The chance to substitute in the Repsol Honda team for the injured Casey Stoner was a great opportunity for Jonathan Rea to get a feel for a MotoGP bike and demonstrate his talent and potential, objectives in which he succeeded admirably. But it was also a chance for MotoGP journalists to grill the Ulsterman on the differences between various aspects of MotoGP and World Superbikes, Rea having shown he was both fast enough to feel the difference, smart enough to understand the difference and articulate enough to explain it to reporters.
At Aragon, the subject turned to electronics, and the difference between the systems used in the two series. The topic was broached as Rea was explaining what had happened to him during the race. He had got caught up cycling through the various electronics strategies the Honda RC213V is equipped with, looking for one that would help him as the tire wore throughout the race. A lack of dry track time getting to understand how the electronics affected the bike as the tires begin to wear left him confused and struggling to find a setting that would work, Rea told reporters.
"During the race I exhausted all the options on my bike with electronics," Rea said speaking on Sunday night. "I was playing a lot with traction control settings, also mapping changes and engine brake changes. To be honest, it got to the point where I was just confused and I had to just open the throttle and do my best, pick the line. It was just one of those things that a race can teach you, when the tire drops down, when the fuel load drops down, how you need to work with the bike. With more time I can understand but for a huge part of that race I was a little bit confused whether I was doing the right thing with the buttons or the wrong thing."
Rea was asked exactly what he was looking for, more traction control or less, to help him get to the end of the race. He answered that the confusion was caused by the differences between the bikes and the tires in the World Superbike and MotoGP series. "The [traction control] strategies work completely differently," Rea explained. "In World Superbike during the race, normally I would flip the traction control to let the electronics have more control. In effect, basically you're trying to save the tire at the end of the race. Here it works the opposite way, where you have to reduce the traction control and let the bike spin more, because the engine is slowing the bike down too much," Rea said.
The problem arose about halfway through the race, Rea explained. "Around half race distance, I took a lot of traction control off the bike, but then I was sliding around too much, so I put it back on. Then I was like 'Shit, I'm going no faster, so just take it off and spin.' In the end, we finished the race on quite a low setting. That worked OK, but it's the opposite way from Superbike and it was hard to get it into my head."
Reporters wanted to know whether it was the number of options which had confused Rea, or just the fact that the two series required diametrically opposed approaches. "For sure you have more options on a GP bike," Rea replied, "but I was confused because I knew which way I should go, but the lap time difference wasn't a lot, and I didn't understand is this actually better or is it making it worse? Instead of pinpointing my lines, I was in a rhythm, but to get closer to Bautista I was trying a lot of different things which meant my race was very inconsistent. Sometimes I would miss the apex, or run wide, but it's because I'm trying different things with my style to learn."
Rea went on to explain that the range of electronics strategies were virtually unlimited in MotoGP, and that it needed a lot of experience to understand what works best as the race progresses. "Electronically, in MotoGP, the possibilities are endless," Rea said. "With all the wet sessions, I haven't been able to fully understand exactly what happens when the tire really goes down. In the qualifying sessions we had in Misano and Aragon, you don't have time to put in 20 laps and try to understand what the traction control is doing, because you're fighting for a grid position. Brno was like learning to ride a bicycle again, so I don't classify that as a test. The one-and-a-half days we did here, that was when I practiced riding a MotoGP bike, but still for me, I've a lot to learn. "
"But the main differences are the possibilities of the electronics. In Superbikes I feel that with those electronics, the rider can make a much bigger difference. You can see for example on my bike, where our strategies aren't so sophisticated in Superbike I can still be quite competitive. But here the electronics is a huge part because we have such a strong engine that you need good electronics to be able to finish the race with still grip left on the tire. This was the hardest thing for me to understand, you can't teach this without doing race distance. For sure if I was to do this again, I would spend a lot more time on old tires and putting more and deeper thought into the electronics and understanding that."
Rea was asked if would like to have the MotoGP electronics on his Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR World Superbike machine. Unsurprisingly, Rea's was enthusiastic about the idea. "Yes, I think I can learn a lot from how this is working," he said. "You know, HRC is a very smart company and the strategies they have inside the ECUs, it's cutting edge, it's something you can't just buy. We need to learn exactly how they're doing this. When you have an ECU or you buy an electronics system, you buy it in a box, but it's only as good as the little guy in the factory or the ECU programmers put inside, and that's where we really suffer in Superbikes. So we need a much more sophisticated system. On the plus side, what I think, and I've told my engineers, is I think the Superbike has a much easier drive off the corner. It feels like when I open the throttle on this bike not much happens directly, where on the Superbike I feel a lot more connection between the throttle and the rear tire. There's pluses and minuses, but for sure we can learn a lot from this paddock."
Was the difference in the throttle connection feeling down to the extra horsepower of the MotoGP bikes or the differences between the spec Pirelli tires used in World Superbikes and the MotoGP Bridgestones, Rea was asked. "For sure we have less horsepower in Superbikes, but we can use a lot more horsepower at less percentage of the throttle. I think that's a lot because we don't rely on the electronics so much, because you have to keep the tire here, so."