The Wind – Chapter 1
The Wind – a novel-in-progress by Ron Erhardt (aka Foothill Ryder)
Prelude – to the Formula
The FIM – Federation Internationale de Motorcyclisme – is the organization responsible for the rules and regulations regarding international motorcycle competition. The World Superbike (“SBK”) and MotoGP championships are among these, as is the World Endurance Championship for motorcycles. The latter has been governed by a set of rules extracted from various other series for decades, and has been the subject of criticism as a result. For most of this time the dominant bikes in the championship have been loosely based on SBK machines, mildly detuned for longevity and modified to survive the brutal punishment of 24 hour races. For the first time in nearly thirty years, the FIM has published a completely revised formula – called Formula Endurance – which will take affect in two years time.
This formula allows most of the machines currently in competition; but provides a path for manufacturers and developers to produce machines much more focused in their design, similar to other racing series in that the objective is victory on the track; but different in that a broad range of machine design is both allowed and encouraged. By applying a true ‘formula’ to the regulations, the displacement – and therefore the expected engine performance – is balanced by minimum weight requirements. This is similar to the once-used SBK rules which allowed twin-cylinder powerplants a weight benefit over multi-cylinder machines. MotoGP also follows this scheme, and has since the adoption of four-stroke machines in 2002. There is where the similarity ends.
FE employs a mix of rules regarding technology and the application of a variety of processes. Calculations are made based on the best data available to allow technological advances to improve performance and competition. A team with limited resources could field a machine based on current rules and expect to be competitive given good team management and engineering. On the other hand, a competitor for whom resources and expertise was not limited could develop a radically different machine using very advanced technologies, spending lots of money in the process; but simultaneously moving the motorcycle technology envelope forward. It is the latter fringe of the formula which interested Blanco Chiatarini and MotoTechnikon.
The formula would work as a competition ‘balance’ when all players stuck to conventional technology. Racing would be close and winners difficult to choose. For those willing to take risks and explore the fringe of technology and beyond, there could be significant advantages – at least until the ‘balancing’ rules caught up with them. The FIM commitment was to allow the rules to remain unchanged for a minimum of three years, and to make only adjustments to the weight minimums after that, with a cap (maximum change) of 10% to any individual ‘class’ within the formula. MT, having taken the SBK world by storm with a revolutionary three-cylinder bike several years previous, would take this very seriously. The proposal submitted by the American team led by Rod Ehrlmeir was advanced in ways the FIM had not considered.
Prelude – to the Technology
The technologies applied to racing motorcycles had evolved over a hundred years, producing dramatically improved bikes for street use as well as competition in an upward spiral that seemed never to end. Production bikes of a given day were better than the competition machines of a few years previous. Manufacturers took what they learned on the track and folded it into the machines they produced for the enthusiasts of the world, which were modified for competition and ultimately yielded the next generation of the evolution. While this was to some extent paralleled by four-wheel development, the ‘single-plane’ world had Formula One and it’s focus on the advancement of technology. Even MotoGP did not parallel F1 except in powerplant technology, where many of the fundamentals were shared.
Chassis design had essentially been stagnant for a half-decade or more. Extruded aluminum (or aluminum alloy) channels connected steering head to swingarm pivot, to which were affixed fork-type front suspensions and extruded aluminum rear suspension bits respectively. Coil springs and hydraulic dampers were the norm, as they had been for nearly a century. Attempts were made to ‘tune’ chassis flex to provide improvements in machine control and rideability; but nothing like the efforts on the four-wheeled side, where carbon fibre monocoque tubs had been standard issue for decades. Nobody in the two-wheeled kingdom had successfully ported the advanced technology in spite of it’s applicability. It just wasn’t simple. The VR1 was intended to change that using some fabrication techniques not broadly recognized nor applied. Some experimental vehicles developed in a ‘skunkworks’ environment by the Williams F1 team were the only functioning examples of the application. It was no coincidence that MotoTechnikon had a working relationship with Frank Williams’ operation.
Engine design had finally paralleled the F1 world where pneumatic valves, ultra-high RPM, and near-optimum pressures produced phenomenal specific power output. Three hundred horsepower per litre was the norm, with some examples achieving nearly a hundred more. Reliability and rideability were the real determining factors, with design parameters at the heart of the matter. Design practices had to be advanced to keep up with the power/reliability equation; but the chassis had to enable the pilot to control the power that was available. Conventional thinking resulted in both output and longevity that were merely adequate for the powerplant, and often inadequate where the chassis was concerned. While the odds might be acceptable for sprint racing, they were devastating when the race was a dozen or more hours and a thousand kilometers or more. The FE formula could be exploited with conventional engine technology, given other successful machine design factors and a modicum of luck. Advanced technology, while risky, could dominate the formula – if the chassis made similar advances.
The VR1’s powerplant shared little in basic characteristics with either F1 or MotoGP. It’s narrow-angle vee configuration, while similar to the very successful RC211/212V fielded by Honda for several years, was unparalleled in many ways in comparison with anything else. The ultra-oversquare bore/stroke relationship was only the beginning, and allowed a rev range extending well beyond twenty-thousand revolutions per minute while remaining well within the safe operating envelope mechanically. Five valves per cylinder, while again not terribly new to motorcycle engine technology, was implemented with many design features never incorporated before. The radially canted valves meant new thinking for port design, and new techniques for valve actuation that would sustain accurate timing at the astronomical revs. Camshafts and lifters were conspicuously absent. The target was nearly four hundred horsepower per liter, normally aspirated on ‘pump’ gasoline. The narrow vee made it a perfect structural complement to the advanced chassis, providing a very compact package that could be effectively tuned to meet handling objectives.
Instrumentation for motorcycle development had always lagged significantly behind their four-wheeled brethren. Engine instrumentation was, of course, the most advanced as it was easiest. Engine Control Units were essentially the same whether in an F1 machine or a MotoGP bike, so an identical data capture was readily available. There were also strain-gauge based chassis measurements, suspension accelerometers, and vehicle speed and two-axis acceleration capabilities applied by the more advanced teams and factories. The VR1 was at least a full generation beyond this, providing for very complex modeling of the vehicle, the rider, and the racing circuits themselves, along with ‘closed loop’ capabilities which were intended to provide development advances well beyond even the F1 world. Simulation results would be compared with actual results with two potential outcomes. When actuals lagged behind the ‘ideals’ set by the simulations, improvements to machine characteristics would be made. When actuals exceeded simulations, analysis would be done to correct the models. Once developed sufficiently, the models and simulations would be used to optimize machine setup in advance of arrival at a particular racing circuit, which was planned to provide an advantage over the competition in initial speed and, ultimately, final results. It was an enormously aggressive plan; but if it worked the MT team would be king of the new formula.
Prelude – to the Adventure
Rod Ehrlmeir sat in the formal conference room, surrounded by men he could only refer to as ‘suits’. Not the most comfortable of environments for one with his somewhat blue-collar background. He had achieved some success with his own WERA team, running various customer bikes over a ten year stretch. But this was something completely different, totally foreign to the forty-two year old from California. He’d dealt with the challenges and rewards of backing from two different factories, and was always glad to get that kind of help. This meeting was not about ‘backing’ a racing team. It was about designing, developing, and racing a motorcycle purpose-built to take advantage of a new FIM formula ‘class’ called ‘Formula Endurance’.
Equivalent in its intent to the FIA ‘Le Mans Prototype’ concept, FE would allow a variety of different chassis and powerplant combinations – including MotoGP types – to run head-to-head on circuits the world over in races which varied from 3 hour ‘sprints’ to 24 hour endurance events. The rules had been formally announced just a week prior, and the meeting was the first cut at defining the machine they would be developing. Rod had competition in the meeting, a fellow WERA competitor and team captain with whom he had enjoyed hundreds – if not thousands – of miles of bar-to-bar tarmac wrestling. He was a tough cookie and a brilliant strategist when it came to endurance racing. Rod was sure Brad Wilson would be just as tough here. The suits would listen to both of them, and choose one to lead their development and race teams. Rod had done his homework, and was pretty sure that Brad had done the same. The time was now, as the brilliant Blanco Chiatarini called the meeting to order.
He stood from his chair at the head of the table, holding out his arms as if to his children. ‘My friends and colleagues, we are at the base of our next mountain. The Federation has given us our marching orders. We have but to accept the challenge and give our best to achieve the next level of motorbike racing success.” he began, looking around the huge mahogany table, catching the eyes of each and every man and holding their gaze for a few long moments before moving to the next. It was a part of his personal ‘test’ of character. Blink or look away and he had you. If you were not already a part of his team, you never would be. Team members who flinched would find themselves tested in other ways – many times before regaining his respect. Neither Brad nor Rod flinched. Blanco finished the rounds and returned to his seat.
He picked up the hefty document, the FE Rules, Regulations, and Formulae, and tapped it firmly with a thick finger. He raised his eyebrows and looked out at their faces. ‘Have we any loopholes here?’ he asked. It took only a few seconds for the first response; but it seemed like an eternity. Rod was delighted when Brad Wilson spoke first. Rod had studied that document and knew every possible spin. With his key competitor coming up first, he figured he had a good chance to improve on whatever proposal was made.
Brad held his hand up, as if he was a schoolboy in class. Blanco appreciated the gesture. ‘Yes, Mister Wilson?’ he acknowledged with a hand-flourish. To Rod’s amazement (and great pleasure), Brad stammered at first.
‘Uh… yes…. Signor Chiatarini… um… I believe that there is a small advantage to be gained by employing a displacement at the upper end of the formula. The engine would, of course, be based on the BC-30 superbike triple. This would give us the advantage of shorter development time.’ he told the group.
Rod could scarcely withhold a chuckle as he awaited Chiatarini’s response. He appeared deep in thought for a while, then smiled and nodded at Brad. ‘Very well, mister Wilson. I presume you have calculations to backup your proposal?’ he asked.
Brad grabbed the blue folder in front of him and passed it up the table. ‘Yes sir, I believe these will show the results we are looking for’ he said.
Blanco took the folder, perusing several pages at length. His nods and grunts of acknowledgment told Rod he had an opening. Abruptly, the Chairman closed the folder and handed it to the man to his right – Chief of Platform Design Rialta Pedderini, a veteran of dozens of successful racing programs in MotoGP and SBK classes. Brad had made the fatal mistake of proposing a production platform as the basis of a formula solution.
Rod had researched not only the technical aspects, but the personality of MT’s Chairman and the company’s history. He shuffled the appropriate report to the top – the orange folder – and raised his own hand for attention. Chiatarini smiled broadly and acknowledged the gesture. ‘Herr Ehrlmeir, do you have an alternative for me?’ he asked with the same hand flourish.
‘Yes Signor I believe I do’ he began, passing the orange report folder to the head of the table. He waited until the Chairman received and opened the report. The immediate reaction said Rod had chosen the correct approach. On the inside title page was an ‘artists conception’ of the machine he was proposing, replete with the MotoTechnikon logo and an appropriately swoopy ‘VR1’ moniker as a backdrop. Inside the report were simplified formulae and simulation results, thanks to his friend Peter Salzberg.
Rod spoke up after a suitable delay. ‘I would propose to this team that we start with a fresh sheet of paper on this design. We have two years before the rules go into effect and that should give us ample time to design, build, and develop this bike. We exploit the fringe of this formula that allows very low weight on a machine of smaller displacement, yet gives us the freedom to utilize very high technology in the powerplant to gain the needed power. The resulting power-to-weight calculations are on page 9’ he began. Rod knew at that point he’d won.
Signor Pedderini spoke next. ‘ So… tell me my young friend, how do you get the required chassis stability from so little weight?’ he asked, raising his eyebrows for a change.
Rod was ready. ‘If you will turn to page 17, I believe you will see the solution. The chassis is formed by a carbon-fiber monocoque using the engine – crankcases only – as a fully stressed member. Pages 18 thru 20 have the design data to support this. Along with rigidity, this chassis provides a degree of flex in five dimensions which is programmable via fabrication thickness. Baseline handling will be established after preliminary testing and fabrication of a monocoque of the correct thickness in each critical area. Once this has been established, producing chassis’ will be quite simple and very cost-effective.’ he replied.
Blanco Chiatarini, not one to be shy about his decisions, handed the report to his Chief Engineer and stood up. ‘Now THAT, my friends, is the proposal I wanted to see. I am sorry mister Wilson that we have taken so much of your valuable time. Herr Ehrlmeir, I will have our agreement drawn up by the legal team by the end of the week. Welcome to the MotoTechnikon team. Signor Pedderini, if you would please go through the report with your usual thoroughness, I would like to get moving on this project right away.’ he told them, then placing his hands flat on the table he adjourned the meeting.
Rod was pulled into a meeting with the engineering team which lasted the remainder of the day. After a celebration dinner it was nearly ten before he was able to get back to his hotel and catch up on e-mail and phone messages. His first call was to Randy Karlsen’s number, where he knew they would be anxiously waiting. After a single ring the familiar voice said ‘Rando’. Rod hoarsely replied ‘We’re in’.
The Adventure Begins…..