A mechanical engineer by trade, Attack Performance owner Richard Stanboli is building a Grand Prix race bike from scratch - with the Attack Racing CRT.
“So why decide to build a GP bike, in three months, from scratch?”
Richard Stanboli laughs as he searches for the answer, “That’s a good question…”
The owner of Attack Performance has been busy of late – spearheading an audacious project from his Huntington Beach, California shop. Stanboli has designed and fabricated a CRT race bike to compete in the upcoming 2012 USGP rounds at Laguna Seca and Indianapolis. At the same time the long-time team owner in AMA Pro Racing has campaigned the AMA American SuperBike series with veteran rider Steve Rapp, who will pilot the wild card entries.
MotoGP’s CRT class gives Stanboli a chance to test his engineering mettle on the world stage. And despite the controversy over the new CRT rules, which utilize production-based Superbike engines, it was the prototype spirit of Grand Prix that drew his attention to the MotoGP grid.
“It’s an opportunity we couldn’t pass up,” says Stanboli from his Attack Performance shop. “It’s a new set of rules and we’ve been a little stifled with the direction, not just the AMA but a lot of racing organizations are going with a lot of spec rules and controls – micromanagement of what you can do with the motorcycles.”
“MotoGP are the more pure racing machines of anything out there, so that’s an interest I personally have had for a long time – to build something from the ground up. And we have the capability to do it, so we said ‘why not go forward with it?’”
Stanboli and his Attack Performance squad have been fixtures of the AMA paddock for years – the team currently campaigning American SuperBike with a Kawasaki ZX-10R. Attack Performance has netted championships in the AMA support classes, as well as Daytona 200 victories with Rapp in 2007 and current World Supersport Champion and World Superbike competitor Chaz Davies winning the following season. But Attack has struggled to compete in the SuperBike series, battling against the powerhouse programs of Yoshimura Suzuki and the current dominance of Graves Yamaha.
The Attack CRT frame takes shape. The squad awaits final components and will complete its first test on the spec Bridgestone tires just days before the Laguna Seca USGP.
Announcement of new Claiming Rule Teams sparked Stanboli’s immediate interest. He had crossed paths with IRTA boss Mike Trimby during one of Attack’s numerous visits to the Macau GP. All it took was an email to Trimby expressing interest in the new rule, and the Attack CRT project was officially underway.
Attack Racing’s 2012 racing plans were far from certain when the MotoGP CRT wild card commitments were made. Last minute funding was in place to race the Daytona ASB season opener, but not sponsorship for the whole year. Daytona sponsors Motorcycle Superstore
later stepped up their commitment to fund the remaining 2012 AMA schedule. The good news was Attack could keep racing, the bad news was a rushed CRT production schedule got even more hectic.
“Once the AMA deal came into play, it put a little extra pressure on us to get the CRT bike built and race the AMA series,” confirms Stanboli.
But the project has pressed forward, with Attack basing its CRT around the Kawasaki ZX-10R powerplant. And this isn’t a slightly souped up version of the AMA SuperBike, with the Attack CRT project reading more like a page-one rewrite.
“Probably there’s no comparison,” says Stanboli on the similarities between the CRT and AMA bikes. “The electronics are the next generation, which if we race Superbike next year we would actually use them, because it falls inside the rules as far as price goes. The chassis is 100% anything you want to do with it. The engine is 100% anything you want to do with it. There’s a very, very small amount of rules that control the CRT motorcycle.”
Engine specifications are the key distinction to the CRT rules structure. The Claiming Rules Team designation refers to the ability for manufacturers to literally claim the engines of CRT entries for a set price (15,000 Euros for the engine, and 20,000 for engine and gearbox). CRT teams benefit from 12 engines for the season and a 24-liter fuel load, compared to the six engine 21-liter limits on the prototype bikes. The claiming rule intent is to keep manufacturers from subverting the CRT class advantages by backdooring a factory bike disguised as a CRT.
Stanboli in the pits with Melissa Paris, for whom he crewed at the Daytona 200. Stanboli's own Attack Kawasakis won consecutive Daytona 200s in 2007 and 2008.
Attack built its CRT around a familiar platform, the team having run the latest generation of the ZX-10R for two years in AMA Pro Racing. Unrestricted by AMA regs, however, Stanboli will kit out the CRT mill for improved performance.
“We took a couple spare engines we had from the Kawasaki project and rebuilt them to World Superbike spec machines,” says Stanboli. “So that’s what we’ll be using – titanium rods… the valves, springs, cams and pistons are all the kind of stuff you’d see in a World Superbike level machine.”
Stanboli confirms upwards of 220 horsepower from the SBK engine tune. “I think it will be plenty of power let’s say for Laguna Seca,” though Stanboli admits. “We may have to lean on it a little harder for Indianapolis.”
The disparity in engine performance and top speed have been one of the key criticisms of CRT. Reigning MotoGP champion Casey Stoner blasted the performance gap during the recent Mugello round after the Australian tangled with CRT rider Danilo Petrucci during practice
. Stoner said then: “There is much too big of a gap between the prototypes and CRT and it is not fair on the guys in CRT. And it is not right there are two different championships and this is not the correct way to go.” At the Mugello round the discrepancy in top speed was dramatic, with Stoner hitting 207 mph while Petrucci’s recorded best was 188 mph.
Adding to the Attack team’s performance challenges is the fact that the Kawasaki engine has proven the least impressive of the CRT lot. The Kawasaki-powered Avintia Racing duo of Ivan Silva and Yonny Hernandez are stuck at the bottom of the championship points, with only injured rider Karel Abraham below them. Yet Stanboli has opted to stick with the familiar Kawasaki mill.
“The Kawasaki engine we know. We know how it delivers good linear power,” he says, adding. “I’m not sure why the other guys are having issues with it. We hope we don’t have any issues… but haven’t had any all year in the AMA.”
Engine power isn’t getting the most blame for holding the CRT mounts back from the prototypes, it is the electronics. Forward Racing’s Colin Edwards has been the most vocal about his struggles to dial in electronics on his BMW/Suter CRT. Even the established factory prototype efforts have struggled in this aspect, the most notable electronics snafu coming from Nicky Hayden at Estoril, where his Ducati GP12 jumbled ECU calibrations for the wrong sections of the track making the bike almost unridable.
The Attack team is banking on its experience and data gathered from the Kawasaki ZX-10R Superbike will translate into a ridable CRT electronics package.
But electronic gremlins aren’t scaring off Stanboli, who has been associated with the engine management company MoTeC since 2000. The Attack squad worked on development with the Australian brand back during its Supersport heydays. Attack will utilize the latest generation ECU from MoTeC. Alan Bell, the man responsible for delivering the spec ECU for the British Superbike Championship, set up the initial architecture of the Attack CRT ECU.
“They set up the basic template,” confirms Stanboli of the Bell/MoTeC ECU. “Of course, we have to go in and make sure it all works. But the beauty of going with a MoTeC, we were able to take a lot of the information we’ve had over the years on our Superbikes using MoTec traction control and fueling and anti-wheelie control.”
Stanboli is confident that the Attack crew can tinker the Kawasaki/MoTeC package into a competitive combination. He isn’t overly concerned about the electronics development hurdle.
“I think electronics are important, but sometimes they’re a little bit overstated. I think you start with a good engine package that has good power delivery, and then electronics don’t play as much of a role. I hear Colin Edwards struggled quite a bit with that BMW engine – I think it’s more the character of the engine, and the electronics trying to banish the character of the engine. Because they struggle with that same BMW engine in World Superbike. And I know they struggle with that same engine in AMA, trying to make the power come down even.”
CRT chassis development fully embraces the prototype ethos of Grand Prix. Most of the current CRT outfits utilize the services of fabrication firms like Suter or FTR. The most successful CRTs are the so-called ART bikes powered by an Aprilia RSV4 engine and rolling on a chassis also from the Italian manufacturer. These ARTs are the most prominent CRT on the grid, four in total with the Aspar ART duo of Randy de Puniet and Aliex Espargaro the top placed CRTs in the point standings.
The Attack Performance CRT will roll on a Stanboli chassis.
A former Army officer and accomplished mechanical engineer, Stanboli has designed the CRT chassis on his own. The frame, swingarm and other critical components have been machined out of billet aluminum in Attack’s own CNC drills. The starting point for his prototype chassis design begins with the Kawasaki Inline Four.
“Well the engine is a pretty important part of the chassis, because you have to wrap the chassis around the engine,” explains Stanboli. “So we tried to narrow the package up, and try to improve on what are the problems of this Kawasaki-based motorcycle. The swingarm pivot isn’t adjustable, so we made an adjustable pivot. We did typical things that you would see on any of the GP bikes: Changed the CG, move the fuel tank load down low, adjustable steering head… So you take all the factors you want to put in there, and make a list of the criteria I want to build in a chassis. Of course, you need some empirical data so you can support what you’re doing, as far as rigidity and flex and stress and torque.”
Prototype racing is a different animal, allowing Stanboli to redesign the chassis with only the racetrack in mind. Production based racing, like the AMA and World Superbike, sets inherent limits on chassis modification.
“The problem with the AMA is that if you get a machine that isn’t quite up to standard from the manufacturer, you’re pretty much stuck with that machine. You can’t really do a whole lot outside their framework. Like you can’t even adjust the swingarm pivot on the motorcycle, something we really need to make it more competitive, and it’s not allowed unless it came with it. So if the bike came with an adjustable swingarm pivot, you’re pretty competitive. If the bike does not come with an adjustable swingarm pivot, you’re not competitive.”
“World Superbike the only capability they have is to go in and reinforce the existing chassis, they keep a lot of the same geometry. Whereas in GP you can start from scratch – give yourself all the adjustability, give yourself all those things you may want to work around. So once you get on the tires, then you are able to tune around whatever. So that’s the major difference: One is a purebred chassis, where the other one is the modification of a street bike chassis.”
Once you get on the tires… That’s the other big unknown in the Attack CRT plans – the MotoGP spec Bridgestones. The ‘Stones have befuddled many riders and teams this season, including the MotoGP elite. Stanboli and company are working off best guesses and a quick test at Buttonwillow days before the Laguna Seca round to sort out the Bridgestone equation. As with the electronics, the team is pressing forward with confidence.
“Once we get on the rubber we’ll have a little more information,” states Stanboli. “The Ohlins guys are giving us some fork information that’s a good starting point. There are some standard settings we can start with. The rider’s input is very important. So it doesn’t really matter if Bridgestone says you have to have this or that. For example, the front tire is 100% rider feel. There’s only a couple tires to choose from, so you choose the one the rider likes the best, as far as what he thinks is a good feel. The rear is what’s going to last for the race, and you start tuning your chassis around what’s going to make it the best possibility to do so.”
As for the rest of the chassis, it won’t look all that different from the regular MotoGP paddock. Top spec Ohlins suspension and carbon fiber Brembo brakes will be some of the final pieces added, and Stanboli admits: “We’re not really giving up any performance as far as components go.”
The remaining pieces will be built in house, including the fuel tank and seat. Attack will prototype a couple different bodywork kits for testing at Laguna, the company selling aftermarket bodywork for the sportbike market.
Steve Rapp and Richard Stanboli surprised the racing world with their 2007 Daytona 200 victory, and the world will be watching at Laguna Seca for the first-ever CRT wild card entry in MotoGP.
Ohlins and Bridgestone may have offered some input on basic settings, but when asked if he’s getting any technical help for his ambitious CRT build Stanboli responds with calm confidence: “We’ll just use the knowledge we have over the years.”
As for financial assistance from MotoGP rights holder Dorna, which has pushed hard for the CRT rules change, Stanboli claims only that “they are making the racing affordable, in a sense, because there’s no costs to go racing.”
And here is where the small-team-races-MotoGP plotline angles back at the AMA. To hear Stanboli talk about the project, building a CRT bike and racing MotoGP doesn’t seem quite so daunting. He notes that it’s difficult to compete at all levels of racing. And he should know, having competed against the Yoshimura Suzuki and Graves Yamaha juggernauts in the AMA. The financial hardships aren’t so daunting either, particularly when teams have to pay to play in the AMA.
“After the bike is built, I’d say there’s no difference in cost,” figures Stanboli when asked what’s more expensive to race, AMA or CRT. “There’s no cost for tires or entries [unlike the AMA]. Of course, the initial machine buildup is fairly expensive, but if you look at the cost of building a machine in the AMA and racing with them, it’s not a huge amount of difference. The initial outlay might be more, but once you get all the proper equipment, forks and things like that, the maintenance cost [to race CRT] isn’t that high.”
Costs aren’t that high, maybe, but the payoff could be. With Grand Prix’s global popularity, the media exposure from even a hapless CRT effort figures to generate far more interest than a competitive AMA program. And Stanboli doesn’t hesitate when asked about plans for full-time CRT entry in 2013: “If the funding was there and Dorna got behind it, let’s say? Absolutely, it appeals to us, for sure.”
Long-term plans for an Attack GP program would hinge on the success of the CRT spec, which has been widely critiqued (not the least of which by MCUSA’s self-professed MotoGP outsider: Melling Makes Sense of MotoGP
). The two-time MotoGP champion Stoner, as previously mentioned, has roundly rejected the second-tier series – citing his disappointment of the technical direction of MotoGP as a deciding factor for his startling decision to retire at the age of 26. Others, like MotoGP’s superstar Valentino Rossi, have been more amenable to the concept – the struggling Ducati rider quoted before the season began that he would have no problem riding a CRT, though adding that no one is happy about it.
The CRT plans face a serious challenge from Honda, which announced it would build a production version of its RC213V racebike. HRC will sell the production bike to teams for less money than the current system of costly prototype leases to satellite teams (currently capped at two per year for each manufacturer).
Stanboli reckons CRT’s future in MotoGP hinges on fan acceptance: “Is it a viable model? I guess that remains to be seen whether if the fans will accept it. I think if more of the top riders are riding CRT machines than the fans absolutely will accept it.
Attack Performance will arrive at Laguna Seca fresh off its best result of the American SuperBike season, with Steve Rapp earning a 4-4 byline at Mid-Ohio.
“It’s all about entertainment value at this point. The racing is, of course important, but I think Dorna gets the entertainment aspect. What, they have something like 200 channels live for every GP worldwide? They have an incredible following. It’s so big – it’s the top of the world. So how could you not pursue it?”
The global audience is a prime opportunity to showcase the Attack brand and his company’s engineering expertise. And considering the technical challenges Stanboli faces, and the frantic time crunch, he’s bullish about Rapp’s chances at Laguna.
“Obviously to finish the top CRT is a win for us. We’d like to run with the front CRT guys, like Colin (Edwards) and De Puniet… I’m not sure that any of those other guys have even seen the track, other than play it on a video game. I know they catch on quick, but it might be difficult for them initially to get up there. Steve’s had a lot of laps around that racetrack, so we hope to have some home court advantage finding that setup faster than the other guys. The disadvantage is that we haven’t ridden this machine very much, and those guys have – I’m sure their bikes fit like a glove.”
When we last spoke, Stanboli was still waiting on a few components to arrive for shakedown testing at Buttonwillow. And the next stop after that? The world stage at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway.
Watch Attack Racing take on Grand Prix next week at the Red Bull Laguna Seca USGP and stay tuned for updates here at Motorcycle USA.