In the "circus" of the MotoGP Lucio Cecchinello is an reference. "LCR Honda Team Principal, Former 125cc road racing rider, all motorsports lover", according to his self-definition on Twitter, Cecchinello is preparing to begin, with the usual mix of competence and pragmatism, the new adventure with electric motorcycles, as Team Manager LCR E-Team. Born in Venice in 1969, he was a very strong 125 class rider: after having stopped racing in 2003 (with a palmares of seven victories, a fourth final place as best result and an unforgettable triumph at Mugello in his last season as a rider), Cecchinello has directed the team he founded in '96 ever since. As a manager, he immediately distinguished himself for his ability to discover talent (he launched a certain Casey Stoner) and for managing sponsors. His opinion on the present and future of this new class is therefore particularly interesting.
The first podium of MotoE finally arrived in Misano, a goal that has been touched upon on other occasions; what was it like?
“Like a liberation! When we started our MotoE class we did our best to set a highly competitive programme: we chose two riders (Niccolò Canepa and Xavier Simeon - ed) who were very fast and had great racing experience, both at the top of the EWC Endurance category."
Just ten days ago, the FIM EWC Endurance championship race on the Estoril circuit was won by Niccolò Canepa and Xavier Simeon won the world title.
"Also inside the box we had selected technicians who already had a long experience with electric bikes (read here the article about Luciano and Thomas Betti). Despite this major effort by the LCR team and sponsors, the results were below expectations. In 2019 the best result was a fourth place in Misano with Niccolò who barely touched the podium. This is why I say that Simeon's podium was a real liberation together with Canepa's #almostpodium who finished fourth once again. "
The next round is at Le Mans, a track that your riders know very well for having recently raced the 24h Endurance race, do you think they will have an advantage?
Yes, I expect them to have a small advantage because they know the circuit very well: every single bump or dip and every possible trajectory. Originally, one of the reasons why I had chosen experienced riders was that in MotoE you can do a few laps per test session, normally 6-7 laps at full power and then another 3 or 4 with reduced power. That's why I chose riders who know how to quickly adapt to the tracks and how to work on the bike and with the crew. At Le Mans I think that at the beginning of the weekend we will see a slight advantage for Canepa and Simeon and also for the other two Endurance riders, Di Meglio and Hook. Then from there on we will see why there are also other very strong riders this year who have raced on the French track in the past."
The impression is that the overall level of the category has risen this year, what do you think?
“For sure this year the riders know the bike better and at the same time the bike has improved. In my opinion, the biggest progress is the front suspension, which this year has a different hydraulics that allows riders to brake close to the curve and have higher support in the more demanding braking."
"In addition, a battery cooling system has been introduced, basically a conveyor that brings more cooling air around the battery and remove its heat. With this device, we can get more energy in the second half of the race. This is a special bike, different form any other bike with a traditional engine and therefore requires a specific riding style. Last year we saw that some riders adapted quickly and got good results immediately, for example Tuuli or Di Meglio. Other riders needed a little more time to understand this bike, but now the values are more level than a year ago."
You just talked about the technical innovations introduced on the bike this year; what would you like to see next?
“In answering this question, I am very much aware that there is a fundamental issue for the MotoE that is the budget. What we would like to have as teams would probably go beyond the investments that Dorna and Energica could make in such a new category as MotoE. That said, if I could choose without constraints, I would immediately work on two aspects: Traction Control and Weight Reduction. The Traction Control is an important tool to increase race safety because it reduces the risk of high sides that are particularly hard and dangerous with this bike. We as LCR E-Team had three of them with De Puniet last year and two with Canepa this year. In terms of components, the bike already has all the sensors needed to implement the traction control: the inertial platform, the speeds of the two wheels and so on."
What should be developed is the software, but this needs many hours of testing on the track, which would require a very high investment, unthinkable at the moment. Obviously Dorna and IRTA are aware of this, we have talked about it several times and it is clear to everyone that it would be an extra safety item. On the MotoE, the lack of traction control is partially compensated by the torque curve of the electric motor, which is very constant in the first part. This allows the riders to feel the rear tyre slip and handle it very well with the throttle opening."
What about weight?
“Today the weight of the MotoE bike is 260kg (excluding the rider) and to reduce it we could work on two components: the battery and the motor. The battery alone weighs just over 100kg and in each race we use about 65% of the energy stored at the start; this means that we complete the races with still 35% of residual charge.
In my opinion we could work on this element to reduce the size and therefore the weight of the battery. Alternatively, we could maintain the same size as the current battery but with fewer cells inside it, creating air passages to cool the battery from the inside and not only from the outside as is now the case.
Speaking of the motor, this component is the same of the road bike and is designed to withstand the unforeseen events due to daily use such as, for example, the impact with an object on the roadway. That's why I'm convinced that there's room for weight recovery there too. So my dream would be a lighter bike with the traction control, so we could really make a big leap forward in terms of performance, handling and safety."
How important is the weight of the bike when it comes to safety?
“The bike itself is demolished after a crash. The weight is such that when the bike starts to roll it twists and breaks everything. When Niccolò crashed in Jerez we saved the bike's battery; when Xavier crashed in Misano at the Rio curve we had to change all the front end, suspension, brakes, wheels and chassis.
What we have observed is that these bikes, because of their weight, when they meet the gravel, they don't float like the others but they stick into the gravel and start to roll; this increases enormously the damage that is caused in the crash.
The weight is certainly a key element to work on; in the near future we can expect a lot of benefits from the technological development of batteries. It is not unthinkable to have in a few years’ time a battery capable of containing the same energy we have today but with half the weight. This is clearly the goal to strive for, but in the present it is not yet possible."
Here the second part of the interview with Lucio Cecchinello.
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