Category Archives: Motorcycle Racing

The Changing Of An Era For MotoGP ?

Honda’s new “Open Class” production racer the RCV1000R.

The final MotoGP of the 2013 season at Valencia brought with it a remarkable conclusion to the championship, with Marc Marquez clinching the title to become the youngest ever MotoGP World Champion and the first “rookie” to do so in 35years.

There were, however, a number of other events surrounding the race that also announced the changing of an era.

Honda unveiled its RCV1000R “Open Class” racer (formerly CRT), and it is the first production racer to be sold to private teams by Honda since the NSR 500V two-stroke V-twin in 2001.  That in itself is a boost for the category, but when HRC revealed that Casey Stoner tested both bikes at Motegi on the same day, on the same tyres, and the difference between the production racer and full factory RC213V was only 0.3s,  it shone a spotlight onto what may be the future of MotoGP. More significant though, was the time set on the softer compound rear tyre only available to the ‘open’ class riders, dropping the gap down to just 0.17s!

Hiroshi Aoyama on the RCV1000R at the Valencia tests.

The production racer is a “toned down” version of the full factory RC213V. The main differences being steel sprung rather than pneumatically operated valves, and a conventional rather than seamless shift gearbox. The 1000cc 90 degree V4 engine will still produce ‘over 175KW’ (235hp) at 16,000rpm with Öhlins suspension and Nissin brakes fitted as standard.

The price tag to buy the Honda is believed to be around 1.2million euros. However, an upgrade package for 2015 means that the cost, when spread over two seasons, is likely to be approximately 800,000 euros a year, which is more in keeping with Dorna’s policy on pricing for the newly named category.

Four machines so far have been purchased; two earmarked for the Aspar Team to be ridden by 2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden and Hiroshi Aoyama. MotoGP rookie Scott Redding at the Gresini Team and Karel Abraham of the Cardion AB Team will ride the other two machines.

Nicly Hayden on the RCV1000R production racer in testing at Velencia.

Nicky Hayden on the RCV1000R production racer testing at Valencia.

Yamaha will also supply “Open Class” machinery to the NGM Forward Racing Team for both Colin Edwards and Aleix Espargaro.  This is the first time since the early 1990’s that Yamaha has offered competitive machinery for sale to private teams in MotoGP.  At that time Yamaha supplied complete engines and technical information to specialist chassis manufacturers Harris and ROC.  For the new “Open Class” Yamaha is supplying the MI engine, frame and swingarm.

Not to be left out, Ducati will also supply a complete “Open Class “ machine to the Pramac Ducati Team.

Aleix Espargro on the Yamaha production racer at the Valencia test.

Aleix Espargro on the Yamaha production racer at the Valencia test.

All of these production racers will have the benefit of 12 engines per season as opposed to 5 for the full factory prototypes and four litres more fuel, 24 compared to 20 for 2014, and there is also a greater choice of tyres for the riders as well.  All of these machines will use the officially supplied MotoGP ECU and software.

The other major event at Valencia was the “sacking” by Valentino Rossi of long-serving Crew Chief Jeremy Burgess.  The announcement was made at a press conference held on the Thursday before the Valencia MotoGP at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo.

Valentino Rossi' Crew Chief, Jeremy Burgess, talks about their parting of ways.

Valentino Rossi’ Crew Chief, Jeremy Burgess, talks about their parting of ways.

“It was my decision because we had already spoken with the team about next year,” explained Rossi. “Jeremy said that he wanted to stay. [But] Jeremy had some question marks for the future [beyond 2014], and he didn’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, just that he wanted to wait for next year [to decide].

“I also want to wait until next year, and I will decide after the first races if I want to continue. So it was more my decision and yesterday we spoke together to explain that I needed to make a change and try something different. It’s a new boost to get more motivation, so we decided to do this.

“The level now has raised a lot with the top three riders, and they are able to ride these bikes very fast and the lap time has improved a lot. It’s a great challenge for me and for us, and we know that it is difficult, but I don’t have any regrets or problems with how the team has worked and especially with Jeremy.

I know that this is a key moment because I have in mind that I want to try one time in another way and that this is the moment for that.”

After Rossi had given his reasons for the parting of ways the 60-year-old Burgess commented, “It blindsided me, and I didn’t expect it whatsoever,” he said. “I knew yesterday afternoon when Valentino invited me into his trailer that we weren’t going in there for the Christmas bonus!”

“I haven’t made any plans for the future at this stage. My intention originally was to continue next year and depending on results and desire I would make a call. We’ve been chasing rainbows for four years and haven’t nailed anything decent, and these are long periods in racing, and it becomes more difficult [to win].

“I’ve read many sports biographies, and quite often the top sportsman in the latter part of his career will have a change of caddy or a change of coach, and this is what we’re working on. We worked on fixing the problem for four years, and this is part of that fix, and this is the next step to try and get Valentino back on top.

“Obviously I’m disappointed, but I understand that some change was necessary and only history will determine the outcome of this adjustment. It’s an adjustment to improve the package for Valentino and if this does it then it’s been a success.”

Burgess added: “I prefer how this happened and think that it was a far better way to do it rather than showing up on Sunday night and just saying ‘Ciao it’s all over’.”

During their 14 seasons together Rossi and Burgess have won a record 80 Grand Prix races, using 500cc Honda, 990cc Honda, 990cc Yamaha, 800cc Yamaha and 1000cc Yamaha machinery. As a Crew Chief Burgess has won 13 MotoGP World Championships, 1 with Wayne Gardner, 5 with Mick Doohan, and 7 with Valentino Rossi since starting his career as a mechanic in the 500cc Grand Prix class with Heron Suzuki in 1980.

Indeed the end of an era.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 2013. Photographs courtesy of Repsol Honda and MotoGp.com

Archives: The Unknown Grand Prix Hero

Newcombe in full flight at the Dutch T.T. at Assen.

Before the start of the 1973 500cc Grand Prix season, the all-conquering MV Agusta team held a crushing stranglehold on the premier class.  The monopoly had lasted for 17 years, winning the championship 16 times, the last seven in the hands of the great Giacomo Agostini.  Even the might of the Honda factory with the talents of Mike Hailwood had failed to take the title away.

In 1973 it was Yamaha who decided to take up the challenge and try to become the first Japanese factory to win the blue riband class.  Yamaha’s line up was a formidable one utilising the talents of their 250cc world champion, rising Finnish star Jarno Saarinen, aboard the factory’s latest weapon; an across the frame 500cc four-cylinder two-stroke.  His team-mate was respected Japanese test rider, Hideo Kanaya.

The Italians though, proved they were not about to rest on their laurels by hurriedly building a new four-stroke 500 based on their compact 350 four.  Three times 250cc World Champion, Englishman Phil Read, was drafted into the team to ride it alongside Ago on his tried and proven triple.

But incredibly it became an unknown New Zealander, riding a home built special with an engine from a marine outboard motor, that was to be MV Agusta’s greatest threat.

Kim Newcombe was born in Nelson on New Zealand’s South Island but was brought up in Auckland where he served an apprenticeship as a motorcycle mechanic.

Like many great riders of the modern Grand Prix era, Kim’s early racing career was on dirt tracks. His passion, in particular, was motorcycle scrambling (Motocross)), even riding his Greeves scrambler to meetings when a lift wasn’t available.

Phil Read leads Newcombe at the 1973 Czehoslavakian G.P.

Phil Read leads Newcombe at the 1973 Czechoslovakian Grand Prix.

In May 1962 he was rewarded with a second place in the New Zealand Scramble Championship, which he followed up later that year with another second place in the North Island 250cc Championship.  After such encouraging results, Kim and his wife Janeen decided to sell the Greeves and move to Australia in 1963 for what would become a five-year stay.

Newcombe initially spent time in Brisbane where he raced in both scrambles and Speedway.  Kim and Janeen then moved to Melbourne, and after putting in some good rides on a home-built special (an outdated Greeves with a BSA gearbox), he received sponsorship from Bob Beanam of Modak Motorcycles in the form of a 400cc Maico.  Beanam also sponsored another rider by the name of Rod Tingate, and it was this pair that debuted the first Maico moto-cross bikes in Australia.

However, Newcombe first came across the remarkable German Konig outboard motor while he was working for Bob Jackson Marine in Melbourne.  The Konig proved to be almost unbeatable in its class of hydroplane racing, and in 1965 Kim won two Victorian Outboard Championships using the impressive two-stroke engine. In effect, it was these two West German products that would have such a profound influence on Newcombe’s future.

Kim and the Konig leads Read on the MV Agusta at the Swedish Grand Prix in 1973.

Kim and the Konig lead Read on the MV Agusta at the Swedish Grand Prix in 1973.

Having succumbed to the lure of racing Motocross in Europe, Kim arranged a job as a mechanic with Maico’s experimental department in Germany.  But the position was not available until March 1969, and as Newcombe and his wife were to arrive in Europe some eight months earlier something else had to be found. A phone call to Dieter Konig in Berlin secured Kim a job in the Konig factories experimental department, and it was here that the idea of putting the 500cc flat-four two-stroke engine into a motorcycle racing chassis jelled.

Kim found that Dieter Konig was convinced his two-stroke engines could be as successful in Grand Prix motorcycle racing as they were in hydroplane racing and Newcombe was given the resources and encouraged to develop a Grand Prix racer. But it was a German rider named Wolf Braun who had initially shown an interest in racing a Konig, fitting the outboard motor, mated to a Norton gearbox and clutch, in a modified BSA chassis and then giving the hybrid machine it’s first race.  But minor injuries and a lack of funds prevented Braun from continuing development of the Konig and the complete bike was left at the factory.

Although Kim was keen to prove his ideas about making the Konig into a competitive Grand Prix racer he had not really considered racing it himself. But towards the end of 1969, Kim decided to race the Konig. In September, after obtaining a West German national racing licence, Newcombe entered his first road race at the Avus autobahn circuit near Berlin and won! The following season saw an entirely new chassis – and Aussie Grand Prix rider John Dodds on the bike.

Again it was relatively short-lived; as a privateer, Dodds could not afford to help develop and race an entirely new machine. Newcombe would again have to ride the Konig himself.

Kim on the Kn ig at the Dutch T.T. at Assen 1973.

Kim on the Konig at the Dutch T.T. at Assen 1973.

Kim had qualified for an international racing licence for the 1972 season after winning five junior races the previous year.  His first international race was at Mettet in Belgium, but it was his performance in the selected Grands Prix which followed that showed Kim and the Konig’s real potential, their best results coming from two third places at the East and West German Grand Prix.  The mongrel motorcycle was proving very competitive, with enough power to pass Pagani’s MV on the straights.

Before the ’73 Grand Prix season had started Kim suffered several broken vertebrae in his neck due to a race crash at Hengelo in Holland.  This called for a trip to London to see a Harley Street specialist and Newcombe used the opportunity to attend the annual motorcycle show. The main purpose of this was to visit Colin Seeley with reference to making a batch of frames for Konig which Kim had designed himself.  By chance, he ran into his old friend and former teammate from Australia, Rod Tingate, who was working for Seeley.  Tingate was on the verge of leaving Seeley to have a shot at racing in the European Grands Prix.  Rod became an integral part of Newcombe’s team, racing his Yamaha TR3 when he could get a start, but mainly helping to maintain and develop the Konig.

The first race of the season was the French GP at the Paul Ricard circuit in the south of France.  The new Yamaha 500 in the hands of Jarno Saarinen dominated the event, easily beating home Phil Read on his MV, with Kanaya’s Yamaha coming in third.  Considering Newcombe was developing a new machine, learning a new circuit and progressing as a rider, fifth place in the race was creditable performance.  Agostini however, had fallen while trying to stay with Saarinen.

Yamaha took a one-two win in the freezing rain at the next round, the Austrian GP in Salzburg. Again Saarinen dominated, taking the win, while both Ago and Read failed to finish, leaving Kim to pick up a fine third place some 30 seconds in arrears.

On the Podium with Agostini (2) Read (1) and Kim (3) at Swedish G.P. at Anderstorp.

On the Podium with Agostini (2) Read (1) and Kim (3) at Swedish G.P. at Anderstorp.

In the heat at the West German GP at Hockenheim, Saarinen broke the lap record, but unfortunately also his chain.  Agostini’s MV again failed leaving Read to take the win. It was a challenging race for Kim who in front of his “home crowd” had mechanical problems and did not finish.

The next race was at Monza in Italy.  It was a Grand Prix meeting that became one of the darkest days in motorcycle sport.  During the 350 race, Walter Villa’s Benelli had broken an oil line, dumping engine oil onto the exhaust system and track.  The Benelli was not black flagged by the organisers, but Villa came into the pits on the second to last lap on his own initiative, only to be sent out again by his mechanics so he could claim fifth spot in the race.

The 250 race was started without an oil warning, and there were no oil flags being shown around the track by the organiser’s to indicate the danger.  As the leading bunch hurtled at 210kph into the first corner, the Curva Grande, Renzo Pasolini’s bike went down taking Saarinen with him and sending Kanaya into the hay bales.

The group that was closely following smashed into the debris bringing down another twelve riders. A fire broke out among the hay bales and wrecked bikes causing smoke to obscure the accident.  There was also no sign of any flag marshals to warn the riders who were on their second lap. John Dodds somehow managed to avoid the carnage and began running down the track waving his arms to warn the other riders.  Dieter Braun was leading the race, and it was only the sight of Dodds that saved him from entering the smoke at around 233kph.  Sadly both Pasolini and Saarinen were killed.  The 500 race was cancelled, and as a mark of respect, Yamaha withdrew for the rest of the season.

With the TT at the Isle of Man being boycotted by all of the top GP riders for safety reasons, the next race was the Yugoslavian Grand Prix on the dangerous street circuit at the Adriatic seaside resort of Opatija. The question of track safety again came into play when MV Agusta decided to boycott this race meeting as well. Newcombe made the most of the situation by winning the event in fine style, coming home over a minute ahead of second place man Steve Ellis and taking the lead in the Championship by four points.

Kim at work in 1973.

Kim at work in 1973.

The Grand Prix circus then moved on for the Dutch TT at Circuit van Drenthe Assen. Kim was now beginning to experience the pressure of leading the championship in his first full season of GP racing.  This showed in practice, causing an uncharacteristic crash on the technically tricky Dutch circuit, and a long night for Kim and Rod to repair the Konig. But on race day, in front of the massive crowd, Kim managed to recover from a poor start and claw his way back through the field to come home in a fighting second place.  Agostini, after setting the fastest lap of the race, was out once more with a faulty gear selector. Read again showed his class by taking first place and closing the gap to Newcombe to only one point.

Next was Belgium and the Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, another fast road circuit.  Agostini finally broke his duck by winning the race and setting an average lap speed of 206.8kmh, ahead of team-mate Read.  Newcombe was holding a safe third place when his water pump drive broke allowing expatriate Aussie Jack Findlay, on the improving TR500 Suzuki, past on the final lap.

Newcombe was now three points in arrears as they travelled once more behind the Iron Curtain to the Brno circuit for the Czechoslovakian GP.  Phil Read made a good start and led for half race distance with Ago in tow.  Kim was again in third, but his engine was only firing on three cylinders.  With just a few laps to go Bruno Kneubler caught up with him, and as they tussled out of the final corner the Konig cut in on all four cylinders spitting Newcombe off! Agostini, however, had managed to get the better of Read and notched up his second successive win.

Newcombe leads Read at the Swedish Grand Prix.

Newcombe leads Read at the Swedish Grand Prix.

Kim could see his chance at the Championship title slipping away as the Konig team moved on to Scandinavia and the Swedish GP at Anderstorp.  If there had been any doubt about Newcombe’s riding ability this race proved his worth. Newcombe took the lead for the first ten laps by pushing the Konig to its limit, using extreme angles of lean through the corners to stay ahead, until he grounded the gear lever which knocked the Konig into neutral and almost sent him spearing off the track.  Read was through in a flash to eventually beat Ago by half a second, with Kim in third place.

The Finnish Grand Prix at Imatra was almost disastrous for Newcombe.  The bumpy tree-lined circuit was made worse by dirt and damp leaves on the track, causing several excursions up the escape roads with the Konig scrambling for traction in the turns and under brakes. At one point Kim fell as low as eighth but managed to work his way up to fourth at the flag.  Agostini had won again, with Read’s second place making him unbeatable in the championship.

There was a break before the final Grand Prix of the season in Spain, the next major meeting being the August 12th “British Grand Prix” international meeting at Silverstone.  Kim had ridden the Konig in England for the first time at Brands Hatch the week before, but the poor weather had put a dampener on the meeting, and Kim had no intentions of extending himself while in England.

Bad luck followed Newcombe to Silverstone as he was unable to race the preferred 500cc Konig when in practice it broke a big-end bearing cage.  This left the Super Konig, a 680cc version of the bike for competing against the Formula 750 machines in the 1000cc class.  The 680 was more challenging to ride being brutally powerful.

Kim on the 680cc Konig chases John Williams on the Norton F750 racer at Silverstone.

Kim on the 680cc Konig chases Peter Williams on the Norton F750 racer at Silverstone.

All the big names were at Silverstone for the 1000cc event.  Paul Smart (Kawasaki 750), Barry Sheene (Suzuki 750), Phil Read (MV), Agostini (MV), Gary Nixon (Kawasaki 750), Yvon Du Hamel (Kawasaki 750), Dave Croxford (Norton 750), and Peter Williams (Norton 750) amongst others.  But for six laps Newcombe on a hybrid home-built racer proved embarrassingly fast for the factory racers.  Smart gradually pegged back the Konig, and as they swept into Stowe corner Kim’s brakes appeared to fade, causing him to run wide and eventually crash.  Newcombe and the Konig slid for a distance before smashing into an unprotected brick wall.

Although his injuries appeared superficial, Kim had suffered severe head trauma similar to that of Suzuki’s Kevin Magee’s at Laguna Seca.  Unfortunately, the modern medical techniques that saved Kevin’s life were unavailable to Newcombe.  Three days later Kim succumbed to his injuries in a Northampton Hospital.

As usual, Newcombe had walked the circuit before practice began, and was involved in a four-hour meeting with race organisers over concerns about safety.  It’s ironic that the next day an identical accident occurred at the same corner, yet the rider was able to walk away, thanks to hay bales belatedly being placed there.

Posthumously second in the 1973 500cc World Championship, Kim Newcombe’s achievement should not be overlooked. Taking on the might of the unbeatable MV Agusta team with what amounted to a home-built special on a shoestring budget, and in his first full season of Grand Prix racing, deserves much more than that.

Konig Technical File

The success of the Konig flat-four two-stroke boxer engine design is quite unique in the history of the 500cc Grand Prix class.

Similar layouts were tried later in the mid-seventies. However, Helmet Fath’s more advanced two-stroke design was never as successful in the Grands Prix, and MV Augusta’s boxer four-stroke was never raced.

Kim and the Konig in the paddock at the Swedish Grand Prix. Note the Norton gearbox casing and the belt drive to the water pump and rotary disc valve.

Kim and the Konig in the paddock at the Swedish Grand Prix. Note the Norton gearbox casing and the belt drive to the water pump and rotary disc valve.

The water-cooled unit sat transversely across the frame with two cylinders pointing forward and the other two rearward.  The two right-hand cylinders fired together while the left-hand pair repeated the process 180 degrees later.  Basically like two flat-twins sharing a common crankcase and a single crankshaft.  The crankcase itself was split into two separate pumping chambers for each pair of opposed cylinders – a necessity for two-stroke breathing.

This enabled the use of a single large rotary disc valve on top of the crankcase for inlet timing, with a single inlet port for each pair of opposed cylinders.  The disc valve was driven by a toothed belt from the timing end of the crankshaft, and appeared somewhat fragile, as it had to run through rollers and make a ninety-degree turn.

Even the expansion chambers were shared – initially an agricultural looking single “canister” chamber with the front and rear pairs of cylinders siamesed into it.  This was later replaced with two conventional looking expansion chambers – one for each pair of front and rear cylinders.

Carburation varied from two East German BVF carburettors to a twin-choke 38mm downdraught Solex, and finally a pair of American 42mm Tillotsons.  The engine ran on petroil at an old-fashioned 16:1, although this was later changed to 20:1 using a vegetable oil.

All the internal components were quality West German products, with the crankshaft being a pressed up five-piece affair made by Hoeckle.  It rested on three main bearings – utilising a double ball on the timing end and two separate ball races on the primary side, with split-type caged rollers for the middle main bearing.  Caged roller bearings were also used for the connecting rod’s big-end, while the little-end used crowded needle rollers and shims on the piston pin to centralise the conrod.  The pistons themselves were forged high silicone Mahle items with a single chromed ring.  Bore and stroke were a classic ‘stroker 54x54mm although this was said to have changed during development to 50x56mm.

The ignition system was provided by a conventional battery, twin coil and dual points set-up, run off the right-hand end of the crank.

The main weaknesses with adapting a design intended initially for power boating was the lack of an in-unit clutch/transmission and getting enough water through a cooling system that was built for a limitless supply of cold sea water.

The clutch/gearbox problem was overcome by running a toothed Westinghouse chain off the left-hand side of the crankshaft (hence the reasoning to mount the engine across the frame), to a clutch and a Norton gearbox casing fitted with a Schaftleitner six-speed gear cluster.

The cooling problem was never solved entirely, and the engine did not like to get any hotter than 60 degrees.   A cast-finned sump was fitted underneath the engine to act as a reservoir for five litres of coolant that passed through a large radiator.  Newcombe experimented with slots in the fairing, which yielded some success, but just in case the Konig was never warmed up before a race so it could be taken to the starting line cold.

Kim hard at work on the Konig at Spa in Belguim.

Kim hard at work on the Konig at Spa in Belguim.

In its final 1973 form, the Konig had a chassis designed by Kim that used Ceriani front forks and drum brakes with Girling rear shocks.  By this time the engine was pumping out 85bhp at 9,800rpm (at the crankshaft) with the 680cc version giving 90bhp to 9,500rpm.  With a weight of only 139kg, the 500 was good for around 265kph!

Konig made eight bikes in kit form (less wheels and front forks), and for about the same price as a TZ350 Yamaha, a privateer could buy a potentially competitive 500cc or 680cc racer.

With Kim’s demise though, interest in the solo racer diminished.  The factory did, however, help Rolf Steinhausen and passenger Josef Huber in the sidecar championship, for which they were rewarded with a Konig engine winning both the 1975 and 1976 Sidecar World Championship.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 1991. Photograph’s Mick Wollett, Jan Heese, Robyn’s Liege and Volker Rausch. Published 1993 Bike Australia, Classic Racer (UK) and Extra Editon Motorcyclist (Japan).

Going Seamless

When Casey Stoner won the final 800cc MotoGP World Championship for Honda in 2011, many a finger was pointed at the seamless gearbox Honda had developed as being a significant factor in the RC212V’s reinvigorated performance.  Shuhei Nakamoto, vice-president of Honda Racing Corporation,  believed it was more a matter of refinement in many areas of RC212V that had brought about the championship winning performance.

HRC Vice-President Shuhei Nakamoto

HRC Vice-President Shuhei Nakamoto.

But the seamless gearbox did raise the ire of the MotoGP commercial rights holder Dorna, who with the FIM, was on a crusade to cut costs and to close the performance inequity between the CRT teams and the factory prototypes.

Yamaha, however, is the last of the factory teams to adopt the technology as Ducati had already introduced their version of the seamless gearbox in late 2011. To the delight of its Grand Prix World Champions Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, the M1 went seamless at Misano for the San Marino Grand Prix. It was a concerted effort by Yamaha to try and bridge the technology gap to Honda and to help Jorge Lorenzo claw back lost ground in the MotoGP World Championship battle.

So what are the benefits of this new technology? According to Valentino Rossi, “The bike is more stable in acceleration so it’s less demanding, so you can be more consistent and more precise, with less effort,” he added. “The only difference in setup is the electronics: you get less wheelie, so you need less wheelie control [which means more horsepower and more acceleration].”

Rossi and Lorenzo were glad to have the seamless gearbox at Misano

Rossi and Lorenzo were delighted to have the seamless gearbox at Misano.

The fact that gears can be shifted without the split second loss of torque through the transmission that occurs with a racing speed shifter,  which momentarily cuts the ignition as another gear is engaged,  is the primary benefit.  With a conventional gearbox when the torque is reintroduced, it can load up the rear tyre and cause wheelspin or wheelies. which may also unsettle the front end of the bike. Also with a seamless gearbox down, changes are smoother helping engine braking with a more controlled front end under brakes.  Greater stability while changing gears mid-corner is another big benefit of the system.

How does it work? To put it in simple terms two gears are engaged simultaneously.  The torque is transmitted through the lower ratio, but as engine torque rises, the higher gear ratio is gradually engaged. When the higher gear is selected, the torque is transferred seamlessly to it.  The reverse is true of down changes. There are many subtle benefits of the gearbox.  Shorter gear change time, Improved tyre wear, more precise handling and less fatigue on the rider.

Yamaha managed to close the technology gap at Misano

Yamaha managed to close the technology gap at Misano.

The cost of developing the seamless gearbox is a mute point with Dorna who thought that they had all the bases covered when they outlawed automatic, CVT and twin-clutch transmissions, which is also the case in F1.  There is a certain amount of irony here concerning F1 which I will refer to shortly.

Lin Jarvis Managing Director of Yamaha Factory Racing towed the Dorna line initially saying that Yamaha would not have invested in the technology if Honda had not.  This in some ways is a strange approach as most manufacturers justification to go racing is to develop new technology that can eventually filter down to their production motorcycles.

Yamaha Factory Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis.

Yamaha Factory Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis.

Honda has quite openly been accused of spending a vast amount of money on their seamless system. But is this purely speculation?  This brings us back to Formula One.  The FIA outlawed automatic, CVT and twin clutch transmissions in the 1990’s, but for the 2005 season, the governing body deemed seamless gearboxes legal. One of the first cabs of the rank was the BAR Honda Formula One team who promptly announced they had developed such a gearbox for an introduction that season.

So seamless gearbox technology is not new to Honda having introduced it in F1 some six years before it appeared on the RC212V of the Repsol Honda Team in 2011.  It would, therefore, be safe to suggest that the cost to Honda for using existing technology would not have been as extreme as some would have us believe.

Considering Dorna’s close links with F1, it’s a surprising oversight that the move to seamless technology by Honda was not anticipated.

Words Geoff Dawes (C) 2013. Photographs courtesy of Repsol Honda Team and Yamaha Factory Racing.

The Rise Of Marc Marquez.

Two 20-year-old MotoGP winners. Marquez the youngest ever by 133 days.

The temptation to compare great Grand Prix motorcycle racers from different eras is almost impossible to resist for many MotoGP commentators.  Admittedly, it does help generate increased interest from the media, the fans, and the general public, but grabs of history both past and present that align nicely do not necessarily make for a fair comparison or do justice to those involved.

Marc Marquez has already claimed the mantle of the youngest winner of a MotoGP at age 20 by 133 days from “fast” Freddie Spencer. In 1983 Spencer went on to win his first  World Championship aged 21 years in the 500cc class (MotoGP) becoming the youngest person to win the title.  Marquez appears to be on course to wrest that achievement away from Spencer as well, currently leading the MotoGP World Championship with six rounds to go as this is written. However in 1985 at the age of 24 Spencer won both the 250cc (Moto2) and 500cc (MotoGP) World Championships, something that no other rider has done, and is a feat that is unlikely to ever be repeated. It should also be noted that Marquez started racing in the 125cc World Championship in 2008 when he was 15 and has won both the 125cc (Moto3) World Championship and the Moto2 World Championship, although he was not the youngest champion of either of those two classes.

Freddie Spencer the youngest MotoGp World Champion at 21.

Freddie Spencer the youngest MotoGP World Champion at 21.

The same commentators are also espousing that rookie Marquez may win the MotoGP title in his first year. The last person to achieve this was Kenny Roberts 35 years ago in 1978. But here there is a rather significant difference in circumstance between Roberts achievement and that of Marquez should he attain the title.

Roberts World Championship effort was backed by Yamaha America,  who only supplied his team with equipment. This consisted of three different GP racers for the three different classes Roberts was contesting. Formula 750, 500cc GP and 250cc GP – one machine for each class with no spare bikes. His crew chief was expatriate Australian, Kel Carruthers, a former 250cc World Champion and a mentor to Roberts, accompanied by mechanics Nobby Clark, Trevor Tilbury and a Yamaha technician. Roberts had helped develop Goodyear’s racing tyres in the States, and it was the American company that put up the money that was needed to go racing in Europe. Goodyear naturally supplied the tyres.

The situation was not an ideal one as Roberts explains, “When we got to our first race it became crystal clear that, for sure, I wasn’t a Yamaha factory rider. Venezuelan rider Johnny Cecotto was. It wasn’t hard to tell; all we had to do was look at his equipment and then look at ours. We did have a Yamaha engineer by the name of Mikawa, and at some races, we also had a Goodyear technician. But it was us against the factory, really.”

'78 World Champion Kenny Roberts at the '79 French G.P. at Le Mans,

’78 World Champion Kenny Roberts at the ’79 French G.P. at Le Mans,

“So ’78 was a piece of work. I was riding 250 and 500 Grand Prix and Formula 750 as well. We had just one bike per class; no backup bikes. At practically every race it was my first look at the track. Usually, all I had was 30 minutes to figure it out. And not just the track, everything–the right lines, bike setup and tire selection, if there was any. There I was, aiming to beat reigning World Champion Barry Sheene, who’d usually seen the track a dozen times before. And we were on Goodyear tires. We were on our own there, too, because nearly everyone else was on Michelins. I swear, some things never change! To say the Goodyear guys had their hands full is to understate the problems we faced. Usually, the Goodyear guys would show up at a track they’d never seen before, which meant they didn’t have the right tires. That’s a nightmare you really don’t want to deal with. But deal with it we did.”

Roberts wen ton to win a hat-trick of 500cc World Championships.

Roberts went on to win a hat-trick of 500cc World Championships.

Nonetheless, Goodyear eventually weighed in with more development tyres, and Yamaha finally supplied Roberts with a second bike for the 500cc GP class. Roberts dropped the 250cc title challenge after winning two races and at one stage leading the championship, finally finishing fourth in the standings.  Roberts continued on with the Formula 750cc World Championship finishing second in the title five points behind Johnny Cecotto. But Roberts won the 500cc GP (MotoGP) World Championship by 10 points from Barry Sheene against a flotilla of factory Suzuki’s and the works Yamaha of  Johnny Cecotto. It was an outstanding achievement.

Marc Marquez in action. A future multi MotoGp WorldChampion ?

Marc Marquez in action. A future multi MotoGP World Champion?

By comparison, Marc Marquez has raced in the world championships for five years now. In MotoGP, there is only one track that was new to him, Laguna Seca (The Circuit of the Americas was new to everyone in MotoGP this year). As a World Championship prodigy in the smaller classes, he has been groomed by both Repsol and Honda to fit seamlessly into the retired Casey Stoner’s seat at the team. With a dearth of experience from the team around him and mountain of electronic data to relate to and the use of control tyres, the only thing that can stop Marquez from claiming the title may be fate. He has proven he is fearless and usually comes out on top when pressured by his peers. Indeed if there is a similarity between Marc Marquez and Kenny Roberts championship campaign, it is the fact that they are both real racers in every sense of the word. And there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Marquez will continue to break records.

Words Geoff Dawes (c) 2013. Images courtesy http://www.motogp.com

Read more: http://www.motorcyclistonline.com/features/122_0503_kenny_roberts/#ixzz2dn69hATZ