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."
When the revised version of the 2010 provisional MotoGP calendar was announced last week, we pointed out the problem which the lack of time between the Brno race and Indianapolis would create. With Brno just one week before Indianapolis, the customary post-race at Brno would have to be dropped, cutting the number of in-season tests by half, from two to just one.
This situation could not hold, and as reported by MotoMatters.com on Friday, it hasn't. Today, the FIM announced that the Brno round has officially been moved back a week to August 15th, the date which had appeared on the original MotoGP schedule. This switch puts two weeks between the Brno and Indianapolis rounds, reinstating the post-race tests at Brno, and easing the schedule a little for the riders and the teams. Two transatlantic hops in two weeks would have been punishing both for the riders and especially for the teams, who often have very long hours to put in preparing the bikes. With two weeks between Brno and Indy, the teams can take a little longer to acclimatize, and reduce the amount of jet lag they suffer.
Another blow has been struck in the ongoing battle for supremacy inside the Fiat Yamaha garage. After Valentino Rossi announced that Yamaha would have to choose between himself and team mate Jorge Lorenzo - before backpedalling to the Italian press - this time, it is the turn of Jorge Lorenzo's side of the garage to get in a blow. That comes in an interview with the Spanish broadcaster Cadena SER, in which Marcos Hirsch, Lorenzo's manager and confidant, launched a blistering attack on the 9-time World Champion.
"It's sad that a champion of the stature of Valentino Rossi is so preoccupied by Jorge," Hirsch told Cadena SER. "What he should be doing is being happy, fighting on track and beating him man-to-man, and not using strategies like saying 'get out of here' and 'I don't want you here'." Hirsch was most critical of Rossi's mind games: "His psychological strategy of sending messages using friendly journalists surprises me a little."
The provisional calendar released for 2010 left the teams and fans scratching their heads a little. The calendar featured two sets of three back-to-back races; one set starting on June 20th with the British Grand Prix at Silverstone and ending two weeks later on July 4th with Catalunya; and one set starting on August 22nd with Brno and ending two weeks later at Misano on September 5th. The first back-to-back did not raise any foreseeable problems, the middle race being the traditional run up to Assen for the Dutch TT. The second set, however, was a different kettle of fish.
For sandwiched between Brno and Misano was Indianapolis, on August 29th, meaning that the middle race in this back-to-back involved a hop back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean to the American Mid-West. As if that wasn't bad enough, the transatlantic schedule meant that the second of the two post-race tests scheduled for the 2010 MotoGP season would have to be scrapped, as alternatives for the traditional test at Brno were either thin on the ground or far too late in the season to be of any use.
In the first part of our interview with Peter Clifford, he talked about the thinking behind the WCM project, as well as the goals for keeping racing affordable. In this second part, we discuss how - and why - the project ended, as well as the general question of costs in racing. Is it still possible to go racing without spending huge amounts of money? Clifford gives MotoMatters.com his views.
MotoMatters: To get back to the prototype, who did the inspection, was it the FIM who did tech inspection? I think it was in South Africa that it failed inspection...
Peter Clifford: I think the first place we went to was Japan that year, I think.
MM: But you turned up at the race with a rolling chassis and an engine, submitted to scrutineering...
PC: That's right and they said :no thank you.: I think Chris did the first practice or whatever in the wet and was quite quick on it. And then we were told we couldn't carry on with it. I'm pretty sure we did the first practice and then you know behind the scenes shenanigans.
MM: There's lots of reason to suspect that FG Sport were behind it...
PC: If I was Mr Flammini, I would probably have done it.
I think that I was foolish enough to believe what we did here in this MotoGP paddock, that Dorna, that we as a group, because we all felt that when we went MotoGP, went four stroke, that we were going ahead together. And we very much felt that as a team, OK, we're part of this, there were no motorcycles available, it's up to us to be part of this and we'll make our own. And we knew we'd have no objections from anybody else in the pit lane, everybody felt the same, we were all going together, and I think we thought we were masters of our own destiny in this. But we weren't.
After the recent announcement that the MotoGP class is to allow the use of production-based engines from 2012, the name on everybody's lips was WCM. After all, the team, run by Peter Clifford and Bob MacLean, had built exactly that bike back in 2003, to compete in the MotoGP class. That project ended badly, after a series of disqualifications on technical grounds saw the bike pulled from the grid due precisely to the fact that it was based on production parts. The legal battles over those disqualifications were taken all the way to the International Court of Arbitration in Sport, where WCM lost the case on the matter of how the castings were made.
Here at MotoMatters.com, we have been fascinated by this project for several years now, as it seemed to point the way to a radically different approach to a MotoGP project. With the imminent return of production-based engines - at least for privateer teams - the WCM project seems positively visionary. We tracked down Peter Clifford at the IRTA tests earlier this year, to ask him about the history of the WCM project, and to get his thoughts on racing. In the first of this two-part interview, Clifford talks about the genesis of the project, and the design concepts used to create it. Part two will be online tomorrow.
MotoMatters: The WCM project, when did it start, how did it start?
Peter Clifford: Well in 2002, end of 2002, Yamaha said that they weren't going to make enough M1s for everybody and we were going to be unlucky. At the same time, Red Bull decided that they were no longer going to continue either, so we were left with no sponsor and no machinery. It was a question of either basically stay home or go racing and my business partner Bob McLean and I decided that we wanted to go racing. Carmelo Ezpeleta said, "Look, Peter, you have to turn up with something, anything, because it's all going to get better, I'm going to get the Japanese to produce more motorcycles for everybody, so you've just got to survive through 2003 with whatever you can muster".
Testing has finally concluded for the MotoGP class for this year - or rather, almost, as Alvaro Bautista will be testing in Estoril next week, while Hiroshi Aoyama will have a test in Sepang a few days before Christmas, the two rookies being allowed extra tests to acclimatize to the MotoGP bikes.
But the regulars go home with plenty to think about. Fastest of the three-day test was the man who had dominated practice, Casey Stoner topping the timesheets on the new iteration of Ducati's GP10. The bike features a radically revised firing order, changed to achieve two goals: to smooth power delivery and make the bike easier to ride, and to require less traction control, which in turn will use less fuel, leaving more fuel for the latter stages of the race. Both Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden declared themselves pleased with the new engine, Stoner describing it as giving him "more feeling in the wrist."
The smoother power delivery also helps with pumping on exit and makes the bike easier to ride. That is going to be a benefit to everyone on a Ducati, as the satellite teams will be receiving the new engine specification from the Sepang tests onwards. No longer will taming the Ducati Desmosedici be such an intensely physical experience, leaving the riders with more energy towards the end of the race.
Final times for the end of testing at Valencia. Wrap up to come later this afternoon:
The hopes that Team Scot had of remaining in the MotoGP class have been dashed. The Italian team - home of the 2009 250cc World Champion - had failed to match the success of their 250cc riders in the MotoGP class. As a consequence, their bid to remain in MotoGP on merit has failed.
The team had hoped to stay if they could secure the extra funding to run Alex de Angelis. But though initial talks with the San Marino government had been promising, the tiny Italian republic could not justify the investment required to fund an entire MotoGP team, and though De Angelis and his manager continued to pursue the extra funds required, Honda's patience ran out. Despite being extended a number of times, the time limit placed on the project by HRC expired, and today, Scot Honda threw in the towel. Scot Honda will now concentrate on the Moto2 class instead.
Jorge Lorenzo was the fastest rider on the second day of testing at Valencia, with the lack of wind helping the Spaniard to drop into the 1'31 bracket. Lorenzo set his fastest time on the new soft tire Bridgestone has brought, which both Lorenzo and Hayden reported as giving more edge grip. Lorenzo spent the day testing some electronics and suspension.
Casey Stoner was the second fastest man of the day, ahead of Valentino Rossi, and the increasingly impressive Ben Spies. The Texan is still using basically the same setup he started the weekend on, and is continuing to work at changing his bike from a Superbike style to a more MotoGP style, easing off the brake earlier and carrying more speed through the middle of the corner. So far, he has dropped roughly half a second a day, and he enters the winter break confident for the season to come.
Test times from 3pm. Full times plus commentary at the end of the test, some time after 5pm.
Revised 2010 Provisional MotoGP Calender Released - Le Mans, Silverstone, Mugello, Brno And Misano Moved
The FIM today released the revised version of the 2010 MotoGP calendar, which sees a total of five races shifted about. Le Mans and Mugello shift up a week, while the British Grand Prix at Silverstone is pushed back two weeks to June 20th. Brno and San Marino are both moved closer to the Indianapolis Grand Prix, making for three races on three consecutive weekends.
This immediately highlights the problem with the new schedule: There are a number of tough travel weeks, which will take their toll of riders and teams. The teams will have to fly directly from Motegi halfway round the world to Jerez, the mitigating factor here being that the time shift involved is the easiest one in terms of jet lag. In June, the Silverstone, Assen and Catalunya races are also back to back, but this is not uncommon in Europe.
Less than 24 hours after the 2009 season ended, the MotoGP riders were back out on the track, turning laps in preparation for the 2010 season. The weather was a little warmer than yesterday, but the wind was just as bad as it has been all weekend, sapping the heat out of both track and tires. The field was a real mixture, with the veterans out along with a gaggle of new bugs finding their feet on the MotoGP bikes, as well as a couple of Moto2 bikes undergoing the first shakedown test.
Leading the timesheet were the same names that had dominated all weekend, Casey Stoner returning to the top of the timesheets with a radically-revised Ducati Desmosedici. No details were given on the changes, but the engine sounded completely different, much more like the big bang configuration of the 990cc version of the bike, rather than the 800cc screamer. Filippo Preziosi has nicknamed the engine "V Twin" though according to the Italian site GPOne.com, it is not the same as the old "twin pulse" firing order used by the 2002 Desmosedici 990. Stoner praised the extra grip the engine provided, saying it was much smoother. Nicky Hayden agreed, but said it felt like it was a little bit down on power.
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.
The Rossi-to-Ducati saga continues apace, with maneuvering for the 2011 contract negotiations taking place even on the grid of the final race of 2009. Interviewed for BBC television, Valentino Rossi got in a powerful blow, demanding that Yamaha make a decision about which of their two star riders they want to build their future on. "Yamaha have to choose between me and Jorge for 2011," Rossi told the BBC.
The Italian freely admitted he had been approached by Ducati, and that he had an option to ride there. "I could change bike, ride for Ducati and try to win the world championship with an Italian bike. That would be a great motivation," Rossi said.
At the same time, Rossi underlined his strong relationship with Yamaha. "I prefer at this moment to stay with Yamaha because the love between me and Yamaha, our relationship, is something special."
Rumors of Ducati's courtship of Rossi have triggered a feeding frenzy in the Italian media, who are desperately keen for the match up to take place. However, plenty of room for doubt remains over how serious Rossi is in considering leaving Yamaha, as the Italian is renowned for making public statements to achieve a desired effect, either from a team, a factory, a rival or even the sport of MotoGP itself. Rossi's statements fit neatly into this pattern of putting pressure on one party, in order to achieve the goals he set himself for the future.