Max Biaggi leads Repsol Honda teammates Alex Criville (3), Sete Gibernau (15) and Tadayuki Okada (8) At Phakisa Raceway in South Africa in 1999. Although Biaggi wanted to experiment with chassis setup, Sinclair and the team convinced him not to, but rather anticipated the track getting more grip as rubber was laid down in the race. The strategy worked, and Biaggi won the race convincingly.
The earliest TC systems cut spark to one or more cylinders for various intervals. The team "only got into the basic stuff with that," Sinclair said. "A few times you could see in the wet where it was miles better. And then sometimes you'd get a really fantastic lap time from the guy and he'd come blowing in and you think, 'Man, that traction control is brilliant,' and then you see the switch was turned off," he said, laughing. "Put you right down back to size."
As the technology increased, so did the disagreements between the riders and technicians. There were disagreements over what the computer was seeing and what the riders were saying. The biggest argument came over which of the rider's two bikes was faster. "This one definitely has more power than that one," a rider would say. "No it hasn't," was the answer, because the data would show you "how long it takes to accelerate from here to here compared to that other one. That other one feels like it's got a lot of power, because it's got a violent delivery. That happened a lot. Actually some of the race wins were a bit like that too.
Norick Abe’s win at Suzuka...
Norick Abe’s win at Suzuka in 2000 was one of Sinclair’s most memorable victories, as the popular Japanese rider won from the back of the grid on what he thought was an inferior tire. The team’s data had shown otherwise, however. Here, Abe leads Kenny Roberts Junior (2), Tadayuki Okada (8), Nobuatsu Aoki (9) and Carlos Checa (7).
"One of the most memorable wins was with (Norick) Abe when he won the Japanese Grand Prix and he'd been 14th or 15th qualifier," Sinclair recalls. The data showed that one tire would work better over race distance. Abe didn't believe it. "Anyway, I finally persuaded him to use what we could see was a better. And that's what he did, he just went out and those other tires just behaved like I thought they were going to behave and he just won the race. He just didn't know where that came from." What Sinclair had seen was how much grip the rear tire was using. Abe was trying to ride it on a rail, "where actually he could go fast riding the thing with the back hanging out everywhere, because he could do that. The other way felt much faster to him, but it wasn't.
"Even Max (Biaggi) at the end there, he was wanting to do all kinds of stuff with the bike" At Phakisa Raceway in South Africa in 1999 Biaggi wanted to tinker. The team argued against it. "The track came into the bike. And the way he went and he just walked the race (he won by 4.8 seconds) becausewhen you make all those changes you're on a different bike each race and it's behaving quite differently. You don't want to be doing that. You want to be trying to ride the same thing all the time if you can. The trouble with adjustability, when you've got that kind of adjustability, and we had masses of it, you don't have to use it. And the trouble is you make a different bike."
Rainey leads the Brazilian...
Rainey leads the Brazilian GP in 1992. “I remember, for example, São Paulo, really bumpy track, we just walked that race because we had suspension and nobody else did,” Sinclair said. Rainey beat teammate John Kocinski by 13 seconds. “We could see all this. And it just got more sophisticated. We started piling on more and more sensors to measure all kinds of stuff and then got into the motor and combustion pressures, exhaust temperatures.”
Sinclair says that now, but it wasn't uncommon for the team to rebuild Rainey's motorcycle after morning warm-up, "and many, many times in Sunday's morning warm-up we would change the bike completely, tear the bike apart after the warm-up and go out there and race with this set-up we hadn't tried before and win the race. He had that kind of confidence that if you thought it was going to work and when he told me 'I think this is going to be okay,' I believed him.
"I didn't want to go with what was popular," Rainey said. "I would prefer to go a different way, because you never knew what you can get out of that instead of what was seen to be known as, 'If you need more traction let's shorten the wheelbase.' (Sinclair) would say, 'OK, let's try a different link and raise the swingarm pivot.' He had that way of thinking about it and he was always thinking about another option. And I think he enjoyed that part of it so that he had that freedom to go do that stuff, because the Honda, he wouldn't have been able to go do that stuff.
As the technology increased, the factories became more involved and there was less room for the engineers to make a difference. From the beginning of the digital era to the 2000 season the data recording became much more sophisticated. Where the first data recorder was the size of half a loaf of bread, the latest ones were the size of a cigarette pack and could measure 48 channels.
"You'd end up spending all your time analyzing the data. It was getting a bit out of order. And even when we were getting into that state I remember thinking, 'You know, you spend all your time looking at that instead of talking to the rider the way you used to,'" Sinclair recalls. "It was interesting for me, because I had 25 years of doing that. And some of the Japanese were quite unsettled about it too. They wanted you to be communicating a lot more about the riders' sensations and stuff. And you'd keep going, 'We know what is actually happening.' And you could easily get into that paralysis by analysis thing," he added, laughing.
Around 1985 Sinclair took up windsurfing. More than take it up, he fell in love with it. For 15 years, he could work the racing season in Europe, then return home for the New Zealand summer to windsurf. (He designs and builds his own boards, including the fin. Everything is computer-modeled.) It was a nearly perfect setup.
But like every setup, there's always a better one. The racing season was getting longer. There were more races and more testing. If he wanted to stay involved, he'd have to live in Europe. The factories were moving to four-strokes "and I knew what the Japanese intention of that was, to keep the technology right away from the team. So I was thinking, 'I'm going to be bored stiff.' I mean, I don't know how Jerry (Burgess) and them stay there. I would be bored stiff."
Funnily enough, just before he left conditions were improving. Yamaha had brought in some smart young engineers straight from college. They were great software writers and diligent workers. There was also an equally capable Dutch engineer. "I can think of specific stuff to do using second derivatives, which is the rate of change of the rate of change. You get your head into the rate of change, now you want the rate of change of the rate of change. He knew about things like second derivatives and that. My math is way too basic for that, but I knew the concept; I could tell him about it and he'd go along and work it out. Just brilliant."
Sinclair was as competitive...
Sinclair was as competitive as Rainey, and as willing to experiment. Before they were the official Yamaha factory team, they had great leeway, “so for instance maybe even cut a chassis up and add weight to it a certain way. And he would do all that,” Rainey said. “That’s where he was building his own stuff, so he understood how all that stuff worked.”
The rider doesn't want to feel change, "and the big deal with the racing motorbike is getting a thing so that they change at a manageable level, everything. The way the engine is producing power, the way the thing is absorbing bumps, the way the grip's coming on and going off. It's all gotta be a rate that humans can be happy with. As soon as you put any excessive rate of change of rate of change, they can't handle it. But you've got to be able to measure that stuff to figure out when you're in the ballpark and when you're not. And that's what was great with (the Dutch engineer) and these two young Japanese guys. It was getting really interesting, but it was also getting hard work with the riders of the time. And, I mean, I was spoiled, because I'd been working with those American guys like Randy (Mamola) and Wayne (Rainey). They were all pretty straightforward, solid guys."
By 2000 the four-strokes were coming, the season was expanding, and there was less time to enjoy life. "One thing was it was getting more and more races, so unless you want to live in Europe, and I was faced with that. Do I want to live here?" he asked, "because I'm going to have to. And it's just going to be more racing and less windsurfing. Get your priorities right."