KTM MotoGP Tech Director Sebastian Risse Interview, Part 2: On Using Rider Feedback To Develop A MotoGP Bike

In part two of our interview with Sebastian Risse, KTM MotoGP Technical Director, I talked to Risse about the precise process of developing the bike, and balancing rider input with simulations based on race and testing data. Risse also talks about the role Dani Pedrosa has played in helping to move the bike forward, and the work for 2020. And he responds to the rumors that KTM is interested in hiring Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna to lead the MotoGP project.

You can read the first part of this interview here.

Q: When people talk about developing the bike, about how a rider develops the bike, can you explain the process of how that works? You talk to the riders, but you also talk to the engineers. Can you give examples of what the riders are saying and how you interpret that with what you know to do about the bike?

Sebastian Risse: I think overall we have two main loops. The one is you bring maybe ten test items to the track and the rider has to sort out what suits him. Either for his particular problems that he has on this track, or for having in mind on this track this problem is not such a priority, but I know it would help me on another track and it doesn’t hurt me here so I take it anyway. So this kind of a selection process to be clear in this, I think it’s naturally shaping the character of the bike towards the rider.

Then the other thing is to come to these test items, you need first the input from the rider. Okay, what are you looking for? Then you need to understand what you need to do on the engineering side to achieve this. I think to a big extent this is trial and error, not in terms of I don’t know anything and I just make a lot of versions, but I make a clever plan of trying different directions, trying to find this sweet spot that is exactly fixing this problem and learning from this, building up a database. The more you have done this, the more accurately you can hit it the next time without a big test plan. Then of course this you can also support by analysis, vehicle-dynamic simulations on the data side, so on the simulation side, on test track side at home, and this altogether has to work and has to bring the bike forwards. That’s how we see it.

Q: What I love about motorcycles is they are so complex, because of the way that they work in three dimensions and not two. Everything you do on the bike changes the behavior of the bike. So how accurate are the simulations that you use? How much progress do you expect to be in that area?

SR: From my experience, the more specific a simulation is the more accurate results you can get out of it. So if you are looking to understand a certain mechanism, you don’t need the perfect simulation of the whole bike. You need something that represents and maybe even simplifies this mechanism. Then you can work on the mechanism and then transfer it to the whole bike.

I think nobody is able at the moment to make a simulation model of the whole bike, especially together with the rider. Because for example when you look at free multi-body simulations, the rider also needs to be simulated. This is actually the biggest headache of the simulation. To bring the bike then artificially to this limit where you’re looking for, is a bigger job than to simulate the bike. So if you have a certain amount of resources, it’s a lot of times better to see how you can reproduce that mechanism without having a perfectly simulated rider.

Q: Sometimes it’s better to focus on the detail rather than the big picture, because in the end the rider will make too much of a difference, almost?

SR: Yes. And in very general terms we try to feed the simulations and run the simulations as much as possible using track data. So on track we can observe how the bike really behaves, and this is then our target to reproduce something and then to touch it in a simulation and bring it back.

Q: So you are using the track data as a baseline and testing the simulation data against it to verify it?

SR: To come to the result first.

Q: Talking about riders, what about Dani Pedrosa? Mike Leitner once said to me about Dani Pedrosa, he was so sensitive as a rider one of the reasons for hiring him and for hiring Mika also, was because they were small, they were very, very sensitive. They couldn’t use their body to manipulate the bike, so they had to control it much more with using their inputs. How much difference does having Dani as a test rider make?

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Great questions. And i love it when the interviewee actually answers your questions with real thought - not just avoidance and words. A top 3 interview. I love the conflict of his strict engineering mind looking for process yet having to be pragmatic and flexible. I work with Engineers and it takes a special engineer to be adaptive.

It is interesting reading about Pol ‘dilemma’. I remember when he and Brad Smith were on the Tech 3 Yam he was on the ragged edge with a complete (early) Moto2 style backing it in while Brad was a wheels-in-line traditional rider like a Lorenzo was. The debate at the time was essentially ‘is this a didection to be pursued by Yamaha’ because he was fast.

i’d venture to say stylistically there are more Non-Pol riders. So while he is currently giving them their best results, is his style the one to develop towards? No disrespect to him intended (i have a lot of respect for him. Huge heart, brave and seemingly good dude).  

Sounds a bie like KTM are looking to build a V4 Yamaha that is faster than Honda. 

Pretty much like everyone else. A bike that can be pushed hard and returns better results, but is easy enough to ride, more riders can do well enough on it. 

That would bode well for both rider and team championships.

Car drivers can't move around much, they are only a few % of the total vehicle mass and they don't affect aerodynamic much in open wheelers and not at all in the other forms.
None of this is true in motorcycle racing. The factories are paying for simulations, but how do they simulate a rider like Casey, or Vale (who popularised the leg off the peg style of braking) or especially MM ?
There may never be a "perfect" motorcycle because the rider can change so much, and if it would help, I suspect MM would find a way of standing on the side of the bike while facing backwards and stabbing everyone else in the eye with a fork !

Thanks for the execellent interviews and information, David and everyone else in the motomatters team !

{can we please have a new T-shirt to buy ? My "fast things come from the east" one is wearing out !}