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Jul 3, 2012

Superbike Electronics: AMA Pro Team Managers Talk About What Rules Should Be For 2013 And Beyond, Part One

Larry Pegram. Photo by Brian J. Nelson

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, like Monster Energy Graves Yamaha, uses Magneti Marelli Marvel 4 systems and employs multiple technicians to run the systems.

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 sell for less than $3500 including wiring harness. Examples include Suzuki's EM Pro system for GSX-R1000s and 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?

Part One:

Larry Pegram, Owner/Rider
Foremost Insurance/Pegram Racing BMW
Electronics, BMW Kit

"I think we need to do two things. One, I think we need to be running kit boxes, one box per manufacturer for 2013. Maybe keep the same rule for 2014. Then we need to be looking at going to a standardized [control] ECU with no traction control allowed, just because that's the only way I think we're going to have a good show. I think we're going to see MotoGP go that way, and most of the series I think they're going to eliminate the traction control because it's starting to dumb-down the racing too much.

"It's not the hardware, it's the software. And it's not the guy who can write the software, it's where you can get your mapping from, your technology from. The fact of the matter is the only team we have in our series that has a team in MotoGP is Yamaha. Suzuki doesn't have a team in MotoGP or World Superbike. So the trickle down stuff they (Yamaha) get is the best stuff on the planet.

"I don't think if you said to the Jordan Suzuki guys, 'Hey, you have an unlimited budget next year.' I don't think they could get their electronics to the point where Yamaha is. It's impossible. When you look at what they're spending on electronics you have to look at what they're getting and where they're getting it from. It's a complicated deal, but the main point is the cost. We can all go back and race on kit boxes. One, it'll make the parity a lot better and the racing, and two, it'll make the cost hugely less.

"The main reasons are the cost and the parity. We need to lower cost, and one way to lower the cost is to go back to kit ECUs, and that's also going to bring the parity back. We have two problems right now. One, the parity is starting to get separated a bunch, and two, the costs are way too high. We can kill two birds with one stone."

Why a control ECU?

"I think in the future it's going to help bring parity even more. I think traction control, sometime in the future we're going to have to do away with it like they did in Formula One. Eventually the traction control in bikes is going to be so good in stock form that it's going to be too easy to go fast on them. One thing we don't want to do in motorcycle racing is make it more motorcycle than rider. That's the way it is in car racing sometimes, but we don't want to do that in motorcycle racing, for sure. That doesn't have to be done right away, and I don't think our series can maintain a spec ECU right now."

What about people who say they need a year's notice on rule changes?

"They've got eight or nine months right now. They're got to do something now. I don't know why you would need a year if you were going to run a box that was made for your motorcycle. It's a box that's already made. If Yamaha said they needed a year, they have the YEC box that they're already running in World Endurance."

To be continued...
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