The Thin End Of The Wedge - Electronics Next Target For Ezpeleta

One of the main arguments heard against the introduction of a single tire manufacturer was that any move to standardize tires would turn out to be just the first of a range of rule changes aimed at making the racing closer. Once Carmelo Ezpeleta got the tire rule through, ran the argument, then after that, he would try to introduce rules on traction control, electronic suspension, a standard ECU, until he finally achieved his goal of close racing, like we had in 2006, the final season of the 990s.

It didn't take very long for the naysayers to be proved right. In an interview with the Italian Motosprint magazine, Dorna CEO Ezpeleta revealed that he has already started talks with the manufacturers on limiting the role of electronics in MotoGP. "We need to discuss it, as it's been done in every motor racing series," Ezpeleta said. No changes were planned for 2009, but Ezpeleta stated that he believed regulating electronics would be "the next step."

Ezpeleta has been here before, having suggested that MotoGP needs a standardized ECU at the end of 2007. The Dorna chief was forced to withdraw that proposal, after unsurprisingly encountering stiff resistance from the manufacturers, who regard MotoGP as a technological showcase. But after having won a victory over the single tire rule, he may well be feeling confident he can push through further restrictions with much less resistance.

While making his arguments in favor of limited electronics, he also let slip the real reason for the move to a single tire. The move was ostensibly to reduce costs and improve safety by reducing corner speed, but Ezpeleta told Motosprint that he also expected to see the single tire rule "improve the spectacle." "I have lots of confidence in the control tire, also to see the riders closer to each other and to see races with more passing." No mention was made of the safety aspect of the rule, which is bearing ever more resemblance to the "safety" arguments used to reduce engine capacity from 990cc to 800cc.

Skeptics might argue that Ezpeleta's logic is flawed. While any attempt to reduce costs should be applauded, and each of the regulations being introduced seem at first glance to be a cheaper option, the problem is that rule changes are by their very nature expensive, and tend to increase, rather than decrease costs. 

Firstly, every rule change means that manufacturers often find themselves confronted with the need to throw away what they were doing previously and start all over again. This was obviously the case for the engine capacity reduction, but a similar thing is happening with the single tire. Manufacturers can no longer rely on finding tires to work with their bikes, they now have to change the bike around to work with the tires. For several manufacturers, that will mean throwing away their old swing arms, suspension and chassis, and starting again from scratch.

And instead of leveling the field, this merely strengthens the hand of the strongest teams. The tires provided by Bridgestone are based on the tires used by Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi this year, and so both Ducati and Yamaha already have bikes that work with the tires. Kawasaki and, to a lesser extent, Suzuki, however, can't get their bikes to work with the current tires, and where using a different carcass construction. With this option gone, Kawasaki and Suzuki will have to redesign their bikes to work with the new tires, further increasing their deficit on the top two.

As for limiting electronics, the lessons from the AMA are worrying. In the period that traction control was banned in that series, Yoshimura Suzuki used a sophisticated engine management package from Bazzaz Performance that cut back power delivery based on factors such as engine speed, throttle position, rate of acceleration and several others. It was a de facto TC system, but one that fell well within the letter of the law, while blatantly violating the spirit of the law. In the end, the AMA was forced to allow traction control, as it had become impossible to police. Perhaps even more worryingly, allowing the other teams to use TC as well changed nothing in the results: Ben Spies and Mat Mladin continued to utterly dominate that series, exactly as they had done before.

The only serious option for a rules body wishing to ban traction control is to get rid of electronics altogether. What this would mean is that, like in NASCAR, fuel injection systems would have to be replaced by carburettors, and to make absolutely certain, electronic ignition would have to be replaced by mechanical points.

The chances of the manufacturers accepting any such suggestion are absolutely zero, and so some other way will have to be found to limit the role rider aids play. And it also opens the question of what the point of MotoGP is. Currently, MotoGP defines itself in the rule book as a prototype racing series, but if the bikes on the road feature more and more sophisticated electronics than the bikes racing in MotoGP, that prototype label would start to look like too much of a pretense. If the aim of MotoGP is to attract the best riders and provide the closest racing, then fielding technologically inferior bikes will make it hard to attract those very riders to the series.

MotoGP has enjoyed a golden age since the introduction of the four-strokes, becoming once again the undisputed premier series. While no one would question that the series still houses most of the world's best riders, the arrival of BMW and Aprilia in the World Superbikes paddock means that MotoGP's main rival series will see 7 manufacturers competing, with an 8th (KTM) likely to join soon after. MotoGP's prominence is starting to look uncertain, and the continual tweaking of the rulebook is far from certain to fix this situation.

While having two strong series may be good for race fans in the short term, having two equally strong and competing series may damage both series in the long run. Sponsors will be confused and uncertain about which series they should be investing in, and both series could end up confusing casual spectators, and eating into each other's market share, instead of expanding the audiences for all forms of motorcycle racing. In today's harsh economic climate, and a recession, or at least very weak growth, expected to last for the next couple of years at least, that is a danger which needs to be avoided at all costs.

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Comments

Like your website, but you are wildly inacurate on occasion.
Yoshimura Suzuki never used Bazzazz performance electronics on any of its superbikes.

Does it really matter what the name on the box is? The point remains the same: Suzuki skirted the rules with its electronics making those rules impossible to enforce.

Thanks for your comments and corrections. I guess I jumped the gun a little, as Amar Bazzaz was not producing his own electronics, but making the electronics he was given at Yoshimura work better. I understood that Bazzaz had got the Suzuki's electronics to work, but did not realize that he was not working on his own systems. 

I have just one request: I am always glad to receive corrections, as I want to make the site as accurate as possible. However, when you point out a mistake, could you also correct it? So if Yoshimura wasn't using Bazzaz electronics, which electronics package were they using?

Does Ezpeleta really want to go down the path of tech inspections and contested disqualification that we have in other more boring series (F1, AMA).

"...as it's been done in every motor racing series" is a ridiculous argument. If Dorna wants to go down the path of what are aguably more successful race series, he might as well just go straight to the NASCAR model where close racing is enforced through constant rule changes and questionable race direction. I'll just watch WSBK, thanks.

A claim of "close racing" cannot even be made by NASCAR, by far the most spec series that isn't (yet) defined as one.  The new car design was supposed to deliver closer racing, but it hasn't.  Now the manufacturers are hard-pressed to justify the costs of staying in the series, when there is nothing about the sport to identify with their brands, and are threatening departure.  Ditto Formula 1.

The problem with this thinking is like trying to take credit for good weather.  Mr. Ez' own self-described optimum rules package was a period when the rules had been largely unchanged for a few years and there were two tire companies supplying their largest array of options.  Good times will return, if they will quit chasing a myth and copying everyone else's failures.

With today's electronic engine management systems, it seems like a pretty fine line between advanced tuning and actual traction control. The former rewards research, testing, and application, while the latter is just a one-size-fits-all band-aid. Like advanced rider training versus simply mandating helmet laws. But either can be just as effective as the other.

And, why wouldn't Suzuki have used Bazaaz's components? It was with the AMA Suzuki team that he made his mark. He might be the only person on the planet who ever changed Mat Mladin's mind (Mat went into the telemetry age kicking and screaming, according to an interview with him I once read).

In the end, racers are always facing a double-edged sword. Sure they lament the idea that electronic aids (or whatever) are dumbing down racing, but ask them if they'd like to use something that'll give them a leg up on their competition, and they'll take it in a heartbeat, if they have even a rudimentarily (is that a word?) competitive nature.

By the way, I hate something about your site: That I only discovered it a few weeks ago. Keep up the good work.

Spec tire, 600cc support class, now this. MotoGP is doomed to become 2nd class to WSBK, and disappear all together when it fails to attract new fans and us die hards get old and die.

I feel confident that on the whole the racing will be no closer next year or the next than it was this year. But that is not why I watch, there is more to racing than dog fights (as exciting as they can be). And if that is your fancy there are usually a few going on further down the order.

While the Yoshimura Suzuki racing team is financed by Yoshimura and US Suzuki.
The bikes and parts for the Superbike program are supplied and supported by Suzuki Japan.
A large part of their support is engineering assistance.
The machines are full "works" specification machines.
Suzuki Japan has used Mitsubishi as a development partner with their race teams due to the fact that Mitsubishi produces the equipment and electronics for Suzukis production machines.
The Japanese are very secretive and guarded with the information that is gathered during the use and development of any of their machines.

Bazzaz is a smart guy, but he is not the engineering staff of Mitsubishi and Suzuki.
Bazzaz learned alot about TC from these guys first.
Wondering how I know?
Worked with Bazzaz @ Yosh. from 98-2003.
Roomates for 3 years.

While Yosh Suzuki were undoubtedly using a form of traction control - whether or not it was reliant upon GPS data, sensors, or magic, the results remained pretty much the same once TC was allowed in AMA Superbike competition.

Over the last couple of years this has caused me to wonder whether some, most, or all of the factory teams were already using a similar system even before TC was allowed.

There is no question in my mind that Mat Mladin and Ben Spies were the best riders by far in the AMA over the last several seasons. So were the rule changes just a case of allowing something that everybody was already doing surreptitiously?

If factory teams in a national series can beat the rules, then how can one enforce rules upon factory teams at the top level of competition?

This is my favourite line: "And it also opens the question of what the point of MotoGP is."

in the words of Stephen Colbert: "EXACTLY!"

the problem many businessmen (like ezpeleta) have is chasing the myth of endless growth. we are not privy to the exact marketing research that dorna has but i guarantee that they see the "slowdown" in the growth of the motogp fanbase as "troubling". all businesses feel a need to grow because of the acceptance of the stock market as the base thermometer of the world economy.

so what i think is going on is we're seeing a slowdown in the growth of motogp popularity, but rather than thinking deeper, ezpeleta is manipulating the series to regain the incredible growth that the sport enjoyed in the mid '00s.

lets face it tho, valentino rossi did more for the sport's popularity than all of dorna's machinations, in fact i would say he did in in SPITE of dorna's machinations. and in addition, if dorna want to garner more fans, the series needs to make a stronger push outside of europe where it is surely reaching a point of saturation that no amount of "close racing" (assuming we even get that) will fix.

as amazing as it may seem, motorcycle racing is a fringe sport. sport fans tend to be fans of things they can understand, have tried, etc. i'd say 95% of motorcycle racing fans are also motorcycle riders or the family/friends of motorcycle riders. there's only so much fanbase available.

dorna left china with their tail between their legs after just 3 years, instead of fighting to make the sport more popular there. and replaced that round with yet another european one. wtf? get a couple of rounds in south america, more in asia, back to africa, markets that may take time to grow but you gotta give them a friggin chance!

i think ezpeleta is just always looking for quick fixes as he doesn't have a long term vision for the sport and as a result he's going to ruin the one series that riders actually dream[ed] of aspiring to.

~pop

Cheers to that Mr. Monkey.

I believe my first comments on this site some time ago were that Dorna and Ezpeleta need to sit down and figure out what their vision is for the series. Right now, it looks like they are chasing shadows.