Q. Davide, you are one of several new faces in the Mahindra Racing set-up, what is your new role and what’s your background?
I am in charge of the technical aspects of the team and will be assisting with the development of the MGP30. In addition to keeping an eye on performance at the circuit and working with the two crew chiefs, a lot of my time will be taken up being the link between Mahindra and our technical partners in the racing programme. Mahindra Racing continues to work with Engines Engineering on the development of the MGP30. Our engine is a Mahindra engine, but the base is provided by Oral Engineering who we work closely with. We also have other technical suppliers such as Dunlop, Öhlins suspension, Nissin brakes, Bosch and others. I have to ensure that everything works together.
For a number of years I worked for Aprilia Racing, mostly in off-road, but this means that I have a lot of experience working with small capacity, four-stroke race bikes. This is an exciting new challenge and I am enjoying working with Mahindra.
Q. We first saw the MGP30 here at Valencia in November when Mr Mahindra unveiled it at a media presentation. Is this the same bike we saw then?
Outwardly you can’t see so many differences, but for sure there have been many changes since then. The most noticeable change is probably to the swing arm. The prototype featured something quite similar to a MotoGP bike, but we realised that this was not the solution for Moto3 and we have developed a new hybrid swing arm. Originally, we had upside-down front forks, but that has changed too.
Less visible, but no less important, there have been many changes to the engine. We also have a different airbox, having tried a variety of solutions. Finally, our frame has changed to improve rigidity.
Q. On the subject of the frame, what is the rationale of using the tubular ‘trellis’ frame?
The tubular chassis is actually easier to work with and more flexible – from the point of view of being easier to adjust and make set-up changes. It is a good solution and our riders seem to be very happy with the handling of the bike.
Q. What have been the major challenges in developing the bike in such a short space of time?
The development time for the MGP30 has been very short. Personally, I only joined Mahindra a few months ago and so I can’t really speak for the team that started the process about one year ago. However, I have still been part of the many challenges of moving from the prototype to having a working bike on the track.
We have had to work hard on weight distribution. We have also had to work on the engine. Although the base of our engine is provided by Oral, it is homologated as a Mahindra engine and our engineers have produced our own air intake and exhaust systems that work very well and boost the power of our engine.
Probably the biggest change between the four-stroke Moto3 bike and the old two-stroke 125s is in the area of the electronics. This is an extremely important element of the bike and these first tests on track are vital to get this dialled in, although there is a lot of work that also goes on back at base. This is an area where my own experience of four-stroke race bikes really counts and we have also taken on a new data acquisition specialist.
The Moto3 rules mean that we are working with a standard ECU [engine control unit], but we have to look at areas such as fuel injection, traction control, engine braking, mapping and data acquisition. A lot of this work is done on the test bench back at Engines Engineering, but real testing is then vital to see how this works on the track with the input of the riders. We are also gathering huge amounts of data that we then use to improve the way the engine, chassis and suspension all function together at the different tracks we visit this year.
To give you an idea of the scale of the work in this area, if you just take engine braking – one of the fundamental differences between the two-stroke 125 and the new four-stroke Moto3 bikes – we have a slipper clutch to alleviate the effects of engine braking and make it easier for the riders. However, we tie this in with programming the software so that there are also adjustments to the revs and bypassing of air when braking. All this has to be mapped and then tested on the track. Similarly, with traction control, we have three levels within the central unit that we can define to optimise this area, while also linking this to suspension and tyre performance. So we are on a steep learning curve at the moment and dialling it all in. The sophistication of the electronics is definitely a change for the team since last year.
Q. The MGP30 has had very little track time so far, are you pleased with the progress and what can we expect to see this season?
Unfortunately, the recent bad weather in Italy has limited our track time and so the three days here in Valencia have really been the extent of our testing so far. With that in mind, I am very happy. The power is good and the bike is handling well. It is a good start, but we still have a lot of work to do before the first race in Qatar on 8 April.
Essentially, we will gather a lot of data from these tests in Valencia and again next week in Jerez. We then have to work at developing the set up of various elements of the bike and modifying certain components. Plus, again, at the level of the electronics, software and strategy, we are still right at the start. Analysis of the data from these tests will be a huge job to work out optimum settings for the bike.
There is no doubt that it is a challenge. We need to make all these changes before the final group test at Jerez from 19-21 March as the bikes will then travel straight to Qatar for the first race and then it is not long before the Spanish race at Jerez. However, I am confident that we shall be in good shape.
In terms of my predictions for the year, it is a hard one to call. However, I am impressed with the Mahindra set up and the bike and I think we should definitely be top-ten finishers in what looks likely to be a very close and exciting new class. With riders like Danny and Marcel on board, I think we can spring a few surprises at some races this year.