“My opinion,” the always entertaining and outspoken Colin Edwards said when asked about the state of the NGM Mobile Forward Racing Suter-BMW CRT machine, “we got a drag car we’re trying to turn into a Formula One car,” he said with a hearty laugh. “That’s really the only way I could kinda put it in layman’s terms. It doesn’t like to turn. It doesn’t like getting flipped into a corner too hard. So we’re having to figure out all these things, and chassis and motor mounts where they are. All this stuff we’ve got to theoretically figure out how to place ‘em and how to make the bike better. It’s not just one thing. We’re working on everything.” And with the limited resources of an Italian team working with a Swiss engineering firm that does all of its testing at the racetrack against the most sophisticated motorcycles and best roadracers in the world. Added the two-time World Superbike champion with a smile, “I knew when I signed up for the deal it was going to be work.”
Early last summer Edwards found out he wouldn’t be back for a fifth year with Herve Poncharal’s Tech 3 Yamaha satellite team. At the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, Edwards met with Giovanni Cuzari, the owner of Forward Racing and Media Action, a sponsorship procurement company. Edwards had known Cuzari — who had brought Fiat to Yamaha and Antonio Lupi to Tech 3 — for several years. Forward Racing was Cuzari’s latest venture. Formed in 2009 to contest the Moto2 championship, the team wanted to step up in 2012 and a CRT machine was the only way they could go racing in MotoGP.
“We had a little meeting with Bernard Gobmeier,” then the BMW Motorrad Motorsport Director, Edwards began, “and everything kinda came together and we said, ‘S**t, let’s fire away.’ Seems like an interesting project.” On top of which they had the blessing of Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, who was the driving force behind the CRT movement. “And it was like, well, somebody has to pave the way. With the Aprilia in ’03 we were the first ones with fly-by-wire, paving the way there. So I was kinda accustomed to doing some new s**t. So I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’” With backing from Italian cell phone company NGM Mobile, Cuzari launched the CRT team.
The decision to go with Suter Racing using BMW engines was made in the second part of October. Suter had plenty of experience with the BMW and had run an early version of the CRT during MotoGP testing at Brno in 2011 with less than impressive results. Finnish rider Mika Kallio was 3.9 seconds off the slowest prototype over a two-minute lap. That was on the 2011 Bridgestone tires, which were far different from the 2012 rubber.
The first order for 2012 was to get Edwards on track. The Texan had missed the season-ending Valencia test having dislocated his left shoulder in the accident that killed Marco Simoncelli at Sepang weeks earlier. The team arranged for a private test at Jerez in November. Edwards wasn’t at 100 percent, but he was strong enough to give solid impressions of what needed to be done. His comments would drive the development of the motorcycle, according to Suter Racing Chief Operating Officer and head designer Alessandro (Alex) Giussani. The main focus then as now was engine management.
“When Colin Edwards speaks,...
“When Colin Edwards speaks, people listen…” Being the sole rider in the NGM Forward Racing CRT MotoGP team, Edwards is the only human conduit to what the Suter-BMW is doing and feeling like out on the track.
Giovanni Cuzari (left), the...
Giovanni Cuzari (left), the owner of Forward Racing and Media Action (a sponsorship procurement company) talks with Monster Tech 3 Yamaha’s Herve Poncharal. Cuzari has been responsible for bringing many outside-industry sponsors into MotoGP.
Edwards knew the job would...
Edwards knew the job would be an uphill climb, but he has no qualms about taking it on. After trail-blazing (no pun intended) with the Aprilia RS Cube in 2003, Edwards says that “I was kinda accustomed to doing some new s**t. So I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’”
“It’s not a matter of horsepower, of course we are down in terms of maximum performance compared to prototype engines, but I think this will cost us lap time on only a few race tracks,” Giussani said in an interview in the Suter racing semi at the Spanish Grand Prix. It cost them lap time in Qatar, a high-speed circuit, but on the much slower Jerez circuit it wasn’t an issue. “But engine management, definitely, that’s our biggest goal.”
The Forward Racing Suter-BMW...
The Forward Racing Suter-BMW uses a Bosch engine management system. Although Bosch has tons of automotive knowledge, its two-wheel experience is very limited, so the system is yet another work in progress for the team.
Everything in MotoGP begins and ends with electronics. Ducati’s 2007 World Championship with Casey Stoner was attributed to their early mastery of the Magneti-Marelli electronics which have become the industry standard. Suter had worked very closely with Marelli in the past on the Kawasaki ZX-RR MotoGP 990, and fitting Marelli electronics to the BMW-Suter was the team’s first thought. BMW uses a proprietary system that wasn’t available to the Suter project, so Giussani went in a different direction. BMW wanted to go with the Bosch system, “because they were interested to evaluate the system as well.” So the decision was made in November 2010, long before the Forward Racing project, to use Bosch. The system had been used by the Austrian Reitwagen BMW team in World Superbike, but their experience was limited — very limited, they’d find out.
“We ended up working very hard to really get the system up to the current specification…Bosch is fully committed to this project, they are behind it,” Giussani said. “They only lack experience, specific experience, because…despite experience in the past, we have been mainly as a parts supplier, now we are involved like a vehicle supplier and it’s a big difference. So you have to look at the big picture.” He added that “It was the most convenient solution for us, because the support they offer us we couldn’t pay. We simply couldn’t pay. I think it will pay off over the year project. If you look at a one-year-long project over the season, it will pay off.”
With little development time...
With little development time before the season started, the Suter-BMW has been a constant work in progress. Note the wheel weights taped to the cylinder head engine mount; those are presumably to help with vibration that Edwards says is just one of the problems.
The most experienced component on the team is Edwards, who, Giussani said, is “one of the best parts of this project, because of course with his experience he knows exactly where he wants to go and what he wants to achieve and he gives us as a reference, the best possible reference. I feel sorry that sometimes we are not up to this level, but I can’t do much more than this, reasonably. That’s the challenge of the CRT. If it could’ve been so easy, it wouldn’t have been so interesting.”
Edwards would give up interesting for successful. After nine days of pre-season testing and two GPs, the electronics were still a work in progress and will be for years to come. At the third round of the championship in Estoril, Portugal, Bosch brought what Edwards described as “this new ‘Mac Daddy’ traction control program. Yeah, it didn’t work,” he said, laughing. “It just didn’t work. I went out there and the bike was slower than a Moto2 bike. You open the gas and nothing happened. We chased that around for a day.”
The team got close to a competitive set-up and sent Edwards out on new tires. “Let’s just go out and do ten laps,” he said. “And I went and did three corners and (Randy) de Puniet took me out.” The damage was a shattered left collarbone, the fourth time he’d broken the collarbone. He was out for a race and returned in Barcelona for the Catalunya Grand Prix.
There have been breakthroughs that give the team hope. During the second preseason Sepang test, Edwards had no confidence with throttle response at all. He insisted if the team could fix it, he could find two seconds. On the third day when everyone was ready to give up, the team had found something, and Edwards went almost two seconds faster. It was a turning point for the project, one of many.
“Basically, let’s say once we got the engine rideable or acceptable and some confidence in the traction control, and this again happens only in the last day of the IRTA test, and then Colin started to balance out the bike,” Giussani said. “And, again, we just basically, after the IRTA test, decided that we wanted to put more weight on the rear of the bike and change a bit the weight bias. We went back home, modified them, went back to Qatar and (Edwards) was like, ‘OK, now it’s there, now it’s like I like it.’”
One of the biggest problems for the team is lack of resources. There is no testing and they have limited dyno time. They do as much as they can, which is little compared to what the factory teams throw at the prototypes and less, also, than what Aprilia spends on the ART machines that are being run by most of the other CRT squads. “Our main competitors, the Aprilia ART,” Giussani began, “was developed for years in World Superbike by the world’s third biggest motorcycle manufacturer.”
Utilizing a Suter Racing chassis...
Utilizing a Suter Racing chassis and a BMW-supplied, WSBK-spec engine, the NGM Forward Racing CRT machine is unique in the class, but being the pioneer has its definite disadvantages, as the team is quick to point out.
The Suter-BMW S 1000 RR engine, which is World Superbike spec, is “good enough. They are reliable, they are strong, they are nice,” Giussani said. “We got the engine, but the rest we have to do all ourselves. So we have to put them on the dyno, we have to map them, we have to find the way to handle them and manage whatever is the rest. We just take care of the transmission, so clutch and primary ratio, because the only tool we have to adjust the gearing and the final ratio, but the rest we have just enough to do with the rest to also take care of the engine itself.” Giussani said that they don’t need the mandated 12 engines. “We can do with less. That’s the current state. So from that point of view, absolutely, we’re more than happy.” Suter charges Forward Racing about €1.2 million (approximately $1.55 million) for chassis and engine support.
Much of the time at each race is spent on engine management, everything from “how to pick up the throttle, how to control the engine brake, anti-wheelie, etc.” At the end of the day, this “bike is a Moto2 bike with 100 horsepower more than on the Moto2,” Giussani said. “So whatever is easy on that bike, it’s not easy on this.” The power of the MotoGP machine is used to steer the bike, to make it handle, where on the Moto2 it’s simply used for propulsion.
“The Bosch guys don’t have a lot of experience in it and we’re willing to work,” Edwards said “We’re a couple of months away from showing up at a track, and saying, ‘OK, this is your baseline, this is your electronics, fine-tune it.’”
Still, being top CRT by 12.5 seconds over Power Electronics Aspar’s de Puniet at Qatar was a positive premiere for the team. Asked why the Suter-BMW worked so well under the desert lights, Edwards countered, “I didn’t really think it worked that well. It worked OK. And I think we got to Qatar and we kinda got lucky. The first day on Thursday was a disaster. We had chatter everywhere. We had no idea what to do. And then we shortened it up to get some weight off the front, we went out on Friday and the chatter was 90 percent gone, so we said, ‘OK, let’s just figure out how to ride the son of a bitch.’ I mean we got lucky that the Aprilia didn’t test there, nobody tested there. So we got more work done in a short amount of time than they did.” One of the keys was putting a really hard front fork spring in “to force the front tire onto the ground and it seemed to work there.”
The Edwards/Suter-BMW combination...
The Edwards/Suter-BMW combination was the top CRT team at the Qatar season opener, finishing 12th, some 12.5 second ahead of the nearest CRT competitor. Edwards downplayed that result, saying “I didn’t really think it worked that well…we got to Qatar and we kinda got lucky.”
Three weeks later there were struggles in the Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez. The weather was atypical of southern Spain, cold and occasionally rainy. The dry time the team needed to get a baseline for the twisty Andalucian circuit was in short supply. With a lack of track time, the team opted for the shorter wheelbase, but “when you use the wheelbase of a scooter you can’t really use all the power,” Edwards said. “It’s like a teeter-totter. So at Jerez, we really struggled. We just couldn’t drive off the corners because it would wheelie. So all that power you’ve got is for nothing.
“We went to Portugal and said, ‘OK, let’s re-think.’ Trying to hold onto that bastard for friggin’ 28 laps while it’s trying to throw you off the back. The bike’s a lot happier when I’m not sitting on it, to be honest with you. When I’m sitting on it it’s pissed off at me about something. We went short and just…we screwed ourselves in Jerez. We need to figure out how to put the bike long so we can use the power and not have chatter. That’s one of the keys we need to figure out.” One of many and one that can only be figured out at the racetrack.
Having already been contesting...
Having already been contesting the Moto2 championship since 2009, Forward Racing wanted in on MotoGP. The CRT equation was the only financially feasible way to do it.
“To be honest,” he said, it would be around the time of the back-to-back Dutch TT and German GP at Sachsenring before the team was near a baseline. “If we can make some breakthrough, this makes some point and we can understand exactly what’s the bottleneck, it can be quicker. But we have to go through different conditions, we have to go through different racetracks and try to understand and figure out how to adapt, and then we can start to see where the ballpark is and from that point figure out that’s how the bike should be balanced, that’s how the engine should be managed, and from this point on, OK, make one step in that direction, one step in that direction — but minimum of two months.
“But that’s racing. We have to hurry up.” SR