When Giuseppe Met Steve

April 20, 2007 6:00am

The motocross world was surprised to see AMA Pro's Steve Whitelock sitting at the table with the FIM's Wolfgang Srb and Youthstream's Giuseppe Luongo (see Weekend Window). They held meetings at Round 2 of the Motocross Grand Prix Series in Bellpuig, Spain. The three announced common ground on three things last Friday afternoon: noise, engine displacements, and the fate of the two-stroke. After just one meeting, the FIM and AMA already put together their summary and is submitting it together to seven OEMs, with an expected follow up in June.
     This meeting marks an important change in FIM/AMA relations. Both Whitelock and Srb left the meeting pleased that they agreed that they need to work together to "harmonize" rulemaking on key issues. The morning after the FIM, AMA and Youthstream announced to the media what was discussed and agreed, we asked Whitelock to see if this is real—are we really going to be one happy world?

Racer X: What brings you to Spain and these FIM meetings?
Steve Whitelock: There was a chance for me to sit in on an important meeting. They call it the Grand Prix commission. It’s a group that helps how GPs are going to work. Motocross needs to be same all over the world so when they invited me to come, I saw it as a good chance towards making us all the same.

At Saturday's "round table" where the FIM and AMA announced it's agreement to "harmonize" rulemaking, Luongo is center table.

So that was the agenda, was it this 350 business?
The future of motocross. What we are seeing that is good and bad in both places.

After the meeting you had pretty significant announcements on two-strokes, displacement and noise.
The two-stroke thing is something that we found in America and they found here.  The riders coming up through the ranks, 50s, 65s, everyone is on two-strokes. Then they get to 85s. They are two-strokes. Then suddenly now, because we lost out 125s, the kids have to go from 85s to 250s. It’s a huge jump.
     We are going to push to resurrect the 125 class. If it’s a separate class, a two-stroke only class, I don’t know how we are going to work it. This is for amateur racing. Amateur racing is where our kids come from, our racers. We have a planned progression from when to start to when you become a top pro in supercross and motocross.

So the pyramid has some bumps in it then?
Now it has a funny step in it because the kids have to from 85s to 250s. We have lost that 125 step. We are going to see if we can resurrect the 125 class. What they have here in Europe is what they call the Junior class, 65/85/125, all two-stroke. The cost of maintenance on a two-stroke is far less than on a four-stroke, and an average father can fix them. That is what they want. What they are saying here is you don’t want them to have to have professional mechanics at that level. You want dads to be able to do it.

So what about in the states like at Lorettas? Do you think 150Fs would be like supermini and mini just 85s?
I am going to have to sit with (AMA Sports’) Ryan Holliday on that. He is the amateur guy at the AMA. We are going to have to work out a strategic plan. Our standing racing committee has said we need a fix for this problem. If we do a two-stroke handicap change, we have to come up with an answer. All of our amateurs racers are complaining its too expensive and too difficult now.

So coming here this weekend, you knew Europe would have the same issues?
The whole world has the issues.

So yesterday you said the findings from the meeting now go through this manufacturer’s association, the MSMA, to the OEMs?
Yeah. We are saying to the manufacturers. “Come on guys, you need to continue two-strokes with some stuff. This 150 is not a comparison with an 85 two-stroke.”

On this 350F issue, we know you have a goal of something like that in supercross, what’s in it for the FIM? Do they really want MX1 to go to 350Fs?
They have the same problems we have. The bikes are too powerful. There are two or three riders that can really race the bike. Then there are a whole bunch or riders that are getting ridden by the bike. They are along for the ride.

This sounds like what we used to say about 500cc two-strokes.
Exactly. We are back there again. We have a horsepower issue. These bikes are making more horsepower and torque as the full factory works bikes 500s used to. These bikes can’t continue to be like this.

Road racing goes through a lot of bike size changes, it is just that the dirt side is more stubborn? 
So much of it is marketing. When we first talked about what the proper handicap should be for four-strokes and two-strokes, I worked at the FIM technical commission. I said it should be 125/200 and 250/400 but the argument that came back from sales was the names don’t work. “250” and “450” sound much better. The FIM agreed to it, which is a bad deal. 
     The bikes are too hard to handle. They are just like the old 500s. They make so much brute horsepower, the riders just can’t control them. Most of the riders can over-ride a 250. They can’t a 450. Ricky, James and Chad can over-ride a 450 in a race. Nobody else can. They are just along for the ride. You can watch it happen.

Giuseppe Luongo

Where do you find the evidence? What can you see?
The lap times. The Lites are all closer together. From top to bottom, the spread is like 2 ½ seconds. In Supercross from top to bottom is like 4 ½ seconds. The bikes are too much. The 450s allows the guys to clear obstacles that were not meant to be cleared.  
     Think about at Indy, where they made a triple-triple-triple. It was designed to be single – double – out. James can take a second away from everyone like that. Everyone complains we are not using up enough time, the laps are too short. Our tracks have not gotten any shorter—we have to slow them down!

This 350 question has been put to a few 450 riders this year, and the fast ones defend the 450s of course, but one privateer said he likes 450s better because the cost to race stays lower. It’s just so expensive to try and keep up with highly modified 250Fs, but you can race a near-stock 450. Won’t 350Fs take away that advantage to the privateer-friendly 450s?
It will be the same. The 350 will still make way more power than a 250F. That’s still a lot of power. The 350s will still be inexpensive to run.  When you get them to change—if we can get them to change—they are going to make the 250s stronger anyway.  They are a little fragile right now.

Moving on to the noise business, previously you explained to us in round tables that your own noise testing for AMA Pro Racing was just to manage noise in a stadium, not to match or set some global policy. Does this weekend mark a change where now you want Pro Racing to take the lead in noise for all dirt bikes?
We are trying to come up with a standard. One thing is we test at a higher RPM. Our db number is higher. We are close to them in noise. We use the formula for a racing engine, which comes out to 10.2 m/s on piston speed. They are testing at about 7 m/s on piston speed. Ideally with the bore/stroke combinations we are seeing now, we should probably be testing at 10-12 m/s.   It’s going to be difficult to have sound control. The four-strokes have so much internal noise—the valves, the camshafts, piston and clutch basket rattle, even more intake noise. 
     With noise we are fighting a sound wave on four-stroke. The sound wave is longer and travels a greater distance. A two-stroke’s sound wave is higher frequency. In superbikes you have a four-cylinder engine and you get destructive interference where sound waves cancel themselves. We need to look at some technology that can help there. It’s a trickle down thing: If the pros run quiet then the product the exhaust manufacturers build is quiet. Pretty soon these old mufflers will disappear. That’s our goal anyway: Lead by example. As soon as I got back to supercross and motocross, I started a noise program. There was a lot of pushback from people saying, “You are crazy. We never had to do this before.”
     But the noise is ruining our sport and now everyone is coming running. We saw this first and have been chasing the problem. It was something that I saw for the interests of the sport. Now we are getting good cooperation. 

The obvious question is why not kill two birds with 1 stone and make 450s slower by making them very quiet? Won’t that get us where we need to be?
No. When you restrict the engine that way, you hurt something in the performance that the rider’s rely on. The usual place when you put restrictors on that hurts you is acceleration. They still will make very good power, but less acceleration. Acceleration is important in motocross—probably one of the most important. When you are in trouble, you need it to have that instant throttle response to drive yourself out of a problem.
     In the old days, the guys used to use airspeed to clear the triples. Now watch them. They will putt up to the face of a triple and just accelerate and seat bounce it and clear it like its nothing. There are a lot of dynamics there. But it shows how far they have come. The torque of the 450 is what is damaging the racetrack. They cut the fronts of the whoops out. The torque is what enables the riders to clear these obstacles. We can’t do anything more to the racetracks. Outside we are also running out of space, they are going too fast, just like we had with the 500s.

After this weekend, are you thinking the AMA rulebook is going to look more FIM?
I think there are some different philosophies in Europe, but as far as a closer harmonization of the rulebook, that’s a good thing to say. I think if you look within the rulebooks right now you will find a lot of places where we have stolen from each other. It’s not plagiarism; after all, we do belong to that organization.  The AMA is a member of the federation. But word for word, they will not be the same.
     I worked at the FIM for 10 years when I was a world FIM Superbike director and I had a lot of influence in the racing commission, etc. I understand how the FIM works and sometimes I was disappointed with the attitude of the AMA. They were too, “We don’t care what they do in Europe…”
     The globalization, and how businesses affect each other, is changing. We have to work together. We can’t work separately. Yeah, they are always going to race prototypes and we are going to race production bikes, but a lot of them are racing production bikes.
     If the 350 thing comes to be, they will probably start running some smaller engines without anyone knowing it. We want them too.

So we all know that us Americans get accused of being, well, you know, we like to think we don't need the outside world. Are we really getting in line with the FIM?
If we can present our case to the OEMs as sanctioning bodies running two different and important series, and we say together, “Guys, we have a problem, it’s not just a problem in America,” maybe they will pay more attention. We are trying to put a united front together to say we have to do something before it is too late. It’s our job. We are stewards of this sport and we have to make it grow and continue to grow.
     Giuseppe Luongo at Youthstream has spent a lot of money to bring the show to this level. We (AMA) push the NPG to improve the show and the paddock, but we need to make sure that we have the right racing product put together.