BLACK & WHITE: IS TRACTION CONTROL A NO-NO OR A YES-YES?

August 15, 2012
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Traction control is prohibited. Yet, virtually every factory team is racing with some form of traction control. Are they cheating? Yes. Do they know they are cheating? Yes. Will they ever be caught by the AMA tech inspectors? No. Will the AMA ever enforce this rule? No. Ask yourself this: If you knew there were no cops for the next 100 miles, would you speed? Every team is speeding.

  WHITE  

Of course, there are those?not just at the factory teams?who believe that technology should be utilized to its fullest. They feel that traction control should be legal…and point out that breaking the traction control rule is at least 15 years old. How so? In 1997, the Honda CR250 came stock with a microprocessor that matched engine rpm to drivetrain rpm every 35 milliseconds. If the processor detected an increase in rpm that was out of the ordinary, it would interpret this as wheelspin and retard the ignition curve to mellow out the power and lessen the wheelspin. Honda did not hide its 1997 software. In fact, they touted it in their tech info for that model year. Then, when it was pointed out to them that it was illegal under AMA rules, they never mentioned it again?but didn’t stop using it.

It should be noted that data acquisition is not illegal?only transmitting it back to the pits is illegal. Modern electronics can use GPS data to measure everything from speed to lap times to the height of jumps?and all the data can be overlaid on a map of the track along with rpm, gear, fuel amount, throttle position and a myriad of other bits of info. This is expensive technology, but it is legal.

Additionally, rev limiters, like those used in Kawasaki’s 2012 Launch Control, are not illegal?even though it is technically a form of traction control that only works in first and second gear before returning to the stock map when shifting to third. Having different ignition and fuel maps for each gear is not illegal. Several bikes have been produced with different maps for the first three gears. Maps are not traction control?and if they have traction control built in, it is the AMA’s job to sort that out. Good luck with that.

Critics of the traction-control ban point out how poorly written the AMA rule is, claiming that it doesn’t actually ban anything. They note that the rule says that “electronic devices specifically designed for traction control are prohibited.” Does that mean an ECU that monitors fuel and ignition maps but also has traction control in it would be legal? After all, it isn’t specifically designed for traction control.

The AMA rule goes on to say that “this includes sensors that can determine front-wheel speed and any electronic control to the brake system.” Does it also ban buggy whips? No one needs wheel sensors in this day and age.

So here it is in a nutshell: (1) No one is cheating. (2) Everyone is cheating. (3) The AMA rule is a third-grade attempt to limit expensive technology. (4) NASCAR has a solution that works. (5) Nothing will change.

  BLACK  

Why was traction control banned in the first place? Because allowing it would raise the cost of racing and put the privateers at a bigger disadvantage to the factory teams. There is nothing unusual about a sanctioning
body banning technology that raises the cost of racing to the point where the competition would be less fair, because unfair competition leads to fewer competitors and, eventually, fewer fans.

NASCAR has banned most electronic trickery. And to solve the problem of cheating, NASCAR supplies the ignition black boxes to each team on race day (and the teams can’t touch the black boxes). By making the teams run spec ignition modules, NASCAR can ensure that no electronic trickery is hidden in the electronics of the ECU. When the race is over, the teams return their black boxes, and the following week they are handed new ones at random.

The AMA could pass a rule similar to this by providing each rider with a stock black box at each race. The rider or team would be allowed to reprogram the stock box to suit his engine profile. The stock KX-F, RM-Z, YZ-F, CRF, and SXF black boxes would have to be returned after the race. This is the NASCAR method. But does the AMA or MX Sports have the gumption to do this?

As far as the spirit of the law goes, most factory teams cheat (for example, they have neutral cutoff switches that retard their ignitions during sound tests to keep their bikes quieter). However, the teams don’t feel that they are cheating under the letter of the law (and they never give the spirit of the law a second thought), because the AMA rules are subject to interpretation. History has proven that the AMA will not stand up for its rules?or if they do, it is only until someone powerful gets caught. Then the punishment, and eventually the rule itself, disappears. It’s funny how fuel tests and sound tests mysteriously faded away in the last year or so.

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