Having interviewed numerous riders, ten-year-old Indonesian fan Shaina Salvia also wanted to speak with World Superbike technical director Scott Smart, at Sepang.

Shaina writes all the questions herself - which turned out to cover everything from Smart's own racing background through to rule making, a lack of spectators, the legality of the Ducati exhaust system and whether winglets will be seen in WorldSBK!

Shaina Salvia A.S.:
You've been a rider, crew chief and technical director. What was your dream job as a child and how did you become technical director?

Scott Smart:
As a child I thought I was going to be a pilot. But my whole family are involved in racing [Scott is son of Paul Smart, nephew of Barry Sheene]. My uncle was a two-time world champion, and my dad was a really good bike racer as well. They thought I'd escaped the 'curse' of going bike racing when I went to university to study physics. But then I was riding my bikes faster and faster on the road and dad said, 'okay, we'll try one race...' And that was it. So the curse of bike racing struck me in the family as well!

I raced for a long time and I was also involved quite a lot with the technical rules in the British Superbike Championship, which worked quite well. The World Superbike Championship is now run by another racer, Gregorio Lavilla. Gregorio knew that I'd helped make the rules and regulations in England, so he asked me for some help with the World Superbike Championship. I ended up as technical director for World Superbikes. So now I'm in charge of making the rules and regulations here.

I did do little bits of crew chief work as well. I actually kind of helped some of my friends. So towards the end of 2013 Michael Laverty, one of the guys winning in British Superbike at the moment, was riding in MotoGP. He called me and said 'hey, I need some help'. So I came to the last five MotoGPs as his crew chief. But the other weekends I was actually still racing in BSB!

So the MotoGP crew chief work was one weekend, the next weekend I was a BSB rider, then a crew chief in MotoGP, then a BSB rider... I spent a lot of time on planes! In the end though it's technical director of World Superbikes. I'm also technical director of the American championship, to try and help them improve. So I'm still spending a lot of time on planes.

Shaina:
Where did you learn about technical studies?

Scott Smart:
I used to enjoy working on stuff as a kid. My dad didn't really teach me. My dad was actually a trained boat builder. If it meant making boats, furniture or working with wood then my dad was the man to ask. So my skills with the bikes have been developed by myself.

When I started to race it was in the 250cc class and bikes like that needed a lot of work. Every time you rode it you had to take the engine to pieces to check it. So that teaches you immediately, if you are going to be successful you have to learn how to be good technically.

Now some riders don't get involved, it's just their mechanics. But because of my background in physics and also electronics at school, I enjoyed that aspect. So I learned quite quickly and it developed from there. Later on I made the electronics for my bikes in the British Supersport championship and was also working with engines in British Superbike.

So over the years my experience grew to include the electronics, engine, wiring. Every part of the bike. And that meant I was in the perfect position to develop into this job.

Shaina:
What has been your hardest challenge as technical director?

Scott Smart:
Well the one thing about being technical director is that it is not just about the technical side. There are a lot of politics as well. So when you try to make regulation changes, it's not just my decision. I suggest things and try to guide the championship in the right direction, but also involved in the final decision are Dorna - who own the promotion and commercial rights - the FIM, the governing body, which I represent. And also the manufacturers, who have an organisation called the MSMA.

So we have three groups at all of the meetings, which turns into a 'negotiation'. That's probably the best way to explain it. So the politics are quite interesting, trying to guide the championship. That side is new to me. I've been involved a bit before, but it's been a big step to understand how things work in the background of the championship.

When I helped with the regulations in British Superbike, that championship is owned by one person basically. So you convince that one person and the regulation is changed. It's a little bit different here where you have the political side. It's been a big challenge, but I enjoy it.

Shaina:
Before you were technical director you were a rider. What is the best experience you had?

Scott Smart:
When you race you have lots of good days - and even more bad days! I managed to win a couple of British Championships, so obviously those days were good. But the funny thing is when you watch somebody else win a championship, you feel more for them than you do for yourself. Because the day you win the championship, you have some celebrations and then you're looking to next year.

When you are competitive you are always looking to be faster, better, win by more and thinking about the next race. So actually the life of somebody who is very competitive is not a relaxing life. Even in the winter, you get a couple of weeks when you're chilled out and then you are always thinking about the next race.

For my bike racing, some of the experiences and wins were great. In 2004 in Superbike I managed to have the smallest winning margin, by 0.002 of a second at Mondello Park through to one of the biggest ever winning margins in British Championship of nearly 20-seconds. So I had the two extremes in one year and the experiences that year were fantastic.

Then also there are the other opportunities bike racing gives you. I've been able to fly in fighter jets and some other great experiences that have come from racing. So it's not been too bad! That's also balanced by the time you spend in hospital with bits of your body that aren't feeling too good! But 'yin and yang'.

Shaina:
Are you still riding bikes as your hobby?

Scott Smart:
That's a really sore point right now! After Aragon, Gregorio Lavilla - who is the sporting director of the championship - and I were going to do the Pirelli track day. And then for some reasons we couldn't do it. So I haven't ridden any motorbike for over a year.

At the track when you are busy you don't notice it. But if you have any weekends where you are not busy, then it gets quite frustrating. So this morning when I did the track inspection, I've never raced here at Sepang and I was kind of sat in the car thinking 'I could really do with a few laps...'

The last racing bike I rode was actually the 2014 Kawasaki of Tom Sykes at Aragon, during the press test at the end of the year. But at the moment I'm quite desperate to get out and ride. To get my thrills now I fly paragliders, kite-surf, wind-surf, go cycling with my friends. There's always something that includes adrenaline and a bit of risk.

I finished the British Supersport Championship at the end of 2013 and took this job two or three weeks later. Then about a month after that, I broke my back and neck snowboarding. So I also enjoy doing silly things in the snow.

Shaina:
How and why do you actually change the rules, for example because of accidents or when the gap is too big between the bikes?

Scott Smart:
There are lots of aspects. So we want to try and keep the gaps between the bikes as small as possible. A competitive championship for all the manufacturers means good racing and more people are interested to watch it.

But another important part of the job right now is to try to keep the costs down. If I save some money for the teams with the bikes, the tuning or electronics it saves maybe 10% of their budget. But if you can reduce the need to bring so many personnel, it saves even more money.

So the rules are quite complicated. It's not just the technical side, but what happens because of the technical side. Whether that is development, staff or the amount of equipment you have to bring to each event. That's quite important and there's a balance when changing the rules.

When I arrived the money that was being spent was huge. Now we've reduced the money a lot, we've reduced the technical level a little bit, but it's important that we keep the technical level interesting for the manufacturers to want to come and race. We've also tried to close the speeds of the bikes.

The biggest problem in trying to make the racing closer is that the rider is a very, very important part. If you take all the bikes now, the performance level is actually quite similar. On some weekends one bike is better than the other, but the biggest difference comes from the best riders. The best riders in the best teams are always going to win, even if they don't have quite the best bike.

Every weekend they get the best out of what they've got. There's nothing I can do in the rules to tell the teams they can't have the best riders!

Shaina:
I'm curious about the differences between a road bike on the street and a racing Superbike?

Scott Smart:
In Supersport and Superstock you are only allowed to make a small amount of modifications from the road versions. The most important things are to change things like the bodywork, footpegs, handlebars and exhaust system.

Then in Supersport you can also tune the engine a little bit, so it makes more power than the street bike. We try to make the rules so that each manufacturer can tune their bike so they have about the same amount of power.

When it comes to Superbike you can change a lot more things. You can change the suspension and make modifications to the chassis. In the past you could change almost every part of the bike, whereas now as the bikes on the road have got more powerful and better - inheriting technology from World Superbikes and MotoGP - we don't need quite so many modifications any more.

The biggest things now are that they tune the engine and change the electronics, so the electronics are a bit more advanced and easier to adjust than the road bike. The road bike electronics are very good now, but it's easier to adjust them here and we have to be very careful to control that. Then also you change the suspension and brakes, because if you have more power there is more force on the bike.

A Superbike is still quite an advanced bike. It's what everybody aspires to have with their own road bike. They want the better brakes, they like the lighter wheels and trick suspension. It's balancing all the modifications you could do with how much it costs to do it. At the moment we seem to have quite a good balance. Most of the manufacturers are quite happy. Most of the riders are quite happy. We've just go to try to keep that balance so everyone is equally competitive.

Shaina:
What do you think about the level of this championship and why are there not many spectators watching? What do you think can be improved to make the championship more interesting?

Scott Smart:
It differs a massive amount around the world because if you go back 15 years, World Superbike had more spectators than MotoGP. And then it swapped. So now MotoGP in every country has a lot of spectators.

In World Superbikes we have a lot of spectators for example in Italy. In Spain it was always about MotoGP but now we are getting more spectators. In Thailand we have a lot of spectators. But here in Malaysia we've got very few.

It's about trying to capture the imagination of the public. Because Superbikes are like the bikes you can buy on the road, some people are interested to see how their bike performs on the racetrack. But one of the most important things, in my opinion the most important thing, is the characters. The riders.

In MotoGP at the moment you have some very strong personalities. Everybody knows who Valentino Rossi is. Everybody knows who Marc Marquez is. In World Superbike at the moment we don't have that strength.

The frustrating part is I know all the riders, most of them are British and they are incredibly good characters. They are really funny! But to transmit that to the public, so they understand how cool these guys are, is actually really hard. So it's a little bit step-by-step. As the public gets to know them more, then more people watch Superbikes and the more publicity it gets. But it's getting that 'circle' started.

It would be good to get some new riders in as well. We've already got some experienced riders, but also some riders coming back from MotoGP. It's great to have Nicky Hayden here. If we can have some more swapping that would also be great to inspire some people to watch, because normally the racing here is good. We just need to let people know about it.

Shaina:
I watch the racing on TV and the Ducati is now using two exhausts, is that against the rules and what is actually the function of two exhausts?

Scott Smart:
I said my job involves a lot of politics and suddenly this interview has got politics involved! The rules state that you have to have the same number of silencers, or outlets, on the same side of the bike. If you look at a Ducati road bike it has one on each side, at the bottom. So it has to always have one on each side.

The first development they had, had one exhaust up high on the right but still on the bottom on the left. So still one on each side. The latest development has them both up high, so it's really obvious and suddenly everyone is paying attention to it.

The interesting thing is people for years have forgotten that if you look at a Honda Fireblade, from more or less 2008, or a Yamaha R6 from 2006, they have one exhaust pipe at the bottom. It points out one side but it's underneath the bike. But nobody noticed that an R6 and a Fireblade have them, when you race, up on the side in the same place as most other bikes. Nobody mentioned it before. It's only now that the Ducati has a very noisy exhaust pipe up high that people have said 'hang on, is that legal?'

But of course my job is to make sure all the bikes are legal. So before Ducati even ran that exhaust pipe they showed me the designs for the first one, last year, which they then ran from Portimao last year. And then at the end of last year they had all the computer designs for this version. They showed me because before they use the time to develop the exhaust pipe, it's their job to confirm and work with me to make sure their bike is legal.

So I saw the designs a long time ago. It was actually interesting for me to wait to see when the exhaust would arrive, which was at Aragon. But the interesting thing about Aragon for Ducati, or for Chaz Davies, is that when Chaz Davies goes to Aragon he goes there to win. It doesn't matter how good or bad his bike is. He has a very, very good history at Aragon. Even last year when the Ducati was slower he won one race and almost won the other.

This year he won both races and it was quite an interesting situation for me, again with politics. The new exhaust arrives, Chaz wins both races and everybody asks 'hang on, is it because of the exhaust?' Well the exhaust pipe helped, but actually it was other aspects as well that made the bike better that weekend.

It's my job to be inside everybody's garage and investigate to make sure everything is legal. It's definitely a full time job trying to keep 24 riders in Supersport, 24 in Superbike and then in Europe we have even more with Superstock and European Supersport. So it's a very busy job.

As you can see I have a couple of people travelling around the world helping me, and even more when we are in Europe. So I've got an office full of people whose job is to help me figure out if everyone is doing what they are supposed to.

Shaina:
The last question is, when I asked about wings in MotoGP people told me it is not allowed in World Superbike. It that correct and what is the real function of wings?

Scott Smart:
Even more politics! So, in World Superbikes the bikes are based and have to still look like the road bike. In Superstock and Supersport the bikes look almost exactly the same as the road bike. The bodywork has to follow almost perfectly the road bike. In Superbikes, because they are allowed more modifications, the shape of the fairing is allowed to change a little bit. They are allowed literally 1cm difference in places.

There are no wings on road bikes - at the moment, I hasten to add. So at the moment, because the road bike doesn't have it, you can't put it onto the Superbike. Now if the road bikes start to have wings, then we have a new discussion!

Actually, the discussion has already started. The manufacturers are discussing it and also in the FIM and Dorna, we have discussed the policy for wings in the Superbike classes. If road bikes have them then we have to consider whether or not, or how, we allow them in World Superbikes.

You also asked about the function of the wings. It's actually more important in MotoGP than in Superbikes.

Superbikes have a lot of power, most of the bikes for the road are more-or-less 200 horsepower. By the time you've done the tuning and modifications the best bikes here have nearly 230 horsepower. The range is about 220-230. Before, when you could modify a Superbike more, it was about 240.

But a MotoGP bike has a lot more power than that. When you've got that much power you can go much faster on the straight. When you go faster on the straight the pressure of the wind pushes the bike backwards and makes the front of the bike come up higher. So the only way to make the front stay lower, without reducing the power, is to use the wings to hold the front down.

It also helps in the fast corners. Because when you have the gas on, it pushes the front of the bike up. Then you lose the grip and feeling from the front tyre. So again the wings hold the front wheel down. Because we have less power in Superbikes that problem hasn't begun to arise yet. If we get more and more power here there is going to be more potential need for the wings, but at the moment it is not really an issue.

The issue will actually be a political one, rather than a technical one, once the road bike versions have wings. Then we will have to decide if it is safe or not, and if we allow them exactly as the road bikes or not. That is going to be my problem maybe for next year and almost certainly from 2018-2019, because the fashion is going to mean the road Superbikes have wings.

The other thing that's going to be strange is that, if they do put them on road bikes, they've got almost no use because the speed on the road is nowhere near fast enough to ever need a wing. They are just going to look cool!

Shaina:
Thank you very much for the time.

Scott Smart:
You're welcome. It's a pleasure. I've seen all the other people you've interviewed, so I'm honoured I managed to get some of your time.