Edwards says that electronics are critical to cornering performance now. “You get it on your knee…and you get 60 percent of your turning done in two meters instead of having to run that whole arc.”
Edwards tries on Kenny Roberts’ championship-winning YZR500. “When men were men and sheep were scared,” said the wise-cracking Texan.
For 2012, Colin Edwards will be one of the established MotoGP stars riding for a CRT (Claiming Rule Team) running a production-based engine (BMW) in a prototype chassis (Suter).
A youthful Freddie Spencer chats with his arch-rival Kenny Roberts during their trademark 1983 season, when Spencer beat Roberts to become the then-youngest ever World 500cc Grand Prix champion at 18 years of age.
“I would run it in until the front end would start to tuck and then time going through the throttle and then kinda get the rear to pivot around…” Spencer at work on his NSR250RW works bike, when he accomplished the double 250/500cc Grand Prix World Championships in 1985, a feat many consider astonishing in the modern racing age.
Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, the Suzuka 8-Hour was the most important race of the year to the Japanese factories, and the premier TT F1 class basically just had a displacement limit of 750cc. With little rules to hinder development, huge sums of money spent by Honda resulted in the RVF750, a V-4 bristling with titanium, magnesium and carbon fiber that put out 160 horsepower and weighed only 300 pounds fully fueled. Spencer lists this bike as one of his all-time favorites.
Edwards on his way to his second World Superbike championship aboard the Castrol Honda VTR1000R SP-2. “We never changed fork springs, we never had to do any of that. I never had a year before and I never had a year since that I could do that. That bike was just magic,” recalls Edwards.
The 1980 Honda NR500 was Honda’s attempt to take on the dominant two-strokes with an equal-displacement four-stroke using rpm (it revved to an astounding 22,000 rpm, and remember this was back in 1980), oval pistons, eight valves per cylinder, and a monocoque aluminum frame as its weaponry. Unfortunately, its lack of flywheel and reliability doomed it to an early demise after two years.
The 2012 MotoGP World Championship marks a seismic shift, with Claiming Rule Team (CRT) machines sharing the grid with MotoGP prototypes in what series rights-holders Dorna hopes will be a permanent shift to less factory-dependent machinery. Not since two-strokes largely gave way to four-strokes in 2002 has there been such a radical change in the makeup of the grid.
Freddie Spencer, 50, was there for the two-stroke era, winning his three world championships on the formidable Honda NSR works bikes. Colin Edwards, 37, moved to MotoGP in 2003, the second year of the four-stroke era after having won his two world titles on Honda Superbikes. Their racing lives are vastly different, but their racing experiences are universal among the elite in the sport. And now, by a twist of fate and geography—Spencer was in attendance at Edwards’ Texas Tornado Boot Camp as a guest instructor—the racers who grew up on the same racetracks, at different times, have been thrown together.
They make something of an odd couple—Edwards outgoing and outspoken, Spencer more guarded with an air of mystery—but their similarities are equally striking. Both are sons of the south; Spencer growing up in Louisiana, Edwards in Texas. Both learned their craft on the dirt: Edwards in motocross, Spencer on dirt tracks. Both learned to road race on tracks like Oak Hill Raceway and Texas World Speedway, and both went on to win AMA 250cc titles. Neither won an AMA Superbike title before they moved to the world stage where their championships came two years apart. Freddie won the 500cc title in 1983 and again in 1985, when he also won the 250cc crown; Edwards won World Superbike championships in 2000 and 2002—both riders winning all their titles on Hondas.
On the third night of the camp, Edwards and Spencer opened up to the students. They offered to take any and all questions, with most—but not all—of the answers on the record.
“We can sit up here and talk about suspension, we can talk about geometry. Whatever y’all have a question about, now’s the time,” Edwards said.
We can’t share everything that they said—space doesn’t allow it—but this edited version of that conversation provides plenty of insight into two generations of champions.
Riders of Spencer’s generation joke that they had traction control; it was their throttle hand. Spencer had a small taste of the electronics that Edwards has dealt with his entire MotoGP career.
FS: My feeling’s always been this, and I would tell the people at the school: No matter what, to get that last half-second or second, you’ve still got to ride it. I rode Nicky’s (Hayden) ’06 bike he won the championship on…I went out the first lap and it was below like 12,500 (rpm) or something. It didn’t work except at a certain rpm. So I was too low initially, the traction control really wasn’t working. So the thing was moving around. I go, ‘It’s not working.’ Tady (Okada) said, ‘You’re not going fast enough.’ So what I had to do was, instead of going around that corner in second, I was in first so that thing was revving high up there and the traction control worked.
CE: So I can explain what he was going off of, how ridiculous it really is now and I know you can see it if you pay attention. We don’t really run an arc. In the old days, when I was on a Superbike and we had no traction control, there was an arc [to every corner]. Once you got in, you knew what your entry point was…I call them dots. You’ve got your entry dot, your mid-corner dot, your exit dot. And as long as you can hit those dots, that is a perfect corner in my eyes. Whereas now, you basically have a braking dot, you have an apex dot, but once you get to that dot, there’s no more arc. Because as soon as you get your knee on the ground—and this may sound retarded to most folks—but you turn it and it pivots. I mean, it literally…you get it on your knee, and the rear kinda has a really, really fast, kind of a little chatter, and you get 60 percent of your turning done in two meters instead of having to run that whole arc. The thing is, you have your life, your balls, your spine—you have everything in that electronics package.
FS: I would run it in until the front end would start to tuck and then time going through the throttle and then kinda get the rear to pivot around, and then I would time dropping my shoulder, dropping my head, and then time the rear coming around and pick it up. If I didn’t catch it in time, as soon as that rear would grip it’d push the front and crash. That was every corner of every lap.
CE: I think I’ve put my faith in the electronics, (Casey Stoner is) 100 times more than me. Because as soon as he lets off that brake, he grabs it. And if you watch Casey, he’ll go and he’ll pivot and as he pivots, he dips his shoulder, he gets that thing upright and just goes brruuup. He’s an expert at the electronics. At this moment, he is the best. And if you look at (Jorge) Lorenzo, Lorenzo’s still more of an arc guy. He’s still more of a chuck it in late, carry it. He relies a lot on the electronics, but Casey’s more that point-and-shoot. He has the perfect bike, he has the perfect electronics package and he trusts it.
The 2012 MotoGP season will see a seismic change, with much of the field, including Edwards, moving to Claiming Rule Team (CRT) machines; prototype frames with heavily modified production engines.
CE: It’s just time for a change; it’s just getting stale. You bring a production engine, do whatever you want to it, put it in a prototype chassis. They see that the formula works in Moto2, so they want to build that same mold around Moto1, competitive racing with five or six guys that can win a race. The problem is they’re never going to kick the factories out, which, if they would, it would be great; the racing would be that much better. But factories are kind of dictating a little bit what’s going on. They always have. And until that moment that the factories finally subside and say, ‘You know what, we’re not going to build any factory bikes,’ it’s all going to be CRT rules, but somebody has to start it.
FS: And the quickest way to get there is for the money other than the manufacturers. I mean, let’s face it, that’s always the driving force, the fact that they are the ones that have the money to be able to build the bikes. But if they could get the privateer teams to build the chassis and get sponsorship and get where it’s reasonably priced to be alright, that’s when it’s really going to take off. Because then you’ll have people that’ll see it working and then the other teams can…
CE: Well, at the end of the day, it’s kind of what he’s saying. Right now we pay €2.2-2.3 million (about $3-3.13 million) per rider just to lease a prototype Yamaha. Honda, I think is a little more expensive. But the Yamaha we lease is not going to be a factory Yamaha. So you spend that amount of money to finish fourth, fifth, sixth, at best…or third at Silverstone, whatever (where Edwards finished on the podium with a broken collarbone).
Both Spencer and Edwards spent years testing and developing tires for Michelin, when there was open competition among tire companies and when tires were built for specific motorcycles on specific tracks in specific conditions. Nowadays, motorcycles have to be built around the control tires.
CE: [This year] we can do more or less what we want, but at the end of the day we don’t have a bike that we’re building tires around—we have tires that we’re building a bike around, so it’s completely different. Now we have tires that are hard as rocks. But we have to build a bike around them. So it’s a lot more work. But it takes a lot of the guesswork out. You build a chassis and instead of getting lucky, it’s kinda that way. You build something that works with that tire or you’re in the range. And if you’re not in the range, it’s a lot of work to get it in that range to work for those tires.
FS: When I was doing tire development, developing the radials initially, I developed them for myself but also for my teammates, and stuff like that.
CE: Don’t you hate it when you develop a tire that your teammate gets?
FS: I can tell you this much...one of the tires that didn’t work very well, I thought would work well on the Yamaha. The first race of the year in Kyalami, Eddie (Lawson) beat me.
CE: I did the same s**t. I don’t know. Somebody else uses it and kicks your ass, you’re like, ‘ahhh, crap.’
FS: So that happens. It just shows that Colin and I are really nice guys.
Edwards and Spencer opened up about the massive differences between the factory-level machines and the satellite bikes.
FS: It has always been that way. I can speak from my own experience. When it comes to the bikes being pretty similar, I know that the next year I basically would start off with the same bike and you might have particular things that you like on it...the basic bike was the same. I know some of the guys today, they have very specific things in their contracts for the performance of the bike. I can say, honestly, I never had anything like that. Ever.
CE: I know 100%, Valentino had something in his contract. 100%, there’s no question.
FS: I never did.
CE: And it was not just one or two, it could’ve been three or four steps.
And I was never on the same thing ever. I knew that when I signed up. It didn’t matter what you said, that’s what you had. When I went to Yamaha with Valentino, I was just a backup guy. And luckily Valentino had little tiny different settings. I mean our settings were basically very similar but maybe a half step harder fork spring or shock spring, but basically very similar. But I was the backup guy. But if they brought something and he tested it and he thought it was better, [they’d give it to me and ask,] ‘Colin test this. is it better or worse?’ And if he said it was better and I said it was better, it had to be better. I was more of a backup for him.
Both riders were asked about their favorite race bikes.
FS: I actually have two. My (Honda NSR) 250 and 500 I won the championships on (in 1985). I liked the 250. The 500 in the beginning was not very good. But it got better as it went on. The other bike I really liked—and this was before your time—was the RVF(750). The RC45 was good. There was the RC30 and then the RVF was the 300-pound F1 bike. That was about the best motorcycle I’d ever ridden. It was like 300, 310 pounds and they were, I think 750 V-4. That was a great, great motorcycle. And I set a lap record on the thing at Suzuka.
CE: The (Honda VTR1000R or RC51) SP-2, 2002. The 2000 bike, I mean, I won the championship, but it chattered its brains off. 2001, we got a bigger rear tire, front tire stayed the same, chattered even more. Every track we went to it chattered. And I’m sitting there looking at (Troy) Bayliss in front of me. Come out of the corner, I’d see that thing flex and just walk away from me. And I’d come in and I said, ‘Man, mine’s just going sideways. It’s like ice.’ And I said, ‘When I look at his bike I can see it. I mean I can see the bike flex. Mine’s not doing that.’ And about midway through 2001 they were already in the development stage. I went to the last race Sugo, I said, ‘Let’s test the ’02 model.’ And I got on that bike and it would do whatever you wanted to. You could just throw it in and grab a handful and everything worked and no chatter. Rear shock that worked good and we never changed. And all we did that whole year was click, click. We never changed fork springs, we never had to do any of that. I never had a year before and I never had a year since that I could do that. That bike was just magic.
Not surprisingly, Spencer’s favorite track is Spa-Francorchamps, a former street circuit in southeast Belgium where he became the youngest ever 500cc GP winner on July 4, 1982.
FS: For me, Spa-Francorchamps. Now that is a Grand Prix circuit. Spa-Francorchamps…you go down the main straight, and then at the end the gate opens up, and that’s La Source, the hairpin, that leads probably to me, one of the most famous…it goes downhill and it goes up, Eau Rouge, it’s the left and the right. On a 500 it’s third gear and as you run down into the bottom and you literally just climb up this one in fourth gear, flat up and over to the left. It’s a great track. A lot of elevation changes and it has a couple of my favorite corners. In the middle part of what is now the permanent road course, because at one time it was the fastest track in the world. Barry Sheene held the lap record or the highest average speed ever recorded (135.067 mph in 1977.) And this is through towns.
CE: My favorite of all time is Phillip Island. For me, you know, it has first gear corners, it has fifth gear corners. Cambers, off-corners, elevation, all within 12 corners. I think it just happens to be one of the fastest tracks; I think it is now the fastest track after they slowed Assen down. Mugello might be a little faster. It’s one of the fastest. Track facilities not especially great. People are nice. Food’s great. Scenery is unbelievable. Weather is s**t when we go there; when I went there in Superbike it was great. Beginning of the year it’s usually awesome. It’s always been my favorite track.
Spencer was one of the few riders to race the radical oval-piston Honda NR500. The bike won one race of note, when Spencer beat then world champion Kenny Roberts in a five-lap heat race on the old, shorter track at Laguna Seca in 1981. Takeo Fukui, an early president of Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) who would become the sixth CEO of Honda Motor Company, said that race was his favorite of all time.
FS: When I first signed with Honda, they had this bike called the NR500. It was an oval-pistoned bike that Mr. (Soichiro) Honda himself, when he was still involved with the company, he wanted to come back in Grand Prix racing, because they had dropped out in the late ‘60s. Well, 13 years later they got back into Grand Prix racing with the NR500. Mr. Honda, the one thing he wanted to do was win the championship, and the two-strokes, the Yamaha and Suzuki, they were winning, but he wanted to come back and win with a four-stroke. The rules at the time was maximum four cylinders, so they came up with an oval piston design that basically was like a V-8. And I raced that thing. It only won two races in its entire life. It won a race in the wet at Suzuka and I won a heat, I beat Kenny (Roberts) in a five-lap heat race at Laguna while he was world champion. Because at Laguna, the old Laguna, I could gear it low enough where the powerband was supposedly 13,500 to 20 and a half; we didn’t have rev limiters. So I geared it to rev from 17,500 to about 21,000. They asked me, ‘How high you going?’ I go, ‘Like 20 and a half, 21.’ Well, the thing is I geared it and then just shifted all the time. We had live starts and I didn’t have to bump start it. I got in front of him and then held him behind me for five laps. They were so excited because I actually won a race. SR