Sam Lowes Speaks: Part 2 - On The Value Or Otherwise Of Data, And Of Following Your Own Direction

Data – the reams of information logged by a vast array of sensors on a racing motorcycle – is a contentious issue in MotoGP. Riders differ in their approach to it. Mika Kallio, for example, has a reputation for being a demon for data, wading through his own data after every session. Other riders pay less attention, preferring to let their data engineers, sort the data out from them, and examine their data together.

Sam Lowes is one of the latter. In the long conversation which we had with him at Austin – see yesterday's installment on the 2015 Speed Up here – Lowes discussed the role of data, and his use of it, at length. Though all of the riders using the Speed Up chassis have access to each other's data (it is common practice for all manufacturers to share data among their riders), Lowes sees little use in looking at the data of other riders.

"I've never looked at other people's data," Lowes told the small group of journalists who spoke to him on the Thursday before the race at Austin . "I've never looked at anyone's. Just because, well, it's not a motorbike is it? I look at my data with my guys, but I wouldn't look at anyone else's. Maybe if Márquez was set next to me I'd have a quick glance over …" he joked.

Lowes did not believe that the data from other Speed Up riders would be of much use to him. "Not taking anything away from Julian Simon and Ant West, but if they're quicker than me here, I won't go look at their data."

The reason was simple: Lowes believes that it is important to follow your own program over the course of a race weekend, rather than confusing yourself with what other people are doing. "I've got my plan with my team, my direction. If I'm struggling in one area, I'll look at that area, but at my own data. For example, I need to work a bit on corner entry, but that's on me, looking at my data, not theirs [Simon's and West's]. I can't put any time or effort into understanding what their data means out on track. For me, that's for the guys to look at, make sure the bike's working good, telling me how it's working, what I can look at myself. But I don't see the track on a computer."

That's not to say that Lowes sees no value in examining data. "I like the data, and it helps me. It helps me set up the bike good, and it helps me if I'm unsure about things, so it's very very important." But Lowes uses data in a very specific way, examining his own riding through the data. "For me, I wouldn't use it to compare rider to rider. That's now how I use it. I use it to fine tune my package and my direction, and if that's not going good, then come back and go another way, not go their way. Unless someone is on the same bike as me and is two seconds a lap faster, I won't look at the data. I'll just look at the settings and get the team to make the bike the same, not look at what another rider is doing here or there. People are different, and I'm 100% not saying my way is right, some people look at it a lot. But for me, I don't want to be going out of pit lane thinking about what it looks like on a computer. Thinking oh, you've got to think about this or that."

One of the reasons Lowes does not like the emphasis on data is because it is separated from the feeling he has when riding on the track. It can be hard to separate the signal from the noise. "It's so hard to see 0.2 [seconds a lap] on the computer. There's not many people in this class who are losing 0.2 in one corner. So it's hard to see it in a corner, but even put my corners and Warokorn's corners together, and he's probably losing 0.1 in every corner. But you can't see that on the data."

The subtleties revealed by the data are almost impossible to translate into practice out on track. "Oh look, Simon brakes 3 meters later than you here," Lowes joked. "How can that help me? You try and tell me 3 meters at 150mph, you've got no chance."

What is visible is the riding style, the different approach each rider takes to racing, and that was something which Lowes felt could be useful. "What you can see a little bit is the style of riding," Lowes said. "But you change your style by doing it gradually, doing it step by step. And you know what you need to do. Like I know that I have to be different with the clutch. Last year, I knew I had to be more aggressive with the brake, because last year I had a delay between closing the gas and getting on the brake, it was 0.2, 0.3. 0.1 if I was brave. And I knew that was wrong. But with the [World Supersport Yamaha] R6 that I rode [the year before], with the electronics, you got away with it. Now, I have no delay at all. And last year, I was using 6 or 7 Bar of pressure, now I use 10 or 11 if it's a straight line braking section. I knew that I had to change that, and I worked on it and changed it. But looking at someone's data wouldn't have helped me." Lowes emphasized that this was his own experience, and he was not advocating one approach or another. "With some people, it helps them a lot and maybe I should do more, but it's just not my bag really. Just ******* do it and go play golf after!" he joked.

Throughout, Lowes was at pains to emphasize that he recognized the value of data, but that he felt he had to use it in a way that was meaningful to him. Each rider is different, he kept saying, each has their own approach, and his was to concentrate on his own riding, trying to find his weaknesses and improve those using data, rather than try to copy someone else's style by looking at their data.

"Don't get me wrong, I try to do everything I can to improve my riding, but I do it in my way," Lowes said. "For example, I never follow anyone to do a fast lap, I just try to work on myself and see what happens. Last year, I did follow some riders, but it was because I was 28th and three seconds off the pace, and I needed to see the light at the end of the tunnel." For every rule, there are always exceptions.

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When I read this quote from Lowes ...

Last year, I knew I had to be more aggressive with the brake, because last year I had a delay between closing the gas and getting on the brake, it was 0.2, 0.3. 0.1 if I was brave. And I knew that was wrong. But with the [World Supersport Yamaha] R6 that I rode [the year before], with the electronics, you got away with it.

... I thought, "Surely the electronics on a Moto2 bike are years ahead of Supersport bikes." Nope. From the MotoGP site:

Moto2™ rules allow for data loggers, ECU and timing transponders supplied by the organiser, with a maximum total cost of the ECU's components set at 650 euros. No other electronic control nor datalogging systems are allowed on the bikes.

Wow. And now that I know this it makes the contentious and expensive electronics in MotoGP seem just a little more absurd.

"For every rule there are always exceptions"

A step further perhaps. Today's solution is tomorrow's problem. This is the nature of things with the longer view, which may be held within the immediate awareness as well. The nature of evolution is dialectical.

You've got to love Sam, and whomever primarily facilitated this discussion w him. Great work!

An appropriate quote in regards to data collection...
The particular brand of stupidity on display also points to another signal vanity of our time: the conviction that if you measure things enough, you can control them. --James Kunstler

How close to Lowes's bike spec West's is. Ant West's perpetual issue seems to be that he never has a machine under him capable of running at the front. If he's got the same support Lowes has It would be interesting indeed.