World Superbike technical director Scott Smart lays out the pros and cons in the arguments to bring in a single-specification ECU, the health of the production series in the boom of MotoGP and the Jonathan Rea factor.

Smart, nephew of the legendary Barry Sheene, oversees the technical rules and developments in World Superbikes as representative for the FIM. While his role gives him intimate technical knowledge of all World Superbike machines, Smart provides his take on the current rules and what can be done in the future to improve the spectacle.

Hello Scott, firstly can you outline your World Superbike role representing the FIM and working with DORNA?

Scott Smart:

I work for FIM which is the governing body of the sport and I’m their permanent representative at the circuit. There are other people like Frank Vasey who was the safety officer and there will also be a medical director – there are always three or four of us. Plus, the FIM jury goes along to make judicial decisions if there are any protests.

The FIM is the governing body of the sport whereas DORNA is the promoter who owns the rights to the championship and they effectively lease the rights to run it for the FIM.

Don’t you also work with Gregorio Lavilla?

Scott Smart:

Yes, I do and it carries on our relationship from when I used to race him on the Hawk Kawasaki and then on a Vivaldi Suzuki in BSB.

And you are technical director, how does that work?

Scott Smart:

It’s my job to lead any decision made regarding technical regulations for WorldSBK but the final decision must be confirmed by a number of other bodies; The Superbike Commission which is comprised of the MSMA, DORNA, the promoters and the FIM and this is done by whatever means necessary, discussion, negotiation or vote.

Ultimately, I’m the guy on the ground at the circuit and I hear the voice of the teams, personnel and manufacturers and from that we can try to formulate the best way of moving forward technically. At that point we would put these ideas to the Superbike Commission at their meeting and this would then be voted on. It’s actually quite a long process to change technical regulations and there are several bodies involved but I would lead the direction.

Let’s say there’s a fairly straightforward idea like a single-specification ECU – how fast can that be pushed through?

 Scott Smart:

It can’t just be pushed through, I would need to discuss it with the people involved. There’s a process that must be followed.

Do you notice a difference between the manufacturers and the people who run the show like there can be in MotoGP?

Scott Smart:

There is an element of that because they may have different priorities but in WorldSBK everyone is really a bit more accessible so it’s far easier to have had open and relaxed discussions with everyone concerned before any decision is made. The main thing is that we’re just a bit more open here.

Is your job a full-time role or a consultancy one?

Scott Smart:

At the moment it’s more than full-time and I spend a crazy amount of time working or travelling around. Currently it’s more or less a 12-hour day for me. There’s homologation, travelling around to the manufacturers, checking the bikes, approval of parts, tidying up technical regulations and more.

So, what is your assessment of the current state of WorldSBK?

Scott Smart:

Wow! That’s a big question because there are so many aspects.

Well, a few years ago, before DORNA got involved it was certainly getting smaller and it was suffering under the might of MotoGP. Since taking it over they’ve formalised the series more, all the teams now know what they’re getting, the work environment is cleaner and they’ve also managed to stabilise the crowds and the marketing of the product. They’re building it because it’s a product they own.

You often hear that DORNA have a negative view of WorldSBK but that’s not the case at all. Everyone in WorldSBK definitely wants it to succeed, it would make no sense for DORNA to buy a championship to close it because someone else would just buy the rights and start it up again.

WorldSBK is such a different product with different bikes, tracks and crowds so it can’t be approached in the same way as MotoGP. The championship has actually been getting better and the kind of bike control you see down the field is so impressive. From the championship’s point of view the problem is simply that we currently have a rider who is doing so well which potentially makes the racing less exciting.

If you’re into riding skills then it’s great but many people still want to see paint being swapped at the front.

Do you think that this is just a Doohan-like era which needs to blow over?

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Do you think that this is just a Doohan-like era which needs to blow over?

Scott Smart:

Potentially, I mean if you look down the field it’s actually pretty close. If you look at Chaz [Davies] for example, on his day he’s as fast as Jonathan but unfortunately for him Jonathan’s a man that can do it week in, week out and even comes third on a bad weekend. That kind of performance is still a spectacle though.

If you talk with fans, the answer is simple, he should go to MotoGP…

Scott Smart:

From my point of view as a racing fan, I’d love to see what he could do in MotoGP. We saw him ride a MotoGP bike in the past but that really wasn’t the best opportunity, it would be fantastic to see him have a go on a factory-supported team so that we can see exactly how good he is.

Is there even a chance of that happening?

Scott Smart:

Well, he’s signed for Kawasaki for two further years so for 2019 and 2020 we’ll definitely be seeing him in WorldSBK.

Is the Kawasaki spend disproportionally larger than the other teams?

Scott Smart:

They definitely have the biggest budget, that’s for sure. But apart from that Provec happen to be such a great team anyway, they’ve come up through the series and are really experienced so apart from the spend they also give him the perfect platform to show what is capable.

There are also a couple of other garages that have good but relatively smaller budgets, while the Ducati can be phenomenally fast but at some tracks it just doesn’t work well for the rider.

Did DORNA have any influence in getting Alvaro [Bautista] to WorldSBK to take the race to Johnny?

Scott Smart:

The GP rider shuffle happened so early last year and I think it was just a case of him drawing the short straw. But it’s our gain because Chaz has now got someone on the same bike who can push and support him to make a faster bike.

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In general, is the technical standard moving more towards a BSB standard?

Scott Smart:

Well they’re both actually moving together because it was me who wrote the rules for BSB and that’s how I got the WorldSBK job.

It’s a slightly more production-based machine in comparison to the previous full superbike.

The only difference in the regulations is that private teams in WorldSBK have to be allowed to buy the same equipment such as camshafts as the factory teams so that they can be sure that they are using the best.

The real difference with BSB in WorldSBK is the electronics which are developed by the manufacturers and passed down to their private teams which is how we saw private teams challenging for podiums last year, whereas the British series uses a spec ECU by Motec. There are a couple of other small differences such as the flywheel but really the differences between BSB and WorldSBK are very small.

Which brings me to the obvious question, why not just use a single-spec ECU in WorldSBK?

Scott Smart:

That’s simple to say that but if you look at the data it’s difficult to conclude that a spec ECU really does make better racing, but equally impossible to say that it doesn’t. It does make the teams realise they all have the same equipment though, which is a positive.

A couple of years ago, for example Suzuki won the MotoGP race at Silverstone and people were saying that that must have been because of the spec ECU. Their rider went to Yamaha and proceeded to win the first races whereas Suzuki didn’t win any more. The ECU was the same so in a case such as that the success was due to the rider.

There are definitely massive positives for a spec ECU though both from the point of view of technical control and standardised equipment.

In BSB almost all the bikes were straight 4’s but in WorldSBK you have v4’s, straight 4’s and v2’s so there are more strategies needed. The traction control would need to use very different strategies which would mean needing a more open ECU which wouldn’t make it that much simpler given that there is already a proven product out there.

Another important point is that WorldSBK is a production series and the manufacturers are here to develop strategies for their production bikes and spend a lot of money here to do that. If you took that ability away from them there would be less motivation to race.

People also forget that the WorldSBK tracks are so different to BSB tracks. WorldSBK tracks are so much bigger and more open and as a result you can use every bit of 240bhp and when you’ve got that much power it’s a good idea to have electronics to control them if only just for safety.

If you look at Cadwell Park for example you don’t use so much power which is why a 600 there goes almost as fast there as a 1000. So basically you don’t have the same bike between BSB and WorldSBK and for that reason electronics are so much more needed in WorldSBK.

If we did go to a control ECU there would also be a huge amount of work for the smaller teams. The larger ones like Ducati and Yamaha have the knowledge from GP’s and Kawasaki would also catch up fast but the smaller ones would struggle and this could mean a larger performance gap. A control ECU could set private teams back further.

A control ECU superficially looks a simple decision because it works well elsewhere but there are still many factors to consider. Having said that though, having introduced them in 300’s and 600’s I’m a massive fan of them even if just for simplicity.

Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of the exclusive interview with Scott Smart