SCIENCE FRICTION Deep in the heart of a superbike engine, as it laps international racing circuits at speeds sometimes in excess of 300kph, two worlds of technology are colliding, but doing so in almost perfect harmony. One world consists of...
Deep in the heart of a superbike engine, as it laps international racing circuits at speeds sometimes in excess of 300kph, two worlds of technology are colliding, but doing so in almost perfect harmony.
One world consists of hard and uncompromising metal - camshafts, valves, pistons, conrods and crankshafts; the other is far more fluid and yielding and yet, without it, the other world would simply grind to a halt.
But the lubrication of a superbike engine is about much more than just the oiling of the component parts and the reduction of friction. It is equally about the control of engine wear, the removal of heat and, indeed, the boosting of power.
One of the Winston Ten Kate Honda team's most important technical partners is Castrol, among the strongest and most recognisable brands in international motorsport with activities in Formula 1, MotoGP, international power-boat racing and World Rally, as well as the World Superbike and Supersport championships.
And Castrol's relationship with Winston Ten Kate Honda goes far deeper than supplying lubricants and putting a sticker on the team's CBR1000RRs and CBR600RRs. It is backed up by around 250 chemists and engineers predominantly based at the Castrol Technology Centre near Reading in the UK.
Castrol's partnership with Honda goes back a long way and stretches across national and international motorcycle racing series. But perhaps the most memorable tie-up between the two corporations was the Castrol Honda World Superbike team that secured three world titles with John Kocinski in 1997 and Colin Edwards in 2000 and 2002.
Just as Honda's racing technology is ultimately destined for its road bikes, so Castrol's lubricants know-how can be transferred into road bike engines. However, as Will Pickford, a Senior Development Technologist in Castrol's Motorcycle Product Development department explains, there is a necessary distance between the two.
"With racing motorcycles, we're working in an extreme operational environment," he says. "The stresses imparted on the lubricant are significantly increased when you consider factors like the sustained high engine loads and speeds. The oil has to work much harder.
"On the other side," continues Will, "racing oils are formulated to contain only what's required. Whilst some special chemistries are added, others are omitted as they would compromise performance. The race engine has to perform on track but doesn't need to run for thousands of miles between services, and after each race the engine is serviced which includes an oil change."
"The oil is very much another component of the engine," he says. "We use fully synthetic base oils to formulate the race lubricants. The result is a low-viscosity oil which offers increased power whilst retaining adequate protection to last the race."
It's that viscosity that is the base from which Will and his colleagues at the Castrol Technology Centre begin to explore new lubricants technologies for the team.
He explains: "The Winston Honda Fireblades, for example, will operate at one optimum temperature. That value will give us a guide for the viscometric requirements for the lubricant which will account for around 95% of its make-up. The next interesting bit comes when we begin to add components like anti- wear and anti-foam agents, friction modifiers and oxidation inhibitors. This is where additional performance to cope with extreme operation comes from.
"I routinely take used oil samples from the team," Will adds, "which allow us to test vital performance indicators like the rate of wear. We have equipment here that will detect an increase in, say, iron of six parts per million in the lubricant over a typical race distance. Put that in the context of a 1% increase, which would equate to something like 10,000 parts per million, and you can see the level of detail that we go into."
Having analysed the samples from the team, chemists at the Castrol Technology Centre work with Will to produce new, experimental blends based initially on theory. They will test them in the laboratory to see if the proposed additives actually blend together. These are followed by analytical tests to check the basic physical and chemical performance. Finally, the blends are tested for power in fired motorcycle engines using the latest dynamic measuring equipment.
Castrol will take an engine out of a standard, road-going Honda CBR and strip it right down, only to rebuild it again with similar tolerances to a Ten Kate engine. When it's mounted in a virtually bomb-proof room, a highly complex computer programme will run the engine in various simulated racing conditions with the results analysed later.
"We do lose an engine from time-to-time," Will concedes, "which is why the testing is done in heavily-fortified rooms! But, as guys like Chris Vermeulen and Katsuaki Fujiwara will tell you, when you're working in motorsport, you sometimes have to take things beyond the limit to find where that limit is."
The ongoing efforts of the Castrol Technology Centre, however, do produce boosts in horsepower to make the Winston Ten Kate Honda machines even faster. Says Will: "We can produce more power from an engine by minimising friction through optimising viscosity and additive components - basically reducing the amount of energy needed to turn the engine."
It may not be precisely the blend that's mixed for the Winston Ten Kate Honda team by engineers at the Castrol Technology Centre, but the next time you put Castrol R4 Superbike oil into your motorcycle engine, you'll know what's gone into developing it.