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Jul 5, 2012

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

Richard Stanboli (right) and Steve Rapp (left). Photo by Brian J. Nelson, courtesy of AMA Pro Racing

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 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 Three:

Richard Stanboli , Owner/Crew Chief Performance
Rider, Steve Rapp
Electronics, Motec

"I think the dollar amount [hardware price cap] is the right step. I think that they shouldn't go the kit [ECU] direction because you can't just think about what's here and now. You've got to think about the long term, and in the long term if you go the kit direction there's just too much room for manipulation that the AMA just cannot control.

"So the dollar amount is a good option. If you go the BSB [British Superbike Championship, which uses control ECUs without any rider aids manufactured by a single supplier] route I think it's going to be really expensive for the teams, where you have a control box and you have Motec or Marelli or whoever controlling the whole situation.

"I think that some bikes require more rider aids than other bikes, as well. So if you want to square up the field the rider aids need to stay in some form. If it's a control box with a limited number of rider aids, that's cool, like a certain amount of power trim, or traction control or anti-wheelie or whatever. And the rider aids in all honesty get a lot of guys in trouble. I think we saw that with the Jordan bikes [at Barber Motorsports Park]. They used too much rider aid and the bike doesn't go forward. That's up to the team. That's part of tuning. It's just another tuning principle. We used to have jets and needles. What if everyone had to run the same jets and needles in their bikes? Some bikes would work, and some bikes wouldn't. So I think that we're in 2012 and going into 2013, and this is where we're at.

"The development, if you take something like a tire war, we used to have good tire development. Now tire development has pretty much come to a stop. All the tire manufacturers are in the German series [IDM], which is the only series where they can develop tires. That's the way it's going to go.

"It would kind of be a shame to have your streetbikes more equipped than the racebikes. How does that work from a fan aspect? It already is that way. I have customers that have tricker streetbikes than we have racebikes. So how can I impress customers with the fact that we run stock motorcycles?

"When it comes down to NASCAR-style rules I'll be out. I'll go do something else."

What would you say to people who say we need a year or more to adjust to any rule change regarding the electronics?

"I think they [AMA Pro Racing] gave us the year. I think people are just hashing over the same thing. We've already had a year. They busted it out in January or whenever it was. Or it was delayed. I think it was supposed to be out in December and it turned out to be January. So we all know. Now AMA has to stick their guns and not change it again. I'm already working on an ECU for next year. It'll be on our [MotoGP] CRT bike. It's a low-price ECU that will do all the tricks. So we're already there. So for the guys who say we need another year to adjust, I think that's BS. You don't need a year. We've already had a year, so go ahead and start planning. For the guys who are stalling because they think they can get the rule changed again, well, it would be shame on the AMA if they bend to that pressure and it would be shame on those guys for hanging out so long. That's their problem, to be nice and blunt about it."

To be continued...