Peter Benson has been Nicky Hayden's crew chief since 2005 which coincidentally was the year that saw Hayden take his very first win in Moto GP. When we caught up with Pete he was in the midst of an intense struggle to get Nicky's RC212V set up at the USGP at Laguna Seca. We only had 5 minutes with the straight-shooter hailing from New Zealand but he did reveal a few interesting points about Repsol Honda.
OK Pete if you could just give a brief introduction on how you came to start working with Honda and how ascended to be [a] crew chief at Repsol Honda.
Basically I came from World Superbike years ago, just through contacts through friends basically and worked with Aaron Slight for a few years. At the time [Castrol Honda] was based in England and for legal reasons I couldn't keep working in England, work permits and stuff, so I moved onto the Honda Grand Prix team and worked my way up through the team basically over the last ten years.
Awesome, so can you talk a little bit about the challenge of coordinating between the suspension, tire, electronics, and chassis engineers as well as the rider?
Yeah I mean its just one of those things, you just make sure you've got all the best guys you can get and just listen to what everyone's got to say and make the best decisions based on the stuff that is available to you on the day and the equipment that you've got really.
So, how big of a component has the electronics system become now? Obviously suspension and tires are always a huge part of the equation but how important has traction control become in Moto GP?
Since the 4-stroke came along its a huge part of it. Basically there's traction control, there's all the controls for the engine and it [has] just turned into another whole science on it's own basically. You need a specialist now, ten years ago you didn't, the stuff was unheard of. But now its just every day, part of the deal.
Can you talk a little about how the decision came along or how the realization came about that maybe you needed to adjust traction control, or dial it back specifically for Nicky1? Was it a change that had to be done at the factory or was it a trackside setting change?
It changes every week. Every racetrack you go to is different. Sometimes different corners are different as well. So every week is different and it changes also from day to day as the track gets better over the weekend. Its just one of those things that's constantly evolving.
So it wasn't a question of having to revamp the system or anything for Nicky, it was just realizing, 'Hey maybe we need to dial it back a little bit more for his riding style.'?
Yeah I mean every rider is different I dont think there'll be a guy in the paddock who has the same traction control setting its just one of those personal things and everyone's riding style is different and they all require something a little bit different.
Ok, so can you talk about the RC212V, because as I understand it Honda R & D does the initial development of the bikes and then it gets handed over to HRC and they continue the development from that point on through the rest of its life time.
That's basically the situation, they develop it as far as they can and they give it to riders and all the riders have their opinion, all the technicians have their opinion and they keep going back--its sort of a constant evolution.
We've had a couple of different chassis's this year and the engine [has] evolved as the year's gone on and hopefully it will accelerate a little bit faster and we'll get the development going a bit quicker.
So with the engine are you still going with the irregular firing order2?
That depends on what you'd call an irregular firing order these days. For us it hasn't changed but I'm pretty much of the understanding that everyone in the paddock's got something a bit different. But for us at the moment it hasn't changed.
Its always something that we're looking at as an option you know, maybe its better, maybe its not I'm sure Honda has done a lot of work to find, to work out what is the best for the engine at the moment
Can you tell us about the decision to use a conventional valvetrain as opposed to pneumatics? I imagine there's some tradeoffs between pneumatics, conventional [valve springs], and desmodromics?
Yeah I'm sure there is. But that's probably more a political decision from Honda than anything at this point in time. But I'm sure as the engine rpm comes up you'll see some sort of changes, and probably not before too long. But I really don't, we really don't have much involvement in that side of it. You know they come along and say well, 'This what you've got to use, this what we're gonna do, and then we'll see how it goes and go from there'.
At the moment it hasn't really been a big problem with what we've got.
So it must've been supremely satisfying for you that you and Nicky took the Evolution RC211V3, a bike that nobody really wanted to ride, and you turned it into a championship contender. Obviously winning a championship is a big career moment for you but was it extra special doing it on a bike that people didn't think you could win on?
Yeah it was. In some ways that bike really suited Nicky's style, or certain facets of it really suited Nicky's style which is why we went that direction last year. And it was, it was very frustrating, a lot more hard work than you really wanted. But at the end of the day like you say we got the results and that's all that mattered.
How would you sum up in your words Honda's racing philosophy in Moto GP?
Um, generally the idea is that they wanna come out and win. That's it, all they want to do is win everything. Which is a good attitude you know but unfortunately this year it hasn't happened.
All right, One last question is there any cross pollination with Honda F1 because you've got a lot of technical knowledge on that side to leverage against. Is that something that the team or HRC takes advantage of?
I'm sure there is because really its all developed by MSD (Motor Sports Development) and Formula 1 and Moto GP and everything is all part of MSD so I'm sure there is but its something that isn't really talked about at our level here. You know I'm sure back at Honda there's a lot of cross information but we never really hear about it here.
1It was reported in several of the media outlets that part of the reason Nicky was able to begin turning his results around this season was because the traction control on his bike was toned down to suit his high-slip-angle riding style better.
2The RC212V's V4 uses an irregular firing order where 2 cylinders fire very close together (almost simultaneously), followed by a long pause, then the other two cylinders fire closely together. In a regular firing order all four cylinder firings are evenly spaced out. The advantage of 'big bang' is that it gives the tire more time to regain traction between power pulses which helps put the power to the ground and makes the bike more ridable. The disadvantages are that it reduces crank longevity and saps power. Currently the only bike in Moto GP that uses the regular firing order is the Ducati GP7.
3In Nicky Hayden's 2006 title run he was riding a version of the RC211V unlike any of the other Honda riders which was referred to as the Evolution RC211V.