The saga of the CRT teams continues to drag on. The full list of accepted entries was due to be published at last weekend's Barcelona MotoGP round, but last-minute haggling over rule changes has held back the announcement. More meetings were held over the Silverstone weekend, with the factories (assembled in the MSMA) meeting with Dorna on Thursday, and Dorna and IRTA meeting on Friday to discuss the outcome, leading to publication of the entry list being held back until coming Wednesday, June 15th.
For the third year running, MotoGP is down to just 17 bikes on the grid. And for the second time in three years, a manufacturer is showing an alarming lack of commitment to the series, Suzuki fielding just one rider for the 2011 season. Sponsors are pulling out and teams are constantly complaining about a lack of money. Something has to be done.
Throughout 2009, MotoGP's rule-making body, the Grand Prix Commission, debated ways of changing the class to make the series cheaper, thereby increasing the number of bikes on the grid. The solution, announced in December 2009, was the return to 1000cc machines under specific restrictions aimed at capping costs: a maximum of four cylinders, and an 81mm maximum bore.
But that in itself was not enough. Throughout the entire process, it was also broadly hinted that the requirement that engines must be prototypes would be dropped for privateer teams, with these so-called Claiming Rule Teams being allowed to run heavily modified production engines in a prototype chassis. To ensure the teams would not be forced to spend on electronics what they saved on engines, the CRT machines would also be allowed an extra 3 liters of fuel above the allowance for the factory machines (for our detailed explanation of exactly what the CRT rules entail, see The 2012 MotoGP Revolution Part 1.)
We have been here before, of course. Back in 2003, the WCM team, under the management of Peter Clifford, entered two 990cc Harris WCM MotoGP machines, their engines based on the dimensions of Yamaha's R1, housed in a prototype frame produced by Harris. The WCM bikes turned up at the first race of the year, but were disqualified by scrutineering as not being a fully prototype machine.
The same pressure that eventually killed off the WCM project also threatens the CRT teams, and the arguments that kept the WCM off the grid for the first half of the 2003 season are being brought up again for the CRT bikes.
The most common question asked of hardcore motorcycle racing fans by their partners is surely this: "Is that the one that Rossi's in?" That deceptively simple question encompasses just about all of the problems and challenges faced by world championship motorcycle racing both at present and into the future: The similarity to the casual observer of the World Superbike and MotoGP championships; the primacy and importance of Valentino Rossi within motorcycle racing; and the fact that both series appear to be fighting over the same core audience.
That battle is part of a greater struggle, an extended Cold War between the two series over which is to be the dominant motorcycle racing series. This cold war is about to hot up, with the new rules for the MotoGP series which are due to take effect from the 2012 season (see our analysis of the 2012 MotoGP rules, for a full explanation). The admission of 1000cc bikes, and more importantly, the dropping of the stipulation that engines must be prototypes, allowing the possibility that teams will be able to enter MotoGP bikes powered by existing, production-based engines such as BMW's S1000RR or Aprilia's RSV1000R, has raised the hackles of Infront Motor Sports (the commercial rights holder for World Superbikes), and put the organization on a war footing.
The FIM, as sanctioning body and partner, and as the party who sold IMS the commercial rights to WSBK, has a very thin line to walk. The FIM has to ensure that both WSBK and MotoGP receive the promotion they need to ensure motorcycle racing has a strong future, while avoiding the appearance of favoritism between the two competing organizations.
Although at first glance, the most important motorcycle racing even taking place over the weekend was the Australian MotoGP round at Phillip Island, a far more significant race was taking place in Macau, China. There, 98 of the 101 federations that compose the FIM (Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme, motorcycling's governing body) met to elect a new president. The choice facing the assembled national federations was between the current president Vito Ippolito and French candidate Jean-Pierre Mougin. The final election saw Ippolito collect 55 votes to Mougin's 41, gaining reelection for another four-year term.
When MotoMatters.com learned that FIM President Vito Ippolito would be visiting Utrecht, just a few miles from MM HQ, we seized on the opportunity to corner the Venezuelan and ask some of the burning questions surrounding motorcycle racing. Questions such as: How will the new MotoGP rules help to cut costs? Exactly what definition of "production bike" is used in the contract between the FIM and Infront Motor Sports for World Superbikes? How will Moto2 affect rider development? And what about electric vehicles and the TTXGP?
We continue today with the second half of our interview with Peter Clifford, the manager of the former WCM team, who we asked to get his take on the new rules for MotoGP, which are scheduled to come into force in 2012. In yesterday's episode, Clifford expressed his opinion that privateer teams running production-based engines would find it impossible to be competitive without spending equivalent amounts to the factories. Today, Clifford talks about the problems presented by ever-shifting rule changes, the political risks of the new rules in MotoGP and Moto2, and how long Moto2 is going to remain an affordable class.
PC: The other thing is, we were talking about the Flammini reaction, and it is interesting that he's not saying "I'm going to take everybody to court," and all this sort of stuff. Of course, we still don't know what his contract with the FIM says, that's still secret. He may just feel that what he was relying on in the old days was the way the contract was read, not the words in it. And he had his people at the FIM who read the contract the "right" way, and went in to bat for him and took us off the grid and carried on like that. What he may be waiting for, of course, is another election at the FIM, make sure that he gets the right people in, and they will read the contract in the way that he would like it to be read and this idea would be kicked out, and maybe even the Moto2 rules as well.
MM: Right, and of course that's a huge risk, because if we get a new FIM president who interprets the contracts a different way to Vito Ippolito, because Ippolito has a Grand Prix background, and whenever I've spoken to him, he's said again and again, "what we need are the TZs, the production racers."
PC: Well, that's how Venemoto [the team founded by Ippolito's father, brief history here] won Grand Prix and world championships, with TZs.
The move back to 1000cc by the MotoGP class is looking ever more inevitable. The issue was discussed in the Grand Prix Commission at Valencia, where the MSMA finally accepted that the switch was inevitable, reversing its previous opposition to the change after its own proposal - to lease 800cc engines which private teams could then build their own chassis round - was rejected. The chief drivers behind this project have been Dorna and the FIM, though IRTA is also fully supportive of the scheme, and FIM President Vito Ippolito once again emphasized the importance of making the switch back to 1000cc in an interview with the Italian magazine Motosprint, which Autosport has summarized on its site.
Speaking ahead of the next meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, due to be held on December 11th at the FIM's headquarters in Geneva, Ippolito told Motosprint "The 800cc formula hasn't worked because the power is about the same, while corner speed has increased. And costs have increased too." He pointed out that the manufacturers had accepted the need for change, and that nothing stood in the way of the regulations being changed after the current agreement with the MSMA ends in 2012.
Ever since the news started filtering out of the Grand Prix Commission that the MSMA was prepared to accept the use of production engines in prototype MotoGP bikes, all eyes have been on Infront Motor Sports, where the Flammini brothers run the production-based World Superbike series, awaiting their response. The last time a bike using an engine based (to a very basic extent) on a production engine - the WCM machine, which you can find out about in our interview series with Peter Clifford, the man behind that project - the FIM put a stop to that project, claiming it violated the rules requiring that all bikes be prototypes. Though the Flammini brothers have always denied it and no evidence has ever been produced to support the accusation, suspicion still lingers in the MotoGP paddock that the former FIM president Francesco Zerbi came to the ruling after pressure from FGSport, the company that held the rights for the World Superbike series before the Flamminis sold a majority holding to the Infront group.
Since then, a number of things have changed. Firstly, the Grand Prix Commission is discussing a change to the rules which would explicitly allow the use of production-based engines, and making them legal for use. Secondly, the current FIM President, Vito Ippolito, is regarded as being considerably more independent than his Italian predecessor, and has a history as a team owner in the Grand Prix series. A charge of breaching the rules - which is how WCM was disqualified - would no longer stand, nor would it find political support from FIM headquarters in Switzerland.
But the Flamminis are still determined to halt any attempts by the Dorna-run MotoGP series onto what they perceive as their own territory. Paolo Flammini reiterated this standpoint again today, in an interview with the Italian website GPOne.com, telling the veteran journalist Claudio Porrozzi that they are prepared to defend their rights. "I repeat what I said earlier," Flammini told GPOne.com, "We have had assurances from the President of the FIM, Vito Ippolito, that these new rules would not be approved. So far, he has been true to his word, and I hope that this will continue in the future." The consequences of Ippolito not holding up what Infront Motor Sports regards as his end of the bargain would be dire, Flammini warned. "We are ready to take whatever action is necessary to defend the contract we have with the FIM, which, let us not forget, also covers the 600cc class based on production bikes."
The momentum behind a return to 1000cc for the MotoGP class has been building throughout the year. On Saturday, news emerged from the Grand Prix Commission that the manufacturers had dropped their opposition to the plan, making backing for the 1000cc formula unanimous inside MotoGP's rulemaking body. As a consequence, the proposal is almost certain to be adopted for the 2012 season of MotoGP.
Under the new proposed rules, the current requirement that four-stroke motorcycles must be prototypes will be either dropped or defined far more loosely. This would allow both teams and manufacturers to use engines based on production powerplants, greatly reducing the cost of research and development and paving the way for new teams to enter the class. The aim is to cut the cost of running a team roughly in half, from around 10 million euros for a two-rider satellite team down to between 5 and 6 million euros. Using production-based engines and allowing more engineering and maintenance to be done by the teams should be a major contributing factor in making this happen.
MotoGP's biggest problem right now is the number of bikes on the grid. The withdrawal of Kawasaki, leaving just a single bike in the Hayate team cut the grid down to 18 bikes, and once Sete Gibernau's Grupo Francisco Hernando team pulled out, the field was cut just to 17. With Kawasaki almost certain to withdraw the last remaining bike from the Hayate team next year and the return of the extra Ducati for the Aspar team, the grid is likely to stay at 17, though it could increase to 18 if Honda does add an extra bike, as HRC has hinted it might.
To deal with this problem, and drastically reduce the costs of participation, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta suggested that the rules be altered to allow production-based 1000cc engines in prototype chassis to run against the existing 800cc full prototypes. As a serious suggestion, it was almost certainly doomed from the start, but as a bargaining gambit, it has been a stroke of genius. The suggestion immediately jolted MSMA into action, and at the Sachsenring, the manufacturers organization offered a counter proposal to lease just 800cc prototype engines on their own, rather than entire bikes. They asked the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rulemaking body, for some time to come up with a more detailed proposal, which they promised to present at the meeting scheduled for this weekend at Indianapolis.
That proposal was presented this morning to the Grand Prix Commission - sort of. After the Grand Prix Commission met, the press release issued contained only a few minor detail changes to the 2009 tire regulations, so MotoGPMatters.com tracked down Herve Poncharal, boss of the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team and IRTA's representative inside the Grand Prix Commission and asked him just what the MSMA's proposal had consisted of. The answer, it appears, is a little more complicated than just a straight proposal.
We at MotoGPMatters.com are very excited about electric motorcycle races, as we wrote just a couple of weeks ago on the subject of the TTXGP. Oil is an incredibly useful resource - almost every object in your home is made using at least some parts made from it - and burning the stuff seems like sacrilege, however satisfying the resulting noise and smell may be. The day is drawing near that oil will become too expensive to burn, and some form of alternative energy supply will have to be found. Racing, in the form of a motorcycle race for electric machines, can help bring that day closer.
Evidently, the FIM agrees. For today, the International Motorcycling Federation announced that they will sanction a race series for electric motorcycles in 2010. The move has been prompted by the success of the TTXGP race which took place during the week of the TT on the Isle of Man, where the winning entry lapped the historic Mountain course at an average of over 87 miles per hour, and three other entries lapped at over 70 miles per hour.
The advent of a series for electric motorcycles was inevitable, as prototypes are only a few years away from hitting mass production. Once that happens, and if they manage to sell enough units, the subject of homolgation for the World Superbike series would have been raised, and the FIM would have been faced with the problem of working out how to compare them with the existing four-stroke Superbikes. By creating a separate series for electric bikes, that problem is neatly sidestepped. And if the rules are similar to those for the TTXGP, this could be the most open motorcycle racing class currently running, and a real hotbed of innovation.
Ever since it was realized that any attempt to field modified road bikes in Moto2 would be scuppered by a nuclear strike from Infront Motor Sports, the organization that runs World Superbikes and has an exclusive contract with the FIM to race production motorcycles, Dorna, the FIM and the teams have been casting about for a solution. What they came up with to avoid the confrontation with the Flammini brothers was for the the engines to be supplied by a single supplier, thus handily sidestepping the "production" problem altogether.
The contract for the spec engine was to open to public tender, and would last for three years. But ever since the proposal emerged at the IRTA Test at Jerez, there have been murmurings that the deal to supply the series had already been stitched up behind closed doors, and the open tender process would be a mere formality.
According to Visordown's MotoGP mole - an anonymous but often well-informed source - this is precisely what has happened. Visordown is reporting that the Moto2 engine deal will be awarded to Kawasaki, as a way of keeping them in the series without the Japanese manufacturer burning through cash in the way that their MotoGP program did.
At a press conference held today at Jerez, FIM president Vito Ippolito and Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta announced a range of rules aimed at two goals: Cutting costs and making the sport more attractive as a spectacle. We have been over the oxymoron of changing rules to cut costs ad nauseam here, so we will not continue to flagellate that particular moribund equine any more than is necessary - and frankly, that horse probably does need a little more flogging, just to make sure it is truly dead. Instead, we shall concentrate on another change, one aimed at helping the private teams in the series.
That rule is of course the ban on new entrants into the series joining factory teams. Under the new rule, any rider eligible for Rookie of the Year - that is, any rider who has not previously been entered as a full-time rider at the start of a MotoGP season - will not be allowed to join a factory team in their first year of MotoGP, and will instead have to serve an apprenticeship at a private or satellite team, before stepping up to the very top step of the very top series. The rule, drawn up at the behest of IRTA, is aimed at helping out the private and satellite teams by giving them a shot at signing the big, marketable names which will help them attract sponsorship.
On paper, this is an excellent idea. In theory, big name entries into MotoGP such as Marco Simoncelli, Alvaro Bautista and Ben Spies would help the private teams find the sponsorship they need so that they can afford to stay in MotoGP. It stops the factory teams from poaching the top talent, and means that the private teams will get the publicity they so badly need, and quite frankly, broadly deserve.
But like all ideas which sound excellent on paper, this one is unlikely to survive its meeting with cold, hard reality. For the fact remains that the factory teams call the shots in MotoGP, for the simple reason that they pay the piper. The budgets which the factory teams have - between 2 and 10 times the size of a typical satellite team, mean that not only can they afford to pay whatever it takes to sign the big name rookies, but also, they can afford to circumvent the rules by setting up their own "satellite" teams which are all but factory in name.
In a press conference held today during the IRTA tests at Jerez, Vito Ippolito, the president of the FIM, and Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna, announced a series of measures aimed at cutting costs in MotoGP. More details to follow, but here are the rule changes:
- At the end of the 2009 season, teams will only be allowed to use 5 engines for the last 7 races. This leaves the previous rule unchanged, answering speculation that the number of engines could be reduced after the Hungarian MotoGP round was dropped from the calendar, which would have meant 5 engines having to last for 8 races.
- For 2010, each rider will have 6 engines to last the entire 18 race season. The engines will be sealed, and Dorna will be able to monitor remotely which engines are being used as the riders exit the pit lane.
- The penalty for any infraction of this rule is that the rider will be docked 10 points from his championship points total. The manufacturer will also have 10 points deducted in the manufacturer standings, regardless of whether the rider was on a factory bike or a private bike.
- Testing will be limited to 8 days in total next year, with just 2 tests during the season after the races at Catalunya and Brno.
- As of 2010, only one bike per rider will be permitted. Teams will be allowed to scrutineer one machine for each rider. If a rider damages a chassis, a replacement chassis will have to be offered for technical inspection.
- Friday is under discussion. Talks are still ongoing about whether the Friday afternoon practice session will be dropped.
- Wheel rim widths are to be limited to two different sizes for front wheels, and one different size on the rear.
- Only 5 technicians will be allowed to touch the bike during practice sessions. Once practice sessions are over, more people will be allowed to work on the bike, but this number will be limited to 5 during practice.
- The minimum weight will be increased by 2kg for all engine configurations.
- In 2010, no rider eligible for Rookie of the Year will be allowed to go straight to a factory team. Instead, they will have to go to a private or satellite team for at least one year, after which they will be eligible to join a factory team.
As we reported earlier today, the Grand Prix Commission has announced a slew of new rules for MotoGP, supposedly aimed at cutting costs in MotoGP. The measures contain a mixture of news for MotoGP fans, some good, some bad, and some seemingly incomprehensible. Let's go through the measures one by one, and examine the possible impact.
First up is the revised weekend schedule, which sees the Friday morning practice dropped, and the other practice sessions severely shortened. A race weekend will now look as follows:
|13:05-13:45||125cc Free Practice 1|
|14:05-14:50||MotoGP Free Practice 1|
|15:05-15:50||250cc Free Practice 1|
|09:05-09:45||125cc Free Practice 2|
|10:05-10:50||MotoGP Free Practice 2|
|11:05-11:50||250cc Free Practice 2|
|13:05-13:45||125cc Qualifying Practice|
|14:05-14:50||MotoGP Qualifying Practice|
|15:05-15:50||250cc Qualifying Practice|
|08:40-09:00||125cc Warm Up|
|09:10-09:30||250cc Warm Up|
|09:40-10:00||MotoGP Warm Up|