Aprilia MotoGP engine maps: how the ECU works and why the rider doesn’t change

The Aprilia Spaniard’s race at Motegi was compromised by a technical problem: the Eco map was not removed from his RS-GP, which limits the performance of the bike. But what is this mapping? What is it for and why can’t the pilot take it off?

Luca Frigerio

– Milan

At Motegi Jack Miller’s Ducati dominated, followed by Binder’s Ktm and the Pramac team’s Desmosedici driven by Jorge Martin. The protagonists of the 2022 World Championship were unable to compete for the top positions for the Japanese GP: Quartararo and Bagnaia had difficulty finding the ideal setting for the race, even for shorter practice sessions and Saturday in the rain , and Aleix Espargaro was forced to change bikes during the reconnaissance lap due to a technical problem on his Aprilia. The Spanish rider and the Noale team immediately clarified what happened: a human error, the “Eco” map used in the alignment lap was not removed from the electronics while the bike was on the starting grid, thus compromising the entire Aleix’s race who, on the Sol Levante track, had a great opportunity to recover important points from his two direct rivals in the championship. But what is the “Eco” map? And why can’t the riders take it off while they are in the saddle like on production bikes? Let’s try to shed some light on this by making a brief and simplified analysis of the sophisticated electronics of modern MotoGP bikes.

motogp, THE UNIQUE CONTROL UNIT

For seven years now, the technical regulations in MotoGP require the single Magneti Marelli control unit and, since 2019, the inertial platform also comes from the same supplier. This second component is composed of gyroscopes and accelerometers to know in every single moment the position of the bike when leaning, braking or wheeling, so as to manage the pilot aid strategies more precisely. The purpose of this regulatory technical choice is mainly to lower costs and to standardize the performance of the bikes on the grid. In fact, not all manufacturers have the same budget to invest in the prototypes of the World Championship and, in this way, the competitiveness of the vehicle is not completely influenced by the economic power of the brand. The control units are therefore the same for everyone and, as you can imagine, Magneti Marelli technicians have tried to offer as many solutions as possible to satisfy all manufacturers. For this reason, Aprilia like Honda, Ducati, Suzuki, Yamaha and Ktm, have a limited number of mappings to manage the numerous strategy parameters to be exploited in the race (engine brake, throttle response, traction control, drift control and much more. even more). In short, the potential of these ECUs is far superior and customizable to that of the production bikes we all know, but it also has limits, as seen at the Japanese GP with Aleix Espargaro.

motogp, WHAT IS THE ECO MAP

The Spaniard immediately noticed the problem, more precisely at the first acceleration of the warm-up lap, the reconnaissance lap that takes place in the two minutes before the race lights go out. The bike was limited in performance, more precisely it did not go beyond 4,000 rpm or 100 km / h, as specified by Aleix. A strategic choice by Aprilia (like other manufacturers) in order not to consume too much fuel in the deployment lap (when the bikes enter the track from the pits 20 minutes from the start) and to exploit as much fuel as possible, and therefore maximum engine power, for all race laps. This is the Eco Sighting-Lap Map, a mapping loaded in the pits and which must subsequently be overwritten with the race map by an electronic device on the starting grid, an operation that in this case was not carried out or not carried out correctly (it can be assumed that was also an overwrite error, which they did not notice). The rider understood the problem in a few seconds and, unable to do anything on the bike, even changing the map from the buttons on the handlebars, he was forced to return to the pits and jump onto the second RS-GP ready for him. Unfortunately he had to start from the pit lane and, given the slightly different setting, he was unable to recover enough positions to take home key points.

BECAUSE THE motogp RIDER CANNOT intervene

To explain why Aleix could not “simply” change the mapping, we enter a fairly complex sphere, where we talk about electronic strategies chosen by the manufacturer to manage the potential of the Magneti Marelli control unit at will and therefore the dynamic behavior of the bike. To make it as simple as possible, it is necessary to separate the concept of race maps, always limited in number by the ECU, and that of engine management maps. The driver has different maps available for the race which vary the intervention of the controls according to the conditions of the track and the tires (how many times have we seen the team suggest to insert, for example, Map 2 towards the end of the race). By doing so, using the map change button, the pilot can change some electronic settings with a simple click with the left thumb. The engine management maps, on the other hand, are unique depending on the parameter that needs to be modified, and are valid for all race maps dedicated to the driver. In this case “the petrol map”, whether it is Eco or full power, must be remotely modified by the electronic with the computer.

A SOLUTION TO EVERY PROBLEM

We cannot know precisely how this mapping affects the various parameters of the bike, but for how the ECU is structured, for now it is not possible that the rider can independently modify a parameter of this kind, this is because the Eco map does not concern strategies. that the driver can modify during the race. An oversight is therefore enough, as happened at Aprilia at the Japanese GP, to compromise an entire race or even a world dream. This error also makes us understand how complicated the current MotoGP bikes are: every single step is fundamental and delicate, and there are many factors and parameters to check and verify so that there are no technical problems of any kind … almost like taking off a rocket towards space !



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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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