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MotoGP: Technology Worth Boring Racing?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Round 10 of the 2010 MotoGP Championship at Brno.
Advanced electronic aids may be what separate current MotoGP from its tire spinning glory days. Are these 'aids' truly necessary?
Readers who have followed MotoUSA within the last week and caught the opening act of this multi-part feature on the state of MotoGP and its 2012 rules package know exactly where I stand on the issue ( MotoGP Editorial: Can 1000cc Save the Day?). A couple thousand words spent venting about the topic surely saw to that. The new rules are sadly a case of too little too late. Simply going back to 1000cc engines, with the current heightened state of electronic aids is going to do little more than drop lap times. The Grand Prix racing commission is skirting the real issue and trying to sell the idea that an additional 200cc will be the path to good racing as a remedy to the criticism leveled by an ever-mounting number of industry insiders and fans alike, who are restless by the lack of exciting racing on the track. The sub-20 rider grids and racing that’s starting to look like the Macy’s Day Parade… Even the most die-hard fans will open their eyes.

Anyone who thinks the solution to this problem, and the magical path to added excitement, is merely increasing today’s 800s by 200cc, well... They should contact me immediately for an incredible offer from a Nigerian business associate of mine (but act now as this life-changing opportunity will not last long!). In fact, I think some of the higher ranking officials in MotoGP’s inner rule-making fraternity are already some of his best clients.

I find it perplexing that an extra 200cc is somehow going to overpower all the expensive electronic aids that are keeping both wheels in-line 99.9% of the time on the 800s. Yet it seems the GP brain trust fully believes that bikes will, overnight, again be a handful to ride, spinning and sliding into and out of every corner. In short a return to the glory days of 500cc GP two-strokes, where only the very best of the best will be able to master these beasts and at the same time produce close racing, with 10-rider groups swapping the lead right to the checkered flag.

Lorenzo on the start grid  awaiting his meet his GP history - Sepang 2010
MotoGP remains the habitat for road racing elite, but shrinking grids have been the hallmark of the 800 era.
In today’s electronic era the new 1000s are simply going to be faster 800s. So while we will see lap records broken, once the teams have time to get everything dialed in, I doubt we will see much else (except more broken bones, as the added speed will likely equate to even bigger crashes when they do happen). But the reality is that setting new lap records won’t appear much different from your living room couch. Think about it for a second: Even if the existing lap records are blown out of the water by a massive amount, we’re talking upwards of two seconds a lap (huge by today’s standards and also very unlikely), the naked eye is going to perceive little-to-no change on television, or even in-person at the track.

This is because spread out over an entire lap, two seconds breaks down to mere tenths in any one visible section, making the difference between the 800s and 1000s almost impossible to notice. As such, it would appear the 17-rider parade may continue (unless the new ‘claiming rule teams’ idea takes off, but that discussion will have to wait until the next installment).

In fact, I happened upon a recent video on the internet of Sir Valentino Rossi himself testing Ducati’s new 1000cc Desmosedici GP12 at Mugello. Unfortunately, with the exception of a couple stylish wheelies, and the few seconds where the cameraman shook the camera to try and artificially produce the effect of instability, the new Italian GP stallion looked very, well... un-stallion-like; both wheels remained nicely in-line almost the entire time. I wonder what happened to those 120 mph two-wheel drifts that they promised? If Ducati couldn’t find enough footage to fill a 30-second ‘highlight’ reel with action-packed clips after a full day of testing, I fear GP fans may really be in trouble.

As I continued to explore the many benefits of the amazing world wide web (I’ve been looking for weeks now and I still haven’t found the end), I happened to stumble upon a similar video of one Mr. Casey Stoner testing the ‘new’ Honda 1000. This short clip even included a quick blurb from the ‘07 world champ on his initial impressions of the 2012 Honda, where he said it, “feels good to be back on a 1000, to feel that power again. Even in the upper gears where the 800 ran out (of acceleration) the 1000 keeps on building (speed). It was nice to feel it accelerating hard and sliding again.”

With its advanced electronics  power engine and friendly chassis its no wonder why the S1000RR is the best sportbike of 10.
MotoGP electronic technology may have trickled down to enhance production sportbike engineering, but is it taking all the fun out of professional racing?
Wait. Hold on. Could my entire argument be completely wrong? Did he say the magic "sliding" word? Was simply adding 200cc the answer to tire-smoking glory and edge-of-your-seat action? Several action clips of him riding the new Honda followed, of which I had a rather close look -- over and over and over again. And either I'm legally blind, or this “sliding” Stoner speaks of may just be a tad bit exaggerated. I guess even world-champion GP riders still speak in the international language of bench-racing from time to time.

The flip side to this argument is that these same GP electronic developments are directly responsible for the latest major advancements in sportbike technology, already seen on several of the recent liter-bikes. Say hello to the “trickle-down effect” at its finest. MotoGP-derived may be overused by today’s legions of two-wheel PR men, who hope to implant into a consumer’s grey matter the belief that their motorcycle is even remotely linked to the multi-million-dollar machines ridden by their GP heroes. But while cynics may be skeptical of these claims, in the case of electronics the latest crop of sportbikes prove there’s quite a bit of truth to the argument.

The irony of it all is that just when a good bit of cutting-edge MotoGP tech trickles down to road bikes in a timely manner, it turns out to also be responsible for making the racing from which it came progressively less and less exciting for the fans to watch. And these are the same fans who the manufacturers are trying to persuade into buying the new-and-improved road bikes, so they then have the money to fund future racing, which will in turn help the development of tomorrow’s street bikes... (confused yet, because I am). Quite the vicious circle, eh?

A recovering Jorge Lorenzo pays a visit to Indonesia to promote a new sponsor.
The popularity of racing helps fuel interest in the sport and sales in the showroom floor. Making the product on the track entertaining should be the highest priority.
The speed at which the technology wheel has been turning is extraordinary. Less than a decade after these electronic rider-aids first hit the scene in Grand Prix racing, showroom-stock bikes are coming equipped with multi-stage traction and wheelie control straight from the factory. These systems are now advanced enough to employ wheel-speed and lean-angle sensors, accelerometers, loads of engine and throttle position read-outs, and in some cases even gyros, all working in conjunction with each other to detect when the rear wheel slides, and in some cases even predict future losses in traction. This is all done with the aim of maximizing corner-exit drivability and reducing the amount of crashes when pushed closer and closer to its limits.

These systems have been an option on Ducati’s 1198 for several years now, while coming standard starting last year on the higher-end BMW S1000RR and Aprilia’s RSV4R. And for 2011, we now see the first Japanese bike get a true TC and wheelie control system in the form of Kawasaki’s all-new ZX-10R. In fact, for this year Aprilia has released a factory-option Launch Control (LC) system on its flagship RSV4 sportbike. (They must have also recently hired a skinny little man with coke-bottle glasses and a pocket protector that says NASA on it, because who else would have called the system ‘launch control?’) These are systems so advanced that Superbike teams of a mere five years ago would have been green with envy and happily paid tens of thousands of dollars for them. That was the beginning of the TC era in Superbikes and everyone was in a mad scramble to get a leg up on the competition. 

In my opinion, what this technology has done for the street world is a great thing. How can one fault a system that allows a wider variety of riders the ability to experience the thrills that these amazing motorcycles are capable of with an ever-growing safety net? And if riders don’t like the electronic aides, just press a button and turn the entire system off. This is yet another prime example of how quickly racing can advance riding for the general public. But when some of these developments come at the cost of the entertainment produced by racing itself, then we have to reevaluate the situation.

Jorge Lorenzo  #99  and Dani Pedrosa  #26  battled for the lead in both the original race as well as the restart at the Sachsenring circuit.
After weighing the pros and cons, technological regression may still be the only answer to level the playing field.
The bottom line is without exciting racing the fans will stop showing up and watching it on TV, or supporting those companies involved in the sport. And without the fans and their support (i.e. money), motorcycle racing will lose even more ground. This is why when considering the options that either (a) the series intervenes and implements regulations with a slight degree of technological regression or (b) that there could soon be no racing at all, then I think the decision is pretty simple. It is time for the FIM to step in and make some hard decisions in the name of better racing...

But that's not all, oh no. Be sure to keep tuned-in to these pages for the third and (probably) final installment of this MotoGP editorial. We will take a look at what exactly these new “claiming rule” teams are all about, as well as detailing what teams, and possibly even what riders, will be using one of these hybrid prototype/production-based bikes (by the time you read this the FIM should have already announced the final rules and confirmed teams for the 2012 season). Not to mention the elephant in the room: Was this rule put in place to truly enhance the sport of MotoGP, or is it simply a last ditch way for series organizer Dorna to ensure they stay above the 17 full-time rider minimum mandated by the FIM? Considering the fact that if they are unable to meet this requirement they could face extreme intervention or possibly even lose the rights to the series and its promotion completely, the Spanish media giant has an awful lot riding on this new rule. But was it the right one?
2011 MotoGP Racing Photo Gallery
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MotoGP Racing Bios
Valentino Rossi
Who is the most popular MotoGP racer in the world? Valentino Rossi. Learn more about Valentino Rossi in Motorcycle USA's Valentino Rossi page for career highlights, pictures, and news.
Jorge Lorenzo
Jorge Lorenzo has been a force in MotoGP since his 2008 debut, becoming one of the most dominant Grand Prix riders in the paddock with his 2010 and 2012 MotoGP championship victories. Find out more about Jorge Lorenzo by checking out Motorcycle USA's Jorge Lorenzo page for career highlights, a complete bio, and racing pictures.
Marc Marquez
Marc Marquez made a huge debut in MotoGP and looks to further solidify his name among the greats. Learn about Marquez in Motorcycle-USA’s Marc Marquez bio page.
Nicky Hayden
Starting from humble dirt track beginnings at the age of four, Nicky Hayden has captured many titles including a MotoGP championship. Check out Motorcycle USA's Nicky Hayden page for highlights, videos, and Nicky Hayden biography.
Dani Pedrosa
A 250GP star, Dani Pedrosa has been a consistent title contender througout his young MotoGP career, campaigning from Day 1 for the factory Repsol Honda team. Read more about the Spanish rider on the Dani Pedrosa bio page.
Colin Edwards
A World Superbike Champion and Yamaha MotoGP veteran, Colin Edwards has been dubbed by many as the "Texas Tornado." Read more about MotoGP rider Colin Edwards in MotorcycleUSA's Colin Edwards Rider Bio.
Andrea Dovizioso
Andrea Dovizioso has been steadily progressing in MotoGP after a solid run in the 250 ranks. Not as hyped as some, the Italian returns now rides for Ducati alongside teammate Cal Crutchlow. Read more on the Andrea Dovizioso bio page.
Alvaro Bautista
Learn more about Alvaro Bautista on Motorcycle USA's Alvaro Bautista bio page for career highlights, pictures, and news.
Hector Barbera
Learn more about Hector Barbera on Motorcycle USA's Hector Barbera bio page for career highlights, pictures, and news.
Cal Crutchlow
The 2009 World Supersport Champion, Cal Crutchlow, is making the transition to the MotoGP series after a successful campaign in the World Superbike Championship. Read more about the British rider on Crutchlow's bio page.
Broc Parkes
Learn more about Broc Parkes on Motorcycle USA's Broc Parkes bio page for career highlights, pictures, and news.
Hiroshi Aoyama
Hiroshi Aoyama gave World Superbike a shot in 2012 and after a disappointing showing will return to MotoGP in 2013. Check out Motorcycle USA's Hiroshi Aoyama bio page for career highlights, pictures, and news.

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apachesix   June 29, 2011 10:30 AM
IT'S THE WEIGHT TOO! One possible fix to make it more competitive would be to have a combined bike and rider weight minimum. If F1 and Indy Car use this because of the performance effects, how much more are lighter weight motorcycles affected by differences in rider weight? the way it is going all the riders will end up being 5ft tall and 95lbs. All racing orgs need to adopt this.
Bourne   June 24, 2011 05:12 AM
Steve, why do you equate technology with boring racing? The most boring era of racing ever was when Doohan was trouncing the field for 5 years straight on a simple carbueretted 2 stroke 500. One of the best eras of racing ever was with the first generation of 4 strokes, where we had traction control being seriously used in GP for the first time (though it took a few years for the formula to mature into great races). Fact is the level of technology has nothing to do with how close the racing is. Strict Fuel limits can hinder riders towards the end of the race, but in general technology is good for the racing because it reduces the effects of some riding errors, especially on worn tyres so mistakes cost the riders less time. And also in these days of sparce grid number we need fit and healthy riders and when you see a year like we've had so far with riders breaking collarbones left right and centre, electronics can reduce the rate of damaging highsides. Reduce the technical aspect of GP and what are the bikes? No longer pure bred prototypes, just a poor cousin to the very advanced electronic laden weapons in WSBK. In the end GP only exists so that the factories can 'play' with new ideas in a racing arena. It is by no means a money spinner and if they could just as easily not exist if the formula is no longer relevant. That said the claiming rule team rules are an excellent idea and should boost grid numbers, and whether or not they can compete with the factories they will be very interesting to watch. Sometimes the fastest rider is on the fastest bike, whether that be Agostini, Roberts, Rainey, Doohan, Rossi or Stoner, and you'll end up with some processional racing. Nothing you can or should do about it. Thats why we race, to see who's the best, don't we?
HokieRider   June 23, 2011 11:30 AM
cggunnersmate: I wasn't aware of the BMW's wins in WSS, thanks. I don't keep up on that series as much. However, my point was that I doubt S1000RR owners would cite WSS wins as the main driver for them purchasing it. More so, I think the stellar magazine reviews and the bike's own merits (which garnered those stellar reviews) probably drive those purchases.
cggunnersmate   June 23, 2011 08:01 AM

S1000RR's haven't won in AMA or World Superbike YET, but in World Superstock last year Badovini dominated the season winning, I believe ALL but 1 race last year and the last few SBK races Badovini on a satellite BMW has been in front of the two factory bikes.
Thunderbug   June 23, 2011 01:50 AM
10 rider groups fighting for the checkered flag in the 500cc GP era? I've been a GP roadrace fan since '78 and I can't recall that EVER happening in a 500cc GP. In fact, I can't think of any non-single make series producing that kind of racing. Moto 2 is the obvious example of that. I think Moto2-type rules is the direction MotoGP will ultimately go.
Everyone looks at the past nostalgically. There were just as many snoozers before. Great rivalries make great racing and those only come about every so often. Sheene/Roberts, Roberts/Spencer, Lawson/Gardner, Schwantz/Rainey, Doohan/Criville, Rossi/Gibernau, Rossi/Stoner, Rossi/Lorenzo. In all these rivalries, there were some epic, epic races and that's what everyone remembers. There were more races where someone cleared out in front and cruised to the win whether the bikes were sliding or not.
We're actually in somewhat of a golden age now with some hard men in MotoGP. Stoner, Rossi, Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Simoncelli and maybe Spies and Dovisioso, all have the talent to win if the bike is working for them, and it's rare to have that many riders capable of running up front.
Enjoy what you've got now. If Stoner gets any better he will make a mockery of the "top tier" of roadracing for a few years just like Roberts, Spencer, Doohan and Rossi did in their day when they were virtually unbeatable.
bikerrandy   June 22, 2011 03:49 PM
I just hope someone still races their 800 GP bike when the switch over starts. They say riding a 800GP bike is like riding a 250GP bike. If so, we may see some wild passes in corners on different lines. I remember when Rich Oliver raced his 250GP bike against 1000 Superbikes. It was fun to watch !
AnthonyD   June 22, 2011 03:01 PM
I doubt that the 1000cc bikes will be faster around the track than the 800s. I recall press releases stating reducing to the 800cc format was to reduce speeds and make the racing safer. What ended up happening is they handed the fastest guys in the world bikes that weighed less. They were able to go faster in the turns and produced lap times quicker than the 1000cc era. I do agree we need more bikes on the grid. When someone makes top 10 in Moto2 its an achievement. I laugh pretty hard now when I read a post race GP interview and a rider is happy being in the top 10. C'mon man, 10 out of 13 isn't that great. Kinda like Steve Atlas and the TTXGP. 1st place w00t (outa 3-4 bikes on grid, bid deal!) Just messing with you Steve. Keep the articles coming!
HokieRider   June 22, 2011 07:43 AM
I understand the concept of trickle down technology coming from the highest ranks of racing, but I'm a little confused about it's implementation and the argument for it in MotoGP. With the exception of Ducati, the manufacturers that have had the "trickle down technology" (Aprilia, BMW, and Kawasaki) don't even participate in MotoGP. The other 3 makes in MotoGP (Honda, Yamaha, and Suzuki) have little in technology on their production bikes beyond different engine maps. I see the real trickle down technology coming from World Superbike more than anything.

I also think the whole "Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday" thing is on its way out too. Almost every magazine has the S1000RR as the best liter bike out there, but I don't think it's won a race yet (I could be wrong). I think the main driver for sales now is in magazine reviews and comparisons, where the opinions of those closer to our skill level are telling us what is best. I don't see any current generation R1s or 1198/1098s or RSV4s (the winningest bikes of late in WSB) on the road, but I do see S1000RRs and CBR1000RRs (often 2nd in comparisons),that is when I see bikes newer than 2008 on the road at all.

Anyway, I have a lame idea for MotoGP racing. Let them have electronic aids for the first half of the race, and then, at the half-way point, have the electronics automatically turned off. It's like two races in one! Let the Europeans keep their wheels in line for a while and then let the Americans and the Australian have their fun.
moto-pat   June 22, 2011 07:16 AM
Steve I'm pretty sure ranting about it will fix nothing. If you don't like it turn the channel. That's what I've done. Enough folks do that and they will change or die off. Speak with your wallet and they will listen.
screamer69   June 22, 2011 06:12 AM
I'm not so much concerned with whether the bikes slide or not, wheelies or gets out of line. The criticism of the 800's is that everone rides them the same way, same line and few passes are made. Hopefully with the return of the 1000's we will see more passing and more exciting racing.
Maxx   June 21, 2011 11:05 PM
I fail to see how reducing the electronic on GP bikes are going to make it more challenging or exciting . If riders choose, they can deactivate the controls at anytime. But if they want a snowball chance in hell of winning they will leave them on to keep up with the pack. It sounds like the idea of exciting or challenging is substitute for crashing. That is all the races would become, last man riding. The best bikes with the best riders have always won. The reduction of team has a lot the do with with the economy. Manufactures just aren't making money off of over prices bikes. Thus they are not sponsoring as many riders. I welcome the age of technology to racing and look forward to the trickle down effect. Yes I would like to see the GP field increase in size but limiting technology is not is the answer. Perhaps, limiting spending?
birdman   June 21, 2011 05:47 PM
Before jumping to conclusions you need to watch any Phillip Island race or Catalyna where unless my eyes were deceiving me, Stoner was quite a bit crossed up. So if Stoner says he slides the 1000 more there's no reason to doubt him.

But 1000cc wont fix the racing - here's why. Since taking over the Ducati, I notice Rossi and Burgess are saying the bike needs a lot of development. There was one specific comment from Burgess on Stoners style, that he liked the bike to slide through the corner to help it turn. Burgess went on to say Rossi could ride it that way, but its not the fastest or safest way the ride! So they are changing the bike to be wheels in line, just like the Yamaha was. It actually requires a new frame and engine, they can't simply put in a new program! So much for electronics fixing everything.

A motorcycle is still more engineering than electronics, and Ducati are the proof. In the old days Gardner, Schwantz, Doohan and Rainey were of the same style of Stoner, favouring a sliding bike. Europeans like Rossi generally prefer wheels in line. Who's won more championships? But look at the names - Gardner, exciting to watch, when he wasnt injured, which was most of the time. Doohan, look at his leg, what a price to pay. Rainey? In the name of entertainment do we need them to sacrifice that much? No? So electronics are here to stay, riders prefer wheels in line, and we need another solution.

The problem is still easy fixed, because there is only one tire supplier. So make rear tires that force riders to compromise, and the racing will be much better. The soft rear tire should be made so soft its good for about the first 10 laps only, then gets worse until the last few laps when the rider is just hanging on. Electronics might stop them highsiding, but they wont save the lap time. The hard tire by comparison would be so hard its bad at the start, lacking grip, but by the end it comes good. Then let the riders choose their poison, and the racing will dramatically improve. Leave the front good because we dont want more accidents losing the front end and riders injured all the time like in 500's.
Ngads   June 21, 2011 12:37 PM
Completely Agree! As a mechanical engineer, I'm all for engineering enhancements to motorcycles. However, when it comes to the racing, it just isn't like it used to be. Yes, 2 strokes are basically obsolete so we can't go back to those glory days. The 990cc formula from 2002-2006 still had great racing. It was the days where privateers still could win. I believe now its about the bike setup more than it is about the pure skill of the rider.
Bret   June 21, 2011 11:45 AM
Great article, and again you are spot on, except the fact that with the extra power the advantage of being small is lessened. The bigger motogp riders "should" be more competitive with the 1000cc bikes. They "should" be more friendly to the likes of Ben Spies and Nicky Hayden over the smaller machine. But this is my speculation and we will just have to see. At some point they have to address the growing electronic control of these bikes. I feel the same as you, the time is now!