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GP Week : Issue 35
Is racing design disappearing up its own exhaust port? Michael Scott MotoGP editor BEAUTY is in the eye of the beholder, runs the old cliché. Different people may have different ideas as to why motorcycle racing is beautiful. My own has always been the closeness of racing bikes to road bikes – the control equations are the same, the appearance is even similar. And the engineering cross-over likewise. This made the switch from those delicious 500cc two-strokes to the relatively lumbering 990cc ‘diesels’ easier to accept. It brought the top class of GP racing closer to the realities of the street. And the developments were valid. Even (perhaps especially) in the much- derided electronics, like traction control, aimed at calming the excesses of power. They have a direct relevance on the street, and are already being used. We will see more of the same. And there are others, ranging from Yamaha’s so-called Big Bang crankshaft configuration to multi-compound tyres. Thus it was a bit alarming, at Yamaha’s technical presentation in Valencia, to hear top factory staff describe the developments to the M1 engine this year as being purely for racing technology. They back-pedalled a bit when they realised what this meant, pointing to the new road R1, which has the same crankshaft configuration and off-beat firing intervals developed to turn the M1 racer from also-ran to championship winner. But by then it was too late. Yamaha had pointed to two significant things that reduced internal engine friction for this year. One was revised crankshaft lubrication, but the main one is pneumatic valve springs (not, please, pneumatic valves … they are something quite different, if they exist at all, and more to do with things like the Comprex supercharger or the reverse pressure waves that two-strokes generate with expansion-chamber exhausts). This is not new technology, having been used in F1 for well over a decade, Yamaha pointed out. But it has no more relevance to street bikes than to road-going cars. One problem, they said, was the high maintenance required. The same may not be true of the other advance: oil feed to the centre of the crankshaft rather than one end. This reduces the oil pressure required, and cuts internal loading on the pump in the process. But they didn’t say so. The implications are a little alarming. It means that MotoGP design is following that of F1, on a one-way street leading directly up its own orifice. Racing design for the sake of racing alone. Perhaps that’s inevitable. Perhaps it’s no bad thing, if you are not looking to racing for some greater value. But it does beg another question, for which Yamaha had no really good answer – if racing bikes are to exist purely for themselves and in their own interests, why then did they ever kill off the 500 two-strokes? 22 opinion