Latest MotoGP News
MotoGP Rule Update: Fuel Limit Raised To 22 Liters For 2016, SCAT3 Concussion Test Introduced, & More
The meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, held on Tuesday in Madrid, made a number of minor changes to the rules for all three Grand Prix classes, as well as a couple of more significant revisions. The biggest changes concerned the setting of the maximum fuel allocation from 2016 at 22 liters, and the adoption of the SCAT3 test for concussion for riders after a crash. But perhaps the most significant outcome of the meeting of the GPC is not what was decided, but what was not.
Of the various minor rule changes, a few are worthy of comment. The first is the reduction of the time penalty at the start for a rider exceeding the engine allocation in any given year. From 2015, anyone using an extra engine will start the race from pit lane 5 seconds after the green light is displayed after the official start (once all riders on the grid have passed pit lane exit), rather than 10 seconds. This will have little direct impact on the outcome of any races, but should make it easier for riders using an extra engine to get close to the backmarkers, and perhaps score a point or two.
In the Moto2 class, tire pressure sensors will now be compulsory, to ensure that tire pressures are kept within the range set by the single tire supplier. This is to enforce a rule brought in at the end of last year, when various Moto2 teams were found to be running dangerously low rear tire pressures in an attempt to improve rear edge grip and feel from the tire. Making tire pressure sensors compulsory suggests that some teams had been flouting the mandatory tire pressure ranges, banking on not being caught.
Aleix Espargaro has injured his knee during a training crash earlier this month. According to the Spanish publication Motocuatro, The Spaniard was participating in an informal dirt track race with his Suzuki teammate Maverick Viñales and a group of friends on 6th December, and crashed. The crash resulted in the elder of the Espargaro brothers partially tearing the cruciate ligaments in his left knee.
It was feared that Espargaro would have to undergo surgery to correct the injury, but examination by his doctors determined that this would not be necessary. The factory Suzuki rider faces a four-week layoff, to allow the injury to recover, before he can start training again. That will allow him to resume preparations some time around 6th January, meaning he should be in good shape once testing resumes in February. Aleix Espargaro is due to ride the Suzuki GSX-RR again at the first test in Sepang on 4th February.
With so many MotoGP regulars either racing in or attending the Superprestigio in Barcelona, it was inevitable that a fair amount of gossip and rumor would end up circulating. It was the first chance for some of the media to talk to riders who had been testing down in Southern Spain, while the presence of Ducati's MotoGP bosses Paolo Ciabatti and Davide Tardozzi, attending as guests of Troy Bayliss, added real weight to the debate.
I spoke briefly to Ciabatti on Saturday, asking about progress with the Ducati Desmosedici GP15 and how Michelin testing had gone. Ciabatti was optimistic about the GP15, but confirmed that it was still not certain exactly when the bike would make its first appearance on track. It may not be ready for the first Sepang test in February, with the second Sepang a more likely place for the bike to be rolled out. "We think it's important for the bike to be completely ready," Ciabatti said. It was better for Ducati to roll out a bike ready to take on testing, than rush to try to get a bike going at Sepang 1, and find problems that would have been easier to deal with if discovered on the dyno.
Many years ago, when American riders first burst onto the roadracing scene, and immediately dominated Grand Prix racing, dirt track racing was seen as a key part of their success. Training on the hardpacked dirt, where pushrod twins have far more power than they can ever transfer directly into drive, translated very well into racing 500cc two strokes, which had the same excess of power over grip. As tire technology advanced, and as the number of racers coming out of the US to race on the world stage declined, dirt track fell out of favor. Styles changed back towards keeping the wheels in line and carrying as much corner speed as possible, a skill learned in 125s and 250s, and taken up to 500s and MotoGP. The advent of the 800cc bikes, which caused a quantum leap forward in electronic control, emphasized this even further.
When the rules limiting the number of engines each MotoGP rider is allowed to use were first introduced, their usage was followed hawkishly. After pressure from veteran US journalist Dennis Noyes and myself, and with the assistance of Dorna's incredibly efficient media officer, IRTA and Dorna were persuaded to publish the engine usage charts. These were pored over constantly, searching for clues as to who might be in trouble, who may have to start from pit lane, and who would manage until the end of the season.
How the world has changed since then. Since 2010, the first full year of its application, engine allocations have been cut from six engines a season to just five, but despite that, the manufacturers are getting better and better at building incredible reliability into high horsepower engines. All eight Factory Option Honda and Yamaha riders completed around 9,000 km in 2014, using just 5 engines in the process. In the case of Bradley Smith, he raced for 9416 kilometers using just four engines, an average of 2354 km per engine.
The introduction of the engine reliability rules may have pushed the costs up at first, as factories rushed to modify their engines to suit the new regulations, it has worked well since then to help cut costs. No longer are engines crated up after every race to be flown back to Japan, there to be stripped, measured, tested and rebuilt, then flown back to Europe again ready for the next MotoGP round. Perhaps more importantly, the factories have made real technological progress in the field, Shuhei Nakamoto, Kouichi Tsuji and ex-Ducati Corse boss Filippo Preziosi frequently praising the rule for the advances they have made. It is exactly the kind of technology which will find its way into road going motorcycles, allowing more power to be extracted while retaining reliability. There is good reason to believe that the latest generation of big horsepower road bikes have been made possible thanks to advances in materials and lubrication technology which have made it possible to produce that power without sacrificing reliability.
With testing now over, Jack Miller has joined the ranks of riders undergoing surgery in the off season. Flying back from Sepang to Barcelona, Miller had an operation to remove four loose screws from his right collarbone, the aftermath of an old injury sustained at Indianapolis in 2013. That injury was fixed with a plate, but preseason crashes on the KTM Moto3 bike caused a number of complications for the Australian. With testing completely, Miller now has time to have the remaining screws removed from his shoulder, and allow it to heal. Miller will be unable to train for five days while the scar heals, but will be able to resume his training program after that.
Miller's surgery means that both LCR Honda riders have now gone under the knife. Cal Crutchlow had an operation on 14th November to remove a plate from his left collarbone, which has been inserted in 2011. The Englishman also had some arthritis cleaned up from the same shoulder, the accumulated damage from several falls over the years. Crutchlow's recovery is complete, and he has since flown to California, where he will be training over the winter in preparation for the Sepang tests.
Below are the two press releases about the surgery, the first issued today covering Miller's surgery, the second issued in mid-November, discussing Crutchlow's operation:
Honda have been officially confirmed as the single engine supplier for the Moto2 class for another four years. Honda will make engines available to Externpro, who manage the official Moto2 engines, until the end of the 2018 season.
The confirmation of Honda as official engine supplier means that Moto2 is to remain a single engine class until at least 2018. The chances of it changing after that are very slim, despite occasional expressions of interest from other manufacturers, such as KTM. Any proposal to introduce competition in engine supply meets with immediate opposition from the team, who are very keen on the single Moto2 engine. They believe it radically reduces costs - competing in Moto2 is significantly cheaper than contesting the Moto3 championship - and it eliminates one variable from the competition equation. Teams do not have to worry about choosing an engine supplier, and being stuck with an underperforming engine all season.
The official press release appears below:
Honda to continue to power Moto2™ racing through 2018
Honda Motor Corporation, in continued collaboration with Spanish company ExternPro, will remain as the official Moto2™ engine supplier for the next three years extending until 2018.
Testing is set to continue this week in a range of classes, as bikes take to the track in preparation for the 2015 season. The south of Spain will see the most action, with a group of MotoGP teams being joined by the Crescent Suzuki World Superbike team at Jerez, and a selection of Moto2 teams heading to Almeria.
At Jerez, Suzuki and Aprilia will continue work on their bikes ahead of next season. As new factories, they receive the same concessions as Ducati, which means that they are allowed unlimited testing, more engines, they have the softer rear tire, and they are allowed to develop their engines throughout the season. Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro will be riding the GSX-RR for Suzuki, while Alvaro Bautista and Marco Melandri will be taking the Aprilia ART out for further testing.
Ducati will also be present at the test, Andrea Dovizioso and new teammate Andrea Iannone continuing work on the Desmosedici GP14.2. They are still eagerly awaiting the arrival of the GP15, but that bike will not be ready until the Sepang tests, and most likely, only at the second test at Sepang.
One of the things I enjoy most about running the MotoMatters.com website is the ability to communicate and interact directly with fans. Here, and as @motomatters on Twitter (and even one day on Facebook, once I get the page sorted out properly), I derive a lot of pleasure from hearing your questions and answering them to the best of my ability.
Of course, the problem with Twitter is that space to give an answer is severely limited, to just 140 characters. That doesn't leave much space to give as full an answer as the questions usually deserve. Similarly, when responding to comments on the website, I often don't have the time to spend giving the answer the full attention it deserves, as most of the questions and comments come during a race weekend.
Though testing for the MotoGP class has finished, motorcycle racers in other series still have plenty of work ahead of them. Both the World Superbike series and the Grand Prix support classes have been hard at work, ahead of a busy schedule of testing. The Ducati and Kawasaki World Superbike teams have been testing at the Motorland Aragon circuit, while Moto2 and Moto3 are back at Valencia.
At Aragon, Jonathan Rea made his long-awaited debut on the Kawasaki ZX-10R, alongside 2013 World Champion and fierce rival Tom Sykes. With the World Superbike teams adapting to the new regulations, the two Kawasakis were a little slower than the Ducatis of Davide Giugliano and Chaz Davies. The day started off soaking, with journalists and test riders doing media laps on the 2014 bikes of Tom Sykes and David Salom. Once the track dried out in the afternoon, Kawasaki also joined the action. At the end of the day, both Ducati riders clocked up unofficial times of 1'51.3, while Sykes posted a 1'52.2 and Rea a 1'52.7. As an interesting note, they are running the track in its MotoGP configuration, using the long, sweeping double left hander as the final corner, rather than the longer version used by WSBK when the series races there, featuring the hairpin and then right and left combination leading back on to the front straight. Giugliano's best time is three seconds slower than the best time set by Andrea Dovizioso on the first day of practice for the MotoGP race at the circuit.
"This year's machine is not easy to ride," HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto said of the 2014 Honda RC213V. "More difficult than last year." Given the utter dominance of Marc Marquez in the first half of 2014, that seems hard to believe. It certainly left the journalists gathered for the special press conference convened by Honda to review the season befuddled. "But Honda bikes are always easy to ride!" declared one surprised reporter. "Our bike is very easy, I can ride it, but I don't get under two minutes," Nakamoto said. "But to find the last one tenth, two tenths is very difficult," he remarked.
A look at the timesheets from the test, or a chat with Marc Marquez or Dani Pedrosa about the 2015 Honda, and you understand the problem. On the last day of testing at Valencia, Marquez and Pedrosa finished first and second, but the satellite Hondas of Cal Crutchlow and Scott Redding were a little way off the pace. Crutchlow was eight tenths slower than Marquez, while Redding was struggling 1.6 seconds behind Marquez. In the last race of the 2014 season, Stefan Bradl's fastest lap was just under a second off the fastest race lap, and Alvaro Bautista a fraction slower. The Honda is obviously fast, but it is not easy to go fast on. Too aggressive, too hard to master, a bike with a lot of potential, but extracting that potential takes insight, experience, and the willingness to push an aggressive bike to its limits. It really demands the kind of dirt track background of Casey Stoner or, well, Marc Marquez.
It is a good job the post-race test at Valencia is three days long. The weather in Valencia in November is usually very good, but it can turn, and you can lose track time to rain. That was certainly the case on Tuesday, rain starting early in the morning, and coming in waves all day. It meant the track was wet throughout Tuesday, only the depth of water on the track varying. The heavy rain meant that most rider decided to sit out the day, only ten riders putting in any laps.
With the track the way it was, the finishing order was not really relevant. What was more important was gaining time on the track, and for several riders, getting to grips with Bridgestone's wet tires. Eugene Laverty, Loris Baz, and Marco Melandri, all of whom have moved over from World Superbikes, needed to adjust their minds to the Bridgestones. Even Melandri, who rode on Bridgestones the last time he was in MotoGP in 2010, said the feeling had changed a lot. The rear tire got up to temperature much faster than before, Melandri said.
The Grand Prix Commission meeting at Valencia tied up a number of loose ends in the 2015 regulations, most to do with safety, some to do with basic practicalities of racing.
The most significant changes are to the rule for jump starts and for exceeding track limits. Currently, the penalty for exceeding the track limit is a mandatory loss of position, but the races at Misano showed the impracticality of such a rule. Jonas Folger ran straight on at Turn 1, and had to drop back several seconds into the middle of a group battling for position. Race Direction now has the option of imposing other penalties based on their perception of advantage gained. The decision will allow the imposition of a time penalty, or any other penalty they wish.
The jump start procedure has also been changed, allowing a ride to move before the lights are out, and then stop again, and Race Direction once again decide whether they gained an advantage or not.
One change improving safety is forcing riders to wear helmets while riding the track on scooters. Given the speed which some riders reach on their familiarization laps, it is a much needed rule change. To save costs, riders will now also be allowed to rent dirt bikes or other machinery to use to get to know the track, rather than being forced to ship scooters around the world in team containers.