There's good news and bad news for the opponents of electronics in motorcycle racing from today's meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, held in Madrid in Spain. MotoGP's rule-making body met to discuss changes to the regulations for the 2011 and 2012 seasons, and electronics was one of the subjects under discussion.
But the first order of business was to rearrange practice. The changes made in the cost-cutting frenzy between the 2008 and 2009 seasons have finally been scrapped once again, and the four-practice schedule used by MotoGP for so many years before makes a welcome return. The schedule had been partially reinstated at the end of the 2010 season, with four sessions of 45 minutes replacing the three one-hour sessions which had been used for the past two seasons. Though the reception was overwhelmingly positive, the one complaint that riders had being that the 45 minute sessions left little time to make changes during the session.
That problem has now been solved, as the GP Commission has agreed to return to four one-hour sessions for the MotoGP class from 2011. The Moto2 class will see four sessions of 45 minutes on each race weekend, while the 125cc class will have two sessions of 45 minutes on Friday and Saturday morning, and two sessions of half an hour in the afternoons.
Though the MotoGP class gets more time on the track, there are still good reasons to suspect that they will not spend that time actually circulating. The six engine allocation limit remains in place for the MotoGP class, meaning that teams and riders will have to be careful about putting too much mileage on their limited supply of engines. What the extra time will allow the teams to do is to try more radical setup changes during practice, as pit crews will have more time to work on the bike both during and between sessions.
Two more minor changes were also announced, allowing generators on the grid to power tire warmers for all three classes, and switching all three classes to the MotoGP format of three riders on each row of the starting grid. The three-rider grid rows had been under discussion for some time, with safety being the main reason being put forward by the idea's proponents. They argued that the chaos that unfolded in the first turn of so many Moto2 races could be avoided if the riders were further apart at the start.
Though this is undoubtedly true, there are two arguments against making such a change. The first is the most obvious: With 40 riders on the Moto2 grid, the gap between the riders at the rear and at the front is huge, with 117 meters between the front row and the 13th row, where the 37th, 38th and 39th fastest qualifiers will start. Those extra 117 meters mean that the riders in the rear row will reach the first corner with a much higher terminal velocity than the riders on the front row, and such a speed differential throughout the grid could also cause chaos, and perhaps even more serious crashes.
The second objection is less serious, but more practical: At a track like Aragon, for example, which has a rise leading on to the start and finish straight, the riders on the rear of the grid will simply be unable to see the starting lights, as the lights at the front of the grid are hidden behind the crest of the hill. That is a problem that is relatively easily solved, but it can only be solved by the circuits spending money, and times are tough for circuits too.
But the most interesting part of the rule changes comes in the two sections concerning electronics: one single sentence about the MotoGP class, and several long paragraphs about the new Moto3 class, due to replace the two-stroke 125cc class from 2012.
To MotoGP first. At first glance, it appears that the Grand Prix Commission has finally done what so many fans have been clamouring for for so long: from 2011, GPS appears to have been banned. But the exact wording of the new rules is that the only GPS allowed to be fitted to the bikes is the unit provided by Dorna.
This is a long way from banning the GPS-based traction control that the fans had wanted. After all, the teams are merely banned from fitting their own GPS units, they are not banned from using the signals provided by the Dorna unit. There is every reason to suspect that the Dorna unit will be less accurate than the specialist items used in the top-spec electronics systems fitted to the MotoGP machines, but they will most likely be good enough to be useful.
But the really bad news is that the fans grossly overestimate the effect that using GPS has on MotoGP electronics. GPS is a quick and easy way of determining the position of the bike on the track, but it can be fairly simply replaced by using the engine and wheel speed data to calculate the bike's position accurately enough for the really useful data - camber and track slope - to be taken into account in the bike's traction control systems. The banning of GPS will have a barely noticeable effect on how the machines behave.
GPS has very little bearing on the amount of sliding and wheelying that the fans say they miss so much. The on-board accelerometers and gyroscopes have a much greater effect, the accelerometers being used to control wheelies and slides, and gyroscopes monitoring the bike's attitude, and passing that information back to the traction control system, which can then use it to manage wheel spin.
The one method that may prove an effective means of limiting electronics is the imposition of a standard ECU, the 'brains' of the machine. And this is exactly what has been imposed on the Moto3 class. The new class, which will see 250cc four-stroke singles replacing the current 125cc two-stroke singles racing in the 125 class, will have a standardized ECU supplied to all competitors.
Hopes that a spec ECU will be used to reign in the influence of electronics systems in Moto3 are in vain, however. The list of abilities that the ECU must provide include traction control, launch control, and controlling back-torque using variable engine idle. The specs issued by the Grand Prix Commission for the standard ECU basically allow a fully-fledged traction control system, and the list of requirements is not far off those of the current MotoGP machines. Teams willing to spend a lot of money on electronics strategies may yet be able to gain an advantage over less well-funded teams. But given the other limits set on the Moto3 class - a rev limit, a maximum price, and an 81mm maximum bore, the electronics could be the only way of gaining an advantage.
A spec ECU is not the only thing that will be standardized in the Moto3 class. Tenders are being requested for tires, oil and fuel supplies, as is the case in Moto2.
Below is the full text of the press release of the rule changes from the Grand Prix Commission:
FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix
Decision of the Grand Prix Commission
The Grand Prix Commission, composed of Messrs. Carmelo Ezpeleta (Dorna, Chairman), Ignacio Verneda (FIM Executive Director, Sport), Hervé Poncharal (IRTA) and Takanao Tsubouchi (MSMA), in the presence of Javier Alonso (Dorna), Claude Danis (FIM Safety Officier) and M. Paul Butler (Secretary of the meeting), in a meeting held on 09 December in Madrid(Spain), unanimously decided the following:
- Practice Time schedule:
Two days for each class.
- MotoGP: 4 sessions of 60 minutes.
- Moto2: 4 sessions of 45 minutes.
- 125cc: 2 sessions of 45 minutes (morning) and 2 sessions of 30 minutes (afternoon).
- Grid position for each class: 3 riders per row.
- Generator for tyre warmers are permitted on the grid for the 3 classes.
- In MotoGP, only the GPS provided by Dorna is permitted.
- ECU: There will be a single supplier. Proposals must be handed to the FIM and Dorna by 28 February 2011 at the latest. The final decision will be announced by the GP Commission on 19 March 2011.
See specifications below:
Requested hardware features for Engine Management:
- Single-cylinder management (2 independent fuel injectors, one ignition driver)
- Up to 14,500rpm
- At least 10 analog inputs (0-5V 10bit resolution) for analog sensors and temperature sensors
- UEGO lambda sensor input and management
- At least 4 input capture for wheel speeds and crank/cam sensors
- At least 4 ON/OFF inputs for switches
- Fuel Pump relay driver
- Stepper motor driver for throttle bypass/exhaust valve
- High speed CAN line (1Mbit/s)
- PC-ECU plug’n’play communication cable
- Internal data logger:
- At least 8Mbyte internal memory
- Not less than 200Hz max sampling frequency
- Not less than 64 max logging channels
- CAN line data download
- Ignition/injection management
- Self-mapping with lambda closed loop strategy
- Not less than 3 engine maps selectable by the rider
- Pit limiter
- Traction control
- Power shift (i.e. ignition cut-off)
- Launch control
- IDLE (i.e. engine brake) control (throttle bypass)
- Engine and strategy calibration tool
- Logger management tool
- Data download/analysis tool for logged data (2D)
- Track attendance at all events (Moto3 races and DS/IRTA tests):
- Technical assistance to all teams
- Assistance to FIM for regulations checks/enforcing
- ECU quantities: 40pcs for the 2012 season, spares stock for 5 years
- Base calibration for any engine entered to Moto3
Software equipment: Miscellanea:
- TYRES: There will be a single supplier. Proposals must be handed to the FIM and Dorna by 28 February 2011 at the latest. The final decision will be announced by the GP Commission on 19 March 2011.
- FUEL/OIL: There will be a single supplier. Proposals must be handed to the FIM and Dorna by 28 February 2011 at the latest. The final decision will be announced by the GP Commission on 19 March 2011.
Requested software strategies: