The new 2017 Fireblade is important for Honda in terms of road bike sales. But it’s perhaps even more important for its race division. And one sign of that was how many MCE-BSB personnel turned up at Portimao with us on the launch last week. Both Honda UK’s BSB racers for 2017, Dan Linfoot and Jason O’Halloran were in our group, together with Honda ‘ambassador’ Jenny Tinmouth.
And one of the big cheeses from Honda UK’s BSB and road race outfit came along too. Honda Racing manager Havier ‘Harv’ Beltran has been at the heart of HUK’s Louth operation for years, and we grabbed him to get his thoughts on the new Fireblade.
BSN: How will this new 2017 bike help you at Honda Racing?
HB: “Well, we’ve been waiting for ‘fly-by-wire’ for a number of years. And Dan and Jason will both tell you that it’s something we feel we’ve needed on the bike for a long time. So for us that’s a big step.
What does the fly-by-wire throttle setup give you?
“It enables us to assist and map gear-specific strategies, that we’ve been unable to do. What we’ve done in the past was – if you do something at a specific RPM, that’s it, it’s been fixed in that area.”
The relationship between the throttle twistgrip and what the butterfly valves are doing?
“Yes – so with regard to strategies in that area, that will assist us for corner exit and corner entry. So I say corner entry, with having the new blipper on there. Here at the launch in Portimao, all the guys are saying how incredible, on the SP, the throttle blipper is. How well it works, how smooth it is and how stable the bike is on entries. I just had Jason a few minutes ago commenting, ‘I can’t believe it – if we can adopt this and have it anywhere near how it is on the standard machine, we’ll have a massive gain, straight away, just on corner entry and exit.’ That’s even if we left the power platform the same as the 2016 model.
“So with the new machine, with the SP2 due out later on, and with the engine power upgrades and the performance, we believe we’ve got a very very strong base to work with . It’s going to be a big learning curve this year of course, we’ve got a lot to do, and we’re not going to do it all in one go. We’re just trying to be shrewd and be clear of what we’ve got, running in the improvements, getting the miles in and the consistency and the data to work with for the championship.
“Having Dan and Jason on board again for 2017 is fantastic, the two of them work really well. Last year we were able to develop the bike really well, and we hope that this is going to continue, going into the 2017 model.
How will the new bike improvements help in the other classes?
“Well we helped Keith Farmer on the Quay’s Garage bike in Superstock last year of course, and we had two wins on the old bike. So for us, again, with the standard 2017 and the SP and SP2 taking that into Superstock is going to be another game change for us and for Honda. We honestly believe with a few tweaks to the suspension and with what we can do with the engine management and the strategies, it’s going to be a phenomenal package. And Jason is saying, having ridden in Superstock, he’s said, ‘Once we get suspension sorted, and once we get a few other things sorted with traction, and what we want and what we don’t want, that is going to be an incredible machine.’”
Can you take us through the changes you’ve got planned to develop the SP2 BSB bikes?
“We take a lot of stuff off, the changes we’ve done, we have an underslung swingarm, so straight away you have a fuel tank modification, subframe modifications, a rear shock modification, exhausts modified, so straight away all those are different. You put on an aftermarket exhaust system, we’ve been with Akrapovic for a number of years now. We’ll start with the kit pipe from Akrapovic, then refine our 2016 exhaust, understanding the engine platform etc, then we’ll take the whole machine to Akrapovic to design and develop a system.”
Is it fair to say the fundamentals of the engine are broadly the same?
“Yes, the bore and stroke are the same, the compression ratio is higher, the revs are higher, we’ll do our own camshafts and valve springs, plus our own modifications to the head.”
“On the SP2, there are so many little component changes. For example, the plastic on the SP2 bodywork is thinner, it’s 2mm on the stock bike, 1.8mm on the SP2. Every part you look at and compare, there’s some difference, whether it’s material or weight or structure. Look at the rear subframe – on the standard bike you have mounts for the pillion peg hangers, on the SP it’s all taken away, and there’s no provision for the rear seat. Changes after changes after changes. And for us to have the fly-by-wire on there, Dan and Jason are totally blown away by it.
“All the journalists that I’ve been talking to and helping with the settings, to do with torque, power, engine braking, all those little mods, they can all feel the difference. And for me, whatever level we are, from a racer, to a journalist who rides on the road, to a journalist who races, everybody’s felt those changes, they’ve all come away with a smile on their face. What a machine, what a machine!”
This is a very serious deal for Honda, Honda Racing and HRC then?
“You can see that here, today, the amount of Japanese here supporting the project, including Mr Yoshii who I’ve worked with for a long time. It’s great to see all those guys here. There’s some fantastic information and insight into the development of the bike that we have here today.
“And we’re quietly confident that back in the UK we’re going to have a package that we can be strong with. It’s going to take some development but that’s what we’re here for…”