MotoGP Closes Electronic Loopholes, Regulates Helmet Use

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The Grand Prix Commission is to tighten the noose on electronics a little further, in an attempt to prevent cheating. The GPC today issued a press release containing the minutes of their meeting held at the Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang.

There, they agreed restrictions on the ECU, agreed to limit riders in all classes to FIM homologated helmets, and increased the penalty for speeding in pit lane.

The two changes to the electronics are aimed at restricting the ability of teams to alter the data on the official ECU.

The first change allows the Technical Director to use an official approved laptop to download the data directly from the datalogger on the bike, connected to the ECU, rather than relying on the team to provide the data.

By downloading the data directly, the idea is to ensure that the data has not been altered for whatever reason.

The issue for the teams is that their data is then stored on a computer outside their control. To ensure that such data does not leak to their rivals, a safeguard has been put in place to have the data deleted once it has been verified by Technical Control.

The second change to the regulations involves forcing the use of an official unified CAN Bus decoupler. This is basically the adapter used to connect a laptop to the spec ECU, to allow the data engineer to download the data from the datalogger.

It is called a “decoupler”, because it isolated the two ends of the connection, meaning there is no direct electronic connection between the ECU and the laptop, to avoid electrical surges from causing damage.

As there is already some intelligence built into the decoupler, it is conceivable that a team or factory could program the decoupler to alter the data in some way as it is being downloaded. Enforcing the use of an official item avoids this.

The other major change for next year is that only FIM homologated helmets will be allowed to be used in any FIM sanctioned racing activity, which includes MotoGP.

The FIM homologation of helmets is stricter and more thorough than the current test used by national and international standards, such as ECE, Snell, and JIS. 

In general, this will have a positive effect on safety, both for racers and for consumers, as manufacturers move to incorporate the new FIM standard in the design of their helmets.

But there has been some criticism as well: the FIM homologation process features a hard-shell philosophy. The idea behind this philosophy is that injury from direct impact is best prevented by having a hard helmet shell, which resists puncture or damage as much as possible.

Critics say that although this protects against direct impact, it does not absorb energy as well, increasing the risk of brain damage because the rider’s head is stopped more abruptly, generating higher g forces, and allowing the rider’s brain to move inside their skull.

The other school of helmet design favors a softer shell, which has more flexibility. The idea behind this is to bend slightly and absorb energy, allowing the rider’s head to decelerate more slowly, and reducing the chance of brain injury as the brain moves inside the skull. The downside to this philosophy is a lower resistance to impact, the critics claim. 

Depending on which philosophy a particular helmet manufacturer follows, it will be easier or more difficult to obtain FIM homologation. Some manufacturers may be forced to produce special racing helmets to comply with the FIM requirements.

Photo: MotoGP