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Scott Smart (WSBK Technical Director) Q&A

“…teams can't dictate what the championship is doing because someone has to make a final decision. That's how other successful championships work.”
It's been a rollercoaster six months for Scott Smart. Leaving Assen at end of the British Championship round in September, he thought he had two remaining rounds to race before the season ended.

Not so. A chance meeting with Paul Bird's team saw him drafted into the English MotoGP team as Michael Laverty's crew chief for three rounds. He was then recruited by Gregorio Lavilla in the off-season to become World Superbike Technical Director at a transitional time for the series when new technical regulations are being established for 2015.

Crash.net spoke to Scott about his turbulent winter, his new role and the direction World Superbike rules are taking for the following year.

Crash.net:
First of all Scott I heard you got a nasty injury skiing over the off-season. How are you holding up?

Scott Smart:
Well I had already done a deal for next year in British Superbikes with TAG Kawasaki. Then this job opportunity came along and I spoke with TAG. They said 'It's a great opportunity, you should take it.' I'm still working closely with them. I was still supposed to be preseason testing and riding their bikes but I'm just at the keyboard, doing electronics.

In the meantime, having ridden bikes for eighteen to twenty years, I've broken a few bits but nothing too serious. I then broke my neck snowboarding so I had a broken in half C7 and a broken T4 but I picked myself up, flew back to the UK and after two days drove myself to the hospital. Then I ended up strapped to a bed for three days. It was just as well I did because it could have got really messy. At Phillip Island I was the only person in the paddock with a big neck brace on so I couldn't hide. Anyone in the paddock looking for the new technical director just had to look for the guy in the neck brace. What an introduction! Luckily three weeks ago I had the brace taken off and was given the all clear. I'm not allowed to actively do anything stupid. Passive stupidity is apparently allowed!

Crash.net:
So how did the position of technical director come about?

Scott Smart:
I've known Gregorio [Lavilla, WSBK Sporting Director] for a long time doing the British Superbike Championship and we always ended up parked next to each other. I was the person that proposed the current British Superbike rules a fair few years ago. I was the one rider allowed to come and argue at the technical and team's meetings. That was obviously down to Stuart Higgs and Jonathan Palmer to say 'yes' or 'no' so I wrote the initial rules package and then amended it for the first couple of years. That was my introduction into being involved with writing rules. Gregorio knew that and we had some important discussions. The aim is to set out your stall with what you want to achieve and then there's a continuous case of negotiation so you need to push very hard in your first year with a strict rule book and then you can compromise a little bit in the second season and develop the rules package to be fair to everyone in the championship.

I'm in Spain quite a bit and I talk with Greg on Skype calls, just running ideas past each other. They suggested I come and work in 2015/16 with the current technical guys Steve Whitelock and Fabio Fazi [former WSBK Technical Directors] because a lot of my background is in electronics of the bikes. I make wiring harnesses and set up ECUs so I understand how they work. It's a current level of technology that's only been around for seven or eight years since fuel injected bikes came and traction control arrived when Pirelli did so with the control tyre. So it's quite a contemporary science and they felt I'd be able to bring something to the championship with my knowledge there.

Through the winter the championship went separate ways with the current technical guys, which is a shame because Steve Whitelock was my dad's technical guy back in the 70s. I knew him since I was a kid – I think he was the first guy to take me to the cinema. I got a phone call from Greg saying, 'OK, so we've gone our separate ways… Can you start Monday?' This was the tenth of December [2013] and I said no, I had a British Superbike ride. Greg then gave me one of those 'talkings to' that Greg does. After a ten minute monologue I was like, 'I'm doing it then, am I?' That was me, flying off to Geneva to start working on the rules.

Crash.net:
Has it been an intense period of adaptation considering you've only been in the job a couple of months?

Scott Smart:
It's been a baptism of fire but the rulebook is something I understand. The other aspects of the job are more difficult. Like how technical control works and managing all the pit lane marshals. I didn't know that many people here in the organisational side. Additionally I would have spent more time in the homologation process in the office in Barcelona but with a broken neck I only got permission to fly the day before I went to Australia. If you're going to make stuff difficult for yourself come and ask me for tips!

There have been rule changes for the teams [for 2014] so communicating some of that has been hard but everybody is learning. Phillip Island is always a difficult one as it sits a long way earlier than other championships start. Everybody is just ready – they haven't studied the rulebook. Communicating and educating the teams with regard to the new tyre limits, how the tyre limits work, we changed the sealing procedure of the motors so it's stricter. All those aspects were definitely a learning process.

Crash.net:
There are nine different manufacturers on the grid for 2014 and at Phillip Island there were five different manufacturers in the top six in race one. As an outsider looking in everything seems in order. Why the need to push for further change?

Scott Smart:
There are quite a lot of needs. One of the most important things is the introduction of 'Evo' – that's why the grid is so healthy. It gives the teams that want to come and race in World Superbike the option to be competitive. With the technical level that it's been we're talking MotoGP level electronics, very highly tuned engines. It's not something you can do unless you buy an existing set of knowledge and a team. That accessibility kept the grid smaller. As you can see 'Evo' instantly doubled the grid numbers.

What's interesting is that some of the 'Evo' bikes are going as fast if not faster as those teams did with the 'Open' rules they were using last year. Those 'Open' rules leave so much room for improvement but so much room for error as well. Some aspects, particularly electronics, are so overly competitive that they never stood a chance of being competitive.

That need is to keep the cost down. The world economy is pretty bad and it's meant the main budget has been focussed on the teams at the front. It's been difficult for other teams to realistically get a budget. If you look at other championships with a much more accessible level of technology that has swelled the grids as you stand a chance of being competitive without having to spend millions of pounds. For sure it's never cheap when you have to send teams around the world and it is the world championship so the level would never go down to the level of national championships but it's important for the FIM and Dorna to make a rulebook here that some of the national championships can adopt again.

Crash.net:
There is a great deal of disparity between the national superbike series' rules. Is that something you are looking to address in the near future?

Scott Smart:
The variety of rules around the world has grown. If you go back to the 70s superbikes were the same everywhere. The factory teams sold their bikes to teams in domestic series, they got handed down and there was a nice supply of equipment. Now that doesn't happen as the Italian championship is practically Superstock, the German is Superstock chassis with completely open electronics, the British championship is the one success story. The Australian series is down to two or three rounds next season, the AMA is down to five rounds – all with different engine and electronics rules. There's no economy of scale for the manufacturers to develop stuff. If we can get the engine and electronics rules closer, when a manufacturer has to make an engine kit and they're making it for a market of 50 to 100 teams that works. If it's for one factory team it means no one else is going to have access to the parts.

There were a lot of proposals on how to move forward this year. Initially it was suggested factory teams should provide six bikes so those bikes could be bought or leased by teams down the field. Almost like the production Honda in MotoGP. It was such a difficult rule to manage as the teams here are still run by independent teams. We introduced 'Evo' and we're going to bring it up and Superbike down to meet in the middle for next season and go back to one class. It's better for the public watching but without trying to disadvantage any manufacturer.

Crash.net:
How do you feel the 'Evo' rules have affected the show so far?

Scott Smart:
You have two different philosophies on who should be competitive. You have one camp who say 'If a bike comes along with super-trick bit one, everyone should be allowed the super trick bit one. If another bike comes out with super-trick bit B everyone's allowed it.' That goes to the highest common denominator of equipment, which is where we're at now. In BSB we took away all those strategies and went to the lowest common denominator and it worked well. But it doesn't work for the manufacturers, as they still want to develop stuff. So we need to find a level in the middle that can give everybody a reasonable chance of success.

Of course you have the other camp that say 'If you have an eight year old motorcycle why on earth should it be competitive against a bike that was released last year and has all the latest technology?' If you look at the homologation some of the bikes in this championship are getting quite elderly but they're still near the front. If you look at the newest bike, the HP4 BMW it's not necessarily dominating. So there's one group that says 'Why should that be the case?' That's fine as it makes great racing. At the end of the day we're all coming to watch great racing but there has to be a balance in there and it has been achieved. The technical rules here have made a brilliant balance for equality but by doing it to the highest level so it excluded the guys from the midfield to the back. We need to make it an inclusive class, not an exclusive class.

Crash.net:
How has it been managing manufacturers' needs?

Scott Smart:
That's politics. As a bike racer politics isn't high on my priorities. In the first meetings it was entertaining. There were a lot of manufacturers fighting – and rightly so – for what they need for their team. However as the person sitting in the middle you have to stop talking about little things. You're walking that tightrope of keeping everybody happy but you're not going to do that, as every manufacturer when you interview them will focus purely on the bad for them. The good thing is I'm pretty familiar with all the engines and the bikes out there – I've ridden a few of them and my team working with me have experience building engines. I have a fairly good idea of what people need and don't need.

Crash.net:
There have been interesting developments with Bimota joining the championship in 2014 regarding homologation numbers. Can you expand on that?

Scott Smart:
In essence the numbers have halved but the market place has halved from what it was five or six years ago, in both Supersport and 1000 categories. But there is a disparity between the numbers Honda would do for a Fireblade versus the smaller, more niche market places. For example Ducati in the UK are able to sell more 25-30,000 pound bikes than 12,000 pound bikes. On the flip side Kawasaki are able to sell 12,000 pound bikes and don't even have a 35,000 pound bike. By reducing the number of machines that needed to be homologated we needed to not allow the opportunity for manufacturers to produce a very low volume of machines that has a GP frame or engine. So we introduced a price limit, which is high, but you can't exclude bikes that are already in homologation and in use. We spent a lot of time trying to find a balance. Some think the level is too high, others are happy with it. It's a win – almost win situation.

Previously we had bikes that run in the championship that may not have met previous homologation requirements. Petronas is still discussed today as is the Benelli Tornado. We want to avoid that so we've allowed the introduction of bikes on short notice so the Bimota is here. They haven't produced the 125 bikes needed for the initial homologation to be stamped and signed. However they have to meet all the other requirements: they have a bike, samples of all the parts, dimensions, drawings, everything we need. But not 125 bikes in a room to count. Until that happens they aren't allowed to score points. For us that's a fair balance. All the while Bimota are producing the BB3 they're going to be selling them out the door so it's hard to keep them in one place at one time to stamp the homologation. We've tried to make it so we can get new bikes in the championship. On the one hand we're pleased but others aren't pleased saying that it's a loophole – it's not a loophole. If you don't produce 125 bikes in four months you won't be scoring points.

The three groups, the FIM, MSMA and DWO will meet to discuss their future. DWO, which is Dorna, promoter and owner of the championship, will meet to make a sensible decision.

Crash.net:
Bimota, along with Buell and MV, have all joined the World Superbike series for 2014. Have any other manufacturers shown an interest in joining in 2015?

Scott Smart:
A couple have approached Dorna. We obviously have one big manufacturer that isn't here so we're hoping to entice the remainder back. If we can look at next season with ten manufacturers on the grid I think we've done a good job in the technical and political arena. If it provides close racing hopefully we'll put the championship back to where it was in its heyday.

Crash.net:
With the proposed changes in place at the start of 2015 do you foresee a certain drop in lap times?

Scott Smart:
I don't think there will be. There were teams last year using quite an incredible number of engines. If you look at the limited number of engines for this season, they've actually gone up one or two horsepower from last year. They've been working so hard knowing the regulations are coming. Going to a much more 'Evo' based rulebook, I think the horsepower is going to drop for sure. Some of the engines are going to lose 20 horsepower, others six or seven. It should be fairly equal in terms of horsepower so I don't think lap times will go down by very much. All the time we're improving the tyres, set up is always improving, there are lots of improvements that are going to off set the tightening of the rules. Maybe in a year we'll be looking at a few tenths slower or half a second. It certainly won't be a second a lap slower.

My hope is that the guys that are 22nd on the grid are going to be much closer to that lap time. That's something apparent in British Superbikes. We went from a six second gap, where you're pushing the 107 percent rule, to one second back to 15th. That's the aim.

Crash.net:
When the 'Evo' rules were announced some of the critics said it would lead to all of the smaller/private teams using two or three of the manufacturers with the latest bikes, as you see in the Superstock class, lessening the diversity somewhat. How will you get around this?

Scott Smart:
That's a careful part of balancing the rules. Instantly 'Evo' favoured a couple of manufacturers this season. Some manufacturers offered a little more support so they [private / smaller teams] jumped in with them. The way we have the rules for next is that the slower road bikes will have the ability to get to a similar horsepower to favoured road bikes so it shouldn't work like that. With the best will in the world Superstock classes are more like that, there are always one or two manufacturers that dominate the championship because that's the current update road bike. Back to our philosophy thing, you have the 'make everybody even, have great racing' side and the 'if you've got a bad road bike why should you win?' side. Well Superstock 1000 is that [the latter]. We aim to keep a good balance between different manufacturers.

Crash.net:
One of the rumoured proposed changes is to allow teams with the older models to modify cam shafts and make other engine modifications…

Scott Smart:
Yes. There will be enough flexibility in the rules for next season and they'll be for one class.

Crash.net:
Are you reviewing the support classes or their roles at the moment?

Scott Smart:
The support classes won't be touched too much because at the moment we're working towards trying to understand the progression of riders through the championships. At the moment it's not that clear. You start at stock 600, you've got a pretty big choice to go Supersport 600 or 'stock 1000. Stock 1000 leads more naturally, at the moment, to Superbike than Supersport does. So if you go Supersport you might pigeonhole yourself but that might suit your style of riding. There isn't really a clear way through. We've been discussing rebalancing the rules to change the performance of the bikes to make sure there's a bit more of a tier structure. But at the same time we don't want to ruin it as there's no inch given in the Superstock 600 races and Supersport classes. Like in Phillip Island the Supersport race was fantastic, you didn't even know who would make it to the finish, never mind win.

Crash.net:
You could always make every race five laps…

Scott Smart:
[laughs] That was just the way it fell but it was a good race up until that point too! At the moment we've got a lot of teams running different budgets being fairly competitive so we'd like to introduce a few things that will stop any aspects blossoming or getting out of control. That's under discussion but won't necessarily be in next year's rules.

We're in discussion with quite a lot of Supersport teams to get their opinions because there's no point dictating to them. They're all here doing the job so their opinion is exceedingly important. At the same these teams can't dictate what the championship is doing because someone has to make a final decision. That's how other successful championships work: you have your consultancy process and then you stick your marker in the sand [laughs].

Crash.net:
When are we likely to have the rules for 2015 finalised?

Scott Smart:
The teams will be seeing it before the public because the process is, with the three bodies making the rules, everybody has to approve it before it can be published. The engine and chassis should be Tuesday [after the Aragon round] and the Wednesday after Assen should be the electronics rules. That will be internal to the paddock so if there are any loopholes or disasters within it the consultation process will ensue.

Over the past few years different people have been involved in them so we want to put the wording in slightly more plain English and shorten them a little bit as they've got quite big. But when you live in a world with incredibly complicated electronics you do you still need a lot.

Crash.net:
How is it working with Gregorio Lavilla?

Scott Smart:
He stopped racing through injury, went to a meeting to help out and in the space of four meetings was effectively a team manager as his language skills are very good. He went to all the meetings for all the MotoGP classes and Javier Alonso [WSBK Executive Director] said 'I have a job for you next year!'

It's great because the general director here is a year younger than me, Greg's a year or two older. So we're all within a few years of age. I think it's good because we know what our riders want because we were, we're not embittered about it yet, and we know what we need from the organising body because we've all been involved. Hopefully that gives us a balance.

Crash.net:
You spent some time at the end of 2013 working as Michael Laverty's crew chief in the Paul Bird MotoGP team. How did you end up there?

Scott Smart:
I get on really well with Michael as we raced together for years. It was bizarre. I was on the boat back from Assen having just crashed in the Supersport race there and Paul Bird's team said, 'Oi Smarty, what are you doing next weekend?' I told them I was having my first weekend off in literally two months. And they said 'No you aren't! You're getting on a plane on Tuesday, we need you!'

So I alternated every weekend from Malaysia to BSB, then Japan to BSB but I missed out on the pit stop Australia race. Of all the races to miss! It was great working with Michael because when he started I was doing 500 grand prix and he was doing 125s in Joe Miller's team so we were effectively team-mates. I remember lending him my spare engine in Supersport once and he beat me with it so we nearly fell out at that juncture but it was good. I got to see a few different aspects, obviously coming from a riding background and having done a bit of crew chiefing.

Crash.net:
Is working as a crew chief something you can see yourself doing in the future again?

Scott Smart:
Probably not to honest. There are lots of other bits and pieces I intend to do. However I still want to get on a bike. I don't see myself doing a full season anytime soon though as this job is quite interesting and the rules are [changing] over the next couple of years. I do have a half mission to ride with the team I let down [TAG Racing]

When you're the technical director you don't that much of a chance to watch the racing. That's the one bad thing in this job! You can't really see the races. When Gregorio and I walked on the grid at Phillip Island we looked at each other and [makes a frustrated face]. Half the grid were people we had been racing with so it's kind of funny.

Crash.net:
And finally Scott, looking ahead to the rest of 2014. Do you see anyone in WSBK standing heads and shoulders above the rest in the championship?

Scott Smart:
I don't know. I don't think anybody is going to stand head and shoulders above. That's brilliant. Where the bikes have changed for this year, I think we're going to see certain bikes better at certain tracks. The different characters of the bike come back so some are going to dominate the big, open tracks and others the tight and twisty tracks. For me that's quite fun. At Phillip Island you didn't really know [who was going to win] so hopefully it stays like that!

Crash.net:
Thanks for your time Scott.

Scott Smart:
No worries.


Tagged as: scott smart

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Kyle Smith, Mercado and Savadori, Jerez SSTK1000 race 2014
Kyle Smith, Mercado and Savadori, Jerez SSTK1000 race 2014
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Kyle Smith, Mercado and Savadori, Jerez SSTK1000 race 2014
Kyle Smith, Mercado and Savadori, Jerez SSTK1000 race 2014
Kyle Smith, Mercado and Savadori, Jerez SSTK1000 race 2014
Kyle Smith, Jerez SSTK1000 Race 2014
Kyle Smith, Mercado and Savadori, Jerez SSTK1000 race 2014
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Mercado, Jerez SSTK1000 race 2014
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Girl, Jerez WSBK 2014

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nealio

May 01, 2014 6:03 PM

With directors with brains and common sense, like Mr. Smart, there is a bright future for WSBK. I liked the emphasis he put on balance which is needed in such a political environment as production-based superbikes.

TalentFan

May 01, 2014 1:34 PM

Smart by name and by nature. Intelligent ideas and plans as well as a good understanding of the issues. MotoGP isn't ready for the kinds of organiser control and regulation BSB style that it seems WSBK is. But then WSBK would be in dire straits and real crisis without a return to the values of completion and affordability. Maybe MotoGP would need to near implode as well before it would be forced to see sense. SS comments about what electronics and super high engine specs really do to stratify a series and exclude new teams from any hope of competing is something MotoGP should take careful note of, cos he is right. Smart looks to be a real asset to WSBK.



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