16 August 2005
A successful motorcycle racing team relies on many things: competitive bikes, talented riders; skilled and dedicated mechanics; a strong team ethos; and information... lots and lots of information.
How a team analyses and uses that information - known as data-logging - can often mean a few precious tenths of a second per lap; and that, in turn, can mean the difference between victory and the almost unbearable alternative.
The Winston Ten Kate Honda team takes its information gathering very seriously and uses it in conjunction with rider feedback to make crucial performance decisions.
Peter Bom looks after all the necessary hardware - sensors, wiring, laptop computers - and the Superbike side of the garage while Gerard van Laar develops chassis programs and has responsibility for Supersport data-logging.
The team's Honda machines carry more than a dozen sensors all over the bike, measuring wheel speed, water and oil temperature, battery voltage, suspension, rpm, throttle position, acceleration, deceleration, clutch and brake pressure, gear selection, etc.
The data gathered during each outing is stored on a hard disk on the bike and downloaded as soon as the rider returns to the pit box.
Because there is so much information to digest, it is separated into channels and then it's up to Bom and van Laar to interpret it and convey it to the riders and their mechanics.
"There's only so much you can conclude from the data," said Bom, "no matter how many sensors you have on the bike. That's because there are a lot of grey areas – for a start, you have a 70kg rider moving around on top, compensating for all kinds of things that you can't simulate on a computer."
Peter also reckons the riders can even be too talented at times: "At this level, they can sometimes be riding around a problem without even being aware of it. For example, if the front suspension is too soft, they might subconsciously brake less aggressively to compensate."
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