Most motorsport development deals with the search for a competitive advantage. Teams find ways to make their race machines faster, optimising them to reduce lap time to win races.
However, this isn’t necessarily the only development strategy in racing and, in some cases, rather than seeking a competitive advantage for themselves, teams look to competitively disadvantage their rivals. An example of this is the aerodynamic design concept adopted by MV Agusta in their 2020 campaigning Moto2 machine.
‘In a spec class where the powertrain, tyres and electronics are standard, aerodynamics can make the difference,’ says Brian Gillen, R&D Director at MV Agusta. ‘Often, motorcycle aerodynamicists look to reduce the coefficient of drag as much as possible because they’re focused on top speed. However, the amount of time that you run on a racetrack at top speed, wide-open throttle and full rpm percentage-wise on a lap in Moto2 is minimal. Additionally, the gain in lap time as a function of top speed is limited as the bikes are so evenly matched.’
The inline 3-cylinder Triumph 765 engine is the primary dictator of the Moto2 bike’s frontal area. The wheelbase and the weight balance must be in a particular position to get the tyres to work inside their window, which means teams must put the fuel tank in a specific place and the rider in a particular area to get the weight transfer that the tyres need. For this reason, all Moto2 bikes end up being very similar in layout.
Motorcycles by nature are highly susceptible to slipstreaming, and in spec class racing, slipstreaming is a considerable element of the strategy for winning races. As such, MV Agusta’s aerodynamic development focused primarily on not giving any performance advantage or at least limiting its adversaries’ performance advantage in slipstreaming.
‘Between the 2019 and 2020 versions of the bike, we spent a lot of time developing it to reduce the draft that we were giving to our competitors,’ explains Gillen. ‘We applied simulations that complement physical testing and match those two together. We were in contact with Airshaper to take a non-closed model and quickly put it through CFD algorithms to get back data to see what was possible to reduce the bike’s towing capability.
‘We then implemented different iterations of body shapes with a snapshot of where we were fluid-dynamically around the bike. Going into the virtual wind tunnel with Airshaper, we found out where we could make improvements. Being engineers, for us, data is nothing if it’s not validated. Having the possibility to do so using Airshaper aerodynamic analysis and the data that we had from the wind tunnel, we reached almost a total convergence.
‘We were able to establish a reference point; then we could dive in headfirst into the iterative process to make the bike more competitive. When we did our complete reconstruction, we did all of the surfaces of the bike. This reimagination of how a motorcycle passes through the air left a reduced low-pressure area behind the bike and smaller wake and fewer vortices coming off the rider at high speed.
‘On the track, this translated into an increase in the MV Agusta bike peak acceleration, increased stability and comfort for the rider and a reduction in closing in speeds from the other bikes as they were trying to catch a toe from our machine.’
MV Agusta’s development strategy of investigating ways to disadvantage rivals is a compelling study in the improvement scope in a contemporary near-spec racing class, and it can translate into many others across the motorsport spectrum.