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GP Week : Issue 153
OPINION 21 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Racing’s Luddites rejoiced at Nicky Hayden’s bizarre predicament at Estoril. Here was proof for their cause: that electronics ruin racing. Hayden’s race was indeed ruined when his on-bike electronics mistook his position on the track. Current MotoGP systems constantly adjust engine responses to match track location – full power on straights, something gentler in a tight chicane. Hayden’s Ducati did all this, but in the wrong places, making his bike a slug in a straight line and a dangerous handful elsewhere. “They should ban all electronics,” went the cry. “Give racing back to the riders.” Quickly followed by the invariable proviso: “Except those electronics essential for safety.” There are several flaws in this argument, the most basic being to wilfully ignore the nature of motorbike racing. The Luddites see it as a sport. But that is not the whole truth: it is a motor sport. The technology is an essential element. T’was ever thus, and always will be. Another is the need for that proviso. Top riders repeatedly call for less electronic intervention. The best and most vocal of them by any current measure is Stoner, but even he admits basic wheelie and wheelspin control are essential. With output approaching 300 horsepower all going through that little rear tyre contact patch, the bikes would other wise be extremely dangerous. Turning to the practical, if only basic electronics are to be permitted, who will determine the parameters, and how will they be policed? At present only three factories are competing; each has a different engine configuration requiring different ECU maps. And factory-level racing on two and four wheels is full of stories of how devious tech-heads found abstruse ways of circumventing electronic restrictions. As usual, it’s a matter of budget – teams of clever electronics engineers don’t come cheap. If there was a lesson from Hayden’s bewildered ’bike, it is that location-sensitive software is not faultless and needs further development. Racing is, along with the military, one of few places where this development is taking place in quite this way. This was just the latest in a series of lessons. Won’t happen again. “Ah” , Mr Ludd and his cohorts respond. “It’s information only useful for racing. Nothing to do with street bikes.” How can anybody possibly know that? Anti-wheelie and wheelspin control and rider-adjustable ECU mapping have already gone from race-track to street. Real-world mapping gets rapidly more sophisticated. Already there are in-car systems that relate location to road maps, and will swivel the headlights obligingly for you as you approach a corner. Dorna’s quest to boost the sporting side of racing concentrates on simplifying technology to reduce costs. Luddites to a man – although to be fair Dorna’s duty is to make a profit for its shareholders, rather than act as curator to the purity of the sport. The science is already suffering. And until the money side improves will continue to suffer. Will grand prix racing ever be able to afford to get back to its real truths? Will the Luddites let it? * Luddites, named after Ned Ludd, were members of a labour movement in England in the early 19th century, smashing factory textile mills and looms in the mistaken belief that new machinery would reduce rather than increase employment opportunities. OPINION MICHAEL SCOTT MotoGP Editor Now there's a case for electronics – Rossi and Hayden on snow ... 'MR LUDD' GOES RACING ...