Data engineer Vittorio Bolognesi back when he was working for Ducati Corse. “Hey, who are you calling ‘Sparky’?”

As we mentioned in Part One of “Thursdays with Vitto,” data engineer Vittorio Bolognesi has worked with many different riders in GP, World Superbike, and AMA/MotoAmerica, including Troy Corser, John Kocinski, Mike Hale, Doug Chandler, Scott Russell, Anthony Gobert, Eric and Ben Bostrom, Josh Hayes, Josh Herrin, Cameron Beaubier, and Garrett Gerloff. He understands as well as anyone how to extract valuable feedback from riders and how to work with other members of a race team to help ensure the electronics on racing motorcycles are optimized.

In Part Two of our four-part series, we asked Vitto about the mind of the rider, the advantages of working on a two-rider team, and more. Below are his answers:

Vitto, I’ve seen this happen with riders. Most of them can’t specifically describe what they’re feeling, whether it’s a lack of rebound damping or not enough preload or not enough ride height, etc. So they’ll come into the pits, and they’ll say there’s something not right here or there, and they’ll genuflect with their hands, mimicking the suspension movement or what the handlebars are doing. With the electronics, you can look at the data, pinpoint what they’re talking about, and help them articulate it. Or, in another way, you could almost prove them wrong. Maybe they’re describing something that isn’t actually happening. How can electronics help a rider and team pinpoint a component that needs adjustment or maybe even help a rider understand that something they think is happening, in reality, isn’t actually happening at all?

In the early days of data acquisition in motorcycle racing (early 1990s), the mechanics thought all those sensors were a nuisance and weren’t paying much care in their maintenance. Also, the riders saw the sensors as lie detectors used to put blame on them if they weren’t fast enough. It wasn’t very glamorous to be an electronics technician or data engineer back then and, besides that, everyone called you “Sparky.”

Now, fortunately, data acquisition is considered a fundamental tool and it complements the riders’ feedback.

Data acquisition is not there to prove the rider right or wrong, it is there to help the rider understand what he/she feels and to help them improve in the very short time that the practice sessions allow prior the races.

It is very important to piece together what the rider says at the same time with what the crew chief and suspension technician have to say. This is the only way you are able to get a better understanding of what the data logger has recorded.

If you work as separate compartments, you might actually end up hurting the setup progress. It is not uncommon that a change you made in the electronics—a change that you didn’t share with the rest of the team–will adversely affect a change that was made with the suspension and vice-versa. It sounds pretty obvious, but in my career, I have seen teams working that way, and the results showed it.

Nowadays, engine management software has become very sophisticated. There are a lot of data to analyze and multiple channels for each strategy. Good data-analysis software can help “Sparky”, sorry the “data guy”, by immediately pointing out specific important/critical events (top speed, overrev time, oil pressure alarms, etc.) and speed up the process of providing info to the rider/team.

After a while, as I imagine for anybody else that has been doing this job for years, it becomes like muscle memory because when you see this kind of data all the time, you know pretty much how it should look, and when something is different it will stand out right away.

I’ll sometimes hear riders or crewmembers say that having a teammate doesn’t really provide that much of a benefit, but I tend to think it is a clear benefit. You mentioned being able to compare the data of two different riders. Do you think it’s better to have two riders on a team, or does it matter?

I think having two riders on a team helps for several reasons. Intuitively, the more data you have, the more you can learn. You can share the load of testing tires or different bike components (swingarms, suspension linkages, etc.). You could find an engine issue on one rider’s bike and anticipate the problem showing up on the other rider’s bike and correct it in time. You also might find some combination of gearing that works better for one of the riders, and then try the same gearing for the other rider.

On the other hand, you can have two riders with completely opposite riding styles: a smoother throttle rolling into the corners versus a sharp throttle-twister who is slower in the corners. In that case, there might be a little less value for a rider to compare himself to another rider if the first one cannot adapt to that style.

I often see you in the pit box, sitting down and looking at a bunch of squiggly lines. I’ve seen Westby Racing’s data guy Herschel Auxier and their crew chief Ed Sullivan sitting down and looking at squiggly lines. Richard Stanboli never lets me look at his squiggly lines. I wish he would, but he won’t. The Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing team’s data guys are always sitting at the back of their “classroom” under their canopy and they’ve got their computer monitors facing away from prying eyes like mine. Anyway, when you’re looking at all those squiggly lines, can you tell just by looking at the data which rider’s squiggly lines you’re looking at?

Well yes, again, it is a matter of experience like for anything else. You can tell what a “Speed” line looks like and which one is the “Engine RPM” line or what an “Oil Pressure” line looks like. If you compare two different sets of data, you can also easily tell if each rider has different Final Gearing or if there is too much tire spin or wheelie control. And lastly, if you know your riders’ styles, you can even tell who is who by looking only at the way they twist the throttle or what their corner entry speed looks like.

Given what’s currently available in electronics and communications, with on-board lap timers, data loggers, etc. why do we still have guys on the wall with pit boards? Can’t that all be put on the bike so the rider can see it? Why are stopwatches still being used?

It is not very safe for the rider to stare at a dashboard and try to read it while going 180 miles per hour, so the dash is used mainly to communicate just the lap time to the rider so he can understand in real time how his last lap compares with previous laps. That is very important, and it’s information that every rider wants. If the lap timer isn’t working on the dash, the rider will let you know.

For that reason, you still need the pit board to communicate all of the other info that would be cramming the dash and would be too complicated for the rider to process: things like fastest lap in that session and time remaining in that session, not to mention things like an indication that another rider is following you or that you need to come into the pits.

The pit board also relays the gaps during the race, so there’s a little bit of strategy involved. Theoretically, this gap could be relayed through the transponder system, but to be honest with you, it would be quite complicated and not worth it to do it as of now because the current rules don’t allow communication.

 

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