Photos from 250+ Feet up COTA’s Petrolsaurus Rex

Standing 251 feet above Turns 16, 17, & 18, the COTA observation tower provides a bird’s eye view of just about every tun on the circuit, if you can stomach its subtle sway in the wind and clear-glass floor at the precipice. Officially called by COTA as the “Observation Tower” – it really needs a better name for casual conversation. We’ve heard COTA Cobra used a few times with some lovely alliteration, but the structure has always struck us as less snake-like, and more like a big dinosaur — we’re going to use the name “Petrolsaurus Rex” until I hear something better, or COTA sends me a cease and desist order. I climbed to the top of Petrolsaurus Rex (read: took the elevator) during the MotoGP Warm-Up session, and snapped a few photos in the process. Enjoy!

MV Agusta F3 800 Ago Now Officially Debuts

We already announced the bike last November, and brought you a bevy of hi-res images of the special edition machine. Although now that we think of it, MV Agusta never released anything on this Giacomo Agostini tribute motorcycle — better late than never, right? Back at the EICMA show launch, where the MV Agusta F3 800 Ago was first shown to the public (and Agostini himself), the Varese brand promised us two additional motorcycle launches in early 2014. MV Agsuta made good on half that promise with the Dragster 800 model, hopefully this Ago special edition isn’t the other half of that statement, and MV Agusta still has something waiting in the wings. That being said, the Tricolore & Gold paint scheme is gorgeous, and looks even better in person.

Isle of Man TT Gets TV Deal for Australia & USA

Want to watch the Isle of Man TT from the comfort of your non-British TV, but haven’t been able to in the past? A new TV from the Isle of Man’s Department of Economic Development will do just that. Inking a new TV contract with North One TV, the Isle of Man TT will be televised in the American, Australian, and of course British markets, making it easier than ever to watch the iconic road race. With a five-year contract with the Velocity Channel in the US, the American cable channel will show seven one-hour race shows. Each segment will air within 24hrs of each race, and be tailored for the American market.

Castiglioni Denies Fiat Buyout of MV Agusta Is in the Works

After reporting 22% growth in Q1 2014, Giovanni Castiglioni had some closing words about the rumors that Fiat could acquire MV Agusta — a popular rumor that has been swirling around in the press the last two months. Denying outright that MV Agusta had, or was in, talks with the Fiat-Chrysler group about an acquisition (some reports linked even MV Agusta to being bought by Fiat-owned Ferrari), Castiglioni said the Italian company solely was focused on building growth, and building motorcycles. “Moreover, I’d like to take this opportunity to deny rumours circulated by the media over the last few days concerning supposed negotiations vis-à-vis the sale of a share of MV Agusta to the Fiat-Chrysler Group,” said Giovanni Castiglioni, the President and CEO of MV Agusta.

A 2WD Hybrid-Electric Motorcycle for the US Military?

In the coming years, US special forces may be riding a tw0-wheel drive, hybrid-electric, multi-fuel motorcycle co-developed by BRD Motorcycles and Logos Technologies. Helping make this project possible is a Small Business Innovation Research grant from DARPA. The goal is to make a single-track vehicle for US expeditionary and special forces that will be nearly silent in operation, yet also capable of traveling long distances. Details on the proposed machine are light, of course, but it sounds like the 2WD dirt bike will be based off the BRD RedShift MX (shown above), and use an electric drivetrain, as well as a multi-fuel internal combustion engine to achieve its goals.

Colin Edwards Will Retire from Racing after 2014 Season

Announcing his decision during the pre-event press conference for the Red Bull Grand Prix of the Americas, Colin Edwards told the assembled press that 2014 would be the Texan’s last season racing a motorcycle. Citing a lack of improvement on his performance in pre-season testing and at the Qatar GP, Edwards decision perhaps answers the lingering question in the paddock of when the American rider would hang-up his spurs after an illustrious career in AMA, WSBK and MotoGP. Talking about his inability to come to terms with the Forward Yamaha, which Aleix Espargaro was able to take to the front of the pack in Qatar, Edwards was at a loss when it came to understanding the Open Class machine and his lack of results.

MSF Updates Its Basic RiderCourse Curriculum

It is no surprise that statistics from the NHTSA show that motorcycle accidents and injuries are on the rise. According to the 2012 Motor Vehicle Crash report published by the NHTSA, motorcycle fatalities for that year rose to 4,957, up seven percent from 2011, while injuries increased 15% to 93,000. While the NHTSA statistics are misleading because the motorcycle category includes mopeds, scooters, three-wheelers, pocket bikes, mini bikes, and off-road vehicles, new riders need every advantage they can afford. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation has taken notice of these statistics and has revised the curriculum for its Basic RiderCourse to include a new Basic eCourse, which students will take prior to in-person instruction.

Yamaha Trademarks “R1S” & “R1M” at USPTO – “YZF-R1M” Trademarked Abroad – But Why?

Are new Yamaha YZF-R1 models coming down the pipe? That’s the question being asked after trademark filings in the US and abroad tipped off Yamaha Motor’s intention to use “R1S”, “R1M”, and “YZF-R1M” for motorcycle, scooter, and three-wheeled purposes. The filings are being taken as hints towards a possible multiple trim levels of the Yamaha YZF-R1 superbike, with the “S” and “M” designations being different spec machines than the current base model. The “S” nomenclature is a popular one in the two and four-wheeled world, though “M” would certainly be a novel designation, outside of say…BMW.

Bell & COTA Create Texas-Themed Limited-Edition Helmet

Continuing its theme of making limited-edition helmets for premier-class US rounds, Bell Helmets has teamed up with the Circuit of the Americas and Chris Wood, of Airtrix, to create a Texas-themed Bell Star Carbon helmet, just in time for COTA’s MotoGP race next weekend. Available only until April 13th, the Bell/COTA helmet features a red, white, and blue flag motif on the front, with both the American and State of Texas flags visible, which then wrap around the rear to merge with a hardwood design, reminiscent of the floorboards in a Western saloon. The helmet is also crowned with a Longhorn cattle skull, which adds to the Texan motif. The specially designed helmet also features a horseshoe, the COTA logo, and the 2014 Red Bull MotoGP of The Americas logo.

Aprilia Mounting a Return to MotoGP in 2016

Towards the end of the 800cc era, MotoGP looked to be in dire condition. Grids were dwindling, factories were reducing their participation, and teams were in difficult financial straits indeed. By the end of 2011, there were just 17 full time entries, Suzuki was down to a single rider, and were about to pull out entirely for 2012. How different the situation looks today. In a recent interview with the official website, Aprilia Corse’s new boss Romano Albesiano gave a brief outline of their plans. The Italian factory will continue to work with the IODA Racing team for 2014 to collect data on the electronics and tires, which they will use as input on an entirely new project being worked on for 2016.

Analyzing MotoGP Braking Stability: Why Is Honda So Much Better than Yamaha?

02/10/2014 @ 9:03 am, by David Emmett15 COMMENTS

Analyzing MotoGP Braking Stability: Why Is Honda So Much Better than Yamaha? Honda RC213V MotoGP Laguna Seca Jensen Beeler 11 635x423

One of the great privileges which holding a MotoGP media pass allows is to stand behind the armco and watch and listen to the bikes as they go past. At the Sepang test, I made full use of that opportunity, and wandered over to Turn 3 – the glorious, fast right hander, where the riders get sideways driving through the turn and onto the short straight to Turn 4 – to enjoy the spectacle of the best riders of the world showing off their skills.

There is more to be learned from watching at trackside than just how spectacular MotoGP bikes are through fast corners, though. The careful observer can pick up clues to what both the riders and factories are doing. With electronics such a key part of MotoGP nowadays, the track is one of the few places where updates are visible.

Updated vehicle dynamics algorithms may be invisible from pit lane (or nearly so, with the occasional addition of sensors or torque gauges the only visible clue), bike behavior on the track will sometimes betray them.

At the end of 2013, Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa had asked for more stability under braking, and some more corner speed. Listening to the bikes at Sepang gave a possible clue as to how they had achieved that. The differences in engine note between the various bikes were instructive of the varying levels of electronics, engine braking strategies, and gearbox function.

That Honda have been working on braking and corner entry was audible at Sepang. Though the RC213V always sounded smooth under braking, braking for Turn 4 the improvement was noticeable.

As they braked and downshifted for the corner, the Hondas of Marquez and Pedrosa sounded more like a big scooter with a constantly variable transmission than a racing four stroke with six separate gears.

Engine revs decreased smoothly, downshifts barely perceptible. There was no popping or crackle of extra fuel burning off, just a smooth, booming descending tone.

How should we interpret this noise? It seems safe to assume that it finds its origins in the seamless gearbox. The system Honda has developed provides advantages changing gear both up and down. I have previously measured the advantage of upshifts, and now HRC appeared to have mastered downshifts.

Honda riders change down through the box without using the clutch – a feature Yamaha was testing at Sepang, and at the top of the list of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi’s wish list at the end of 2013 – but Honda also appears to have combined fuel metering and control of the RC213V’s slipper clutch to produce a truly seamless downshift.

What are the advantages of such a system? The crackling and popping heard on downshifts, especially on the Open class machines, are all a sign of fuel being wasted. Excess unburnt fuel enters the hot exhaust pipe, where it spontaneously ignites, causing the irregular crackling.

On systems with a lot of fuel, this is not a problem, and produces spectacular jets of flame from the exhaust pipe. The Kawasaki ZX-10R World Superbike machine is a notorious flamethrower; to see it in MotoGP, you need to go to Qatar, where the darkness of the night betrays the soft blue flames so vividly caught by our Scott Jones1.

Injecting precisely enough fuel to match the engine speed means the engine produces exactly the amount of engine braking required, with all the fuel being burnt, none being wasted. With the fuel allowance reduced from 21 to 20 liters for 2014, saving fuel is paramount, and deceleration and engine braking is a prime area for seeking to reduce fuel consumption.

The fact that Yamaha spent much of the test working with fuel strategies to find a setup which worked with the ultra lean fueling, while the Honda riders repeatedly said they had not spent any time on it as fuel consumption was not a problem in the heat at Sepang, is a clear indication that Honda’s 90°V is already extremely efficient with fuel.

Saving fuel is one key target, but having exceptionally smooth deceleration offers another significant benefit. Acting like a slipper clutch on steroids, the scooter-like deceleration means that the rear wheel stays firmly put under braking. The changes in braking torque caused by downshifting are being managed perfectly.

The rear wheel no longer hops as engine braking increases after gearshifts, keeping the wheels nicely in line. It is a rather neat little irony that HRC appeared to have replicated the downshifting behavior of a two stroke on a 1000cc four stroke, though at an astronomical cost.

How are they managing downshifts so well? It seems likely that the Torductor – the rotating torque sensor on the gearbox output shaft on the factory Hondas, rumored to cost 60,000 euros – plays a key role here. Initially employed to assist with upshifts and smooth power delivery, it can also play a role when changing down through the gears.

The sensor detects the torque going through the output shaft, measuring both the engine torque as it drives the rear wheel, but also the braking torque from the rear wheel, as it slows the engine when the throttle is closed.

Based on that signal, it would be possible to both monitor engine braking much more closely, and track and respond to it using the engine management system.

By having the combination of electronics, seamless gearbox and slipper clutch manage engine braking torque, this frees the riders up to concentrate on braking. Though they still have to operate the gears (the rules explicitly demand this), precisely timing downshifts no longer appears to be necessary.

Instead, the rider can focus more of his attention on just operating the brakes, searching for the best possible point at which to apply the brakes. The rider has more control over the bike, allowing more precise corner entry, with no fear of the bike being upset by engine braking forces. More efficient braking and better corner entry mean more chances to pass other riders on the brakes, while simultaneously increasing corner speed.

This, incidentally, is why fans have been robbed of the spectacle of riders backing MotoGP bikes into turns. A combination of electronics and vastly improved slipper clutches now mean the rear of the bike is under control. That is a much more efficient way of entering corners, and therefore faster, if less visually appealing.

Comparison with the other bikes was illustrative. The most obvious comparison is with the Honda RCV1000R production racer, as that is very close to being a 2013 RC213V with conventional valve springs, a conventional gearbox, more fuel and the Dorna-spec software (popularly referred to as the ‘championship software’ in the paddock).

Watching Nicky Hayden on the Drive M7 Aspar RCV1000R, you could clearly hear his gear changes while braking for Turn 4. The Honda production racer crackled and popped, and moved visibly underneath Hayden as he lined up for the turn.

No doubt as the season progresses, the teams will get the championship software dialed in better, and smooth corner entry out. But it will never be as good as the factory bikes.

There was a clear differences between the Yamahas as well. While the Tech 3 riders are still without Yamaha’s seamless gearbox – team boss Herve Poncharal told us that they would probably receive the gearbox early in the season – their bikes make the same kind of noise which the production Hondas do, though a little bit more refined. They still crackle and pop, but significantly less.

The factory Yamahas, on the other hand, make a good deal less noise under braking. Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi were experimenting with Yamaha’s new improved seamless gearbox, though it was impossible for me to tell from track side whether they were using it while I was out watching them.

The gearbox is still not as sophisticated as Honda’s, but it offers some advantages. The factory Yamaha riders’ gear changes were smoother and less noisy than the Tech 3 bikes or the RCV1000R. They were clearly audible, but there were only a few pops and bangs, and the revs sounded as if they were being managed better.

The fact that the Yamahas need a different riding style to get the best out of it also makes comparisons harder. Jorge Lorenzo already brakes earlier than the Hondas, letting off the brakes earlier and carrying more speed into the corner. His style is silky smooth and sweeping, and so his downshifting is already optimized as a result of his riding style. Yet the Yamaha’s downshifts were still clearly audible, something which it was often hard to hear on the factory Honda bikes.

From the side of the track, it looks like gear changes while braking are the next front in the continuing battle between the two Japanese MotoGP giants. It is a natural consequence of the reduction of the fuel allowance, and the search for ever more speed. From my limited vantage point, it looks as if Honda currently has the upper hand.

I should stress that the above is all just conjecture, based on my own observations from the side of the track. I spent an hour or more watching at the same point, early in the day while all of the riders were posting a lot of laps.

There was a difference in engine note that I could clearly hear, and there was a visible difference in the behavior of the various bikes under braking. But the theories of how the system might work are entirely mine. I did not try to confirm them with either HRC or Yamaha engineers, as the engineers have no interest in sharing such information.

They would have had reason both to confirm and deny any theory I put to them, and no way for me to know whether I was a victim of disinformation or they were showing me a kindness. For the moment, the above is merely my best guess. And it remains a privilege to be in a position to make such observations, and draw my own conclusions from them.

1: While I was writing this article, I asked Scott if he had a photo of from Qatar showing a Honda producing exhaust flames, either during practice or while the engines were being warmed up. I was confident that Scott would have such a shot, as he is the photographer with the most attention to detail in the paddock.

He has a talent for spotting some of the more remarkable parts of racing, and then capturing them on film, with other photographers tending quickly to follow his lead. If anyone had a photo of a Honda shooting exhaust flames, I knew he would.

So when he told me that he did not have such a photo, nor had he ever seen the Honda RC213V produce flames in the way that both the Ducati and the Yamaha does, it confirmed to me that there is something in my theory.

Photo: © 2013 Jensen Beeler / Asphalt & Rubber – Creative Commons – Attribution 3.0

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.


  1. speedbagger says:

    interesting insight–thanks for the thoughts.

    makes me wish i was there too…

  2. L2C says:

    I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the factory Hondas produce blue flames, and I have the feeling it was in one of Scott’s photos, but I can’t remember which photo or where I saw it. The Ducati “Blue Fire” photo is famous. What I’m thinking of is not confused with that one though.

    Good article. Now go convince Ducati and Yamaha to hire you as an engineering consultant!

  3. paulus says:

    ” to enjoy the spectacle of the best riders of the world showing off their skills.”
    Throttle control – managed by computer
    Anti-wheelie/wheelspin – traction controlled by electronics
    Upshift and downshift – selected by riders, action managed by electronics

    I look forward to world’s premier motorcycle fuel efficiency variomatic racers. Midget riders there to have something to sell merchandise

  4. Edshreds says:

    Post like this, and the one about the seamless gearbox advantage, are the reason I visit every morning. Bravo.

  5. TexusTim says:

    Well thought out theory, I would guess it is very close to correct. the slipper clutch is probably electronically controlled to varing levels in sinc with the throttle or engine revs…man honda is bad to the bone with this technology.

  6. Norm G. says:

    Dürfte Ich mich vielleicht erkundigen. (Might I Inquire?)(Gestapo voice)

    re: “It seems safe to assume that it finds its origins in the seamless gearbox.”

    not that safe. I contend the only role a gearbox (seamless or otherwise) has to play in this equation is that of antagonist. it’s only job is to connect the crankshaft to the rear wheel. in this context, enhancing POSITIVE power flow is a good thing. however (comma) enhancing NEGATIVE power flow is only of value to lorry drivers descending 7% grades. everything you describe is nothing more than the same ole’ electro-mechanical slipper clutch strategies that came to fruition in the 990 era. that objective hasn’t changed. any thing else is a recipe for scattering an engine.

  7. Norm G. says:

    re: “the slipper clutch is probably electronically controlled to (varying) levels in (sync) with the throttle or engine revs”

    no “prolly” about it. the rumours he’s away on vacation and handed off his work to some Jr. exec on loan from the temp agency are greatly exaggerated. he’s the first through the door and the last to leave. ya might say the the guy’s a machine. get it, machine…? see what I did there…? :)

    re: “honda is bad to the bone with this technology.”

    Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki, Kawasaki, BMW, Aprilia, MV Agusta, my Grandmom… we’re more than decade into the 21st century.

  8. Norm G. says:

    re: “There was a difference in engine note that I could clearly hear, and there was a visible difference in the behavior of the various bikes under braking.”

    I could tell ya, but then I’d have to… well… you know.

  9. Jimbo says:

    A great article thanks David! Something to keep the MotoGP addiction at bay while we wait for the season to start!

  10. Westward says:

    This only further solidifies why Rossi is the best ever. Technology has only allowed other pilots to compete in a arena that they would have otherwise failed. Now that the electronics will allow more pilots to pass on the turns, they will take more chance at it Rossi style.

    Maybe the latest technology in MotoGP should be skateboard wheels on the shoulders of their suits or on their helmets cause the lean angles are getting insane…

  11. L2C says:


    I suppose that makes Stoner’s stint at Ducati all the more impressive. Especially during his championship season. He fought Rossi in the turns mightily.

    Much respect to both riders.

  12. L2C says:

    Here’s an interesting tie-in, albeit at a competitor’s site. Hope it’s okay to post.

    –One technical challenge Nakamoto hasn’t been impressed by was the need to transfer and adapt Honda’s previous ECU software from its own in-house electronics system, to the new standard ECU hardware.

    “It’s like changing from a Mac to Windows computer. We change from Honda ECU to Magneti Marelli. The total cost is huge. We also had to buy the data analysis system from Magneti Marelli. The cost is unbelievable.

    “Last year’s Honda [ECU] was smaller, cheaper, more capacity! The Magneti Marelli hardware is 50 percent more expensive than Honda’s one. So expensive. Hardware, data analysis, software. Unbelievable.”–

  13. Westward says:


    Stoner is an unusual talent indeed. However, it’s also interesting that both his titles came when MotoGP switch configurations (@ Ducati w/ 800, @ Honda w/1000). Both times Stoner was unable to defend his title.

    During Stoners first Championship with Ducati, all season Rossi said the Bridgestones were the major difference. So much so that the following season Rossi ended his long time association with Michelin, and switched to Bridgestones. With virtually the same underpowered Yamaha M1, Rossi went head to head with Stoner and prevailed, then repeated the following year.

    Stoner is a god on the Ducati, that is of no question, But Rossi is a god on both the Honda & Yamaha. In their primes, I would take Rossi over anyone and twice on Sundays…

  14. Norm G. says:

    re: “It’s like changing from a Mac to Windows computer. We change from Honda ECU to Magneti Marelli. The total cost is huge. We also had to buy the data analysis system from Magneti Marelli. The cost is unbelievable.”

    being a technical guy, you can tell from Nakamoto’s words that he isn’t so much pissed about the notion of a control ECU…? as he is the notion of being subjugated to using crap technology from what he knows to be a crap company.

  15. mxs says:

    Interesting article …. however 60K EUR torque sensor and similar gizmos to this nature will be death of racing one day. The level of electronics in the racing is worrisome to say the least … One day they will determine that there’s no need to line up on Sun, because the virtual race was one by ….