Mike Scott column - Jan 2006

Mike Scott predicts the loss of sliding from the 990 MotoGP bikes

Roberts Jr. slides his 990. Try that on an 800 says Scott

In your dreams, you can probably power-slide a sports bike on tar. Properly, I mean - using throttle control and footrest-weighting; pulling it upright to get on the fatter part of the tyre for more traction, at the same time as keeping it sliding to complete the turn.

Everyday life for a MotoGP rider, and one big reason why the whole thing is so enthralling. Enjoy it while you can, because the sideways philosophy is already becoming a victim of technology. Soon it may only be a distant memory. Spectacular sliders are on the skids.

Watch Nicky Hayden to understand. Nobody rides a 990cc V5 Honda like he does. Dirt-track is written all over his style - backing it in, rooster-tailing it out again. Man, he's great to watch. But until now (apart from a jack-rabbit run on his home track of Laguna) Nicky, after three years, is still left scratching for the rostrum at the end of races.

He knows the problem. He needs to learn to slide less and drive more when the tyres are gone... and he's learning. Soon, however, he won't have to. Technology will do it all for him.

This will be even more true of the new MotoGP 800s of 2007. But even with the 990s, we've seen a big step in the direction of sliding (or more likely avoiding sliding) by computer, rather than by feel. The major advance has come in fly-by-wire throttles, with all the teams but Honda (with their own complex system) moving towards a man-machine hybrid. At last making sense of Yamaha's excruciating concept of 'the humachine', though they use it differently. This gives the rider direct control of two butterflies, and leaves the other pair to the ECU.

Surprisingly, the software seemed to work pretty well right out of the Magneti Marelli box, and has been rapidly refined during the year. And the implications are large. Here is proof that racing improves the breed. Such systems are directly applicable to big-bore sportsbikes, and will surely be on the street before long.

Honda's system even measures fuel consumption, leaning out the mixture to make sure the bike will finish the race (this failed on Gibernau's bike at Brno, causing him to run out). But it can be applied also to launch control. And is, to a certain extent, on slide control.

The new-breed 800s will be revvy little bitches, with light-switch throttles and ever-higher rev ceilings - nasty to ride, compared with the torquey 990s. Except they won't be, because the computers won't let them. If a rider wants to spin up and slide more or less on a particular corner... well, that can be programmed in. The computer already knows where it is.

Sliding will take place by electronic decree, rather than by the rider's right hand. Unless, of course, he switches the slide control off.

Out the way, Grandad

At present, however, MotoGP bikes still require some rider input. But what kind? There was a surprising moment at the Turkish GP, when class rookie Toni Elias stuffed double Superbike champion Colin Edwards in the last tight set of corners.

Both riding Yamahas, Elias for a satellite team, it was an old-fashioned clattering match, decisively won by the whippersnapper. An ex-125 and 250 rider finding advantage over the man with mainly four-stroke experience.

Another blow for that pack that haunts Edwards' nightmares, whom he loves to defy whenever he does get a good result. If only it happened a little more often.

Plucking marvellous

Talking Turkey, this was a shining example of how to build a race-track. Find hilly country with lots of room, put in lots of sweeping corners, then finish it off with a go-kart section, just to give the elbow-merchants a chance.

It was designed by Hermann Tilke, who also did Shanghai, where even the hairpins have hairpins. Can't get everything right every time...

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