MotoGP Rule Change Imminent: 'Intermediate' Category To Be Added Between Factory Option And Open Classes
The CRT-replacement Open class in MotoGP is causing an even bigger shake up of the class than was expected. The outright speed of the Forward Yamaha at the first two Sepang tests provoked a testy response from Honda, who claimed it was entirely against the spirit of the rules. Then came news that Ducati was to switch to an Open entry, giving them the freedom to develop their engines and use more fuel, in exchange for giving up their own ECU software. This provoked an even angrier response from Honda, Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo telling the MotoGP.com website that they were unhappy with the introduction of the new ECU software Magneti Marelli brought to the second Sepang test, which was much more sophisticated, though it was not used by the teams.
It seems Honda's complaints have not fallen on deaf ears. Today, in an interview with Spanish sports daily AS, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta announced that a third, intermediate category is to be introduced for 2014. The new category, which Ezpeleta dubbed 'Factory 2', will see Ducati start the season under the full Open regulations: 24 liters of fuel per race, 12 engines per season, not subject to the engine development freeze, unlimited testing, and a softer rear tire, in exchange for using the spec championship software managed by Magneti Marelli. However, should Ducati win a race, or take 2 second places, or 3 third places, then they will lose some of their advantage. Fuel will be reduced from 24 to 22.5 liters, and the engine allocation will be reduced from 12 to 9 per season.
Press releases from the teams, Bridgestone and Dunlop at the end of the three-day tire test at Phillip Island:
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Why the door was left Open for Ducati
Dorna’s Open plan is to get all the factories using their software to make MotoGP racing closer and safer. Open this, Open that, Open the other; that was all everyone was talking about at Sepang last week.
Aleix Espargaró ended the test at the sharp end and ahead of three of the four Factory-spec Yamahas on his Open-spec YZR-M1. It will be a huge thrill to have Espargaró battling up front, putting a few factory noses out of joint.
The even bigger deal at Sepang was Ducati deciding it’s no longer a factory team but is instead an Open team. Honda and Yamaha are raging about this because the whole point of the Open regs was to give poorer privateer teams a helping hand, not to help one factory outflank the others.
The big news on the final day of testing at Sepang was not what was happening on track, but rather what was happening off track. The announcement – trailed here and all around the media since early January – that Ducati would switch to the Open category was the talk of the paddock. And social media. And bike racing forums. And biking bars around the world, I expect. Even though we knew this was coming, it is only now becoming clear just how much of a game changer this decision is.
The announcement was timed curiously, made at the end of the day when the bosses of Yamaha and Honda had already left the circuit and were unavailable to the press. Likewise, the press room had largely emptied out. It appeared to have been made to minimize the impact, especially on the other manufacturers. Honda and Yamaha now have a couple of days to gather their PR might and put together a carefully worded position on the move by Ducati, which will both give the impression they are entirely disinterested in what Ducati have decided to do, while at the same time exuding a vague air of disapproval. Expect to see the verb 'to disappoint' in various conjugations.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Bridgestone at the conclusion of the final day of testing at Sepang:
Ducati have officially confirmed that they will race as Open class entries in the 2014 MotoGP season. Speaking to the media at Sepang, Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna announced that all four Ducati machines will be entered under Open regulations. The decision has been the worst-kept secret in the paddock for some time, with rumors emerging earlier this year that the Italian manufacturer would abandon Factory Option status to switch to the freer Open class.
Dall'Igna described the switch as 'the most interesting option for Ducati in the current situation'. Given the nature of Ducati's problems, they were left with virtually no option but to switch to the Open class. The engine freeze in place for Factory Option entries make it impossible to make significant changes to the bike layout, as the engine cases are fixed, right down to the engine mounting points. The freeze limits both engine development and chassis development as a result.
2014 MotoGP Sepang 2 Day 2 Round Up: The Old New Tire, Lorenzo's Lamentations, And Ducati's Open Future (Again)
A cleaner track made for better times at the second MotoGP test at Sepang on Thursday, but conditions remain far from ideal. The track was still greasy, and the added heat made the situation worse. That meant the track remained empty for large parts of the day, the riders waiting for temperatures to come down at the end of the day.
When the riders did go for their fast laps, the usual suspects raised their heads. Aleix Espargaro was quick, Alvaro Bautista was quick, but if anyone was in any doubt about where the real power lies on the MotoGP grid, Dani Pedrosa quickly disabused them of their misconceptions. The Repsol Honda man posted two scorching laps, faster than anyone else was capable of riding. At nearly three tenths of a second, the gap was convincing. When Dani Pedrosa decides to exert his authority, the world listens. Especially when his teammate is absent.
Pedrosa spent the day working on the front of the Repsol Honda, and deciding on which of the two chassis to use for the rest of the year. The quicker of the two options was also less forgiving under braking, meaning Pedrosa elected to pursue the slower of the two frames. Sacrificing a little bit of speed for more stability and less effort to ride seemed like a suitable trade off.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams on the second day of testing at Sepang:
2014 MotoGP Sepang 2 Day 1 Round Up: The Tire Pendulum Swings Against Yamaha, And Ducati's Open Future
If the first Sepang test threw up a few surprises, the first day of the second test turned into a bit a shocker. Anyone putting money on Alvaro Bautista, Aleix Espargaro and his brother Pol being the top 3 at the end of the first day would very, very rich indeed. Though all three had good reason to be further up front – Bautista has a new rear shock from Showa which is a big step forward, Aleix has been fast throughout, and Pol has the new seamless gearbox from Yamaha – their speed should not be seen as presaging a revolution in MotoGP. A dirty track, and several riders not chasing times gave the trio a chance to shine, which they seized with both hands.
Things did not look promising at the start of the day. The track was in poor condition, still dirty after a recent Ferrari test. The Kuala Lumpur region has had no rain for months now, which usually helps to clean the track in between tests. The situation was so bad that the circuit offered to spray the track clean with water, an offer which turned out not to be necessary. Having 23 bikes circulating helped sweep the track fairly well as the day progressed. By Thursday, the track should be in much better shape.
Press releases from the MotoGP teams after the first day of testing at Sepang:
MotoGP returns to the track at Sepang in just a few hours, and the second test at the Malaysian circuit offers just as much intrigue as the first did. Interest at Sepang 2 centers on notable absentees, Ducati's plans, and progress made so far. There is much to watch in Malaysia.
One thing we know for sure. Marc Marquez will not be the fastest man at the second Sepang test. The reigning world champion dominated the first test at the beginning of the month, but a training crash saw him fracture his right fibula. Even in adversity, Marquez' luck held, the injury being relatively quick to heal, the bone not being displaced. He will definitely be back in action at the first race of the year in Qatar, and he could possible attend the Bridgestone test at Phillip Island early next week, but he will be forced to miss Sepang 2.
With Marquez out, others will have a chance to shine, though the question of how any times set would hold up if the Repsol Honda man had been present will remain. Nobody had an answer to Marquez' pace at the first test – especially when you compare his race pace on long runs – and his rivals will have to drop well under the two-minute mark to make an impression.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after the first races of the 2014 season at Phillip Island:
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after qualifying for the season opener at Phillip Island: