Monday, May 16, 2005


Two words: Traction Control

The Mat Mladin Cup Series rolled on unabated at Infineon Raceway over the weekend, as the perpetual AMA superbike champ wrote two more wins into the record books. Mladin has won seven races so far this year.

I know it begs the question at this point to ask whether or not Mladin and his Yoshimura Suzuki team are utilizing some manner of traction control on his 2005 GSXR1000, so perhaps it is more appropriate to simply wonder what kind. Mladin is not only winning races at this point, he is dominating them, performing 10- to 15-second walkaways against a field of generally paritous factory machinery.

Yes, I know that many dominant racers over the decades have had to endure accusations of traction control use. I suppose it's just part of the territory to an extent. But in Mladin's case, there are more noticeable variables in the equation than with champions past.

Now mind you, I'm not about to accuse Mladin's team of cheating. In fact, it is very likely that Yoshimura Suzuki is operating perfectly within the current Superbike rules, which state that a motorcycle may not implement a system whose "specific" purpose is traction control. That qualification leaves plenty of perfectly fair, albeit underhanded opportunity to utilize the technology.

"So, what exactly is traction control," asks the neophyte race fan. The great Dean Adams offers one explanation:
"While no one intimately involved will talk on the record about how traction control works in Superbike racing, it's assumed that torque curves are customized via the ignition and fuel injection maps, per gear, so that wheel spin is minimized. Having massive wheelspin in fourth gear exiting turn five at Elkhart? The torque curve is modified so that the engine won't simply overpower the tire, and will in fact hook up and drive. And therein lies the paradox of Superbike traction control: When does efficient engine mapping stop being an act of tuning for engine tractability or the best traction, and become outright traction control?"
Which brings me back to my original assertion, that Mladin's bike may be exhibiting noticeable characteristics indicative of traction control use.

Firstly, Mladin's bike sounds different than the other bikes on the grid, even those of his own teammates. And it's not just his cut-down exhaust canister. I first noticed the audible difference in Mladin's bike from the race paddock, but it can even be heard on television, especially as Mladin exits tight corners. To me, the Gixxer almost has the tonal quality of a bike with gear-driven cams, with hints of inline triple at lower revs.

Secondly, notice that Mladin consistently destroys his rear tire at certain tracks, mainly those with banked ovals like Pikes Peak. In many of those instances, his wear rate is exponentially higher than even those of his teammates, who supposedly ride identical machines. Could it be that whatever system of traction control Mladin is allegedly utilizing becomes a liability in certain situations?

Look, I know I must sound like some looney conspiracy theorist at this point, but those who share my assertion have much more than simple conjecture to go on. Every team member I talked to at the last superbike race I attended was either suspicious or convinced that Mladin is using traction control. I honestly hope I'm wrong about this issue, but I don't think I am.

Regardless, history will undoubtedly judge Mladin as one of the best AMA racers ever, even if the traction control theory is one day proven. And I suppose it should. As much as I'm put off by the guy's attitude, I respect his incredible talent and dedication to his craft.


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