At Misano on Friday, there was an event that will change the face of MotoGP forever. War was declared - in the nicest possible terms - and the silhouette of the future was vaguely discernible for those who wanted to see it. There were also some bikes on track, so let's turn to those first.
Fastest man on Friday was Jorge Lorenzo, after a radical change to the setup of his Yamaha, and a return to the settings the reigning World Champion used back at Mugello. From 6th and nearly a second down on Friday morning, Lorenzo leapt to the top of the timesheets, breaking through the 1'39 barrier, and going four tenths faster than the existing race lap record. On Friday, with another day of practice yet to come.
The change had meant Lorenzo could get the bike turned and out of the corners more quickly, and had given the Spaniard more confidence in the front of the bike. It was something that had worked at Mugello, but as Mugello had had new and grippy asphalt, the team had discarded it as a basis for the future at tracks where grip levels were not so high. They had then gone chasing setup, making changes to try and find the few tenths that they were behind the Hondas, but all to no avail. Now back at the front, Lorenzo looked happier and more relaxed than he had been for a long time, and that in itself should give pause for thought.
His teammate had been fast in the morning, Ben Spies benefiting from a revised position on the bike that the team had found for him at Indianapolis. In the afternoon, Spies and his team pushed the changes even further, but they did not work out, Spies not managing to match his time from the morning and dropping down the timesheets to 5th. The session had been useful, though, Spies insisted, as the data gathered would help them in the future. On Saturday, Spies would return to the riding position that worked on Indy (what had changed? "Everything, bars, footpegs, seating position, tank spacer...") and expected to be back at the front again.
Fastest in the morning, Casey Stoner was perhaps a little surprised that Lorenzo had found the pace to beat him into 2nd on Friday afternoon, but the Australian avowed that he was not worried. The bike was strong in some points, but had a few problems in others, and on balance, Stoner was happy with the data they had gathered during the day. It was a question of putting it all together, and he should be competitive, Stoner said. However, he was not taking anything for granted. Lorenzo would remain a threat to the very end: "For sure Jorge will never give up," Stoner said, "He's a great racer and will push to the end."
Stoner was also asked - as so often this year - about the Ducati, and the problems that Valentino Rossi had in adapting to the bike. Stoner was adamant that the carbon fiber chassis was not the problem: "The carbon fiber chassis was so much better than the steel trellis," Stoner said. "Carbon fiber is not the problem." When asked what the problem was, Stoner became elusive, then refused point blank to answer when asked what the solution was. "If I tell you, they might fix it!" Stoner said, only half joking. But it was something that he had already told Ducati about while he was still racing for them, Stoner said. "There were things we wanted to change, but we just couldn't do it," Stoner said. "There wasn't the budget for it then." Stoner had plenty of praise for the work ethic at Ducati, though. "I know how hard the Ducati guys work," he said, "and it's disappointing to watch them struggle so much."
Rossi himself was at a loss for a solution, the Italian ending the day 11th fastest, and 1.4 seconds off the leader, his erstwhile teammate Jorge Lorenzo. The problems were the same as ever, Rossi said, joking the press, "You can use one of the old interviews we did, I will say the same!" Feeling with the front is the problem, an issue they have struggled with all year, and Ducati has had for much longer than that. His team had tried a number of things, but would be reverting to the set up used at Laguna and Brno in the hope of making an improvement. Rossi had given up on this season, he admitted, and was working mostly for 2012 now, hoping that Ducati would be able to find some solutions for next year. The softer front Bridgestone should help, while the fact that the 1000s spend less time pushing the front through the corner will also be a benefit, as the 1000s need to be stood up earlier to allow the bike to get some drive from the extra power. All of the versions of the Ducati GP12 that Rossi had tested so far still had the front end problems, but the different riding style made them less pronounced. Much work remains.
Even more work remains for Colin Edwards, who announced he would be leaving Tech 3 to go to the Forward Racing team and help race and develop their CRT project. For full details of the announcement, see our separate news story, but the big news at the press conference was not so much what Edwards said as what Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta had to say on the subject. "This the main category of bikes in the future," Ezpeleta told reporters. "In two years' time, the majority of bikes will be CRT, and in the future, all bikes will be this way."
It was a covert declaration of war on the manufacturers, the MSMA members failing both to keep grid numbers up and to allow the satellite teams to be competitive. The cost of leasing a bike was now prohibitive - between 2.9 million and 4 million euros, depending on whom you listen to, lease prices being kept strictly confidential by the factories. The price of the Suter BMW machine is quoted as being around 1.5 million, and that is the most expensive of the CRT bikes currently on offer. With a bit of hard bargaining, a CRT team could run a two-rider team for the price of a one-rider satellite squad, and given the extra fuel, not be that much less competitive.
The CRT concept is hated by the purists in the paddock, some of the heavy hitters among both the teams and the media criticizing its hybrid ethic. However, the goal of the CRT machines is clear: create a situation where there are enough bikes on the grid that the series can survive a pullout by one or more of the manufacturers. Once that situation has been reached, such a pullout might even be created, with the MSMA having their monopoly on the technical regulations - or at least, the part that appertains to the CRT teams - taken away from them, a move that would amount to an ultimatum. From that point, the factories would either have to put up or shut up, but they would never have the power to hold the series to ransom again.
Dorna learned its lesson from the rule changes that came in throughout the four stroke era. The switch from the 990s to 800cc transformed the MotoGP series from the most exciting on the planet to a racing class that has serious competition from Formula One for excitement, whereas F1 was the automotive equivalent of watching paint dry not so very long ago. Dorna - not just Dorna, the FIM and IRTA too - have realized that they cannot rely on the manufacturers, as the manufacturers have their own goals and objectives in MotoGP. Providing exciting racing is not one of those objectives, and the CRT teams are the first step on the road to putting exciting racing back at the forefront of the public minds.
The subject is far too big either for myself as a writer or for you as readers to deal with on a busy race weekend. Over the next week, I shall finally finish a piece I have been working on (well, which has been sitting in a folder on my computer) for the past 9 months or more, about the future of MotoGP. The future of MotoGP arrived at Misano, and Colin Edwards was smart enough to recognize it, and jump aboard the bandwagon while it was still empty. There are interesting times ahead.