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MotoGP Q&A - Guy Coulon (Tech 3)

Tech 3 co-founder Guy Coulon has been present in the paddock for 24 years. The Frenchman currently combines MotoGP crew chief duties for Bradley Smith with the role of technical director for the team's Moto2 project...
Crash.net:
Hello Guy, biker or engineer?

Guy Coulon:
In fact I'm not an engineer. I started working in racing a long time ago as a mechanic so perhaps I have to go between the two and say that I'm a mechanic.

When I was young I loved bikes and started to ride at 14 because that was possible in France. I got my full license at 16 and after that always rode a bike but my family home is close to Le Mans and they always went to the 24 hour race and it became a natural ambition of mine to get involved in racing. I was a regular at the 24 hour race from maybe five years old so that really got into my blood.

I have been so strongly connected with racing for so long that you'd have to say for me it's become totally normal, I've never had what you can call a proper job. If you start racing young it becomes established in your character. I'm 59 now and still at it and at present can't see myself retiring. I still have the belief that we can do better next time and I think that if I ever lost that feeling I would have to stop. For me the next race is always better than the one before.

I'm the co-owner of Tech 3 with Herve and it's difficult to see yourself stopping when you're involved in putting together new infrastructure and buildings as we are now. I still feel as if I have many things to do.

Also the paddock nowadays is so much more comfortable than in the old days 40 years ago and it's far easier to have a complete career in bike racing. If you look at chief mechanics in MotoGP you'll see a lot are over 50 years old because it's a very specialist job, it's not so easy and takes a lot of experience. It's difficult to find someone new to work in such an important position. Life has become far more acceptable for the older person in the MotoGP paddock!

When I started working in racing in the '70s there were only young people because it was quite an extreme lifestyle, you had to fight for water and electricity connections and you didn't get a salary. Most people were there to help friends who were racing and you couldn't imagine doing that in the long term. Things have really changed.

Crash.net:
Did you enjoy those days more?

Guy Coulon:
In French we say I've got 'zero nostalgia', it's just so much better now, it's better organised and life is far easier.

Also I think the races are more exciting now. I'm interested in vintage racers and racing and in the '70s many races were won by 30 seconds and some by a whole lap. In those days the racing wasn't so spectacular.

Crash.net:
But many people feel nostalgic for those years?

Guy Coulon:
I'm sure that the racing is better now than then. Races really became more tight and interesting in the late '80s when sponsors started to get involved and the best riders from all over the world took part. Don't get me wrong, from a technical point of view there was a lot of interest when the regulations were free to allow many technologies but the racing itself was boring.

All you have to do is check the times from those days. You often had a podium with laps between the riders. I've known riders stop to change a spark plug and still finish third or fourth, nowadays if Vale stopped to change a plug he'd be nowhere.

Crash.net:
Still many people complain that there's a lack of competition nowadays?

Guy Coulon:
Yes, because these people don't look at the results for the whole season, they just remember the great races in between the less exciting ones. They probably only remember one race in '67, one in '76 and one in '85, you've also got to look at the rest. Also in those times there weren't so many races on TV and the only races people remember was when they went to the track. It's very difficult for me to respect those people who say that all things were better in the old days when I was there.

Crash.net:
People also mention electronics as killing racing…

Guy Coulon:
I think that's completely wrong. If you take all electronics away I think you would have the same ranking, only more time between each rider.

This is just my opinion but one of electronics' biggest effects is to avoid small mistakes lap after lap and if you take them away they'll just be more cumulative mistakes between each rider.

Crash.net:
How about BSB where the electronic regulations are tight now?

Guy Coulon:
I would turn that around and say that perhaps BSB gives us some answer about that. I think they stopped the electronics last year and are the races tighter now or two years ago?

Crash.net:
For me they're about the same.

Guy Coulon:
Exactly. I think there's a big misunderstanding about electronics. Everybody thinks that it's easy to set everything up and the rider just has to turn the throttle and everything will be taken care of but that's completely wrong.

It is possible to set everything up so that the electronics do a lot but then your lap times will be very bad because all eventualities will be guarded against at the lowest possible level. For me in MotoGP they are simply one more tool and one more potential problem. The target with electronics is to be able to ride the race with the minimum possible just to maximise acceleration, braking and safety. The idea that they control everything is a fallacy. It's ridiculous.

Crash.net:
So would it be possible for me to set things up so that I could open the throttle full on corner entry and just let the electronics sort it out?

Guy Coulon:
A rider will agree with their engineers what level of electronics they want and if you had them at the level you mention you'd probably crash. You need to have the level so that there is still some feel.

No matter how things are set, if you tried to open the throttle mid corner you'd get a nasty surprise.

Crash.net:
And what level of rider aids is correct?

Guy Coulon:
Now each manufacturer is developing their own system and the cost is very high but actually they're all very close to each other. They've spent a lot of effort and money in doing this and now maybe it's time to decide like in F1 to use a single standard software.

If we only have one software then I think that it's Dorna's plan to keep one team of engineers in-house developing it, but developing it for everybody and therefore the cost would come down dramatically. If that happened we would still have similar racing though.

As I said, for me this route of standardisation is interesting but factories like Honda, Yamaha and Ducati will still have the same budget as now and instead of spending on electronics they'll spend it on something else like aerodynamics, chassis or brakes so we will get more improvement there.

Standardisation helps with bike development anyway. I remember when we swapped to a standard tyre lap times improved because previously with parallel development we'd spend 70% of our test time working on the tyres because they were the biggest gain you could get, you needed to establish tyre performance before doing anything else. Now though the tyres are more understood and we can spend all our time setting the bike up and that has meant that the bike has improved a lot.

Crash.net:
Talking of tyres, would you agree with Ben Spies that a lower performance tyre would improve competition?

Guy Coulon:
I'm really not sure I agree with that.

Crash.net:
Changing topics a little, what is the relationship between Tech 3 and Yamaha?

Guy Coulon:
This is really more of a question for Herve but over all we're a customer but we do have some full time Yamaha engineers who work with us on track.

All improvements and specifications of the bike are decided by Yamaha and we work with them. We also report all our feelings and opinions directly to them and they will also have input from the factory team and with this information they will try to improve the bike overall. Their main interest in a satellite team is to get more information so that they can improve the bike for everyone.

Yamaha doesn't pay Tech 3 in any way, we pay them to lease their equipment and get all the support that comes with that.

The most technically significant thing from a racing point of view is that during a session you have access to the pool of Yamaha information because the Yamaha engineers all work together. If a factory engineer finds a good direction then they will inform us and it will also work in the other direction. At the moment we have no direct link with Forward Racing though but they may also get information through their Yamaha contact.

Yamaha will also have influence over rider choice and if Herve is talking to a rider then he'll inform Yamaha and they'll make the decision together. It can also be an advantage for us because sometimes they will have more riders than bikes and that will mean that we can get riders from them such as Colin Edwards, Ben Spies or Pol Espargaro now. It means that we can get the kind of rider who would be interested in a factory ride.

That connection is a reason that we often get high quality riders and if that rider is under contract to Yamaha you can be sure that they'll pay more attention and provide more support to him.

Some riders have a contract with Yamaha, some with us, this is more for Herve but I think that Ben and maybe also Pol this year have a contract with them.

Crash.net:
How about the relationship between the bikes of the two teams?

Guy Coulon:
Our bike is the very last spec that the factory team were using last year and are very, very similar, there are only a couple of small differences in the chassis. In fact the factory Yamaha, Tech 3 Yamaha and Forward Yamaha use a very similar frame.

I don't think that the Forward bikes are the complete Tech 3 bikes from last year. In fact I think that Aleix's engine and chassis are the same as the ones we are using for this year.

Crash.net:
The bikes are very similar, so what do you think Jorge Lorenzo could do on the Tech 3 Yamaha?

Guy Coulon:
I think he'd get a similar result to what he's getting in the factory team because the bike is almost the same.

Crash.net:
What do you look for in a MotoGP rider?

Guy Coulon:
With the way the sport is nowadays I look for brains, we need a smart rider who can understand new technology. Electronics are difficult to set up and tricky for a rider to use so you need a rider who has the brains to understand that.

Even one aspect like traction control can have so many strategies and you need a rider who can firstly understand the strategies but also how they might interact with other strategies used in the race. He doesn't need to be a technician, he needs to be smart.

Having said that you also need a rider who can go fast but we can easily see those that are doing well because they all come from Moto2 which we are involved in. There is no other class able to supply riders for MotoGP.

Crash.net:
How about WSBK?

Guy Coulon:
In WSBK there are really only older riders. Our friend Sylvain Guintoli is a top rider in WSBK but not a top rider in MotoGP, at the moment I don't think there are any riders in WSBK who could be at the main level in MotoGP.

Crash.net:
How would you assess Bradley's performance?

Guy Coulon:
Bradley is one of those riders who has a great understanding of electronics and technicalities and he's definitely a very clever guy. This year he's in the top ten of MotoGP riders and when you're top ten there are only a few riders in the world ahead of you.

Crash.net:
And his potential this year?

Guy Coulon:
I think by the end of the season we can be top five. We've already got a sixth but as you now if you're top five then you're the fastest after the top four and I think you know what I mean when I say top four. If you finish between sixth and tenth this year you're already doing very well.

Crash.net:
I noticed a big jump in Bradley's performance in the tests after last season, was that because he'd been given Cal's bike?

Guy Coulon:
No, I don't think so but Bradley was using this year's bike in those tests. It's true that since the end of last year and into this year he's improved his lap times quite a lot and at the Barcelona test he improved by a full second over last year but I think the main improvement came from him.

The confidence he got from the bike may have helped, if the bike gives the rider two tenths then the confidence that gives may mean the rider gives eight tenths. How the rider feels is vital, the rider and bike are one thing.

He can now go very fast over one lap but still now he needs to be more consistent over a race distance. Also at the beginning of the race he finds it difficult when the fuel tank is full but at least he has got the speed now.

Last year was his learning year but he is definitely still learning. Last year he was a bit too aggressive on the bike, he braked incredibly late, much later than Jorge or Valentino, and with MotoGP if you brake too late then the bike becomes unstable, your corner speed is worse and that affects your acceleration. Corner entry is one of the most difficult things for a rider to understand because you have to be slower than you might want to be.

Crash.net:
I think Cal and Bradley had different bikes last year, are the two bikes different this year?

Guy Coulon:
It's true that Cal's was different to Bradley's last year because Bradley was mainly using a 2012 one.

This year there is no difference between Bradley's and Pol's except for settings and riding positions. The components are the same.

Crash.net:
How do you work with Bradley as a crew chief, do you mange the rider as well as the technical aspects?

Guy Coulon:
I don't really do that, that's more Randy Mamola's job. He is always with us and the coaching side of things, talking to him about race strategy and considering lines and riding style are all his job. I think he is very good for Bradley, when you need to discuss exact details it's much easier to be able to talk the same language. I find it quite difficult to talk English to that level because I can sometimes not say exactly what I need to say. It's for that reason that we have a Scottish engineer for Bradley so that the communication is good.

Bradley has been working with Randy since last year and he is a person who has great understanding of what is happening on track.

Crash.net:
How about Moto2, is Tech 3 fully committed to that project?

Guy Coulon:
It's a more difficult exercise and we are the only team which makes it's own bike. For the team it's very interesting technically speaking, building and developing a bike from scratch is a great project.

I think that our bike is now quite competitive and we have two serious riders on them who can give good information and that means we can develop the bike further.

Ricky Cardus for example got seven points in 2013 but this year he has already got 22 points, his best result last year was 13th but this year he has already got a ninth and a seventh and has always been in the points so I don't think that our bike is so bad. Also last year Marcel got 33 points on a Kalex and now after seven races he already has 28 points so I do think we are making progress.

Crash.net:
Did you design the chassis from scratch or did you adapt another chassis?

Guy Coulon:
We started from nothing. We designed the chassis, swingarm, everything.

We decided to do it that way because it's a great technical challenge for the team. By working on a project like that the technical level of the whole team improves.

If we get a problem with the MotoGP bike we report to Yamaha but with the Moto2 bike we have to get it done ourselves. It means that we have to work together to overcome the technical difficulties, it's good for the team.

Not only is Moto2 a technically interesting class but also because you have a standard engine you can predict the budget and that makes it easier to commit to. We are currently already preparing for next year and considering riders for then.

Crash.net:
Lastly, would you ever consider getting a sharp, fashionable hairstyle like Herve's?

Guy Coulon:
All I can say is that the last time I visited a hairdresser was in 1975 and I haven't been back since. So I think the answer is 'Non'.

Crash.net:
Thanks a lot Guy.

Guy Coulon:
No problem, have a nice evening.
by Christian Tiburtius


Tagged as: Yamaha , coulon

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TrueFan

June 24, 2014 5:28 PM

Given the various opinions deriding all the electronics in the modern MotoGP bikes, and the postulation that they are "ruining the racing", by having the bikes "practically ride themselves", it is refreshing to read the view from someone on the inside who explains the way they actually work, and what they actually do...well, at least an alternative view of them. I wonder TalentFan thinks?

RFS131

June 24, 2014 9:40 PM

Brain:
RFS131: Oh no! I can't twist the throttle like Valentino without highsiding!! Guy Culo: "no worries we have some cool electronics that should take care of your throttle control issues" I guess it's true...electronics do save some riders careers.
Rossi is probably the poster child for electronics lengthening a riders career.
Rossi is the only rider out there to have actually proven beyond a reasonable doubt that he can win on a big bike without mommy...I mean electronics there to hold his hand.



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