The Evolution of the MotoGP

What is it with the MotoGP bikes? Backward spinning engines? And they're growing wings now! No, we're not quite to the point of having flying motorcycles and there should not be any need for the race suits to be equipped with parachutes anytime soon – the airbags will suffice, as those wings are designed to prevent take off.

Every manufacturer in MotoGP is trying them to keep both wheels on the ground under acceleration, something that the backward spinning crankshaft they all have adopted is also helping. The sophisticated wheelie control that the factory bikes were using until the end of last year has been replaced with the unified software imposed by the 2016 MotoGP regulations, a simpler system that does not have the ability to self-adjust as was the case before. Until the end of last season the electronic package of the top teams had evolved to a point where it was learning by itself.

The ECU (electronic control unit) was programmed for each corner of a particular track, as it still is with the new unified software, but was able to assess its own interventions, from lap to lap, and to make necessary adjustments in real time, as the race progressed. The electronic technicians still had to work at optimizing the way the system worked to give the desired feeling to their riders but the fine tuning of the interventions was coming from the ECU itself.
What we see now is that Honda likely had the most effective system. Even with their redesigned RC213V engine for 2016, running a crankshaft that now spins in the opposite direction of the wheels, their riders are the ones who suffer the most with the dumbed down electronics, losing on acceleration. Effective wheelie management by the rider is not really possible on a +260 horsepower, 157 kilograms motorcycle, no matter what the purist of the 'no electronics, all in the right wrist' persuasion might believe.

The winglets, first seen on the Ducati and now tested in different forms by all factory teams, keep the front tire a little more planted on acceleration but only if you have enough wind speed on them. The pilot that sneaks behind another rider on corner exit to try to draft pass is rewarded by serious turbulence from the wings of the machine ahead and no down force on his, meaning not being able to roll on the throttle as much and no overtaking. It might be why the races run yet (as of after Le Mans) were more like an Formula 1 affair with not much action and that's why there is pressure to ban those appendages sooner rather than later.

The other area of rapid evolution is with the tires. After being away from the top level of motorcycle racing since 2008, Michelin found out hust how much MotoGP had changed in seven years. The Michelin worked quite well in Qatar but a spectacular incident in Argentina, were Scott Redding's rear-tire tread separated from the carcass, sent everything into a spin. It was beautiful to see the smoking corner exit slides that the riders executed at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit but with the very high track temperature the softer carcass construction was pushed beyond its safe limit. We saw a shortened race with a stop midway to switch motorcycles that race.

Michelin responded quickly, making a different spec tire for the Friday practice in Texas only four days later. That new tire worked fine at the Circuit of the Americas but not so well for the next race in Jerez, Spain. Again higher temperatures come race time meant spinning down the straights, a phenomenon compounded by aerodynamic drag of the winglets. Valentino Rossi was the best at dealing with those conditions, saying that he had to manage the throttle thru all the gears. Two weeks later the French tire company offered another different-construction rear tire with different stiffness in the center part for their home Grand Prix in Le Mans as well as a slightly different front tire.

The riders welcomed the change and praised Michelin for the quick reaction to their complains. But we saw that no one had found that sweet balance between the evolving motorcycles and tires. Turn one at Le Mans is a scary fast (over 300km/h) bumpy right hand sweeper and we could witness some serious wobbles there. There is still need for some evolution and we can be sure it will come. Let's just hope that it will also bring back those exciting tight battles to the checkered flag.Tag: MotoGP Winglets Wings Tires ECU Electronic-Control Riders-Assist Rules Michelin Termas de Rio Hondo Circuit Circuit of the Americas Le Mans Valentino Rossi Scott Redding
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