Jul 7, 2012
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By David Swarts
In January, AMA Pro Racing announced that it will implement a hardware price cap of $18,000 per motorcycle for engine control and data acquisition electronics in the Superbike class, beginning with the 2013 season and continuing through 2015. The only previous restriction required that hardware be homologated and approved for use by AMA Pro Racing Technical Director Of Competition Al Ludington.
But teams say that hardware cost is not the biggest concern, with the cost of buying or developing software and hiring qualified technicians to run the complicated systems making up the bulk of the expense.
Yoshimura Racing admits to spending $300,000 per season on electronics hardware, software, development, testing and personnel for its two-rider effort in AMA Pro Superbike. Yoshimura uses Magneti Marelli Marvel 4 systems and employs multiple technicians to run the systems. Monster Energy Graves Yamaha also runs Magneti Marelli Marvel 4 systems on its Superbikes and employs multiple technicians, but says one technician is assigned to run the Magneti Marelli SRT systems on its Daytona SportBikes.
Jordan Suzuki and National Guard Suzuki use Pectel systems run by multiple technicians, while KTM uses Magneti Marelli SRT systems run by a technician who flies in from Italy for each AMA Pro Superbike round.
Most of the other teams use much-less-expensive, much-less-capable, readily available race-kit black boxes (a.k.a. Engine Control Units, or ECUs) that retail for less than $3500 including wiring harness. Examples include Suzuki's EM Pro system for GSX-R1000s or Yamaha's YEC system for YZF-R1s. The BMW kit box for the S1000RR sells for about $4000 and plugs into the standard wiring harness. The Kawasaki kit box and wiring harness for the ZX-10R sell for less than $1500. A KTM kit box and setting tool for the RC8 R sells for under $1200. An EBR kit box for the 1190RS sells for $750.
Meetings held as recently as last month between AMA Pro Racing officials and team representatives have revealed a deep divide in the paddock, with the majority of teams wanting to switch to kit boxes across the board, with a few notable holdouts. AMA Pro officials have openly admitted that they established the 2013-2015 rule now on the books based on one winning team's threat to quit the series if it wasn't allowed to continue using the Marvel 4 system currently fitted to its racebikes.
To check where the top-10 players in the AMA Pro Superbike class stand on electronics rules, we posed the following questions:
1. What should the AMA Pro Superbike electronic rules be for 2013-2015 and why?
2. What do you say to someone who claims they need a year or more notice to get ready for any rule change, including switching from the currently allowed advanced electronics to kit boxes?
General Manager/Crew Chief
Team Hammer, Inc., M4 Suzuki
Team Hammer Contract Services, Team Venezuela
Riders, Chris Ulrich and Robertino Pietri
Electronics, Suzuki EM Pro
"Actually I think there's a lot of people who would like to see that brought back down to a very basic level, and I would say that I'm one of them. Something like Suzuki has with the EM Pro would be nice to see. BMW, Kawasaki, Yamaha, EBR, KTM, they all have a kit ECU.
"If you could wish and have it work out, then naturally we would wish for something a lot cheaper with the kit ECU being the easiest solution to that.
"It's a financial thing. We're seeing a lot of teams struggle to stay on the grid, to stay in the series. I think the electronic side of things not only is very expensive but also I think some of the teams see that as an obstacle to being competitive. It basically boils down to money. That has to be the bottom line. In these times all of the series all over the world are looking at ways to reduce costs, whether it be the one-bike rule in World Superbike, now they're talking one bike or even control ECUs in MotoGP. Everybody's looking for ways to work this problem. I think clearly for our series that would be something that would be easy to do and could possibly bring more participation in our series."
What about people who say they need a year's notice on rule changes?
"I can't speak to that because I'm not in their shoes. We have been working with that [Suzuki EM Pro] system since Day One, so naturally it seems very easy. But when I look at what reality would be there, I think they are probably overstating the amount of time they would need to have the thing up to speed. I think any manufacturer that already has a kit ECU and a kit set-up like that they have a good starting place already. I don't feel like that's going to be a major part of the problem."
To be continued...