Why does a prototype MotoGP bike cost millions to get on a track, while a tricked out “stock” World Superbike can make the grid for a couple hundred thousand?
This is a very tough question to answer directly, but one expensive component was on display this weekend for MotoGP’s first race of 2016, under the lights in Qatar.
While the most sophisticated of the consumer bikes, for example the HP4, now feature technologies that alter dampening 10 times per second, the prototypes of MotoGP are where boundaries are challenged and technological development is pursued without any logical barrier of capital cost. MotoGP is where those technologies that eventually find their way to the World Superbike Championship and ultimately our own consumer garages are tried and tested. It was actually the failure of one of these bits that illustrate the rule. While we sometimes hear anecdotal excuses from a rider to explain their shortcomings in a race, blaming a breaking system or some other component, this weekend’s failure on Cal Crutchlow’s Honda ultimately has been blamed for his crash.
These prototype bikes are now carrying engine management technology that alters the bike’s engine output to the customized preferences of the rider, on each corner! What failed on the Honda though was the bike’s understanding of which corner is was entering. The simplest bit of this system would be to tack on a GPS reader, but that’s prohibited by rule. Instead, the bike’s CPU must keep track of its tire revolutions to guess at its current location, and thereby base its engine output for that particular curve. Apparently this failed Crutchlow and he fought inappropriate engine power for a series of laps before the bike finally crashed.
Really what this reinforces for me is that these are a couple dozen of the most skilled riders in motorcycling. They are all out there on the very edge of their abilities and the capabilities of their bikes. It can be a very subtle line between the perfect turn and low siding into a gravel trap.
Such nuance is perhaps what led reigning champion, Jorge Lorenzo to victory this weekend. His Yamaha has the installed winglets up front, to increase downforce, while Valentino Rossi’s does not. The choice to use these spoilers was their own. Also, they ran on different tires. Jorge says he gambled with the choice of the softer compound and since the tire held up, he maintained the quicker pace to victory.
I focus here on this technology aspect of racing, with little regard for the race itself because I think it illustrates the point of how close the competition is. Ultimately Rossi finished 4th, but only 2.387 seconds behind first after all those laps.
It wasn’t a race without excitement. The top three, Dovizioso (Ducati) in 2nd and Marquez (Honda) in 3rd, were pushing and challenging each other throughout. The second Ducati, ridden by Andrea Iannone may have had the best pace of them all, but he crashed out when crossing that fine line midway through the race, going beyond the edge of a perfect turn.
Those three factory teams should all be able to make legitimate stabs at first all season long, and we may even see a real challenge from Maverick Vinales if his Suzuki is up to the task. I believe Vinales will either challenge on that bike or find another ride in the next 2 years, as his talent is sufficient to be a world champion.
Lastly, Bradley Smith told reporters on Friday that this would surely be his last year on the Yamaha Tech 3 satellite team. At the age of 25, it’s thought that he’s aging out of a spot reserved to develop young riders. Well, late on Sunday Smith updated his story with the announcement that he’s signed to be on the new KTM for 2017. A bit early for silly season, no?
The MotoGP circus next appears on April 3rd, in Argentina. I’m pleased to have it broadcast in the USA on beinTV sports, which doesn’t seem interested in interrupting race coverage for a NASCAR press conference, as FOX Sports was known to do.