try to maintain the gap they have been able to create during the first half of the championship, whereas “the others” try to bring improvements that will help reduce it and get them close to the regular winners. As for us, Leon has been training like crazy, running, bicycling, enduro… and the team has tested new engines, both in dyno-bench and in test-bench, aiming to improve torque delivery and power output. Moreover, new electronics improvements might come soon, I promise!
The ninth round of the championship makes us travel to Germany, to the Lausitzring circuit. This will be the last year we will race here, that’s already official. I’ve never been there in the past, but people say that the longevity of the installations and the disrepair of the asphalt around the 14 corners of this layout will not make it a particularly missed event. If anything, let’s hope that the fans that will witness first hand will prove that wrong thanks to their numbers and their passion.
The track layout has its pros and cons for our MV Agusta F4 RC. On one side, the existing straights are quite long and numerous, and this we know is not particularly positive to our engine, which is known to be slightly underpowered compared to the top players (though also being true that Leon is one of the taller riders in the block, and the resulting bad aerodynamics make any real Power comparison difficult). On the other, our bike is long and stable, and capable of accelerating very well out of corners, allowing a hard acceleration that could compensate the small Power output deficit, which becomes apparent only at high speeds, high gears. Controlling acceleration stability and wheelie tendency will be the key for our performance, as well as avoiding spurious Traction Control intervention due to the asphalt bumps.
Now let’s get technical. Many things have been said recently about the SBK technical rules and how things should change in order to ensure that a long and prosper life lies in the horizon. In order to help clear and sticking to objective items, I will make use of this Tech Talk to give clarity to some of the corridor voices that you have sure read here and there. Wherever you have a particular vision of some of the things that will be said here, feel free to e-mail them to me and I will make them public at the end of the next Tech Talk.
It’s said there is one problem in today’s SBK, and that’s Jonathan Rea. His superiority and this of his team is so visible and real it is killing the thrill of the championship. You already know before the season begins who the champion will be. You already know before the race begins who will make first or, if things go wrong, second. Kawasaki and Ducati superiority, in that order, is at this point clear, and Rea is currently in a positive loop whose end is yet unclear, but does the fate of a historic championship lie in the hands of a period of awesome results for one team that obscure the efforts of the rest? It is up to the rest to keep up the hard work and dethrone the king. There are some teams that are close to be able to do that. Ducati is of course the harder contender for Kawasaki at the moment, but Yamaha is quite close, and Honda… well, Ten Kate; they have the technical expertise and the economic support to go to the next step, it’s just a matter of time. As for us, with a bit of improvements here and there, we should get closer as well. Future changes in the technical rules could aim, amongst other things, at reducing the chances of Kawasaki winning over the rest or doing it with the current apparent easiness. This has already been tried by obligating all teams to use the Throttle Bodies of their homologated road bikes instead of prototypes. It has actually affected our bike a lot, and only through hard emphasis on optimizing the electronics we have been able to get us roughly where we were before.
The path, though not yet official nor known, could have two master pillars. Let’s discuss them so that you can better understand what could very well be future hot topics.
Superbikes getting closer to Super stock bikes. This means a much lower roof on how much a bike can cost, practically resulting on racing bikes much closer to their road counterparts than to prototypes. Today’s bikes, and our F4 is not an exception, are direct derivates of the road bikes you can by in any showroom, but stripped of anything which must not remain as such due to technical rules and substituted by lighter or more performing parts made of exotic materials or specialized providers. For instance, the swingarms are super-specific, handmade designs, the forks are the top of the rock, fuel tank is completely re-designed, electrical cables are totally different, as well as new sensors installed and a completely out-of-the-standard ECU and electronics, etc. The result is a bike which can cost hundredths of thousands of Euros, that barely retains main engine components, throttle body, chassis and exterior design from the road counterpart. As of today, the vision for the WSBK is this of a much-closer-to-standard bikes competing. This means part of this “exotism” could be eliminated. There are two common goals by potentially doing so:
- People identification and emotional attachment to the bikes racing will increase, since they will be much closer to the ones they can buy and ride.
- Smaller margin on things that teams can do to improve track performance on tracks will narrow competition and kill the Kawasaki-Ducati supremacy.
Though history of Superbikes has always been the history of prototypes (bikes that Colin Edwards, Troy Bayliss or Carl Fogarty abused had parts in common with MotoGPs of their eras than with their equivalent road bikes), new times might require new solutions. One thing is true though, taking this line will mean that base bike performance level will very much likely dictate performance level in the championship. This means that bigger companies, with more know-how and more money, are more likely to place a base model which is better and outperforms the rest. With less possibilities and margins to change that thanks to specific development and new parts, the gap is more likely to remain. One thing must be said though, more than often, best solutions coming from great ideas rather than from great efforts. That’s how, for example, the MV Agusta F4 RC presents the lowest front area amongst all the in-line 4 cylinder superbike engines, because of clever design. We could see, however, and that is very, very interesting, sport bikes which we will be able to buy much more influenced by solutions aimed at racing performance than ever: because once this solutions are developed and homologated, they will not be able to be changed in occasion of the WBSK championship.
Unified software. We keep hearing about this but we don’t know anything about it as a fact. Will it happen, which company will be the official electronics provider?
This is a path already at full operation in MotoGP (I had the privilege to be a part of it from the CRT era, if you remember). It has undeniable pros and its cons, let’s go a bit more on the details and implications. Current championship, as happened with MotoGP factory teams until last year, sees bikes developing electronics to the best of their abilities and with complete freedom. This means that bigger teams such as Kawasaki, Ducati, Yamaha, Honda… can decide to build their own ECU or buy them from a top hardware provider (the latter being the usual selected option) and then develop electronics at will. We have already discussed about some strategies and how they work. Though we have only scratched the surface, I hope you already have consciences on how complex bike physics is and on how a thousand different approaches will lead to a thousand different strategies to cure how engine delivers power, from rider request to power delivery conversion, to how TC works and based on what, how engine rpm limiter acts, how spark advance is calculated and reduces… virtually everything! You get a thousand engineering teams working onto that, and you will get a thousand different engine control softwares. Then add the fact that experience greatly dictates future ways, and that each bike in the paddock is different and requires different solutions, and you start understanding how electronics is “alive” in our championship, and continually evolving. But this means cost, and the specific knowledge needed is expensive, both in terms of manpower and in terms of tools needed… by selecting a unique software provider for all, the strategies will be fixed and same for everybody, the evolution controlled. To engineers will remain the task of deeply understanding the software that has been given to them rather than allowed them to produce in the first place, put the appropriate numbers for the thousands of maps and vectors and variables (operation called “calibration”), and build-up simulation tools to better understand bike behavior. Though these tasks still require a massive amount of time, energy and money, it will always be far less than if we add electronics development to all this. Another good reason to privilege a unified software is that, even if you limit what each teams self-created software can do, how can you be really sure that they actually obey? Only through a software you control, you as organizer can ensure that everybody respects the limits proposed.
This, as said before, has worked rather well in MotoGP, this is the general opinion. Will it do equally well in Superbikes? There are other, intermediate options available, like limiting the specific hardware that the vehicles can carry, such as the GPS, that allow for ultra-complex strategies. All this is pretty much sure on the table of the championship experts which will decide its future.
What are your opinions people? What would you do to render the WSBK more appealing? Send your comments to the e-mail below!
Thanks for reading this lines, it’s a privilege sharing tech stuff with you, MV followers.
Vicente Pechuàn Vilar.