Of the deluge of content produced around MotoGP and motorcycle racing, two articles I read stood out today. Both on topics which are highly current: the first, by Mat Oxley, on how Kalex designs and builds their chassis. The second, by former commentator and veteran journo Julian Ryder, is a perspective on penalties, and the policing of a sport like motorcycle racing.
First, to the piece by Mat Oxley. In it, he talks to Alex Baumgaertel, one of the two main people behind Kalex. Baumgaertel explains in detail Kalex' philosphy of motorcycle chassis design, and what they are looking for and trying to attempt when they build a chassis and a swingarm. All of Kalex' parts are machined from solid, rather than heated and pressed, as Kalex believes that allows them to preserve the properties of the aluminum being used. The stiffness stays as designed, the crystal structure of the aluminum alloy unaffected by the heat or pressure used in pressing frames.
The downside of machining is that it is an expensive and time-consuming process. Machining from billet leaves a lot of waste (which is recycled, melted, and turned back into aluminum billet) but requires an expensive CNC machine to run for between 24 and 48 hours continuously. The machined parts are then welded together.
Baumgaertel also explains how they build their swingarms. These always look huge, but in fact they use a lot of material but machine it down to form very thin sheets: mostly between 5mm and 1mm in parts. As ex-Moto2 crew chief Peter Bom likes to say, the Kalex swingarms are so thin that it feels like they would dent if you were to flick them with your finger.
Naturally, Baumgaertel doesn't mention the Honda chassis Kalex built for HRC. He isn't able to, thanks to non-disclosure agreements which are standard in these sort of cases. But there is plenty in the article to give the reader an idea of what Honda are hoping to achieve. Baumgaertel dissects what the chassis is doing in each part of the corner, and what the bike needs to be able to perform.
I have a selection of photos from the Jerez test, taken by ace tech spy Niki Kovács, which include several shots of the Kalex chassis on Stefan Bradl's bike. Those will be posted soon, along with other highlights from the test.
The second piece I'd like to highlight is by Julian Ryder, over on Superbikeplanet. Ryder lays out clearly and concisely the problems with policing the rules facing MotoGP as a sport. With references to history, he points out that a large part of the sport at the highest level is self policing. Riders who consistently push over the limit can find themselves on the receiving end of punishment.
But Ryder also sets out the issues which MotoGP has created for itself. With the advance of technology, it has been able to detect rule-breaking in real time. The downside of this is that it creates a lot more work for Race Direction and the Stewards, but it also creates natural injustices. When automatic systems can detect a bike exceeding track limits by mere millimeters, handing out penalties feels more like an injustice. The point of penalties for exceeding track limits is to prevent riders from gaining an advantage, but the point at which riders actually start to benefit from that is a very gray area, and not the artificial binary which technology allows.
The biggest issue Ryder highlights is the utter lack of transparency which surrounds MotoGP penalties. Penalties are handed down with no explanation and no accountability. Fans, media, teams and riders just have to accept the justice dispensed without question.
The whole piece is well argued, though I would counter that in-race penalties also have a positive side. They have an immediate and irreversible effect, leaving a clear and indisputable result. Of course, for this to work and be accepted, it requires absolute trust in the FIM Stewards. That can only come with accountability.
An example: if Valentino Rossi had been given an immediate penalty during the race at Sepang in 2015 - at the time, the rule book would have allowed a ride-through penalty as appropriate, though now he would more likely be given either a single or double long-lap penalty - then a lot of the drama and controversy could have been avoided. No penalty at Valencia, no appeal to the CAS, and a straight and clear race for the championship at the final round.
One other point in Ryder's piece. He mentions the incident between Kenny Roberts and Freddie Spencer at Anderstorp in Sweden which ended up deciding the 1983 500cc championship. "We still don’t really know what Freddie did to Kenny at Anderstorp in 1983," Ryder writes.
Actually, we do, though it helps if you speak Spanish. Legendary journalist Dennis Noyes, in his podcast Radio Ocotillo, recounts how Spencer outbraked Roberts in the penultimate corner of the race and ended up running both riders off track. Highly recommended.