Moto Guzzi's Dr. John
Uit Fastbikes, no date
Groundcontrol to Dr. John
You're definitely not living in the past
I only have 3 pages of this interview, so its NOT complete, can you help me to the missing part?
If you're about to turn off at the sight of a vee-twin - don't. Dr John Wittner has performed a unique feat - he's made Guzzi's go fast - very fast. Dan Harris found out how. Neil Pidduck took the smudges.
It was a hot, humid and still day in Mandello Del Lario, a day that like many others in northern Italy, was blindingly bright and searingly blue. One which sucked the sharp colours from the ground, bleaching and fading the buildings leaving them drab and withered. Passing cars breathed a light dust into the atmosphere which mixed with exhaust rumes and repid air, coating nostrils and filling eyes.
Two very sweaty and rather unsavory figures, clad almost entirely in black leather detached themselves from a haze of raggedly parked two-wheelers, and shuffled across a narrow road to a door, in a tall long winding diny-yellow wall, where they disappeared inside . . . .
The reception hall at the Moto Guzzi factory is a hollow, charismatic lofty area, wood panneled and rambling in typical 1920's style. A heavilly moustached security guard with a determined expression and "Vigilante" emblazoned across his shoulder swaggered over.
"Giornalista Inglese" I ventured paused and continued " Fast bikes para Senor Ranalli ", I glanced over to Pidduck hoping that he would be impressed with my poorly phrased and halting Italian; instead he stared back with a pained expression on his face "Bollocks I thought, this means that I'm going to have to communicate more, probably by shouting loudly in English, adding an '0' to the end of each word, and manically waving a copy of Fast bikes around. But before I could begin we were ushered into a waiting room. "Bollocks" I thought again, this means that I'm going to have to listen co another one of Pidduck's long winded desert survival stories . Fortunately, just as Neil had uttered the words "When I was in the desert", Sr Ranalli's beautiful secretary. Gemma, arrived to welcome us, to detail our testing programme, and to schedule our meeting with DrJohn.
Dr John Wittner of Wittner racing enterprises is a man of many contradictions. He is an American working in an Italian factory.
He is a highly intelligent engineer, who favours the simplicity of a Vee twin engine. And he is a generous quietly spoken gentleman ( in the true sense of the word ) who has a fierce and engulfing, almost omnipotent passion for Moto Guzzi's. Finally his fluent self taught Italian is spoken with a soft American accent, while his native English is peppered with latin gesticulations.
Not surprisingly John's youth was spent developing a passion for motorcycles. He has owned a variety of bikes from Harleys' to Triumphs, and between 1962 and 1964, he worked pan time in a motorcycle dealership in order to pay his way through university where he studied engineering. During these years he built up a broad knowledge of practical experience working on machines as diverse as an NSU powered Wankel engine snowmobile. Some 20 years later, in 1984, he began racing Moto Guzzi's in the American national endurance championship, which he won in his first year. He attributes this instant success to the Guzzi's inherent strength and simplicity of design, and reflects that it is not necessary to compromise reliability in favour of performance, nor that complexity is a prerequisite for development.
In January 1989 Dr John arrived in Italy following an invitation from Guzzi to develop their engines. Although his first love is racing, he readily agreed to take part in the project which flourished into the creation of a new sports bike based on his eight valve 128 bhp racer, which is planed to go into production during the last quarter of this year.
Although we were not allowed to see the actual prototype of the Daytona ( named after the circuit at which John has had much success ) John took us to see the race bike from which it was developed. He led us through the flakey meandering corridors and our into a sunny courtyard opposite Guzzi's own on site wind-tunnel facility. Dragging open a mini 'aircraft hanger' type door we were guided into a dimly lit room where John explained he did much of his hands-on work. The motorcycle was stunning.
As he brought the bike out into the daylight for Neil to photograph Dr John drew comparisons with the preproduction Daytona. " The chassis, rear shock, and gearbox are identical " he said "and many of the components used on the production bike (for example John's own design parallelogram suspension) are superior to those that are on this bike . . . . . . ." Pidduck and I looked on with urges more akin to those usually associated with Hong Kong's famous " Red Lips " bar than to an Itallian bike factory . . . . . . . . . John continued " Of course on the racer we have wide-spread use of magnesium especially on rocker boxes, yokes, sump, and numerous other cycle parts," he paused before delivering the killer blow: "All you will have to do to release 128 bhp from the standard bike is to remove the airbox, change the exhaust, and fit a new chip." . . . . . . . . This was almost too much for us, and I am still deeply suspicious that Noil's request for a hanky was not for late season hay fever.
Later, when asked why he had not opted for a chain drive, at least on the racer, John explained that Guzzi's research indicated that chains, while satisfactory in terms of efficiency when new, lose efficiency in the first thirty minutes ( of continual loading ) from a starting point of 8% down to 20% . While this was acceptable in short circuit racing it was disastrous in his preferred formula, endurance racing. Conversly although shafts are responsible for a relativly high initial loss of power (about 12% - depending on the design) they maintain the same level of efficiency, more or less regardless of condition.
In John's opinion the only tangible disadvantage of a chain over a shaft is that of unsprung weight.
FB: Who would you most like to be marooned with?
Dr.J: As I work too much, any girlfriend would be nice.
FB: What is the single most important factor in winning races?
Dr.J: Organisation and preparation, including rider choice and finance.
FB: What's your biggest verbal cliche?
Dr.J: First of all it's in Italian so you wouldn't understand it, and secondly if you did understand it you wouldn't print it.
FB: What's your last wish before you die?
Dr.J: I wouldn't impose my wishes on anybody.
FB: Who do you admire most in motorcycling?
Dr.J: Rob Muzzy.
FB: Who do you think is the best engine designer in Italy?
Dr.J: Roberto Umerto. Moto Guzzi's chief designer for the past 54 years.
FB: Who is the best two stroke engine tuner in the world?
Dr.J: Erv Kanemoto.
FB: Who is the best four stroke engine tuner in the world?
Dr.J: Bill Wemer.
FB: What is your worst accident?
Dr.J: Two days after passing my test I was riding a 650cc Triumph with a friend on the back. (The bike had cost me my life savings $400.) A dog ran out in front of the bike which caused the two of us to launch over the handlebars, the dog was fine but the bike was a write off.
FB: If you could assassinate someone and get away with it, who would it be?
Dr.J: The dog.
FB: What do you think is the ideal engine configuration?
Dr.J: 90 degree Vee twin. There are fewer moving parts, and the unit is aesthetically more elegant.
FB: What causes you the most anxiety?
Dr.J: Not knowing whether a motorcycle will survive an event (particularly an endurance event).
FB: What style of underpants do you wear?
Dr.J: Both types, it depends on the weather.
FB: How do you rate your riding ability?
Dr.J: Less than fair. although it's important that an engineer shouldn't loose sight of the correlation between
the numbers and what they actually mean to the rider.
FB: Who do you admire most?
Dr.J: Howard Wittner. my father. He is an aeronautical engineer who elaborated on the design of the ports for the Daytona.
FB: What is the happiest period of your life?
Dr.J: The last five years at Guzzi.
FB: Who is your favourite rider?
Dr.J: Doug Brauneck. he won my first national championship race for me.
FB: Who is your favourite musician?
Dr.J: Stevie Winward
FB: What's your favourite passtime?
Dr.J: Spending time with friends, trying not to talk about bikes.
FB: What do you think of the Isle of Man?
Dr.J: Magnificently dangerous.
FB: What do you think of active suspension?
Dr.J: This is certainly the future of suspension. I wish that I had the resources to work on it now.
FB: What do you think of Wankel engines?
Dr.J: They have yet to prove themselves.
FB: What do you think is the single most important factor in tuning an engine?
Dr.J: On four strokes, exhaust system development.
FB: What do you think of EXUP exhaust valves?
Dr.J: They are an excellent and proven technology, and I believe that Guzzi should enter this field of development.
FB: What is the biggest myth about engine tuning?
Dr.J: That you need trick parts to go fast.
FB: What do you think of desmodromic valves?
Dr.J Given today's advanced valve spring materials and sophisticated cam lobe designs there is nothing to be
gained by using a desmodromic configuration.
FB: What do you think of five valve heads?
Dr.J: There are problems with developing a wide powerband on the racetrack.
FB: What do you think of fuel injection?
Dr.J I never want to see another carburettor.
FB: What do you think of the Superbike series?
Dr.J: I think that it is a wonderful formula eminently valid for production motorcycles.
FB: Why are all GP bikes V4 reed valve two strokes?
Dr.J: They have four cylinders because this is the maximum number of cylinders allowed; two strokes because they produce more power than four strokes (albeit for a shorter period of time) and reed valve because the advances in materials have allowed more power to be produced this way than any other.
FB: What is your greatest fear?
Dr.J: That life cannot continue to be this good.