Motor sport

“The NSR500 had over six million gearbox combinations!”

“When we moved to four-strokes, we still did a lot of work on the engine, because they weren’t sealed back then,” says Forcada. “We worked on the cylinder head, the valves, etc. of the RC211V.

“At first, there was no electronic pilot control on the RC211V; nothing in 2002, then it started in 2003 when we started with ride-by-wire shifters. That was the biggest change because with a throttle cable you can’t really have electronic controls, but as soon as we had electric throttles, we started with traction control.

In 2006, Forcada moved from the Pons team to LCR Honda, where he worked with MotoGP rookie Casey Stoner.

“Casey was such a talent. Even when the electronics weren’t perfect, he could control the bike with the throttle and the rear brake – he created his own TC with the rear brake!

In 2008, another MotoGP rookie, Lorenzo, asked Forcada to be his team manager on the Yamaha factory team and he has been working with the company’s YZR-M1 ever since.

That year was the year of Yamaha’s comeback – Rossi winning the title for the first time since 2005 and Lorenzo winning his first race.

Forcada with Lorenzo and Stoner in 2008. Forcada was Stoner’s team manager in 2006, Australia’s MotoGP Rookie of the Season

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“For me, the big difference for Yamaha that year was their new electronics and Rossi’s switch to Bridgestone tyres. When Casey switched from Honda to Ducati in 2007, he said the biggest difference between the bikes was the tires – it crashed a lot with the Michelin front.(Honda used Michelin at that time, while Ducati used Bridgestone.)

Electronics has been MotoGP’s biggest area of ​​development over the past two decades. Burgess – perhaps Australia’s Forcada – was never very fond of high-tech rider controls.

“When electronic systems got complicated, they got difficult on their own,” Burgess told me a while ago. “I didn’t pay attention to the electronics in itselfbut you weren’t sure if you could fix the problem with the pilot or if the boffins could fix the problem with the electronics, so you often entered the race with this huge cloud over your head.

“Check the data after a half millimeter change and you can’t see anything, but the pilot can feel it”

So what is Forcada’s take on electronics?

“Masao Furusawa [the race chief who turned around Yamaha’s fortunes when Rossi arrived] hated electronics and computers! Forcada laughs. “But now you have to work with electronics, otherwise it’s impossible to compete.

“But it’s a balance – how much you trust the driver and how much you trust the electronics. There are team leaders who trust the data 100 per cent. For me, no. The electronics are a big help, but I often explain to the rider that when we change the settings, we don’t change the bike, we change the feeling.

“If we change the set-up by raising the rear ride height by half a millimetre, we’re not changing the bike, we’re changing the feel, so the rider says, ‘Now I trust the bike and I can go!’. But half a millimeter is the rubber you use in a few turns, so it’s nothing! Feeling is everything! If you check the data after making that half millimeter change, you can’t see anything, but the pilot can feel it. Most cyclists are very sensitive – when they trust the bike they can be fast, when they don’t feel confident they are slower.

Ramon Forcada with Franco Morbidelli

Forcada with Franky Morbidelli in 2020 – they won three races together that season

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The most significant change in MotoGP over the past half-decade has been the switch from Bridgestone tires to Michelin tires, which required a major overhaul from all manufacturers.

“We changed the bikes a lot, going from Bridgestone to Michelin. The Bridgestone front felt so good it worked on its own, so we put more weight in the rear to help the rear tire. Now the tires are more balanced, so we have to work with both tyres. We shift the weight, especially the rider position, because the bike has to be very balanced because the tires are very balanced.

“You can work on frame stiffness, suspension, etc., but the tires are the only parts of the bike that touch the ground, so the weight you put on each tire is very important, plus the load transfer between the tires and the speed of that transfer. The Yamaha is a well-balanced bike, but tire balance is up to the rider. Jorge used less weight up front because he was carrying so much speed through the corners – he stressed the front tire with his speed, not with braking.

The most important thing in MotoGP at the moment is the proximity to the competition, which is largely due to the tyres, in particular Michelin’s front slick.

“The lap times are very tight because we are at the limit of the tyres. If tire limit is here [he holds one hand up high] and you are here [he olds his other hand lower] you have room to improve. But once you get to the tire limit, you can’t exceed that limit because the tires are always the final limit

“Many years ago we were talking to the Michelin guy and it was more or less like this: inflate the tires and go! Now it has become very, very, very critical because we are playing with a tenth or two tenths of a second, so we have to go into the small details because when we are close to the tire limit, even a small change can make the difference . When you’re playing with a half-second or a second, the tires aren’t really critical.

Ramon Forcada with Andrea Dovizioso and the RNF Racing crew

Forcade (leftmost) with current pilot Andrea Dovizioso and his crew

RNF Racing

Does the pursuit of those tiny margins of improvement drive Forcada crazy?

“A little, yeah! In Formula 1 they also work a lot on tire pressure, but when I talk to F1 engineers they say it’s easier for them because their tire volumes are much bigger and they don’t have only one brake disc per wheel, while we have two discs for the front. wheel. They also have room for a heat deflector, to deflect hot brake air away from the wheel rim, and they change the deflector to suit the track and conditions. For us, it is more difficult.

MotoGP’s front tire temperature and pressure issues are only going to get worse in the near future, certainly until Michelin improves its front slick in 2024 or 2025.