Cycle News - Archive Issues - 2000's

Cycle News 2005 02 02

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

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Page 78 of 79

By IN rHE PADDOCK MICHAEL SCOTT The Road to Hell he end of the Proton KR V5 MotoGP prototype couldn't come soon enough for Kenny Roberts Sr. Even before the end of last season, at the bike's financial home of Malaysia and after another single finish way out of the points, he said: "Today was good ... because it's one day closer to putting the bikes in the museum." His main title sponsors felt the same way, and Kenny was at the time arguing hard to try to get them to reverse their decision, to call the game lost and pull out. Sadly, they had made up their mind. The England-based team is currently seeking backing for a one-bike 2005 campaign with an as-yet unnamed rider, using the KTM V-four engine that tested so promisingly before the winter break. That bike challenged the Ducatis and Hondas on top speed at Valencia, even in early shakedown tests, and was already faster on lap time than the two-years-on raceseasoned Proton. And so, the V-five's are definitely in the museum, alongside the somewhat more successful three-cylinder twostrokes that came before them. Neither the riders nor the team itself will be sorry to see the back of them. The homebrewed balance-shaft engine did achieve reliability but was never powerful enough, and though hugely expensive, it still suffered from underinvestment in that it needed a second major redesign that was not in the end worth the investment. With new fuel restrictions this year (tank size down from 24 to 22 liters), the thirsty V-five was going nowhere, and especially not fast. Something else will go, along with the V-five's uniquely mournful exhaust note. It is the sound of a dream disappearing. The four-strokes and the two-strokes before were the product of Kenny's original inspiring vision, of bringing bike racing into the same world as Formula One, most especially in engineering terms. Kenny placed his factory in the heart of England's "Formula One Belt," a swathe that cuts across the shires not far out of London. Here are any number of small firms and specialist engineers who between them power the cutting edge engineering and high technical adventure of the four-wheel big-time. With hindsight, it seems depressingly easy to predict the pitfalls. Racing history has a number of examples of clever-dick car engineers swanning into the pits, chortling at the primitive design and construction, and promising to bring the whole thing up to date, with vast gains in performance along the way. Their offerings, some of them alarm- T • IS Paved... ingly eccentric, do nothing of the sort. I'm thinking of bikes like the ill-fated Norton Cosworth Challenge of the '70s, and 10 years later the string of Elf endurance and GP oddities, with wishbone suspension and several nasty habits. It only became vaguely competitive when the suspension was modified to more nearly resemble the despised telescopic fork. All of this left the supposedly primitive motorcycle people laughing up their and even human, not least because the rider constantly adjusts the center of gravity by moving around. The best tuners worked closely with individual riders - think KeL Carruthers/Kenny Roberts in the '70s, Erv Kanemoto/Freddie Spencer in the '80s. Computers now take the place of mathematicians, but far from being overwhelmed by their relentless logic, bike engineers continue to use intuition and use the computing power to sleeves and coming to the conclusion that car designers and engineers were really not up to much. Back then, race engineering was largely intuitive, and racing bikes responded to individual tuners much better than to teams of mathematicians - unlike cars, which don't lean over and have a fixed center of gravity, and therefore operate within much simpler and more malleable equations. Motorbikes are much more complex develop the understanding and application of what they already knew - such as quantifying and carefully controlling frame flexibility, the opposite of what is reqUired on a car. And it is still down to individuals to get the best out of these still very human machines. Think Jerry BurgesslValentino Rossi. Kenny's F I ambitions succeeded in some ways, but foundered overall on several counts. One was simply the clash of philosophies between the established bike people in his team (including some of the best brains in bike racing) and the carsteeped newcomers. Another was in his necessary reliance on aforesaid specialist suppliers, whose main interest was in car racing. Kenny was a relatively small-time customer, and he discovered firstly that they couldn't always deliver what they had promised, and secondly that the costs soared out of sight for the quick-response speed of service he needed to develop a grand prix racer. Blata, with their ambitious V-six, are in a much better position. They have their own foundry. The chassis, designed by ex-F I guru John Barnard, was a work of art, full of clever multitasking of components, and carved from solid, with unprecedented accuracy, to aerospace standards. Barnard's bike demonstrated clearly that he hadn't (like many predecessors) tried to apply car logic to bike orthodoxy. He didn't fit any heretical suspension, nor try to make the chassis too stiff. He treated the motorcycle with respect, and the handling was the bike's best feature, at least with the modest power output of the Vfive motor. So far, so good. But the chassis was also very expensive, and much more accurate than it needed to be. And in real performance terms, it was little better or worse than the bent-tube chassis they had used before. It had added cost, without adding value. Which is, come to think of it, very Fl. In the end, there seems little wrong with the logic in Kenny's plan. Maybe the timing wasn't right. There's nothing to say that MotoGP might not in the future move toward the F I model, especially as engine technology moves further and further away from what is relevant to road bikes. Honda and BMW might make their own FI engines, and Ferrari likewise, but even Mercedes Benz buys in race engine technology - from the FI belt not far from Kenny's Banbury headquarters. Or are the diehard bike-racing backstabbers right when they say that FI is a curse upon bike racing and blights every machine and every team that it touches, and that FI engineers are stuck-up sorts who should keep their noses out of motorbike racing? Well, it might be no coincidence that the other MotoGP bike that won't be reappearing in 200S (unless there is some sort of a miracle) is the Aprilia Cube. This bike's engine - vastly powerful but a total handful to ride - was designed by none other than Cosworth. And they are dyed-in-the-wool F I engineers there with a long and successful background on four wheels. And now another failure to chalk upon two. eN CYCLE NEWS • FEBRUARY 2,2005 79

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