Sunday, December 2, 2012

Parsing Jerez: SBK/CRT/MotoGP

I used to think that MotoGP and World SBK went out of their way to avoid giving punters like me a chance to directly compare lap times. But the recent Jerez test, in which the world's two premier classes briefly overlapped, allowed for a nearly apples-to-apples comparison.

Let's call it apples to quinces.

Sure, the fastest SBK lap -- Laverty (Aprilia) 1:40.1 -- was a banzai effort on Pirelli qualifying tires, while Hayden's fastest lap of the test, coming a day later, was a 1:40.090 done in serious testing-for-data mode on Bridgestones. And Superbike Planet may have been correct to point out that "Jerez has never been a sweet spot for the Ducati." (Although when MotoGP raced at Jerez last April, in similar conditions, Hayden recorded essentially the same best lap, and started from third -- wouldn't that have made it his, and Ducati's, best dry qualifying session of the year?)

More to the point, while the fastest SBK bikes and riders were present in Jerez, the fastest MotoGP bikes and riders were not. I'm guessing that Lorenzo and Pedrosa, had they been present, would have put in laps in the 1:39s, just as they did when they qualified 1 & 2 there in April.

What was more interesting to me than any single best-lap stats, however, was that Melandri and Sykes were both under 1:41 on Superbikes as well. I.E., the best laps recorded by three different Superbikes at this test would have qualified ahead of Ben Spies, who was just over 1:41 on the factory Yamaha MotoGP bike last April.

Unanswered question: how much faster are the fastest MotoGP riders than the fastest SBK riders?

My point in all this is, at least in a qualifying-at-Jerez simulation, the fastest Superbikes are at least as fast as MotoGP prototypes (if the prototypes are ridden by humans, not aliens). 

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose, eh?

Ten years ago, we were kind of shocked when, during qualifying for the British Superbike Championship round at Donington Park, Steve Hislop set the outright motorcycle lap record on his Ducati Superbike, eclipsing Valentino Rossi's record set on the fire-breathing Honda 500GP two-stroke. Hizzy was a special case, but it's clear that the technological convergence of Superbikes and MotoGP bikes have resulted in a lap-time convergence, too.

Where were/are the CRT-class MotoGP bikes in all this? Last April, the fastest CRT rider was Espargo, who was four seconds off the pole. Over the course of the year, the CRT bikes in general and Espargo in particular closed the gap. At the season finale last month, Espargo was two seconds off the pole. Which is good, for what it is, although I guess the CRT experiment won't be very long-lived if Honda comes through with a promised customer MotoGP bike.

I don't want to say, "I told you so" (OK, I love saying that) but it was obvious that the CRT bikes weren't going to be faster than the Superbikes from which their engines were sourced. It's still interesting that they aren't faster. 

I mean, you're basically taking a Superbike motor and handing it to a bunch of really smart guys and saying, "Throw out the rest of the rule book; give it carbon brakes, go nuts." But at the end of the day, what they make isn't faster than a production-based bike that's fairly tightly constrained by SBK rules.

Unanswered question: How much faster are the fastest SBK riders than the fastest CRT riders, if at all?

Why haven't CRT class bikes improved on production-based SBK lap times?

  • As important as the bike is to the rider, it's not as important as the rider is to the bike.
  • Current production bikes are fucking incredible, and yes, they really are almost as fast as MotoGP bikes. This is crazy, really. Anyone with a reasonable job can afford a street bike that is almost as fast as the fastest prototype. It's as if a showroom Dodge Charger was only a few seconds a lap slower than Sebastian Vettel's F-1 car.
  • Motorcycle chassis are complex, dynamic systems. If you took all the restrictions off the chassis, you could use a Dodge Charger motor to power a car that could lap within 10% of an F-1 car. It's not so easy with bikes.
  • More than anything else, electronics -- it's your choice whether you call them 'traction control' or 'rider aids' -- have become the rate-limiting factor in motorcycle racing.

Now that Dorna controls both MotoGP and World SBK racing, it will be interesting to see how they go about packaging the two racing 'brands'. One thing is sure: the prototype class loses its raison d'ĂȘtre if it is not faster than the production-based class. With cost-control and safety concerns arguing against any changes that will make MotoGP bikes faster, the only solution in sight is making Superbikes slower.

Until they do that, they'd better avoid putting Superbikes and MotoGP bikes on track together.

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