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Masao Furusawa: Godfather of the M1

19 August 2010

Valentino Rossi has cited the impending retirement of Masao Furusawa as one of the reasons behind his decision to leave Yamaha and switch to Ducati at the end of this season.

"There were two or three important reasons," Rossi told reporters at last weekend's Brno round, where his change of team was officially confirmed.

"First, at the end of this season, Masao Furusawa retires and for me this was important.

"For the last seven years Furusawa has always been the number one at Yamaha. Without him, I don't know what will happen. I was quite worried about this."

Furusawa, who has risen to the position of Executive Officer of Engineering Operations at Yamaha, is the guiding hand behind Yamaha's YZR-M1 project - and introduced the cross plane crankshaft engine into MotoGP for Rossi's 2004 Yamaha debut.

Largely as a result of the efforts of Furusawa, Rossi, and crew chief Jerry Burgess, Rossi won from pole at his very first race for Yamaha. A further 44 wins (to date) for Rossi and four world championships have followed.

Furusawa's motorcycle has also taken 12 race wins for Rossi's team-mate Jorge Lorenzo, who is comfortably on target to win the 2010 world championship. That would mean five world titles, out of a possible eight, since Furusawa took over the Yamaha MotoGP project in 2003.

So who is Masao Furusawa?

The following feature was written by Hyacintha Bonafacia with close co-operation from Furusawa and published in Indonesia's Koran Jakarta newspaper earlier this year.

The writer, newspaper and Mr Furusawa have given permission to reproduce the feature on Crash.net

In a separate follow-up story, Furusawa talks about his upcoming retirement and Valentino Rossi's decision to leave Yamaha. "I wanted Valentino to retire with me and be an ambassador for Yamaha..."


The Artist Behind Rossi's Success

His success in analyzing and synthesizing theory and reality has made him a world leader in machine development - and Masao Furusawa is also the architect of Yamaha's success with Valentino Rossi in MotoGP.

As well as holding one of the most important positions at Yamaha Motor Japan, Masao Furusawa has overseen the transformation of the factory's YZR-M1 MotoGP project, with which Valentino Rossi has enjoyed so much success since 2004.

Here, Furusawa tells Koran Jakarta about his journey towards the top of Yamaha, plus his interests outside of racing and his family.

Although often immersed in the most technical of problems throughout his career, Furusawa's priority has always been on creating 'real world' improvements, by matching human requirements with the latest technology.

”It is the art of engineering,” said Furusawa.

Furusawa's soul is close to art. He has the ability to draw, paint and sculpture. Fishing, skiing, karate and swimming are among his other hobbies. But he has had little time to enjoy them since taking over Yamaha's MotoGP project in 2003.

Furusawa does at least get time to create his own Christmas cards. His 2009 card (click here to view) shows a puzzled Tiger, some Italian Yamaha engineers, Rossi and Lorenzo in action, Yamaha's three 2009 MotoGP titles, plus some sketches of cars.

”The Tiger means the zodiac of 2010 and myself, wondering how come some Italian engineers left Yamaha to join Honda [at the end of last year]," explained Furusawa. "The cars drawn on the card show my personal project I did in 2009 for research on the Yamaha Performance Damper. The car drawn on the bottom-right is the Mazda Miata; my favourite car, which I have kept for over 16 years."

Furusawa's family practise art professionally.

"I am an amateur artist, but my family are professional artists," he said. "My wife is an artist of calligraphy and flower arrangement, my son is a Japanese authentic carpenter "sukiya" and my daughter is a hair artist. We are completely different, but we have respect for each other and help each other. My son is also a racer in Japanese domestic snow cross. This is the only exception. Both he and I have something to do with racing."

Furusawa was born in Kyushu, Japan, on February 17th 1951. His passion for motorcycles, and in turn engineering, began as a teenager.

”I was a crazy bike kid. Well, I am still a bike freak.... When I was a student of junior high school I purchased my first bike from my teacher," he said. "This was an illegal deal because I was only a 14-year old boy who was not allowed to get any license, but that was back in the 'good old days'!

"The bike was a Honda sports cub with a 50cc four-stroke engine. I started to study about this four-stroke engine at that time. My dream was to become a good engineer for bikes, airplanes, or cars so I majored in mechanical engineering specially for the internal combustion engine at university."

Furusawa studied at the Kyushu Institute of Technology, where he graduated in 1973 and then immediately joined Yamaha. Soon after, Furusawa began research into what would become some of his technical specialities.

"After I graduated from university I immediately jumped into Yamaha Motors in order to design new bike engines," he said. "But since I faced on a lot of problems about the engine I started to study about vibration and noise. Then I expanded my career to signal analysis, dynamic analysis, and computer software.

"Meanwhile I did a lot of trouble shooting and consulting for many products for Yamaha Motors and also outside of the company. Then I designed a new motorcycle, snowmobile and ATV."

Furusawa's eventual move to head of the struggling Yamaha MotoGP project seemed to come as something of a surprise.

"In 2003 I was suddenly in charge of the MotoGP project because of no-one to solve the problem of no titles in the premier class of road racing for Yamaha in over 10 years," he said.

At the time of Furusawa's arrival in 2003, Yamaha had not won the 500cc/MotoGP World Championship since Wayne Rainey in 1992 and had just lost its star rider Max Biaggi, who had taken the early (disappointing) version of the M1 to two race wins in 2002.

Yamaha didn't win a single race during 2003, and claimed only one podium finish, but big changes - both in public and behind the scenes - were being put in place by Furusawa for 2004.

"When I started MotoGP in 2003, I came up with the cross plane crankshaft and new electronic control to catch up the competitors," said Furusawa. "After that I organised the people, trained engineers, invited the best rider to the team, prepared the budget, negotiated with a strong sponsor and flighted with an enemy inside of Yamaha Motors."

Furusawa's best known innovation in the MotoGP world is the cross plane crankshaft (big bang) engine, which even the causal fan could hear was significantly different to the even-firing 'screamer' engines used by rival manufacturers in 2004.

In brief, the design provides a much clearer connection between rider, engine and rear wheel. Furusawa is proud of both making the concept successful and being able to explain how and why it works.

”The 90° crank engine is my baby," he said. "The cross plane crankshaft was already a known idea, but no one knew its true value. I am the first person who showed people how and why it works well and described its theoretical background on paper. The YZR-M1 is the first actual vehicle with this crankshaft and the YZF-R1 is the first production bike with it in the world."

And what are his personal strengths as an engineer?

”I am a kind of logical person who likes analysis and synthesis in both theory and reality," he explained. "I was probably well fitted to MotoGP [rather than 500cc] since the four stroke engine is more theoretically oriented than the two stroke engine. At the same time I like to enjoy any type of job and joke too."

Furusawa also enjoys a close relationship with his riders, Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.

"They like to joke too," he said. "They are like fun loving sons."

Away from racing, Furusawa's time is spent on other engineering projects.

"I have a lot of things to do outside of MotoGP, namely research and development of motorcycle, consulting on snowmobile, ATV, boat, watercraft, aircraft, automotive engines and so on.

"I like snowmobiles very much. But it is limited for the winter. So overall the bike is the most preferable vehicle for me. I keep an RZ250 and TRX850. I have almost no time to enjoy these bikes so I sometimes take a ride on one of them just to go to the office and back home."

Reflecting back on his teenage ambition of one day becoming a 'good engineer', Furusawa commented, with more than a little understatement:

"I think my dream has come true."


Curriculum Vitae - in Furusawa's own words

* I was born in February 17th 1951 Japan.

* Graduated in mechanical engineering from Kyushu Institute of Technology in 1973.

* Joined Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd in same year, 1973.

*My most experienced areas are noise and vibration analysis, dynamic analysis, computer software, design, testing for motorcycle, snowmobile and ATV.

* Also lots of consulting jobs for all products of Yamaha Motors.

* The promotion I have had were manager of analysis research and development in 1988, general manager of RV engineering 1999, Senior general manager of RV operation in 2000, Executive officer in 2005. In 2003 I was in charge of MotoGP simultaneously.

*Most memorable successful products are RD350LC with unique orthogonal engine mounting system in 1980, AMDOF vibration analysis software sold to outside of Yamaha in 1989. FJ1200 with orthogonal engine mounting system in 1991, VMAX 600-XT with long travel suspension in 1994, right weight Grizzly 660 in 2000, new M1 with unique cross plane crankshaft in 2004, and new R1 with the same idea in 2008


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