Does steel make sharper blades? 4 minutes spent reading

Does steel make sharper blades?

Timo Völker
Timo Völker is head of the motorsports section at "Die Presse", a daily newspaper in Austria.

With voestalpine technology: the amazing Austrian path from KTM Red Bull Factory Racing to the MotoGP. By motorsport journalist Timo Völker

What makes a racing car fast? Up until the 60s, the answer was easy: a strong engine and a talented driver. The grip, or how well the car sticks to the road, was a result of pure mechanics—the chassis and the tires. In 1968, Lotus introduced a new discipline at the Monaco Grand Prix. The Lotus 49B driven by Englishman Graham Hill had a small wing on its nose, heralding in the aerodynamic age in Formula 1 racing. Hill started from the pole position and won the race. But even without this success, the new technology would have quickly become established—the other teams introduced wing variants in the same season. The level of alchemical science to which aerodynamics has developed can be seen in the complex air flow maze from the countless air control blades of all shapes and sizes found in today’s Formula 1 racing cars.

Racing motorcycles naturally have less room for wings, spoilers, and winglets. And in this MotoGP season, any existing potential was limited by the rules since no one wanted to engage in an expensive competition in a wind tunnel. However, at the Brno Grand Prix, Ducati did use a new, according to the company easily approved version with aerodynamic reflectors in the front. But success was denied to the Italians—this time.

The art of perfect balance

Copyright: Philip Platzer KTM Media Library

What is the general goal of the premium class on two wheels? The answer probably sounds mundane: to perfectly balance all components. Pure power is of course absolutely necessary, but in contrast to generations of the brutal two-stroke engines that only a handful of the fearless can manage, it is only one of many components. Maximum power—there are no official figures, but certainly a good 260 ps and maybe even 270 ps is needed on the rear tire for the straights. In the curves, controlling the power is the key to preventing too much wheelspin from ruining the tires (overheating of the tire surface) and excessive power wheelies from taking the motorcycle off the ideal route.
This is controlled by the electronics and also by the good old chassis that allows the driver to feel all the nuances of his motorcycle. And that is where we come to the remarkable special path that the MotoGP newcomer KTM Bull Factory Racing has taken.

The so-to-speak Austrian path.

Let’s take a look at the KTM RC16. KTM guards the secrets of the engine it developed entirely by itself more jealously than Coca-Cola guards its soft drink formula. The 90° V4 with 1000 cubic centimeter displacement is reputed to run at 19,000 rpm. Is it a screamer or a big bang engine? That’s the wrong question according to KTM’s technical director Sebastian Risse since there is already an alternative in between the two. For those who are not so familiar with the terms, screamer engines fire cylinders one after the other, which makes it sound as if they are screaming. Big bang engines usually have cylinder ignition happening simultaneously or in rapid succession, which leads to a lower sound. The performance is similar, the difference is in the power delivery–and the response that professional racing driver receives from the back tire when he steps on the gas.

The elementary special feature of the only Austrian team in the field is literally between the engine and the driver: KTM Red Bull Factory Racing is the only MotoGP team that is starting with tubular steel frames. The technology comes from voestalpine. KTM has many years of experience with this versatile material. The high-tech voestalpine steel tubes are successful in series vehicle production due to the increasing weight and safety requirements. This technology offers both: lightweight construction and high strength.

This can only be advantageous in racing. KTM has experimented with and tested all options—it has a lot of experience with aluminum in small classes—and ultimately decided in favor of tubular steel frames. “We know the advantages of the material,” states Sebastian Risse. Test driver Mika Kallio commented on the risk of steel frames leading to different characteristics from instance to instance due to the many weld seams: “I always feel the difference between motorcycles but here, with two equivalent steel frames, I couldn’t determine any difference—very impressive.”

In the industry, KTM has earned a lot of applause for going down this special path. Now—ideally at the upcoming home Grand Prix in Spielberg—we are hoping for good results from Pol Espargaró and Bradley Smith on their KTM Red Bull RC16 that drives with voestalpine technology on board. The adventure has just begun.

Timo Völker