On the eve of the ASBK showdown in Darwin getting underway we had a chat with Penrite Honda’s Paul Free, Crew Chief for Troy Herfoss. Hopefully some of these insights will help interested readers get more of an understanding of how things work these days in Australian Superbike.
Trev – What have you been working on primarily since the previous round and at recent test sessions?
“Electronics. Really just been focussing on electronics. Up until now I just haven’t had a lot of mind space to really focus on the electronics side of it. With the help of Charlie Hallam, he has been coming to the track with me to collectively try and get our heads around the system, as it is really quite a complex system, we’ve just been working our way around that. The manual for it is in Jinglish, so it is quite difficult to navigate, but spending time together with young Charlie, spending time at the track and just playing with stuff and seeing what it does, looking at that on the data-logger, as some things don’t appear on there as they are necessarily meant to, so that’s been an interesting process, and something we will be spending a lot more time with ongoing.”
Trev – Is gearing fairly set and forget these days? With the bikes having such a broad spread of power, or is it something that still requires on-track testing rather than simple maths back in the pits?
“When you go to a new track, like this (Hidden Valley) is new to this 21 model Fireblade then yes perhaps. But we will just start with the older bikes gearing from when we were here last, 2018 I think, as a reference, and then will change that accordingly to the Michelin tyres and this new bike.We might change a tooth perhaps, but to be honest most likely won’t have to.We went to Queensland Raceway to test recently, and we hadn’t been there for many years, and just used exactly the same gearing as we did at Winton and it worked perfectly. We do change it, but the bike has such a massive spread of power. Troy rides this current Fireblade right down to as low as 5000 rpm, right up to the 15,000 rpm limiter, so you’ve got a 10,000 rpm power-band there, which is a pretty damn useable power spread.”
Trev – I believe some of the earliest challenges you had with getting the new Fireblade set-up for racing here in Australia was in the mapping of the fly-by-wire throttle. Which is something the Kawasaki boys have been struggling with this season after receiving their new bike. Results wise it certainly looks as though that’s well and truly sorted now on the Penrite Honda, or are you still tweaking it from day to day in response to changing conditions and from track to track?
“The stuff we initially had problems with was self inflicted. I will honestly say that. We played with some stuff and caused ourselves our own mischief. Once we learned that, it was pretty easy to see what and why things were happening.But yes, like I mentioned earlier, we are starting to put a lot more emphasis on electronics, and opening up more of the package on that side. There is just so much adjustability in there.
“Superbike race teams in Australia Trev are honestly getting to the point, you can see with the Ducati teams, you need a dedicated person to just be looking at electronics all day. Focussing on the data, interpreting that data, then talking to the rider and making the necessary changes based on those two inputs. But probably more so the data than the rider input. It’s getting very, very complicated and increasingly challenging, but I suppose it is just the way of the world… I can see before too long that each proper team will have one person that is just an electronics person, where that is all they do.”
Trev – It is almost an endless black hole that you can pour infinite resources into essentially, and certainly employ more than one guy to focus on, particularly for a two-rider team.
“100 per cent. But in the end budgets rule everything. If you have one person dedicated in that electronics role, even in a multi-rider team, in fact that may even help speed up some processes, having data inputs from two different riders and bikes, but yes even for a single rider team it’s not far away. It adds a lot of costs to a team operation, that’s another person that has got to be paid, got to be fed, got to be accommodated and moved around the country, you know that adds up, but it is what it is.”
Trev – With the new bike does Troy have the facility to change engine, traction control or engine braking control during a race as grip levels change? Or does he leave well enough alone and just trust his right hand?
“To date no. He hasn’t been changing that during a race, to date, but that will change after what we have recently learned.”
Trev – From what I have witnessed, after spending so much time in pit garages with you over the past 20 years or so, is just how much work you put in to tweaking the suspension package, to a degree so fine that the uninitiated will never understand. Despite the bikes producing so much power now, we know that the power delivery is also now so refined and smooth that it does make putting the power down to the ground perhaps easier than it ever was. Thus it seems in modern racing you really win or lose on entry speed, so is the focus of the suspension tuning now much more critical on the front than the rear?
“It’s balance. It’s completely balance. If the bike is not balanced you haven’t got a motorbike. When you know what you are looking at you can see that from a mile away, when you are looking at a bike and a rider, entering, going through and exiting a corner, a mile away.“
Trev – Has that balance changed more towards one end than the other in recent times?
“I don’t know if I can actually comment on that, because I have always concentrated on having a very, very well balanced bike, and a bike that is easy to ride. There is no point in having a motorbike that you can rip the ears off for one lap, because that doesn’t help you on lap 16 does it? So a really balanced bike, whether that was five years ago or now, I don’t think that has really changed.”
Trev – You have worked with Troy for a long time now. Where has he most improved of late do you think?
“A good question. A hard one to answer. I know that his level of determination, and his desire to succeed, at any time, is unwavering. He is just such a focussed individual, it’s crazy. To see that race at Wakefield Park, race two I think it was, six laps to go and he is two-seconds behind the leader, and he has an ability to pull him in and pass that guy, in six laps, I don’t know that anyone else can do that. But this guy here, he is just mental for success.”
Trev – In recent times it does seem as though Troy and Wayne are performing a cut above the rest. Different bikes and different tyres, yet they never seem to be far apart.Your time is spent giving Troy the best package you can provide, and Wayne’s team work hard to do the same. With the fine tuning of all the systems on these latest model bikes do you think technicians now are perhaps more important than ever?
“Mmmm.I don’t know if they are more important than ever, it has always been extremely important that a rider has a good technician, a clever technician, someone that can assist the rider at every point throughout a race weekend, right down to a championship. I think there is ultimately plenty of riders in any championship that could be successful, if they had the right level of support, I think that is the big difference with Troy and Wayne at the moment. That’s not taking anything away from those guys, they are right now at their very, very best. I don’t want to sound like I’m a crew chief in Troy’s team and I am making him win, that’s not what I am saying at all, but I think it is vitally important that a rider has the right people around them, people that know what they are doing, understand the motorcycle, understand the rider, understand what’s required to make that bike and rider package be at its best, every day, every weekend, and make sure it is there and stays in that position. So I don’t know if they are more important now, than in the past, I don’t think so, I think it has been the same.“
Trev – Are there any specific extra challenges thrown up this weekend in regards to the tyre allocation for the three-race format put in place for Darwin?
“No, we have got nine tyres, in total, over the three races and the qualifying sessions. So we have no challenge with tyres whatsoever, we have ample tyres in that allocation, no problem at all. The big challenge here will be the outright temperature. We see this track temperature at different circuits, around the country, and when we go testing and stuff. We just checked the track temperatures here now, mid-afternoon on Thursday here, and it was 50-degrees. We see those temperatures throughout the year, but what you don’t see is just the outright heat of the ambient temperature. It is so, so humid and hot here, I think the biggest challenge up here in Darwin is just keeping your rider physically hydrated, if you can keep him physically strong and fit all weekend then come Sunday you will be right on top of it.“
Trev – Thanks for your time Paul, a pleasure as always, good luck for the weekend.
ASBK Hidden Valley Schedule
Friday, 18 June
10:25am – Practice 1 (40 min) FOX Sports
2:20pm – Practice 2 (30 min) FOX Sports
Saturday, 19 June
10:15am – Qualifying 1 (20 min) FOX Sports
10:40am – Qualifying 2 (15 min) FOX Sports
2:05pm – Race 1 (16 laps) FOX Sports/Channel 7
Sunday, 20 June
10:50am – Race 2 (16 laps) FOX Sports
2:05pm – Race 3 (16 laps) FOX Sports/Channel 7
2021 ASBK Championship Calendar (Updated)
Round 1 Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, VIC February 18-21 Cancelled
Round 2 Winton Motor Raceway, Benalla, VIC March 12-14
Round 3 Wakefield Park Raceway, Goulburn, NSW April 16-18
Round 4 Hidden Valley Raceway, NT – Supercars 2+4 (Superbikes only) June 18-20
Round 5 Morgan Park Raceway, QLD August 20-22
Round 6 The Bend Motorsport Park, Tailem Bend, SA September 23-26
Round 7 Wakefield Park Raceway, Goulburn, NSW October 15 – 17 *
Round 8 Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit, VIC November 5-7 *
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