New MotoAmerica Superbike Electronics Create Fresh Challenge

“We were starting from scratch,” says four-time AMA Superbike Champion Josh Hayes. “It’s been quite a learning curve.”

josh hayes motoamerica cota race action
Josh Hayes at Circuit of The AmericasBrian J. Nelson

Josh Hayes tackled new MotoAmerica Superbike electronics introduced this season in the Motul Superbike class with the same dogged determination that has thus far guided him to 61 career premier-category race victories and four championships. Along the way, he realized some aspects of the process were disturbingly out of his control.

“We did more testing this past off-season than we’ve done in quite a few years,” Hayes admitted. “I spent a lot of time in the early part of testing sorting out the basics of the electronics, while [Yamaha teammate] Cameron Beaubier rode the old system with the new suspension components.

“When we got to a certain point, we said, ‘Okay, switch bikes.’ We did a few laps on each other’s bikes to see where we were in terms of progress and get a second opinion. We were so busy that it was difficult to stop some of the downloads and go back to, ‘Hey, man, it’s time to race.’”

Hayes likened differences between the previous Magneti Marelli Marvel 4 electronics and the new World Superbike-spec Marelli MLE package to a smartphone upgrade. “The system itself is as different as going from an iPhone 3 to an iPhone 7,” he said. “For years, you’ve been opening the screen and swiping to the right to open your phone.

josh hayes motoamerica race action
Hard line to walk: “Bikes have more grip, power, and braking than we can manage,” Josh Hayes said. “You need some of these strategies to keep you from throwing yourself on your head. With more grip and power, the bikes become more violent. We have to manage that.”Brian J. Nelson

“Now, you hit the screen and swipe to the right and you go to some other screen that you’re not supposed to be on. You just have to click it again so that you can put in your code and open your phone. Some of the most basic things that we knew how to work on now take us quite a bit more time.”

Pressed for specifics, Hayes said the electronics that factory Superbike teams used for the past decade were more intuitive. “‘Simple’ is the only way I know to explain it,” he said. “It just made a little bit more sense. To me, this is a very confusing system, and it requires almost more than one engineer to tackle all of the tasks that it can do.

The guys at the front are the ones who manage the best. It’s like chassis and suspension: There is no perfect motorcycle. How do I keep it simple enough that I can ride it well? The electronics are not better or worse, just different. I’m adapting to something new.

- Josh Hayes

“It’s not in the hardware; it’s in the writing of the software. There are a lot more derivatives and calculations than there are direct measurements, so it makes it quite difficult and very time consuming to come up with all of these different scenarios. I don’t work on the system, but from what I gather, there are literally hundreds of maps that need to be written.

“The basic principles of the bike have to remain true: If I open the throttle, the bike needs to go faster; if I shut it off, I need it to go slower. It’s not been that simple. The guys are trying to sort it out without getting me hurt, and I’m trying to figure it out without throwing the bike on the ground and wasting time. It’s been pretty tough.”

josh hayes motoamerica vir race action
Headed to victory at VIRginia International Raceway: “Cam [Beaubier] is riding really well,” Hayes said. “Toni [Elias] and Rog [Hayden] are doing what Toni and Rog do. It’s a long season. We’re going to go to some tracks and not quite know what the outcome is going to be.”Brian J. Nelson

Significant progress has been made since Hayes made those comments this past April at Circuit of The Americas. In addition to racing at COTA, Road Atlanta, and Virginia International Raceway, where Hayes earned his first win of the year, MotoAmerica teams tested at Pittsburgh International Race Complex, which will host Round 8 on August 25-27.

More seat time, however, doesn’t necessarily equate to reduced work load, especially when facing untested scenarios. Engine braking and traction control, for example, are now even more complicated, which, Hayes explained, adds more potential for trouble. It is also difficult to know if you’re getting the maximum from the system.

I feel more confident on the chassis side than I have since this bike came out. For me, those parts—fork, swingarm—are simple. When you take off a production piece and put on a purpose-built racing part, it’s overwhelmingly on the positive side of things.

- Josh Hayes

“People have the idea that if it’s more complicated, it’s got to be better,” he said. “If I take the IMU and lean angle and wheel speeds and fork and shock travel and I put all of those things together, I can come up with a finer tooth. But that means you have to write tables and have a guy inside the truck who can predict that scenario better than I can riding the motorcycle.

“That’s not easy to do. In my opinion, an engineer in the truck cannot anticipate what the bike is going to do. I’m the one who feels the thing underneath me. As a rider, many times in my life I have thought, ‘That’s it, this tire is done. I can’t do anything else.’ But somehow, on sheer will, I pulled a lap out of my behind to get myself back in the show.”

josh hayes motoamerica superbike race action
“It’s not been as easy to give an input and get a known quantity in return,” Hayes said about new Motul Superbike class electronics. “There are areas where you take that ability away because you don’t allow the bike to do its thing.”Brian J. Nelson

Hayes will have another shot at victory this weekend, June 2-4, at the Dunlop Championship at Road America, Round 4 for the 2017 MotoAmerica Series. Hayes has a total of eight Superbike race wins at “America’s National Park of Speed.” Last year, Beaubier won both events, with Hayes earning a pair of thirds.

Yoshimura Suzuki’s Toni Elias and Roger Hayden have faced similar challenges with the new GSX-R1000, on which they’ve already won a combined four races. “We expected them to come out swinging, but we still have some tricks up our sleeve,” Hayes said. “We’re going to have to work hard. That’s what racing is about.”

josh hayes on the motoamerica podium
Hayes, flanked by Josh Herrin (left) and Cameron Beaubier (right), topped qualifying at VIR, earning his 40th career Superbike pole position. Coming into Road America, Round 4 of the MotoAmerica Series, Hayes was fourth overall in class points.Brian J. Nelson

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