All’s fair in love and war. Motorcycle manufacturers have been stealing talented riders from rival brands since people first raced bikes around in circles more than a century ago. So much so that the MotoGP rider merry-go-round is considered a central part of the racing game.
The MotoGP engineer merry-go-round is less of a thing, but it’s getting bigger and spinning faster, because as the racing gets closer the worth of every technical detail increases.
The most important thing to take from this is that no matter how hi-tech racing becomes it’s the human that makes the difference. And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then so too is one factory robbing another of its brightest brains.
This year HRC has taken well-respected data engineer Jenny Anderson from KTM to work with Marc Márquez. KTM isn’t happy about losing Anderson, but the company knows how this game works: among others KTM took the co-inventor of MotoGP’s game-changing seamless gearbox from Honda and a top suspension engineer from Öhlins. This aggressive hiring policy has played a vital part in KTM’s rapid rise from MotoGP rookie to race winner.
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“I cannot be angry if other teams take our people because we came late into the MotoGP paddock, so to get our team together we had to find people from other teams,” said KTM motorsport director Pit Beirer last Friday. “Of course we try to treat people as well as we can, so they want to stay with us, but if someone wants to leave it’s better they leave. I always hope not to lose people because you want to minimise the transfer of technology.”
KTM certainly needed to build a lot of knowhow very quickly when it decided to take aim at motorcycling’s biggest prize. When the Austrian entered MotoGP in 2017 it faced Ducati, with 15 years of premier-class grand prix experience, Honda with 39 years, Suzuki with 40 and Yamaha with 44.
Anderson had been with KTM since 2015, when she was hired by its head of electronics Dan Goodwin, who joined the company from McLaren Electronic Systems, the creator of Formula 1’s spec ECU. Anderson raced cars and bikes before moving to the other side of the pitwall.
Arguably KTM’s biggest tech signing also came in the early stages of the RC16 project. The company lured Jun Miyazaki away from Honda, where he had designed MotoGP’s first seamless gearbox with colleague Shinya Matsumoto.
Honda’s patented “multistage transmission with a lost motion mechanism for regulating the operation for a downward shift in acceleration and for an upward shift in deceleration” took MotoGP by storm in 2011, when Casey Stoner rode the RC212V to world championship success in his first season with Honda.
Immediately everyone else racing in MotoGP needed seamless transmission, including KTM, which started worked on the RC16 a few years later. While some MotoGP factory teams bought in seamless technology from transmission specialists Xtrac and Zeroshift, KTM went to the source, signing Miyazaki from Honda.
Miyazaki is a mastermind of transmissions. He is also named on various other Honda patents, including clutch designs, slipper-clutch designs and variable transmissions for scooters.
This content was originally published here.