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|01-31-2016, 07:20 PM||#1|
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Ramon Forcada: Less electronics, more riding
Photo courtesy of Yamaha Racing
Jorge Lorenzo's crew chief Ramon Forcada (right) has seen the majority of changes in MotoGP, but he feels that the change to Michelin tires and the spec ECU will be the most dramatic change yet.
New tires, new electronicsÖThe new MotoGP technical regulations, along with the Marquez / Rossi "soap opera", are the big topic of the 2016 season and perhaps even the whole year. The new electronics are a step backwards, but it is in the racing world, a step back in one area means a step forward in another.
But it was obviously necessary to also ask those who will work directly with the new regulations: the technicians. And there is no better technician to speak with than Ramon Forcada, Jorge Lorenzoís crew chief and track engineer, who incidentally shares the three MotoGP titles with the Spaniard. Ramon is also one of the most experienced technicians in the paddock, having lived through every kind of change in MotoGP. For him, the new regulations are just another modification in a string of many transformations.
It is his seniority and experience that makes Forcada a pragmatic man, able to ignore the nonsense and get to the point. For this reason you should read his view of what awaits us in 2016 very carefully.
Accept the new reality
At the moment, after the first training before the winter break, the expectations are that a transition period lies ahead in which engineers must learn to get the most out of what is available: the new spec ECU. "We are also speculating!" Is the first thing that Ramon Forcada declares when asked about all the speculation and hearsay that is going on. "Because until we have the final version, we wonít know exactly how it will be. I think, based on what we know so far and as the evolution of electronics goes, riders will have to get used to them. We'll have to explain or demonstrate that there are things that simply cannot be done."
Forcada is very clear that the riders have to accept that they will have to let go of what they had, that is, that a certain level of assistance that was taken for granted will be gone. "Clearly, no one likes to go backwards or give up something they relied on. But Iím not just talking about racing, in life in general! In this sense, the new format is definitely a step backwards in the technology...but could be a step forward regarding the show and the competition," Forcada stated, clearly based on the view from his long experience, where he has seen that an advance in one area usually involves letting go of something else in another.
The right wrist back in control
It sounds good: new electronics mean more equality, in other words: more competitiveness. We're talking, of course, about the level of the bikes. "If we are going to be just as competitive depends on more than just the electronics," warns Ramon. "What will happen is that the differences that may exist between Honda and Yamaha, or between Suzuki and Yamaha, wonít have anything to do with electronics; the electronics wonít make a difference."
Up to this point, racing electronics had been a major competitive factor because each brand developed its own electronics, for their riders and for the bikes. Now the electronics wonít be evolving, or at least developing them will be difficult because any changes will have to go through Magnetti Marelli and be in accordance with Dorna and all of the manufacturers together.
ďFor example, adding a sensor to a specific brand of motorcycle would first require approval from the other manufacturers, and any developing would have to be funded by those requesting it," says Forcada. "When the rider asks for more or for a change, they will need to learn how to hear Ďwe canít do anything moreí and they will have to adapt, and will have to learn how to cut the gas themselves as everyone else did their whole lives, and it wonít be anything new," exclaims the master technician, a smile at the edge of his lips. What he means, in short, is less electronics, more riding.
"For those who have only lived in the era of electronics, yes it will be a step back. For those who were around during the time of the two-strokes, they will get to be reunited with something they already know. Back then there was no electronics and throttle control was everything, and it will be something similar; not completely, but very similar and equally important."
The Michelin factor
Nicola Goubert, engineer heading the return of Michelin to the GPs, said yes, he is aware that they have to improve the performance of the front tire, but that everyone has to do their homework. That it wonít be Michelin who is going to solve every existing problem. Riders and teams also have their job to do in adapting to a new the new status quo.
"I completely agree. Itís exactly like what I just explained regarding the electronics,Ē agrees Forcada. "When you change the feeling of such an important thing as the front tire, itís difficult. Especially when you go from a tire that gives you a lot of information to one that gives you a lot less. The problem is not that itís better or worse, the problem we have encountered is the lack of information before crashing. This really is a major problem.Ē
ďItís a problem that has to be solved by the riders adapting to the tire characteristics, and also the factories. The problem is that if a tire that does not offer information, you never know where the limit it. It's simple, Iíll explain it: if you can pass the limit without any feedback that you are about to do so, which is not normally the case, well then the normal human reaction is to leave a margin for error. And then what happens? Well, if you're leaving a margin that is too large, there is possibility to go faster," explains Forcada, as clear as water from his perspective.
An additional problem
By now it's clear that the tire problems are limited to the front. Nobody has spoken about the rear Michelin thus far, which means that it works and appears to be fine. Because in racing, when no one is talking about something, it means there are no problems. Coming off a tire so good they could almost forget about it (the Bridgestone front), the riders are now encountering a tire that they have to think about and pay attention. This means an additional worry during racing. "Yes, exactly, with Bridgestone the rear didnít put the front in crisis because the front was better. Now the situation is reversed."
During our conversation Forcada reminded me that despite all the criticism of Michelin front tire, in testing thus far the tires have performed near the record times. "So we shouldnít be too bad off," he speculates. "What is not normal is that when testing new tires with different rims, with different sizes, we are in times that are the same as from a tire weíve been using for six years...look at the data."
"What you have to remember is the front is one more thing to think about. But for me, the tire is the thing between the bike and the ground...Look, it's a bit like a two-stroke exhaust, which canít turn a bad engine into a good engine, but you can destroy a good engine if it isnít correct. A tire will not help at all, but you need it."
A new bike for a new era
Conscious of the new situation, Yamaha engineers have made a new bike for the Michelin era. Meaning a new M1, not a modified 2015 bike. And according to Forcada, "we made a new bike based on what the new tires need."
And now that? Now itís time to see whether the theories gathered from data collected in tests with the Michelin tires works in practice. "Yes, we have to test the bike now, to prove that it works with this tire. Itís more or less what we had in Valencia, but that bike was a prototype. Now we have to see if the direction Yamaha has taken, which is different from the one we used so far, is correct or not, whether it is sufficient or not.
"Basically, whenever you work with tires what you do is to change the weight distribution, there are no secrets. You can make a whole bike, but what you do is change the weight distribution, static and dynamic. You can make a bike long so that it transfers very little to the front so that it doesnít load the front under braking, or do it short and high to load the front a lot because thatís is what you need. This we will see."
One final note: In racing, the values they work with when talking about geometry are in millimeters. But with this new motorcycle designed by engineers in Iwata, the variations are handled centimeters, which goes to show how different the 2016 M1 is from its predecessor, and indicate the questions that lie ahead for the technicians. 2016 is going to be a fascinating season.
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