Unless you are an avid Formula 1 fan, the acronym KERS won't mean very much to you. The Kinetic Energy Recovery System, to give it its full title, is a system that stores energy generated by braking (either in the form of electrical charge, or in the form of a spinning flywheel), to be used to give a power boost at a later point in the race. The system was conceived by the FIA as a sop to the environmentalists who have been a thorn in F1's side for many years.
Fitting such a system to cars is an interesting proposition, and should not be too difficult, given the fact that it would take up relatively little space and weight on a four-wheeled vehicle. Motorcycles, it was generally felt, were less in need of such a system, as the weight and space penalty would far outweigh the benefits in terms of free energy. Add to this the relatively excellent fuel efficiency of motorcycles, and KERS would seem to be complete overkill on a motorcycle.
And yet from the testing done by the 125cc class at Valencia earlier this week comes some fascinating news, and an insight into why racing motorcycles might be the perfect platform for such a KERS system. The Spanish magazine SoloMoto is reporting that KTM has been testing an electrical KERS system on their 125cc race bike for the past few months, even giving the system an outing at the final Grand Prix of 2008 at Valencia, where Japanese rider Tommy Koyama shot off the line from 15th on the grid gaining 8 or 9 places, before nearly crashing and losing them all back again. Koyama went on to finish 7th, the KERS system apparently boosting his top speed down Valencia's long front straight.
Last week at Valencia, Marc Marquez tested the system further. Bartol explained to SoloMoto how the system worked: "It's a hybrid system. Under braking, the system charges capacitors (we don't call them batteries, because a battery can't charge quickly enough during deceleration), and discharges the energy along the next straight. It gives us about 2kW extra, although we only use it when the bike is in third, fourth, fifth or sixth gear."
At first, fitting a system like KERS to something the size and weight of a 125cc GP machine seems madness (the combined weight of the rider and bike must be at least 136kg). But when you consider that 2kW is probably close to a 5% power boost for a 125 GP bike, KERS suddenly makes a lot of sense. The 125 single cylinder two-stroke engines have been raced for 30+ years now, and are pretty well developed. Horsepower gains are prohibitively expensive using basic tuning technology, so a 5% boost is a big jump.
The only downside is weight. But with a minimum combined bike and rider weight, putting it on the bike belonging to Marc Marquez, the 16 year old rider who makes Dani Pedrosa look like a giant (when Marquez debuted in the Spanish championship in 2007, he had to add 20kgs of weight to get up to the minimum combined of 136kg) means that any weight penalty will be effectively neutralized.
It will be interesting to see how - and if - the FIM responds to this development.