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At the 2019 Shell Malaysia MotoGP, paultan.org was given 10 minutes in a exclusive interview with Ducati’s Electronic Systems director, Gabriele Conti. Conti spoke at length about the use of electronics in MotoGP, notably in the area of power management and how riders use it to their advantage.
Every modern vehicle today will have some form of electronics controlling the performance, from the most basic electronic ignitions up to everything and anything going through a CAN bus. Motorcycles are no different and the measure of electronic control a rider has over a cutting edge superbike like the Ducati Panigale V4 is nothing short of amazing, especially for the author who can still set ignition timing using a cigarette paper.
In MotoGP, the engine management software is provided and controlled by organisers Dorna. This is to ensure that no one team has a singular advantage over another and any performance enhancements will have to come from the ingenuity of the team’s engineers and rider skill.
This does not mean there are no parameters that cannot be changed to enhance the race machine’s performance as conditions change from race to race and during the race itself. “The software is the same for every team and no modification is permitted to the core programme. But there are things we can do to some parameters to give an advantage to the rider or improve the reliability,” said Conti.
While the amount of modification is limited, tenths of a second are gained by, for example, changing the way the engine delivers power coming out of a corner or how quickly or slowly the rider accelerates down the straight. Launch control, engine braking, torque curves, all these parameters affect the bike’s performance and are available to the everyday rider on a top flight superbike.
But, for MotoGP, the number of parameters sampled for every second the engine is running runs into the thousands. “For every race, we collect a lot of data,” says Conti, “from this, we read maybe one thousand data points in order to determine how the bike and rider are performing and we modify the software or the engine mapping accordingly.”
The days of a rider coming into the pit and complaining of a misfire at the back end of the circuit while in third gear are long gone though. “Yes, the rider cannot lie to the mechanic anymore. We have the data from the engine and the software will tell us exactly what happened,” Conti said.
“What we do with the modifications we are allowed is to provide the rider with three options,” he said. “During the race, at the start, the bike is heavy with 22-litres of fuel and the tyres are new. At the end of the race, the bike is much lighter but the tyres have less grip,” said Conti.
“We also have to think about the tyre life and how to make it last for the race, for example, if a rider does not need to push so hard at the early part of the race, we make the engine a little bit slower on the acceleration so that at the finish, the rider can go very hard,” explains Conti. “This will include other things like fuel consumption and track conditions, the temperature. All these will determine what mapping we use, what modifications we make,” Conti said.
Development of software is taken very seriously by Ducati Corse and with six riders on the MotoGP grid, the team has the luxury of trying different things with different riders in pursuit of performance. “We can, for instance, use a different map with the Pramac team to see if there is a performance advantage before we try it with Ducati Corse. But, all riders are different and they have their own riding style so what will work with one rider may not work with another. This is where the engineers must work together with the rider to get the best from both the bike and the rider,” he said.
Conti, who hails from Florence, Italy, has been working on electronics for Ducati since 2003 when he worked with racing legends like Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi. Asked about what he would like change about MotoGP if it were possible, Conti said, with a laugh, “I would like more freedom with the software.”