Analysis

Honda's Magic Gearbox: Worth A Few Hundredths A Shift

Honda's seamless shift gearbox has been the talk of the MotoGP world since it first debuted at Sepang, with journalists on a quest to chase down exactly what it is and how it works. The only response you receive from HRC or Honda riders about the gearbox is that it is "better" and that it is "smoother". The best guess about its operation so far has been that it is either based on or very similar to the Xtrac Instantaneous Gearshift System, which allows two gears to be engaged simultaneously, while driving only one.

Since the introduction of the system, speculation has been rampant as to exactly how much advantage Honda's gearbox confers. Wild guesses were doing the rounds, with the highest guess being that it would give an advantage of 0.9 seconds a lap, an absolute eternity. According to one of the journalists over at GPOne.com, Filippo Preziosi said he believed that Honda's gearbox was probably worth around 0.2 seconds a lap.

In my adopted home of the Netherlands, they have a saying: "Meten is weten", to measure is to know. In that spirit, I went out to the side of the track during the test, and took a number of recordings of bikes exiting Turn 10 and shifting up the gears, going past and shifting up. On the basis of those sound recordings, I tried to estimate the length of the gearchange for each of the bikes that I had recorded. 

Back to top

2011 MotoGP Qatar Day 2 Round Up - Magic Cogs

A long time ago, when I worked at a software company, we had a timekeeping system that consumed hours of our productive time as we tried to keep track of the projects we had worked on every week. One member of our team was smarter than the rest of us, however. He figured he knew roughly what projects he would be working on for the next couple of months, and would fill in his timesheets about 6 weeks in advance. He saved himself a whole heap of time doing that, while we struggled.

Compare and contrast the lot of a MotoGP headline writer. The way things are looking so far, we could fill in the headlines for all of the practice sessions and races for the next three or four MotoGP rounds well in advance, and get about 90% of them absolutely spot on. Put the following words in any order: Stoner, Repsol Honda, Pedrosa, Dominate, Clean Sweep. Throw in a couple of conjunctions, and you are set to go for quite some time.

It goes without saying that the Honda camp are happy, with both Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa half a second ahead of the rest. Stoner confessed to having spent some time watching videos from the 1997, 1998 and 1999 seasons, in which Mick Doohan, Alex Criville and Tady Okada battled all year long for the championship aboard Repsol Hondas. There was even a Yamaha fly in the ointment, in the shape of Max Biaggi, Jorge Lorenzo's hero as a child.

Back to top

2011 MotoGP Qatar Day 1 Round Up - The Drama Returns

So we're finally racing again, after what seemed like an eternity. Even though we were here just a couple of days ago for the final test of the year, walking through the paddock on Thursday was like being in another world. If a racetrack during a test on is a cold, desolate place, come race weekend, there's a completely different vibe.

There was of course much focus and talk about the ongoing disaster in Japan, everyone enquiring of Japanese friends and colleagues how things were in their hometown. As a mark of respect and to show their (and our) concern for Japan, Dorna announced there would be a minute's silence before the MotoGP race, and just about all of the MotoGP teams are carrying some form of Kanji text wishing everyone in Japan well on their bikes or leathers somewhere.

Despite the obvious concern about Japan, the overwhelming feeling in the paddock was a buzz of excitement, everyone glad to have the long wait over and to be racing again. All those hours of hard, tiring but necessary work busting out laps to prepare for the season are finally over, and now those laps actually mean something.

Back to top

2011 MotoGP Qatar Day 2 Roundup: A Few Thoughts

What a difference a day makes. On Sunday, the desert was calm, temperate, really quite pleasant overall, at least until the temperatures started to drop and the dew came. Monday was a different proposition altogether; Twitter was ablaze with reports of a sandstorm blowing over the Losail circuit.

As we drove to the circuit ourselves, it turned out that "sandstorm" was a bit of an exaggeration. But not by too much: winds were very strong, with plenty of gusts, and the air was laden with dust. We didn't expect to see too much action tonight, but when the horn sounded for the start of the five-hour session, bikes started to trickle out onto the track, despite the wind.

The wind would be a key player, and expose the weakness of a champion. In his daily media debrief, Jorge Lorenzo fulminated against his bike, complaining that they couldn't get a setup for the bike, they'd gone backwards, and that if they had had to race tonight, he would have been running 1'57.2s and watching the Hondas disappear doing 1'56.0s. "Even my grandmother would have been faster than me on a bike with a good setup," Lorenzo quipped.

Back to top

The Tale Of The Tape: A Look At The Lap Times On Day 1 Of The Qatar Test

Whenever MotoGP testing is underway, there is a ravenous hunger for times among fans and followers of the sport. Every update is greedily consumed, every time heatedly debated, as we search to make sense of the posted times. 

Two factors stand in the way of making an accurate analysis of the times, however. The first is that only the fastest lap time set by a rider is posted to the results page, and the second - related - issue is that the full timesheets - containing the times for every lap set for each rider - are not made available to the public. The times are printed out and distributed in the media center, but they are not published on the official MotoGP.com website, unlike the results for each session during a race weekend.

Being at Qatar, we get to see the actual timesheets, and it is immediately clear that the final posted times do not tell the full tale. The order the riders finished in is distorted by a couple of riders who set a very fast lap. Here's how the top 7 riders finished, including everyone who set a time under the 1'57 mark:

Back to top

The 2012 MotoGP Revolution: Part 2 - MotoGP vs WSBK

For the third year running, MotoGP is down to just 17 bikes on the grid. And for the second time in three years, a manufacturer is showing an alarming lack of commitment to the series, Suzuki fielding just one rider for the 2011 season. Sponsors are pulling out and teams are constantly complaining about a lack of money. Something has to be done.

Throughout 2009, MotoGP's rule-making body, the Grand Prix Commission, debated ways of changing the class to make the series cheaper, thereby increasing the number of bikes on the grid. The solution, announced in December 2009, was the return to 1000cc machines under specific restrictions aimed at capping costs: a maximum of four cylinders, and an 81mm maximum bore.

But that in itself was not enough. Throughout the entire process, it was also broadly hinted that the requirement that engines must be prototypes would be dropped for privateer teams, with these so-called Claiming Rule Teams being allowed to run heavily modified production engines in a prototype chassis. To ensure the teams would not be forced to spend on electronics what they saved on engines, the CRT machines would also be allowed an extra 3 liters of fuel above the allowance for the factory machines (for our detailed explanation of exactly what the CRT rules entail, see The 2012 MotoGP Revolution Part 1.)

Back to top

2011 MotoGP Sepang 1 Test Preview - The Wait Is Over

It's been a long winter. And the lack of action on the MotoGP front has made the anticipation of the fans even worse by the many questions left hanging after the last test the MotoGP bikes participated in, after the season finale at Valencia.

Back in November, thousands watched Valentino Rossi make his debut on the Ducati (and Casey Stoner make his debut on the Honda, though it was clear where the attention of the fans was focused), and the results were a huge surprise. That Jorge Lorenzo was fast at the test surprised nobody, nor the fact that Casey Stoner was fast out of the traps, though quite how fast the Australian was after just a few laps on the Repsol Honda for the first time did raise a few eyebrows.

The big surprise from the Valencia test was Valentino Rossi's times on the Ducati. The Italian ended the test with the 15th time, with only Moto2 returnee Toni Elias and MotoGP rookie Karel Abraham behind him. There was no doubt that Rossi's injured shoulder - hurt in a training accident early in the year - played a significant role; the Valencia test came at the end of a long season, and after a full weekend of racing, at a track Rossi dislikes intensely. But Rossi (speaking through Filippo Preziosi, as he was contractually unable to speak directly to the press) also complained of a lack of feel from the front end, and a general lack of confidence in the bike.

Back to top

The 2012 MotoGP Revolution: Part 1 - The Rules, The Bikes And The Teams

2012 is the year that everything will change. A bafflingly large number of people think this is because of the approach of Planet X, bringing destruction upon the world as foretold by the end of the Mayan calendar (which rather inconveniently now appears to end in 2220), but for motorcycle racing fans, something even more momentous than the end of civilization is on the cards. For 2012 is the year that sees the return of 1000cc motorcycles to MotoGP.

Those who were hoping to see the return of the glorious RC211V and its soul-churning V5 bellow will be sorely disappointed, however. MotoGP may be allowing the return of the liter bikes, but a couple of significant rule changes mean that the face of the grid will be altered irrevocably. There'll be no more barking V5 Hondas, nor howling Aprilia RS3 Cubes, nor will the overly optimistic and sadly failed WCM Blata V6 project be revived. The rules have been written such that the bikes will have four cylinders, use a four-stroke combustion cycle, and are likely to come in well under 1000cc capacity.

Back to top

Pages