Cheating in motorsports is as old as the sport itself. Whenever powered vehicles gather together to race each other, then someone, somewhere, will try to gain an advantage, either within the rules or, if that is not successful, outside of the rules. In all classes, and at all times, teams, engineers and riders have all tried to cheat in one way or another. Even the imposition of a spec engine in the Moto2 class hasn't prevented teams trying to cheat, and the paddock is awash with rumors regarding which teams are cheating and which teams are not.
The finger of blame is inevitably pointed at the most successful riders, and in recent months, it has been pointed mainly at Catalunya CX rider Marc Marquez. Marquez has a number of strikes against him, making him a popular target for rumors of cheating; firstly, Marquez is Spanish, and as Moto2 is a Spanish-run series, the non-Spanish teams are all fervently convinced that Spanish teams are not monitored as closely as they are. Secondly, Marquez has the backing of Repsol, one of the more powerful sponsors in the paddock, exerting influence not just over Marquez' Monlau Competicion team, but also over the much more important factory Repsol Honda team; the power of Repsol, the gossips suggest, exerts undue influence on the policing process. Thirdly, and most obviously, Marquez is fast, almost suspiciously so. The Spaniard's bike is always one of the fastest through the speed traps, and accelerates hardest off the corners. His team put it down to hard work at finding exactly the right set up for Marquez to excel. One of the lighter Moto2 riders on a well-prepared bike, ridden by a fast and talented rider? That, Marquez' supporters argue, is reason enough for him to be fastest.
To find out more about the situation, and what Dorna and the scrutineers are doing to address these concerns, I spoke to Race Director - and formerly Technical Director - Mike Webb at Estoril. I passed on the concerns that others had expressed to me about cheating in Moto2, and he explained to me exactly what Dorna are doing to monitor the bikes and ensure that cheating is kept to an absolute minimum, and that if it is happening, it does not pay. Here is what Webb had to say:
Q: I have had several people approach me and tell me there are shenanigans going on in Moto2. Illegal parts, and that there is all sorts of cheating going on.
Mike Webb: As everyone always says since day 1, the paddock is rife with rumors...
Q: Exactly, there was Marquez sitting up on the front straight, there were claims of illegal parts being used on some bikes. You are policing Moto2 as strictly as ever?
MW: Sure. And as always - OK I'm not so hands on now, there are now three people doing it whereas I was doing it on my own before - we are policing it with the principle we always had of random checks, where no one knows what we are going to be checking and at what time. Part of that is what we decide out of the blue, part of it is listening to rumors. A huge part of it is what we see on track, but much more importantly, what we see on the dataloggers. Moto2 teams, as always, are obliged to give us the data every day. We read the data every day, and we have people analyzing the data every day. It's really quick and easy and simple, you can quickly see where one rider is faster, overlay them all together, and the one that's accelerating better, or has a better top speed, or doing something different stands out, and then you can start to say, well, we need to check that and that and that, bring that bike in and let's have a look. It's a great system. With that compulsory data acquisition, and it's secure …
Q: That was my next question, can you hack the datalogger?
MW: That's something that we're really certain of, that we've got the data that's there, and they can't even give any excuses - "Oh, it got disconnected and we lost the data" - no, it's there and we can retrieve it. They can't, we can. That's stuff that the teams don't know about and we do, and I'm really happy with. And it's such a quick and easy flag waver: "Woah, something's different about that bike, what is it?" And then you can get down to finding out what's going on.
In the early years, we had teams who had bikes whose top speed was better, and we'd look and see, oh, they're actually running a more sensible gearing package here, sacrificing speed at one place and gaining it in another. Or laughable attempts at trying to make it go faster by using wacko settings, where the blokes actually winning the races had fairly standard settings. So there are things like that I've seen over the years and I'm really confident about what's going on. Marquez is the one point, well, he's got a weight advantage, and he's also got the best support, he's got an excellent team doing a very good job, and he's a light rider, so he does get off the corner faster. Plus a fair bit of talent to be able to get on the gas at the right time, of course. It's normal that his bike is being checked more than anyone else's; one, because he's on the podium a lot, so automatically it gets checked, and secondly because clearly, he's faster in a lot of places, so we have to figure out why. I'm comfortable with it. There's an awful lot of rumors going round about stuff, which we have all checked out on and never found anything.
Q: Other rumor I heard was about someone taking the engines to Italy and there was someone in Italy who could give them a little bit of a tweak and make them a little bit sharper.
MW: I keep hearing the same thing, and yes, of course we're checking and no system is completely failsafe, though we continue to check. The other side of that whole rumor mill thing is that if they're doing all of this cheating, they're not very good at it, because the bike's doing the same speed. And honestly, there's a very small difference in top speed, acceleration and all those sort of things, that you'd expect in a normal set up environment. When we see a Moto2 bike consistently 10 km/h faster than all the rest, then OK, there somebody has done something. But we haven't seen it yet.
Q: The rev limit is enforceable and easy to check?
MW: Absolutely, yes. Enforceable because it's part of the engine package including the ECU, but checkable because of our secure loggers. We had to have the secure logger, because when we were doing the first Moto2, we couldn't get Honda to agree to allow us to run a different ECU on their engines. So we had to go with a Honda ECU, and although they say it's secure, I couldn't guarantee that because I didn't build it. So we opted for the secure model.
Q: So the option used in BSB where you have a standard, locked-down ECU was not an option for you?
MW: That was my first choice, I wanted that, but within the commercial deal to get the engines, it wasn't allowed. And I understand that, because we're putting their reliability on show by using their engines, and they didn't want to have outside equipment bolted on. I can understand that, so the secure logger was the option we went with. Moto3 is different, because we did get our ECU and it's a secure unit.
The cheating is ongoing. I'm equally sure that over the three years, there have been people who have got away with things. And Danny [Aldridge, Assistant Technical Director] and his team are trying to keep a lid on it, and occasionally having people saying "are we allowed to do that," and having to make rulings on these questions all the time. I'm sure that at some time, somebody's got away with something, but then again, they haven't gained much advantage from it. The bikes that consistently win are always checked, and as far as we are aware, they are all legal. To take the obvious example of Marquez, has his team got some secret guy somewhere who can take seals off the engine, do lots of stuff to it and then put it back together again? We own the engines, Geo Tech take them away for maintenance, we'd soon know if someone changed something internal. And if they changed something or hacked the ECU or something like that, sorry, but they haven't got 20 more horsepower out of it... It's slightly faster, as you would expect from an exceptionally well set up bike with a light rider, and a talented rider.