Anybody who has even remotely been following the MotoGP Championship for the last few years will know that all is not well in the world of GP racing. The most obvious signs of the illness has been the dwindling grids in the highest category which for some strange reason was named MotoGP after the entire series itself while the series at that time encompassed the 125cc and 250cc categories as well. Prior to that the premier category was the 500cc category which was the first of the two stroke racing categories to be abolished and the MotoGP category went the four stroke way and the engine capacity was raised from 500cc of the two strokes to 990cc for the new four strokes. The cap at 990cc was basically an acknowledgement of the understanding that 1000cc engines were for the production based World Superbike series.
Even though this piece is not all about World Superbikes it may not be out of place to mention a thing or two about this series as well. When the series was incepted it was following the norms of AMA racing in the USA which basically limited the engine capacity of Superbikes to 750cc. When the World Superbikes series came into being Ducati demanded that it be allowed to build engines upto 10cc since it was using two cylindered engines as opposed to the four cylindered motorcycles that were being built by Kawasaki. I would like to point out here that the original World Superbikes series was a two way battle as far as factory involvement was concerned since Kawasaki was the only Japanese factory that was in World Superbikes since it did not want to compete in a far from production two stroke GP racing. Ducati’s argument against having the same capacity of motorcycle engine for two and four cylindered engines was that extra cylinders gave greater possibilities of harvesting power because of the involvement of a greater number of valves, tappets and the like. But things changed when slowly starting with Yamaha through Honda and Suzuki all the Japanese manufacturers came into the World Superbike Championship and demanded that irrespective of number of cylinders all motorcycles should have the same capacity. The might of the Japanese factories could not be withstood by the series promoters who caved into this argument. What this meant was that even the four cylindered engines could now be of 1000cc capacity so that they could compete on equal footing with Ducati. This also made great sense to the Japanese manufacturers since 1000cc was a more ‘natural’ capacity as opposed to 750cc.
Now for those of you who may have by now surmised that I had forgotten why and where I started this article here is the reassurance that nothing like that has happened. There is a reason for the narration of the story, because it will demonstrate to you my dear reader that there always has been a tripartite battle in any motorcycle racing of any form, Superbikes or GP bikes. On the one side are the mighty Japanese and on the other side is Ducati and caught between the crossfire is the promoter who would be Infront for Superbikes and Dorna for GP races. If you have noticed I have made no mention of the FIM the equivalent of the FIA for two wheeled racing. The FIA is a body that has fangs and has always been successful in defining the rules and regulations of four wheeler racing while the FIM is a toothless body whose existence is barely known to anyone. Under Max Mosley, the FIA had so much power that it could bring manufacturers and teams to their knees in all four wheeled racing including the notoriously political Formula1.
The lack of teeth in the FIM has meant that rules of motorcycle racing series are usually made by the MSMA or the Association of Motorcycle Manufacturers, whether in World Superbikes or in GP racing. The promoters of the series are happy to play along as long as they are making their monies from selling TV rights and sponsorships. However, the factories such as Honda and Yamaha have started falling over each other to show that they are the best and in this process the major casualty has been grid numbers. The lack of numbers and the exorbitant costs of factory prototypes that are leased out has forced Dorna’s hand. The FIM rubber stamped the CRT concept even though a possible conflagration between the two series seemed imminent. Dorna drew its strength from the fact that factories were leaving the sport and the withdrawal of Suzuki a long time and committed player in GP racing added teeth to Dorna. Ducati which usually finds itself outnumbered by the Japanese in the MSMA suddenly found itself with only two rivals and everyone knows that Honda and Yamaha cannot stand each other.
Ducati therefore cleverly went with Dorna and that meant that the power of Honda especially and even of Yamaha to some extent was effectively neutered. The CRT concept took shape and added nine new entries to this year’s list taking the grid numbers from 12 to 21. So, is this a case of all is well that ends well? Well not really for only now do we see some sub plots that actually made up the main plot are being unveiled slowly. As reported in the news section Infront is actively considering the incorporation of new ideas into Superbike racing. One of the rumours that has been doing the rounds is that from next season on the format of World Superbike racing could undergo a radical transformation. Instead of the usual two races there will effectively be one race with the provision for pit stops for tyre change and refuelling. There are talks about the abolition of the World Supersport category and only this one long race for superbikes. Add to this the latest rumour about Infront reviving the Imola 200 and you can see a picture emerging.
In World Superbikes there are two races. For the purposes of averages let us look at some ball park figures. Let us say that at an average each of the races runs for 20 laps on a 5 km circuit. The distance would then be near 100 kms per race and if you have two races then already the World Superbikes racers and motorcycles are already racing somewhere near the 200 km mark. Now the idea of a 200 mile race can easily be converted into a 200 km race, just as you see in Formula1. This would mean that Superbikes that already follows an F1 style qualifying format can adopt the whole F1 style of racing. So superbikes can become the F1 of two wheels. You maybe surprised to know that there was once a category in two wheeled racing at the Isle of Man called Formula1 and Carl Fogerty the legendary superbike champion was once a Formula1 champion. Obviously F1 is now trade marked and that means a new name or simply World Superbike could continue for this new format.
Now let me come to the two people that I have mentioned in the title of the article itself, Jeremy Burgess and Herve Poncharal. Jerry Burgess trained under the great Erv Kanemoto and is a legend. He has been instrumental in the success of Wayne Gardner, Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi. I will gloss over the fact that Burgess has thus far not been able to work wonders on the Ducati with Rossi, for that in no way detracts his more than considerable achievements of the past. Casey Stoner is contemptuous of Burgess but then he can afford to be, for all said and done, he is tremendous talent that could tame the Ducati which has humbled even the mighty Rossi. For some months now Jerry Burgess has been making noises about the direction in which MotoGP is going. He believes that the move to 1000cc engines was wrong because motorcycles have now become two wheeled missiles that can go over 360 km /h and that could jeopardize rider safety. He has found an ally in Jorge Lorenzo the once swaggering cowboy of the paddock who has now become the good boy. Burgess is now suggesting that the move should have been to 600cc engines for MotoGP and lesser capacity for Moto2, maybe 400cc. Burgess could be carrying the agenda of the factories to protect GP racing from going the production way. Look at F1, from 2014 the series will shift to 1.6 litre turbo charged V6 engines instead of the present V8 naturally aspirated 2400cc ones. Burgess is saying that one should go down the cubic capacity ladder and work with new technologies so as to retain the idea that GP racing should be all about cutting edge technologies. The 600cc is insurance because this would mean that in case factories do not bring down the cost of leasing you can have 600cc CRTs since 600cc engines are very popular in production motorcycles as well. As for Moto2 it can always drop a few cubic centimetres and go down to 400cc and there already are engines of that capacity in MotoX and those could be mated to different chassis and gearboxes with a different ECU. Moto3 of course will continue as it is since it is only going to come into being this year. So is the future of GP racing? Is Jeremy Burgess acting as a spokesman for the Japanese factories?
I say Japanese factories because whatever their outward stances and pronouncements both Burgess and Rossi are ill at ease at Ducati. The constant barbs that Stoner is throwing their way surely must be making them feel all the more miserable. So this will not only be a great opportunity for the Japanese to hit back but also for Valentino Rossi to move home so that he can get into his comfort zone again, nationality be damned. Now is this also consistent with what Suzuki said while exiting MotoGP. It said “I’ll be back” but in 2014, so does that mean that Suzuki is seeing the present rules as interim and expects big changes sooner than later? That may well be the case since Suzuki is a relatively smaller factory it may have thought it prudent to wait for clarity to emerge before taking the plunge back into MotoGP.
Even more crucial than Jeremy Burgess’ utterances are the ones of Herve Poncharal who is not only the owner of the Yamaha satellite Tech3 team but also the President of IRTA which is the association for the racing teams somewhat like FOTA is to F1. Yesterday the news spread that Tech3 has stopped work on its CRT motorcycle for next year. One of the less known fact about the Tech3 team is the fact that it is home to one of the great chassis gurus of our time, Guy Coulon who used to be Colin Edwards’ crew chief till last year. There have been rumours circulating that Coulon is developing a CRT bike and now Poncharal has said that it was not a question of Tech3 stopping work on the CRT but having ‘postponed the start of the work’. His reasoning was that since the two parties in the dispute in MotoGP, i.e. Dorna and the MSMA have started talking to each other and are now in the process of reaching an agreement over lower costs of leasing, it would be senseless to start work on a CRT bike since it would be easier to sell space on a Yamaha M1!!
To make the picture clearer still let us consider what Gigi Dall’Igna has to say about Aprilia officially entering the MotoGP fray as a factory rather than as CRT providers. He believes that Aprilia will enter MotoGP provided “the rules are very clear”, and while saying this he even took pot shots not just at the Japanese manufacturers but also at fellow Italian factory Ducati saying that all these companies are manipulating the rules to their own comfort but a solution can come about if the MSMA, Dorna and the FIM sit together and discuss things. And talking of discussions they are already on and Dorna and the MSMA have been bouncing proposals at each other. While it is unlikely that anything will happen in the very near future, Dorna’s Carmelo Ezpeleta is very clear that he wants the annual budget of MotoGP teams halved from 30million Euros to 15million Euros. He also wants to bring the leasing costs of factory machinery down to 1million Euros from the present 2.5million to 5million Euros, depending on the manufacturers.
It is in this context that the noises being made by Jeremy Burgess, Herve Poncharal and even Casey Stoner become significant. While I have already written about what the first two had to say I have not said anything about Stoner whose power in the MotoGP paddock is growing thanks to his dominating form last season and during the tests this year. Stoner is adamant that he will not ride in a series that becomes all CRT, something that Ezpeleta is threatening to do if the factories do not fall in line with his diktats. Meanwhile the factories while emphasizing the necessity for maintaining the technological edge of MotoGP have now become more open to new ideas and proposals to cut costs and boost grid sizes.
LCR Honda team owner Lucio Cecchinello has also started making noises about how the cubic capacity of the Moto2 category engines should be brought down and how they should be restricted to two cylinders. What Cecchinello is suggesting is essentially a return to the formula of MotoGP during the two stroke days. His is therefore an iteration of the old idea of halving cylinders and cubic capacities like in the good old days. The two stroke 500s usually were four cylindered, while the two stroke 250s were two cylindered and the 125s were single cylindered. So effectively Cecchinello is saying 1000cc four cylindered MotoGP, 500cc two cylindered Moto2 and the single cylindered 250cc Moto3. Cecchinello does not want the single manufacturer four cylindered engine of 600cc formula of the present Moto2.
So you see there is a lot of noise about a lot of things, indicating that the present formula of MotoGP could only be temporary. In my opinion the changes that will take place in the pinnacle category would be cheaper motorcycles to lease and the gradual disappearance of the CRT concept. Moto2 will probably allow different engines from different manufacturers and the cubic capacity will continue to be 600cc and the frames or chassis will be custom designed by the likes of Suter, Kalex, Moriwaki etc. I personally do not think that Moto3 will be tinkered with for a while, otherwise all concerned will become a laughing stock of the whole world. Interesting times these, that there is no denying.