The moments before a MotoGP race are tense and calculated.
Prayers are said, routines are followed, and rituals are performed as some of the world’s best athletes prepare to master the insanely powerful bikes in which mere mortals can only dream of reigning. The speed, G-forces and strategies that go into this race are heavily influenced not only by the riders, but also by the bikes themselves – and the technology that flows from all angles of their bespoke frames and bodies. – can be the deciding factor for the podium.
Digital Trends was on-site in Austin, TX for Round 3 of the 2019 MotoGP season to learn about the latest advancements in motorcycle racing technology with the Red Bull KTM Factory MotoGP team. Here is what we found.
The advent of aero has long been in MotoGP. With the automotive world using spoilers and air dams since the 1960s, it was only a matter of time before the premier class of motorcycle racing received winged lights.
Each team came to their own conclusions on how best to make the most of the extra grip that comes with harnessing the power of the wind. As a result, we are now seeing motorcycles with completely different looks – from Honda square foils and Suzuki fluid curves to gaping Ducati tunnels, the aerodynamic design of motorcycles has never been so varied and spectacular.
In the end, we let the pilot prioritize these aspects to find the best compromise for him.
âWe use an iterative process involving all areas: numerical modeling of fluids, wind tunnel, [and] track tests. said Sebastian Risse, technical director of the MotoGP Red Bull KTM factory team. “Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and the final conclusion we can only draw in track testing.”
In more digestible terms, Risse uses both real and virtual means to test and refine the design, but one of the most important factors is rider preference. âThe aerodynamic configuration is always a compromise between drag / top speed, downforce, stability and rider comfort. A racing motorcycle, at the end of the day, is just a tool for an athlete – and we support our riders. In the end, we let the pilot prioritize these aspects to find the best compromise for him. In particular, he must feel good on the bike, and be able to move around the bike as he needs to, to get the most out of it. This is why designs vary so much from team to team. Riders dictate their needs and manufacturers take that data, along with all the other data from computer modeling, and combine the two halves to create a complete bike that will hopefully get down the track a bit faster than the rest.
While MotoGP riders are certainly impressive, putting all that power to the ground without any electronic aids would be next to impossible. With traction control, a rider can reduce the most power when coming out of a turn and not lose traction. This is similar to the traction control that is in most cars these days, but this is where the similarities end. Unlike your car, MotoGP motorcycles regularly lean 64 degrees – low enough that riders regularly drag their elbows around corners.
“There are thousands of parameters and maps in the engine control unit.”
In order for elbow sliding to be even possible from a distance, bicycle electronics have to deal with a myriad of factors that affect traction and make on-the-fly adjustments in milliseconds. Everything from the size of a tire’s contact patch to the weight distribution of the bike to the changing body of the rider has to be calculated thousands of times per second. It is absolutely mind-boggling.
Electronics also help runners in their strategy. Each track is different and therefore requires a different driving style, so engineers and pilots must adapt to the conditions of each track. âThere are thousands of parameters and maps in the engine control unit, separate for certain conditions like area, speed etc. Â», Explains Risse. âThe technicians on the team define what’s inside all of these fields and can bind certain cards or parameters to switches the pilot can choose from. So it’s a combination of what the engineers choose in advance and what the pilot chooses on the track.
Almost as impressive as these bikes’ ability to pick up speed is their ability to clean it. While steel rotors are still used for the rear brake, the two front rotors on MotoGP machines are almost exclusively carbon discs. Previously, if the air temperature was low or it rained, the carbon discs were replaced. This is because carbon discs required a sufficient amount of heat to be effective, and moisture would remove it. Now, thanks to a fairly simple brake disc cover solution, bikes can run exclusively with carbon discs.
This may seem strange because normally, in motor racing, heat is the enemy of braking. But with motorcycles weighing so much less, different strategies are needed. When we asked Risse about the temperatures the Red Bull KTM team were racing at, he replied that âcarbon discs and pads start to show heavy wear from 900 Â° Câ [Celsius] on, so generally we try to keep the temperature below 800 Â° and try to keep the minimum temperature above 250 Â°, because below the bite becomes less predictable.
MotoGP jockeys stay on board their mounts using nothing more than grip.
To put it in perspective, that minimum temperature of 250 Â° Celsius or 482 Â° Fahrenheit is higher than what your car’s brakes will ever get while driving down the street (assuming you’re not trying to run away from the cops) , and this is the minimum Temperature .
All that heat causes riders to pull 1.4G in hard braking areas. It is true that Formula 1 drivers regularly shoot three times as much in their race cars, but this is where the biggest difference is. Formula 1 riders are hidden and strapped in, while MotoGP jockeys stay aboard their mounts using nothing more than the grip they can muster with their arms and legs.
Ultimately, the most impressive part of MotoGP isn’t just the technology. It’s the way teams continue to improve their machines with riders responding to an ever-widening threshold of possibility. Yesterday dragging one knee was the pinnacle of speed. Today, it drags an elbow. Tomorrow, who knows. Whatever the next step, the MotoGP show offers viewers an unprecedented look at a human’s ability to merge with a machine in a motorsport summit.