The bike, and oftentimes the track conditions, go through many changes over the course of a MotoGP race. The brakes and the wheels wear, making greater traction control necessary; the fuel is consumed, making the bike lighter...in these circumstances, the adjustments made to the bike at the start of the race are no longer valid, and the rider has to make his own adjustments.
The rider can't stop in the pit lane to readjust the bike during the race, so instead he has to play with the electronics. Before a GP begins, the bike is configured using data collected during the training sessions. Once the race has started, it's up to the rider to control some of these adjustments, and he's got to do it while riding the bike at high speeds.
The ECU makes it possible to configure traction control, anti-slipping, and engine power and braking systems. These three adjustments can change depending on where the rider is on the circuit, which means that a rider has dozens of scenarios to choose from during a single lap. If you also take into account the fact that each system is adjusted independently, the number of variables to keep in mind is quite impressive!
Riders have a series of buttons on the handlebars that allow them to choose which adjustments and systems they want to change. There's a screen just below the windscreen that displays information about the status of the various systems and other important data to help the rider, including temperatures, track conditions, pressure, RPM, etc.
The problem is that when you're leaning the bike, accelerating, trying to overtake another rider, or making sure another rider can't overtake you, it's very difficult to look at a screen that's outside your field of vision. Riders can take advantage of straights to have a look at the screen, but in MotoGP, a straight may last only a few seconds.
ADJUSTMENTS RIDERS CAN MAKE DURING A RACE
Engine braking programme: The engine braking map adjusts the throttle opening to make for a smoother throttle response during braking. Therefore, by making adjustments we can save fuel, reduce wear on the brakes, manage the back tyre, or cause the back axis to slip. This map starts working automatically when the rider brakes and changes gears.
Traction control (TC) programme: TC is much simpler today than it was in previous ECUs. Now it's more of a safety measure that prevents the tyres from slipping excessively during acceleration. This way, if a rider gives it too much gas and the bike is likely to slip, the TC kicks in and proceeds to close the gas a bit to minimize slipping. It's possible for riders to make adjustments in conditions where it's difficult for the tyres to grip the track (for example, when it rains) or when the tyres need special attention.
Anti-wheelie programme: Given the enormous amount of torque generated by MotoGP bikes, they may come off the ground when accelerating in any gear. The current ECU programme starts to work when it detects that the front fork is fully extended (raising the wheel). The adjustments allow the rider to select how much power the engine will lose when this occurs, ranging from more conservative to more aggressive. What he chooses to do will depend on the real-time situation during the race.
Gas adjustment programme: This modulates the amount of power the bike gives you when you twist the throttle. A conservative level means that even if you twist the throttle hard, it will limit the amount the throttle opens. A more aggressive level will cause the throttle to open more. This variability allows the rider to adapt the engine response to his ever-changing needs.
The power of electronics in the palm of the rider's hand
When deciding which adjustments to make, the rider not only takes into account the condition of the bike and the asphalt, but also what he aims to do during the race. For example, if he wants to overtake someone or make up time, he's got to make more aggressive adjustments, bearing in mind that the bike's performance will change accordingly.
In this last instance, the decision is in the rider's hands given that he only communicates with the team via the pit board and a message system that is being incorporated this season. Furthermore, the rider has little time to pay attention to the messages from the team while trying to race as fast as he can.
This is a just quick summary of the different elements a rider has to keep in mind during a race. He's also got to accelerate, take the turns, get ahead of his competitors, and find the best ways to tackle the track, all without losing sight of the strategy and what he'll do when he crosses the starting line and has to prepare for the next lap. It's a lot to have on your mind, but you've got to juggle all these details to win a MotoGP race.