A race team is forged on the principle of working together to find solutions. No-one can work i isolation and even though once the lights go out and a rider is out there alone the result will come on the basis of the days building up to that point. Motorcycle is a team sport. It’s the ultimate team sport. We delve into Ten Kate’s garage to see how they all work towards the ultimate goal.
How many times in all walks of life has it been said communication is key? In almost every task undertaken, having a clear plan of attack is the basis of getting the job done well. From childhood to adulthood the tasks change but the process stays the same. A checklist is key to ensuring any job is done correctly and for a race team the goal is to minimise mistakes and maximise efficiency.
When Ten Kate Racing made their decision to return to WorldSBK with Yamaha in 2019, the goal was to make the team as lean and efficient as possible. If something didn’t help the team to perform at their best on the track, it was deemed non-essential. The team returned to their family roots of a streamlined squad of engineers and mechanics, as well as a top line rider. Loris Baz was tasked with leading the squad on track, but the team around him was now smaller and more focused. Communication and working together would be the key to returning Ten Kate to the top.
The journey started twelve months ago with tests at Assen and Misano. In an old school approach that mimicked their phoenix from the flames story, the team used track days at Assen to shake-down their new bike and get the project started. Soon they were involved in a group test for WorldSBK at Misano, and in June they returned to the track at the Jerez round of the championship.
It’s easy to underestimate the importance of those early days testing but for Baz the goal was clear; learn how to work with the team and his new crew chief Mick Shanley. For the engineer the task was also clear; learn what Baz needs from a bike.
“In the beginning of working with a new crew chief, it’s very important that he understands what I want from a bike,” said Baz. “Those first tests with Mick, and the Jerez and Misano race weekends last year, were so important and he asked a lot of questions about what I like from a bike. I need a lot of support from the front of the bike because I brake very hard and deep into the corner. Once he found the setting that allowed me to do that, it was easier. Now, even if we are having a problem, he’ll know how to fix it because of the information from those tests.”
For Shanley the goal is to understand as much as possible as quickly as possible. Those early tests and meeting with his rider are crucial in setting the framework for what’s needed.
“Sometimes I’ll point questions about the bike so that I can understand the problem for a rider,” explains Shanley. “Once I have that in my mind I’ll make the changes that should get the best compromise for the next exit, to see if it’s working in the right direction. I want a rider to talk about the problems they’re having and then let the team find a solution. I think that it’s very important that everyone knows their jobs to do. All I want from a rider is for them to give me problems.
“The more problems he has the more things that can be sorted out. It’s important to keep the problems clear. A rider needs to focus on their side of the job and allow us to focus on our side. It’s very easy to get caught out and head in the wrong direction with the bike. That’s why I always tell rider’s the key is to focus on being able to give the team the problems and we’ll find solutions. The rider has enough to focus on with his riding in my opinion.”
Setting the tone
As with so much of life, success doesn’t come by accident, it comes from being prepared. For a race team that means spending as much time as possible turning over every stone possible. The lockdown has forced to teams to spend more time than ever preparing. Like everyone else, a race team has a series of jobs that have been put on the long finger, jobs they’ve been avoiding because there were bigger gains to be made elsewhere.
Now, with five months between Round 1 and the next scheduled race, teams have plenty of time to find as many marginal gains as possible. With those jobs now being worked on, teams are now as prepared as possible for when racing resumes. In normal circumstances the gap between race meetings, traditionally a week, gives a crew the chance to fully prepare for the next race.
That takes the form of a post round debrief, but also beginning preparation for the next.
“Even before we leave for the race we’ll be working on what to expect,” comments Shanley. “We’ll do a lot of work before we get to the track. I’ll speak with Loris about some of the races from previous years at that track, and we’ll also talk about his memories of racing there. It’s good to know a rider’s feelings about a track. We’ll talk about the development of the package and what it all means for the base plan for the weekend. It means we’ve got a clear picture before the start of the weekend.
“At the track it’s different with Loris compared to some riders that I’ve worked with. He has so much experience that certain parts of the weekend aren’t as important for him. He doesn’t need to walk the track as a team because going for a run around the track gives him the information that he needs. He has to get all of his kit organised and ready for the weekend, so he’ll do that and then we’ll sit down for a debrief about what our plan is for the weekend.”
While the track walk is a solitary task for Baz – in comparison to many riders who will walk the track with their engineers – the Frenchman knows the importance of preparing for the weekend by working on Thursday with his team. The key people for him to talk to are Shanley and Ronnie Schagen, who is the team’s data and electronics engineer, and worked in the past as a suspension technican. This grounding has allowed him to work with a host of top riders over the last 15 years with Ten Kate: Leon Camier, Stefan Bradl, Michael van der Mark, Sylvain Guintoli and Jonathan Rea to name some. For most of that time he’s been trusted by those riders with one of the most important elements of the bike; the electronics.
With bikes becoming more and more reliant on electronics, the importance of making the responsiveness feel predictable is key. It’s the electronic engineer’s job to ensure that the rider knows what to expect, and that the bike can operate in a predictable manner. Any changes to the bike will have a knock on effect to the electronics and that’s why Schagen plays a key role.
“The meeting on Thursday isn’t as important for a rider as it is for the team,” explains Baz. “Ronnie is our data guy and he’s very important in every meeting, but especially on Thursday because he will explain the base mapping that we will start the weekend with. He will tell me what we will start the weekend with in terms of our base engine power, Traction Control and Engine Braking settings. For me this is important to understand so that I’ll know the changes that I can make with the buttons on the controls during a session.”
The information from this session sets the tone for the weekend and gives the team a plan of attack. The reason why Baz would feel it’s more important for the team compared to the rider is that the crew chief sets the workflow for everything that will follow.
During the meeting, Shanley will decide the base fuel loads for the bike, the number of laps to be completed for each exit, if the team will test any new parts or make a change from their usual base settings and all details related to the session.
Explaining this, and having it written down, is important for making the session run as efficiently as possible. When it’s written down in black and white there’s no need for a tyre technician to ask if the rider will need a fresh front tyre for Exit 2 or Exit 3.
“I’ll make a session plan for the Friday morning session,” explains Shanley. “I’ll outline to the guys what we have tyre wise and also what we need to test. I’ll set the number of laps for each exit. The plan isn’t rigid, you have to be able to adapt to what happens on track, but the plan is structured. The goal is always to maximise your time as effectively as possible to be ready for Superpole and the races.
“The session plan is made to get the most for the team and rider. Everyone knows the objectives of the sessions and it means that Loris will go on track and know what he has to be focusing on. In the session, the crew chief’s job is to make sure that we stick to the plan and allow us to maximise our track time. In the plan we’ll have a list of things to try and achieve. The guys in the box will have that information but also how many laps Loris will do when he’s out on track. It means that they don’t have to ask me about what is going to happen next, and I can talk to Loris and find out what problems he’s having.”
KISS – Keep it Simple Stupid
Most teams in the paddock operate in a similar basis to one another. Friday morning practice is about making sure everything feels fine for the first stint, and then you start building up to finding improvements or testing new parts. In the afternoon team’s start to focus on finding the balance needed for the races because the conditions are closest to what they’ll face. The goal is to ensure you leave a race weekend with as many points as possible, but how does a team get to that point?
Typically during FP1, a team won’t make any significant changes to the bike. The goal is to maximise time on track rather than finding a magic bullet that solves everything. In WorldSBK, the one bike rule ensures that the ratio of Track Time: Garage Time is kept as high as possible. During FP1 a team might change the rear shock or the front springs but they would be hesitant to change anything on the bike that would take longer than five minutes.
The importance of the session plan is that the chassis mechanics will know that for Exit 2, the plan is to test a new shock and they can have that prepared and ready to use. The same for the team changing tyres where Shanley could outline in the plan that for Exit 2 on Friday afternoon, the team will use a full fuel load and fresh tyres front and rear to allow for a race simulation. If everything is planned in advance it’s easier to implement it for the crew. The goal is to ensure that nothing unexpected occurs.
With a clear goal in mind for every time he gets on the bike, Baz’ job is to ensure that he gives accurate feedback to his team and during the session. “The job is very easy for me. I tell Mick what I feel and he works on it. I don’t want to lose a lot of time in the pits so we keep it simple.
“The first exit of FP1 is just to tell Mick my initial impression and he’ll check the data to make sure the balance is OK. Is the balance too far on the front or rear, or is the suspension too soft on the front or rear, that kind of stuff. The biggest change we’ll usually make in FP1 will be to change a spring. I might make some changes to the electronics too if I had felt that there were some corners where I needed more or less power. We keep most of the comments for between the session because we don’t want to lose time on the track on Friday morning.”
The US Navy developed the KISS principle to ensure that in the heat of battle that simple solutions would be the most efficient solution. If you’re under attack you need to operate seamlessly. The same is true for a race team, and during a 60 minute session time is of the essence. It’s amazing to see this operation where mechanics, engineers and tyre technicians all work silently in lockstep.
“Loris will get off the bike and talk about the things that he can’t do or the frustrations he has with the bike,” says Shanley. “I don’t need a rider to give me the answers because even the most technical rider won’t know everything about the bike. All the configurations for parts and settings have a knock on effect and it’s the crew chief’s job to know how these interact.
“I need a rider to give me problems to be solved. If I can isolate those problems and the rider says ‘I can’t enter here any faster’ or ‘I can’t get the bike turned here’ I can ask questions to help find the solutions to find the best compromise. Once we have that we’ll make a change. On the next exit the rider will be reminded of the changes that were made, and also what was originally on the plan for that exit. He’ll know what to focus on for that run. The goal is to keep things clear and simple because it lets you focus on the big problems. Once the bigger issues are solved a lot of the smaller ones disappear too. Rider feedback is important but it’s even more important that it’s clear so that we can keep moving forward.”
Debriefs – It’s good to talk
Keeping communications open is the easiest way to make sure that you keep moving forward. Building trust between the rider and the team is imperative in doing that, and even during lockdown this is consistent. For Baz one of the biggest draws to Ten Kate is the family atmosphere. While Kervin Bos has assumed the role of Team Manager since their return to WorldSBK, the Ten Kate family is still very much to the fore. Being able to call Ronald and Gerrit Ten Kate makes the rider feel valued.
“We’ve been staying in contact with a WhatsApp group and various converations during the lockdown, and obviously I talk more to Mick because you build up so much trust with him. Everyone in the team is important and I really love working with the guys there. Ten Kate is like a big family and it’s nice that I can call Ronald or Gerrit, or anyone else and just talk. I didn’t always have this with some teams I worked with in the past.”
That atmosphere of trust and togetherness extends to debriefs at the weekend. The whole team is involved because everyone will spend the session collecting data. During the debrief you collate this information. From the crew chief’s setting sheet outlining the feedback from a rider, to the tyre technician’s information on track conditions and a chassis mechanic’s data on fuel usage, it all gets fed into the race day plan.
During the debrief the emphasis will be centred around Shanley and Schagen, but it’s a team effort to get ready for racing. Shanley’s job is to take what Baz tells him after each stint on track and compare the feedback to the data for chassis dynamics. Interpreting that correlation from the rider’s feelings to the dynamics means that they know the direction to take for making changes.
The post session and end of day debriefs take this to a larger scale. With the team sitting down to assess the day’s activities, they can assess whether certain changes made a difference and plan for the next day’s running. After Friday’s sessions, the team will select their tyres for the three races and also the fuel loads needed.
For a feature length race, typically 35 minutes, and the ten lap Superpole race there are very different requirements. In terms of tyres the team must decide whether the SCX tyre, designed for the Superpole race, is the optimum choice or whether a soft compound tyre is better. Knowing the exact fuel load needed optimises their weight for the race. With a taller rider such as Baz any weight saving can be crucial.
To understand how to make these decisions the team will analyse data from the sessions. For every exit the tyre technician will note, on their printed session plan, the track temperature and the ambient temperature. They’ll also note the tyre pressures. The initial tyre temperature when leaving the pits will be constant, because the tyre will have been warmed to a set temperature and kept in blankets until the last moment. The instant a rider returns to the pits the tyre temperature will be tested, and the result will be noted on the tyre technician’s session plan. The team can assess the wear rate and performance by using the time sheets to show the degradation after a certain number of laps.
In addition to the tyres, the team will monitor the fuel loads during the session. The team will weigh the bike without any fuel and weigh it again after adding fuel. Taking note of the difference they can see how many kilograms were used for each exit and calculate the consumption. After two practice sessions, and likely over 70 laps of data, the team will have plenty of data available to calculate the exact volume needed for a race.
Pooling all of the information available is Shanley’s job. Most crew chiefs will come from a specialist area but when they become the chief their goal is to lead. They need to take the information from their team and make an informed decision. The more data they have available to them the better.
“I’ve got multiple page spreadsheets which are linked to various programmes,” explains Shanley. “I’ll have our session plan for the day that I give to each of the guys, and afterwards they’ll give it back to me so I’ve got the changes made to the bike. We’ll have all the information about the bike and the conditions that it was running in.
“I’ll take that information and add it to my setting sheet and that will give us chassis settings that were used and step by step, so we can keep track of the changes and the comments from the rider. By looking at the changes and the comments made by Loris, we can track what was positive and what was negative.”
While Baz will typically take a back seat to Shanley on technical matters, it’s during these debriefs that he might make suggestions at times. With such an experienced rider he might have memories of how the track has reacted with more rubber as a weekend progresses, or he might prompt his crew chief about a similar problem they had in the past. If this is the case Shanley can easily access the session sheets from that meeting and see if the changes could help. For Baz it’s clear that “Mick knows the bike perfectly so I know that I don’t need to tell him what to do, but sometimes your memory of certain problems can be useful.”
It’s about working as a team to find the solutions.
Post race – Report and repeat
Perfect preparation doesn’t always lead to perfect performance. The goal of racing is always imperfect, because there’s always some area that can be improved. The bike is never absolutely ideal for a rider and a rider never has a perfect race. The goal is to be as close to perfect as possible. That’s why the time between races is crucial.
While Shanley will talk to Baz about his thoughts on an upcoming round beforehand, he’ll also talk to his rider about what had happened at the previous race. The post round report is crucial for Ten Kate and also for Yamaha.
“The report structure of a race weekend is really important,” commented Shanley. “With Loris we’ll do a short and sharp debrief at the track after a session and a race, because the ten to fifteen minutes after a rider gets off the bike are incredibly important. The information and feelings are fresh, but after the adrenaline leaves you the feelings can become a bit diluted. After a few days, once the rider is home, it’s easier to separate the emotion of a race weekend.”
Talking about what happened and finding out how to improve the bike is the goal for the team after a race weekend. It’s also the target for Yamaha. With three teams using the Yamaha R1 the manufacturer will have lots of information from the race weekend from Ten Kate, Pata Yamaha and also the GRT squad. With the data all available to Yamaha, and reports filed with the manufacturer, the development path for the bike can become clearer. If all riders are giving the same feedback on an area to improve, it’s easy for Yamaha to decide on a key area to focus development.
“There’s a big emphasis on reporting and analysis during a race weekend, but it’s also focused on afterwards,” added Shanley. “After a race it’s very important to gather as much information as possible so that we can learn from it and move forward. At the track we’ll do our daily reports during a weekend and they will be available to everyone inside the team. After the meeting we’ll have send a larger report back to Yamaha that will be pooled with the feedback from the other Yamaha teams to help them shape the development of the bike.”
The cycle continues constantly. Once those reports are sent back and the feedback has been received the focus shifts to the next round.
Suddenly the previous round is in the books and it’s time for Shanley to get on the phone to Baz and talk about past races and memories of the next track on the calendar…
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