It's fast machines all over again. A previous interview with EFI engineer Danilo Casonato of Kawasaki's MotoGP Engineering Team touched on how electronics get woven into that team's entries for the top tier of motorcycle racing. At this year's MotoGP race at Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway, in Monterey, Calif., I went back for more, primed by my earlier introduction to a high-technology, one-off race-hardware world characterized by big-time speed, sound and an underlying air of secrecy.
To better grasp the whole of MotoGP electronics, a repeat visit in Kawasaki's pit-lane paddock was accompanied by a session each with Yamaha's GP-team data engineer, Suzuki's GP crew chief along with a co-founder of Germany's 2D Systems, a key sensor and electronics box supplier to those three factory teams.
The almost absurd power-to-weight ratio of MotoGP bikes has led teams to pursue sophisticated machine-control intervention to help keep riders on two wheels, and one of my primary questions revolved around autonomy in bike control during the race. Since the pit is prohibited from making in-race changes, race-time modifications--such as ignition timing and throttle-fuel mapping--must be made by the rider and onboard systems that determine if, when, how and even where performance adjustments are implemented.
Kawasaki relies on a variety of sensors to enable smooth power delivery.
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But less clear is how these decisions are driven by real-time sensory inputs. Does the bike position on-track enter into the control equation and, if so, how is it done reliably? How is the rider's throttle application modulated with electronic "ride-by-wire" on the way to air/fuel delivery? Drilling deeper gets one to the question of sensor arrays used to drive all the control functions. What's being measured, what data do these sensors provide, and how do teams use and collect data? Figuring prominently are datalogging, data analysis, and decision-making based on both. In an ocean of data, how do you swim in the right direction to improve performance?
I put forth lots of questions and, in the end, got quite a few answers, thanks to the time each team graciously extended to highlight the electronics engineering behind its individual efforts.
Getting revved up
Kawasaki's Ian Wheeler arranged a discussion with Andrea Dosoli, EFI technician onsite at Laguna Seca this year. As a former crew chief and current motocross rider, Andrea's focus on electronics systems is balanced with the perspective of the entire system and the rider responsible for making it all work on the track.
This year, Kawasaki's main focus is a new, more capable engine control unit (ECU). Working more closely with long-time partner Magneti Marelli of Italy, Kawasaki sees a deeper development role as strategic imperative for a competitive control system. Similarly, post-action data analysis is placing greater demands on a rich data set and software analysis to bring home a clearer picture of the bike in action.