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.
After the serious incident at Silverstone, in which Dani Rivas crashed into Steven Odendaal during the Sunday morning warm up, as Odendaal and other riders stood waiting to make practice starts, the Grand Prix Commission has taken steps to regulate practice starts in all three Grand Prix classes. From now on, practice starts will only be allowed from designated locations at the circuit, and practice starts elsewhere will be banned.
Practice starts will be allowed from pit lane exit during practice, and at one or two designated zones around each track, as decided before each race. Marshals will indicate the start of the practice start zones, and all riders not electing to practice a start in that zone will be warned by yellow flags and will have to stay on the opposite side of the track from the start zone.
The new rules are effective immediately. The FIM press release containing the full set of rules appears below:
FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix
Decision of the Grand Prix Commission
As we reported at Mugello, the claiming rule is to be dropped from the MotoGP rulebook. Introduced to prevent factories entering MotoGP under the guise of private teams, the claiming rule allowed any factory to claim the engine of a bike entered by a CRT team. But after the Grand Prix Commission agreed to the introduction of a spec ECU, the decision to run the spec software proved to be an alternative and more effective way was found of separating full factory efforts from privateer teams. The claiming rule was never actually used, the factories having said when the claiming rule was introduced that they had no intention of ever claiming an engine. It was kept there as the ultimate threat, Teddy Roosevelt's 'big stick' to prevent other factories from even considering such a ruse.
The new distinction between factory and private teams is now the spec ECU, and so the claiming rule has been dropped with immediate effect for all teams (Forward Racing, Avintia Blusens, PBM's Michael Laverty, CAME Ioda Racing) currently using the spec software. From 2014, all teams will have to use the spec hardware, and so the claiming rule will be dropped completely for the 2014 season.
MotoGP's Claiming Rule is set to be consigned to the history books. At the next meeting of the Grand Prix Commission at Barcelona, a proposal will be put forward to abandon the claiming rule altogether. With the advent of the new distinction, between MSMA entries and non-MSMA entries, the need to claim an engine ceased to exist. The demise of the claiming rule opens the way towards the leasing of Yamaha engines to private teams without fear of those engines being claimed by other factories.
The claiming rule had been instigated at the start of 2012, to allow the grid to expand. At the end of 2011, with the departure of Suzuki, and both Honda and Ducati cutting back the number of satellite bikes they were prepared to provide, numbers on the MotoGP grid looked like falling to as low as 13 or 14 bikes. The switch back to 1000cc engines meant a rich spectrum of engines was available to custom chassis builders, to produce affordable race bikes. To allow such teams to compete with the full factory efforts, such teams were allowed extra fuel (24 liters instead of 21), and double the factory engine allowance, 12 instead of 6. To prevent new factories from taking advantage of the loophole, the MSMA members - the factories involved in MotoGP - retained the right to claim the engine of such teams. Hence the name, Claiming Rule Team or CRT.
With the MotoGP paddock once again assembled for the start of the season at Qatar, the four organizations who make up the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rulemaking body, took the opportunity to meet and discuss and adopt a number of rule changes. The rules cover a number of areas, including testing for all three classes, the 2014 technical rules for MotoGP, and further steps to control the real cost of engines in Moto3.
The most significant part of the press release is perhaps also the least obvious. The GPC confirmed the 2014 technical regulations previously agreed upon, after Dorna received assurances - and detailed proposals - that the manufacturers were prepared to supply private teams with affordable machinery. The news that Yamaha has agreed to lease engines to teams was the final piece in the puzzle which ensured that the rule package for 2014 would be adopted. Honda had previously agreed to build a customer version of their RC213V machine, five of which they will supply to private teams, and with Yamaha supplying four engines for lease - or more likely, a package including a Yamaha engine in a Yamaha-inspired chassis built by FTR - the grid will have at least twelve prototypes, nine MSMA-supplied privateer machines, and three other bikes, two of which could be factory Suzukis. Ducati has not been asked to supply privateer teams, unsurprising given the fact that the Italian factory is the smallest manufacturer by a very, very long way, and designing and building a separate engine or bike for customer teams is simply beyond their resources.
The Philip Morris-sponsored Wrooom event is not just the event at which Ducati launches its MotoGP season, it has become the de facto kick off to the MotoGP season as a whole. With an important section of the international media present, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta inevitably seizes the opportunity to talk to the press about his view of the season ahead, and where necessary, of the future beyond that.
This year was little different. Ezpeleta spoke to the media ahead of the presentation by Ducati Corse boss Bernhard Gobmeier, and answered questions from a number of media outlets separately, answering questions on the future of both MotoGP and World Superbikes. From his statements, a picture of Dorna's vision for the two series starts to emerge: the future of world championship motorcycle racing is to be price-limited, with more support for the current teams, and factories holding a stake in both series, in exchange for keeping a lid on costs. The calendars of both series would come under scrutiny, with MotoGP heading to South America in 2014, and both series only racing at circuits willing to pay a sanctioning fee which would cover the cost of the logistics to get there.
Since the global financial crisis struck back in 2008, MotoGP's primary focus has been on cutting costs. These efforts have met with varying success - sometimes reducing costs over the long term, after a short term increase, sometimes having no discernible impact whatsoever - and as a result, the grids in all three classes are filling up again. Further changes are afoot - chiefly, the promise by Honda and Yamaha to supply cheaper machinery to private teams, either in the form of production racers, such as Honda's RC213V clone, or Yamaha's offer to lease engines to chassis builders - but there is a limit to how much can be achieved by cutting costs. What is really needed is for the series to raise its revenues, something which the series has signally failed to do.
In truth, the series has never really recovered from the loss of tobacco sponsorship, something for which it should have been prepared, given that it had had many years' warning of the ruling finally being applied. The underlying problem was that the raising of sponsorship had been outsourced and the marketing of the series had been outsourced to a large degree to the tobacco companies, and once they left - with the honorable, if confusing, exception of Philip Morris - those skills disappeared with them. There was nobody left to try to increase the amount of money coming into the sport.
After an almost interminable period of discussions and debate, agreement has at last been reached over the technical regulations to be applied in MotoGP for the 2014 onwards. The agreement has been a compromise, with both sides of the argument being given something to satisfy them.
The new rules see the introduction of a compulsory spec ECU and datalogger, and the ECU now acts as a divide between the two classes of teams in the paddock. MSMA members will be allowed to use their own software for the spec ECU, but the punishment for doing so will be a reduction in the fuel limit from 21 to 20 liters for a race. Teams electing to use the spec software supplied by Dorna will be allowed 24 liters. The MSMA members will also be limited to 5 engines a season, while the rest will be allowed 12 engines. The reduction in fuel and engines was made at the request of the factories, to give themselves an engineering challenge to conquer.
An engine development freeze was also announced, preventing engine development during each season, and in addition, the bore and stroke of the MotoGP machines will be fixed for three seasons, from 2013 to 2015.
This may very well turn out to be the biggest week in MotoGP since the decision to replace the two stroke 500s with large capacity four stroke machines. This week, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is set to have meetings with each of the MSMA members at Motegi, to hammer out once and for all the technical basis for the 2014 season. If they succeed, the ground will be laid for a set of technical regulations which can remain stable for the long term, the goal being at least five years. If they fail, then one or more manufacturers could leave the series, reducing the number of factory bikes on the grid and potentially removing two of MotoGP's top riders from the grid. There is much at stake.
So much, in fact, that neither side looks prepared to back down. On the one side is Dorna, who see the costs of the championship spiraling out of control thanks to the increasing sophistication of the electronics, and the racing growing ever more clinical as fewer and fewer riders are capable of mastering the machines these electronics control. On the other side are the factories, for whom MotoGP, with its fuel-limited format, provides an ideal laboratory for developing electronic control systems which filter through into their consumer products and serves as a training ground for their best engineers. Dorna demands a spec ECU to control costs; the factories, amalgamated in the MSMA, demand the ability to develop software strategies through the use of unrestricted electronics. The two perspectives are irreconcilable, at the most fundamental level.
MotoGP Rule Changes As Expected: Rookie Rule, Single-Bike Scrapped, But Restrictions On Factory Bikes Introduced
Much was expected of this Friday's meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, but in the end, the decisions taken were relatively minor. Dorna, IRTA, the FIM and the MSMA agreed on a number of proposals which had widely been expected, but made no real progress on the major rule changes expected for the 2014 or 2015 season.
The rule change with the biggest immediate impact was the dropping of the Rookie Rule, as we reported during the Silverstone round of MotoGP. The dropping of the Rookie Rule, which prevents new entries into the MotoGP class from going straight to a factory team, opens the way for Marc Marquez to join the factory Repsol Honda team next season. Contrary to popular opinion, however, the rule was not dropped at the request of HRC, but rather of the Honda satellite teams themselves, both Lucio Cecchinello and Fausto Gresini fearing the disruption that Marquez would bring for just a single year.
While the Rookie Rule was scrapped, a couple of other proposals which had been feared were also dropped. The MSMA proposal to go to a single bike - as is the case in Moto2, Moto3 and WSBK - was dropped after opposition from the teams. A proposal to ban the use of carbon brakes was also dropped, especially after pressure on Brembo and Nissin elicited promises to examine the price structure of their products.
The Honda press office issued the following press release, reporting on the awarding of Best Grand Prix of 2011 to Mugello:
Magnificent Mugello takes IRTA Best Grand Prix Honours
Never in the history of the prestigious IRTA ‘Best Grand Prix' has a track won five times. Never has a track won in three different decades. But never has there been a track like the Mugello Circuit, the magnificent Tuscan venue north of Florence, which has been honoured as the winner of the 2011 IRTA Best Grand Prix.
The key to Mugello's success is that it strives to be the best. The track has made continuous improvements every year since 1995 when it won the first of three consecutive awards, a feat no other track has accomplished. The fourth award came in the Millennium year of 2000, with this year's fifth prize early in the new decade. And it certainly won't be the last. Following the successful running of this year's race the track signed a contract with Dorna to continue to host a round of the world championship through 2016.
MotoGP's rule-making body, the Grand Prix Commission, adopted a number of changes to the MotoGP rules in a meeting on Wednesday. As expected, the testing restrictions were dropped, now to be limited by tire allocation. Other changes adopted include an increase in the minimum weight, the introduction of rear-facing red lights to be carried in wet conditions, a slight tweak to the 107% qualifying minimum time, and explicitly granting authority to impose penalties on event organizers. The GPC also considered the entry list for the 2012 MotoGP season, and accepted 9 CRT entries, along with 1 reserve CRT entry.
The introduction of the Claiming Rule Teams has caused a massive wave of confusion among MotoGP fans, and left then with a host of questions. Below, we attempt to answer most of the questions that race fans have about this new category of bikes, as well as addressing how it came to be created in the first place.
What on earth is a CRT?
CRT stands for Claiming Rule Team, and is a new category of entry in the MotoGP class. They will run alongside the normal factory and satellite MotoGP bikes (now officially classified as "factory prototypes" regardless of whether they are being run in a factory team or a satellite team), and be subject to slightly different rules.
What are the rule differences between the CRTs and the factory prototypes?
The CRT entries will be allowed more fuel and more engines: while factory prototypes will have 21 liters of fuel and be allowed to use 6 engines in 2012 (just as in 2011), the CRT entries will be given 24 liters of fuel to last a race, and have 12 engines for the 2012 season. Because of these advantages, existing manufacturers (Honda, Yamaha or Ducati) will be allowed to claim engines from CRT entries.
What does "claiming an engine" mean and how does it work?
The testing limits imposed as a cost-cutting measure in MotoGP have finally been lifted. At the meeting of the Grand Prix Commission in Valencia, MotoGP's rule-making body dropped the rules limiting testing to non-contracted riders outside of MotoGP's official tests, and allowed contracted riders (e.g. any rider currently racing in MotoGP) to ride the bikes at private tests. The GPC accepted the argument put forward by Ducati that testing is already limited by the number of tires available, and that restricting testing to test riders did little to cut costs, as the factory riders were being paid anyway.
That argument was not shared by all the members of the MSMA, though. When asked by MotoMatters.com at Valencia about lifting the test ban, HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto said that the measure would favor European manufacturers who have their bikes, crew and riders already close to the track. For the Japanese manufacturers, they would either have to fly their team personnel and riders to Japan, or their bikes, equipment and Japanese engineers to Europe if they wish to test at European tracks. Lifting the test ban would not cut costs for Honda, Nakamoto said.
In part 1 of this series, we discussed the new 1000cc rules for 2012, especially those for the so-called Claiming Rule Teams, the privateer teams which will be allowed to use engines from production bikes if they so wish. In part 2, we discussed Infront Motor Sports' objections to those new rules as organizers of the World Superbike series, and why their objections are likely to fail. In part 3, we turn our attention to the reasoning behind these new rules, the politics which surround them, and the circumstances which have served to put the changes into high gear.
Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna, is one of the most vilified men among many fans of MotoGP. He is blamed for the many changes that have altered the face of MotoGP, not least for killing off the 990s and bringing in the 800s, which have robbed the sport of so much of its spectacle. Ezpeleta gets the blame for each new rule change, charged with fiddling while Rome burns.