“Competition improves the breed,” says Arvind Pangaonkar, who has been with TVS, the country’s third largest two-wheeler company for a long time, and heads its racing business.
Pangaonkar will retire in a couple of months, but he has seen the industry change from the days when Hero Honda (now Hero MotoCorp) was yet to launch operations, scooters ruled the market, and mopeds were a preferred commuting vehicle.
“Before joining TVS in 1980s, I was with Jawa,” says Pangaonkar. Jawa was the Czechoslovakia-based motorcycle maker, which was known to make fast bikes in a market that was largely dominated by Royal Enfield and Yezdi.
TVS made mopeds back then. After joining TVS, he started moped racing. Motorbike racing organised by any company was a new concept, but Pangaonkar had realised that racing would expose the bikes to a whole lot of engineering problems, which otherwise go unnoticed while manufacturing the vehicle.
“In racing, either the bike performs or it doesn’t perform… we hired more engineers,” he says.
The mopeds, thereafter, went through a whole host of changes – the cooling of the engine was increased, and clutch was engineered to engage at higher rpm.
Thirty years later, most two-wheeler companies, including TVS have got teams that build bikes for racing. While a whole lot of motosport is about branding, engaging celebrities, and endorse the bikes, Pangaonkar says that it is a huge engineering exercise that helps companies to develop better motorcycles.
The TVS Suzuki Shogun was developed when TVS had a collaboration partnership with Japan’s Suzuki Motor Corp, was completely developed out of racing.
For TVS many engineers are trained in the racing department and then transferred to mainstream research and development. Recently, TVS’ bestselling bike Apache RTR was engineered keeping in mind racing. RTR stands for “racing throttle response”, and accelerates from 0-to-60 kms in 4.7 seconds.
Racing helps in understanding the power to weight ratio, which if not adequate the bike will not perform well. TVS tests each of its bikes on the racetrack for 300-400 laps. “Racing helps in power delivery, or handling of the bike. Things like weave or wobble is the biggest enemy of motorcycles,” says Pangaokar.
More recently, Hero MotoCorp entered the racing circuit. After splitting from Honda Motors, which was its partner for 26 years, Pawan Munjal, Hero’s chairman and managing director realised that if the company needs to survive it had to fix its engineering and R&D. After all, for all these years Hero bikes rode on Honda’s technology.
Hero’s sweet spot is the commuter bike segment, usually best fit for city riding, so it chose to be a part of off-road racing. It partnered with a racing team based in Munich – Speedbrain GmbH, a German off-road racing specialist – in May.
“We have to be aware of the customers in the different segments,” says Markus Braunsperger, chief technology officer, Hero MotoCorp. “We took a very conscious call to get into rally racing, which is an endurance race, completely off-road.”
Hero has participated in two rallies, each rally is for 9,000 kms and goes for two-and-half weeks. This exposes the bikes to the toughest road conditions that a vehicle can have.
Hero has engineers in Germany, who work closely with the racing team to develop the motorcycles. It is also a huge exposure for Hero to work closely with world-class technology.
Many of those learning will be used to make commuter bikes. “Whatever we do in terms of components, whatever technology we have, we will apply and get it into our products as well, where it makes sense in mass market products,” says Braunsperger, who previously worked with BMW.
Apart from TVS and Hero, Bajaj Auto, Suzuki Motorcycles, Yamaha and Honda – all of them are in some way or the other associated with some form of racing, which each company thinks best suits the brand.
Suzuki’s Gixer 150 was a developed out of racing technology. “Racing is the life development laboratory for innovation… Unless you enjoy your ride, you won’t love your bike, and the only way to get this right is racing,” says Suresh Babu, head of marketing at Suzuki Motorcycles.
Winning a race helps the bike maker to show-off its excellence in motorcycle engineering and design.