TECHNICAL TRACK ANALYSIS: how do you conquer Estoril?

Wednesday, 18 May 2022 05:22 GMT

WorldSBK commentator Steve English spoke in-depth with Mick Shanley, Lucas Mahias’ crew chief, about all of the technicalities of Estoril

The third round of the 2022 WorldSBK campaign sees the paddock return to the Iberian Peninsula for the first of two Portuguese rounds. The Circuito Estoril returned to the calendar in 2020 and since then, Ducati, Kawasaki and Yamaha have split the six race victories. Estoril is an action-packed 4.2km long venue that has a bit of everything and to get you ready for the action. Lucas Mahias’ crew chief Mick Shanley gave a technical lowdown on the Portuguese venue. Shanley has overseen a major technical change for this season, with the #44 machine switching suspension manufacturers. The opening two rounds of the campaign were up and down but Estoril is a fresh sheet of paper and one that Shanley is looking forward to.

ESTORIL OVERVIEW: “a bit of everything!”

“Estoril has a bit of everything,” said Shanley. “There is everything at this track because we've got a very long straight. The start of the straight is very fast because you enter it from a long corner. Overall, your bike needs to be strong in every area: turning, corner speed, acceleration and managing the tyre. Tyre management is so important because the final corner is hellish for abusing the tyre. 

CRUCIAL FINAL CORNER: Turn 13 sets the tone for the entire lap

“The last corner is so critical because you need to carry so much corner speed around the long right hander. This dictates so much about your lap because if you're slow through here it costs you time on the start/finish straight. The straight is very long here so having good top speed is critical, we're not quite as strong as we need to be for this, but then you have such a heavy braking zone into Turn 1. It's such an important section of the track to be strong on because you can make some overtaking moves or defend against them. All of it is dictated by your speed through the last turn, it's a really interesting design for this sector. The most important corner is the final corner because you can lose so much time down the straight if you're slow through the corner.”

TYRE MANAGEMENT: a key to success

As ever in WorldSBK, the biggest challenge for teams will be managing their Pirelli rubber. The SCX tyre, the most popular race option up and down the pitlane, will be put through its paces in Portugal because of the track layout. With track temperatures set to be well over 40C the conditions will also place a huge demand on the Pirelli tyres.

“There are so many right-handed corners here,” explains Shanley. “From the last corner we have four right handers in a row before we get to Turn 4, a left-handed hairpin. With so many corners, and time, on the right side of the tyre, the punishment is so high for the tyre. The left side can get cooler too because it isn’t used for so long until the hairpin at Turn 4. This section is basically filled with second gear corners which means that you’re accelerating hard out of them and putting a lot of power through the tyre. It’s so easy for a rider to abuse the tyre a lot at Estoril if they’re not careful.”

LONG STRAIGHT: top speed matters at Estoril

“Our gear ratio at Estoril is set by the long start/finish straight. You need to have good top speed in sixth gear so that needs to be a long gear which then sets everything else for us. Obviously top speed is very important but so is acceleration because we have so many second gear corners. It’s a tough balance because a lot of circuits, like Assen, will be between fifth and sixth gear on the straights. This gives you a bit more flexibility for your gearing but at tracks like Estoril, or Catalunya for instance, are sixth gear tracks. You know what you have to do with the gear ratio at a track like this because it’s all about the top speed.” 

CHANGING SUSPENSION: how and why change from Showa to Ohlins?

Over the winter, Shanley’s Kawasaki Puccetti Racing team changed from Showa suspension to Ohlins. This puts them at odds with the factory Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK outfit and whilst the offering from Showa is clearly very strong, you only need to look at the manufacturers’ success over the last ten years. For Puccetti and Mahias, the change to Ohlins has been a step forward. Suspension can be a very personal choice for riders and their style on the bike. Mahias looks more comfortable with Ohlins, and they’re giving him much better feedback.

“We changed to Ohlins suspension for this year, and it's been a positive change. Lucas jumped onto the Ohlins bike and immediately he felt more comfortable on the front of the bike. It was a definite step and progress for him compared to the Showa suspension we had been using. It's going to be very interesting at Estoril to see the progress that we've made because there were some very definite areas that we struggled with last year and now we can see if there's been progress. The first round at Aragon was very difficult for us but the winter and Assen were very positive, and Lucas looks excited and ready to go for this weekend. 

“In WorldSBK, you have to make everything available to customer teams but as a smaller team, you need to be sure that you're moving in the right direction before you invest in making big changes to the bike. During the winter, we've seen Kawasaki make changes to the bike, but we've not upgraded many of our parts because we've focused on the suspension change. Factory teams do the development and if it's better, they'll use it, and down the road we'll be able to upgrade to anything new. For us, the suspension change means that it was important to have something to compare the bike to so that we can see the progress that has been made in that area. It's very easy to get lost in a series of new parts so we're trying to do our best to keep the package similar and then understand the Kawasaki with Ohlins.”

ELECTRONICS: how can they be crucial in tyre management?

One of the keys for managing tyres in WorldSBK is found in the electronics. For Mahias, into his second season on a Superbike, his experience is growing, and he is getting more and more attuned to the settings available to a rider to adjust: “The electronics are always a compromise and you're always looking for the best balance between single lap speed and race pace. Managing the tyre at Estoril is so important so we're trying to find a solution for the right side of the tyre because the last corner is brutal on the tyre, but you've also got a lot of other right handers that can punish the tyre too. It's very easy to destroy a rear tyre here so we're working on making sure that we can manage the tyre consumption and have the best durability possible.”

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