Jonathan Rea On The Difference Between MotoGP And WSBK Electronics: "It Is Such A Huge Part Of MotoGP"

The chance to substitute in the Repsol Honda team for the injured Casey Stoner was a great opportunity for Jonathan Rea to get a feel for a MotoGP bike and demonstrate his talent and potential, objectives in which he succeeded admirably. But it was also a chance for MotoGP journalists to grill the Ulsterman on the differences between various aspects of MotoGP and World Superbikes, Rea having shown he was both fast enough to feel the difference, smart enough to understand the difference and articulate enough to explain it to reporters.

At Aragon, the subject turned to electronics, and the difference between the systems used in the two series. The topic was broached as Rea was explaining what had happened to him during the race. He had got caught up cycling through the various electronics strategies the Honda RC213V is equipped with, looking for one that would help him as the tire wore throughout the race. A lack of dry track time getting to understand how the electronics affected the bike as the tires begin to wear left him confused and struggling to find a setting that would work, Rea told reporters.

"During the race I exhausted all the options on my bike with electronics," Rea said speaking on Sunday night. "I was playing a lot with traction control settings, also mapping changes and engine brake changes. To be honest, it got to the point where I was just confused and I had to just open the throttle and do my best, pick the line. It was just one of those things that a race can teach you, when the tire drops down, when the fuel load drops down, how you need to work with the bike. With more time I can understand but for a huge part of that race I was a little bit confused whether I was doing the right thing with the buttons or the wrong thing."

Rea was asked exactly what he was looking for, more traction control or less, to help him get to the end of the race. He answered that the confusion was caused by the differences between the bikes and the tires in the World Superbike and MotoGP series. "The [traction control] strategies work completely differently," Rea explained. "In World Superbike during the race, normally I would flip the traction control to let the electronics have more control. In effect, basically you're trying to save the tire at the end of the race. Here it works the opposite way, where you have to reduce the traction control and let the bike spin more, because the engine is slowing the bike down too much," Rea said.

The problem arose about halfway through the race, Rea explained. "Around half race distance, I took a lot of traction control off the bike, but then I was sliding around too much, so I put it back on. Then I was like 'Shit, I'm going no faster, so just take it off and spin.' In the end, we finished the race on quite a low setting. That worked OK, but it's the opposite way from Superbike and it was hard to get it into my head."

Reporters wanted to know whether it was the number of options which had confused Rea, or just the fact that the two series required diametrically opposed approaches. "For sure you have more options on a GP bike," Rea replied, "but I was confused because I knew which way I should go, but the lap time difference wasn't a lot, and I didn't understand is this actually better or is it making it worse? Instead of pinpointing my lines, I was in a rhythm, but to get closer to Bautista I was trying a lot of different things which meant my race was very inconsistent. Sometimes I would miss the apex, or run wide, but it's because I'm trying different things with my style to learn."

Rea went on to explain that the range of electronics strategies were virtually unlimited in MotoGP, and that it needed a lot of experience to understand what works best as the race progresses. "Electronically, in MotoGP, the possibilities are endless," Rea said. "With all the wet sessions, I haven't been able to fully understand exactly what happens when the tire really goes down. In the qualifying sessions we had in Misano and Aragon, you don't have time to put in 20 laps and try to understand what the traction control is doing, because you're fighting for a grid position. Brno was like learning to ride a bicycle again, so I don't classify that as a test. The one-and-a-half days we did here, that was when I practiced riding a MotoGP bike, but still for me, I've a lot to learn. "

"But the main differences are the possibilities of the electronics. In Superbikes I feel that with those electronics, the rider can make a much bigger difference. You can see for example on my bike, where our strategies aren't so sophisticated in Superbike I can still be quite competitive. But here the electronics is a huge part because we have such a strong engine that you need good electronics to be able to finish the race with still grip left on the tire. This was the hardest thing for me to understand, you can't teach this without doing race distance. For sure if I was to do this again, I would spend a lot more time on old tires and putting more and deeper thought into the electronics and understanding that."

Rea was asked if would like to have the MotoGP electronics on his Ten Kate Honda CBR1000RR World Superbike machine. Unsurprisingly, Rea's was enthusiastic about the idea. "Yes, I think I can learn a lot from how this is working," he said. "You know, HRC is a very smart company and the strategies they have inside the ECUs, it's cutting edge, it's something you can't just buy. We need to learn exactly how they're doing this. When you have an ECU or you buy an electronics system, you buy it in a box, but it's only as good as the little guy in the factory or the ECU programmers put inside, and that's where we really suffer in Superbikes. So we need a much more sophisticated system. On the plus side, what I think, and I've told my engineers, is I think the Superbike has a much easier drive off the corner. It feels like when I open the throttle on this bike not much happens directly, where on the Superbike I feel a lot more connection between the throttle and the rear tire. There's pluses and minuses, but for sure we can learn a lot from this paddock."

Was the difference in the throttle connection feeling down to the extra horsepower of the MotoGP bikes or the differences between the spec Pirelli tires used in World Superbikes and the MotoGP Bridgestones, Rea was asked. "For sure we have less horsepower in Superbikes, but we can use a lot more horsepower at less percentage of the throttle. I think that's a lot because we don't rely on the electronics so much, because you have to keep the tire here, so."

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First he says

"In World Superbike during the race, normally I would flip the traction control to let the electronics have more control."

Then he says

"In Superbikes I feel that with those electronics, the rider can make a much bigger difference"

Eh? In GP there's guys like Stoner who use very little electronics and then guys like Lorenzo that utilise them more (judging from his throttle trace), and then someone like Pedrosa seemingly somewhere between. OK there's more variety of electronic options in GP but maybe Rea just needs to find a set up that works for his style rather than making blanket statements.

not a blanket statement. He was asked a question and he answered it as best he can, with his opinion. I think what his answers do point out is that there is no right or wrong set up, no black and white, but many more than 50 of shades of grey in between (ooops - sorry). It is also not surprising that he sounds to contradict himself when in his 'normal' world TC goes up as the race goes on, and in this new world TC goes down, and no doubt a host of other variables act in opposite ways. I think he did a fantastic job (in only his second race I believe he was lapping faster than a recent podium man on almost the same bike), and shows great honesty and humility to admit how difficult it was.

Rea did a proper job trying to explain the differences between the 2 series' machinery! But you would have to be a racer to fully understand what he means. We mere mortals can say ok i get what he means... but not really! I think the electronics on the MotoGP bike dulls the connection or 'feel' of what the bike is doing through the tires to the ground. Maybe this is why Casey Stoner prefers to run with less electronic aids and uses his wrist as his traction control. It seems that Rea does the same with his CBR1000rr in WSB. MotoGP electronics are more of a safety issue to control the horsepower for the riders... if they cut the horsepower... the electronics could be simplified? That's my thought on it but I must say that Rea did an awesome job on the RCV and I hope he moves to MotoGP when Dani retires!

Make the tyres last longer / more stable over the period of a race, and the need for complicated electronics strategies will be less.

So the question is : what is more important, a close running field like Moto3, or cutting edge tech ?

Yes it has come a long way, from a carbureted Yamaha M1 just 10 years ago. And that technology has been productive for the street. But how much further does it need to be taken?

MotoGP needs more viewers. So.. my vote goes for exciting racing.

The manufacturers have had their roll, time to pass the dice.

Very nice to get the insight straight from the horse's mouth. I am puzzled by the fourth paragraph, though. I understand what he says about WSBK; turn the TC on and you save the tires better. But can somebody please explain what Rea means when he says: "Here [motogp] it works the opposite way, where you have to reduce the traction control and let the bike spin more, because the engine is slowing the bike down too much,"? Is he still referring to saving the tires or does he mean that TC in motogp slows you down so it ain't worth it? If the latter holds, is this caused by the tire difference which dominates over the difference in power between bikes from the two classes? Or have I missed something?

Rea figured he could go faster with less aid, spinning up the rear using all the available power, unharnessed and hoping the tire lasts. I think what he is saying is that the GP bike have too big a drop off in power when the aids go up and this kills acceleration and of course the lap times. Traction control in WSBK may be utilized by different means altogether, or in a similar fashion but to a much lesser extent. He pretty much said as much when he mentioned that when you hit the throttle on a GP bike with the aids up, not much happens. Yes, the tire degradation seem to be a big factor. But, the riders asked for this after the last couple years of Bridgestones taking too long to heat up and having the ability to go two or three races on one set! Always a compromise or balance to find....not easy to do.

Rea's comments are very interesting and give exactly the insight David tried to obtain.
It raises questions for me about just how necesary the sophistication he describes is for Honda product R&D/training development engineers.
So much of this seems to be around tuning the output to optimise tyre performance rather than improving real efficiency that benefits product.
I thought that he was quite clear about being confused (!).
The gist of it appears to me that a Pirelli gets slower if you spin it whilst a BS needs abuse (more spin) after a certain point to get best performance.
The interesting issue is why don't we see more highsides at the end of MGP races if this is what is happening? Perhaps its the degree of slip - enough to slide/heat the tyre but not enough to reduce traction and generate enough spin to launch it. Perhaps this grip optimisation works in reverse for real-world ABS and for traction control.....the difference between 'cheap' and good ABS on road cars is a major step in terms of steering control/stability plus reduced stopping distance. Honda's bike C-ABS seems to be one of the best too. If a bike could avoid a slip on diesel/polished wet ashphalt/ loose dressing etc the real benefits would make a lot of riders backsides relax.(I appreciate a lot of that is around the front tyre but accelerometers/gyros should be able to measure that and could be what these bikes are using too - although it doesn't seem to work just yet on cold BS's....).
BUT - do we want this in racing? It seems that exactly this 'sophistication' is what is driving a wedge of time between the factories/satellites/CRT's and, whilst it may be good R&D, I would prefer it if they let the riders have some highside protection but leave the rest to their right wrist.
If this is what 'prototype' means then we seem to be beyond useful tech and just crushing the opposition with software skills. Yamaha too seem unwilling to give up what they must see as their key advantage and have their software constrained in a spec ECU.
Perhaps the authorities do need to take control of the prison again.
It's certainly not spoiling the racing in BSB, where the bikes are 'dumber' than WSB and most of the concerns over the rules seem not to have come to pass, whilst it's cheaper and more teams can run at the front. This year, with a spec ECU and limits on what the teams can do with the software, previously second-string teams have been able to run at the front and win races and the younger riders have really added some exciting racing/perked up the more experienced riders.
Moto 2/3 has shown that standard equipment can still make for exciting racing and even if they are less powerful than supersport bikes I cannot say that I notice during the race.
Modern bikes must have modern tech - but not to the detriment of the number of bikes on the grid and the ability of any good team to podium.

All I'm hearing is a Superbike gives the rider more direct control and influence, while a GP bike has that many more engineers, bells and whistles that make for faster lap times... and boring (if blazing fast) racing.

It's clear Jonny is excited and obviously wants to delve in and explore this new world, can't blame him, I would be excited by all the tech and glitz too. But as a fan, none of this invisible-nannying improves the show.

I keep reading a lot how the bikes have numbed the show for the sake of the factories technology advancement... While this is true, to a point, no doubt... don't forget about who is riding these bikes...

If you take the current GP grid, give them all the exact same equipment, you are still going to see Dani, Jorge, and Casey pull out into a string of riders (most of the time) pulling their inch-perfect laps, and creep away from the rest of the field.

The rest of the field will be very similar to what we see now... Some minor scrapping, some decent battles, and little TV time.

Think if you gave WSBK a grid full of GP bikes. The racing would be a lot more exciting than GPs, with a lot more passing. I don't think they ride quite as precise as the GP boys.

I think it has as much, if not more, to do with the current crop of riders in GPs attributing to the racing we're seeing, than the bikes they're riding. They have evolved the sport into the next generation of riding style. Us old fogies better get used to it (at the top level anyway)

There is some truth behind this. It was mentioned this weekend by Gavin Emmett that Cal Crutchlow stated, The hardest part about MotoGP? "Not making mistakes".

Though, Casey Stoner's bike (and 2nd tier Michelins) in 2006 hid his talent almost well enough to keep him off a factory bike. If not for his over riding, he may never had gotten noticed.

Has anyone noticed how Jonathan Rea seems to be at the center of on-track incidents in the races he participates in? Look at WSBK and MotoGP this year; he is either the cause or part of the aftermath nearly every time.