Crunching The Numbers: Measuring The Progress Of MotoGP's CRT Machines

The introduction of the Claiming Rule Team regulations into MotoGP has divided fans and followers into two distinct camps. The anti camp have decried the CRT machines as thinly disguised World Superbike machines, claiming that allowing the use of production machinery into MotoGP is a betrayal of the spirit of Grand Prix racing. The pro camp, on the other hand, argue that the CRT machines are MotoGP's salvation, and a return to Grand Prix racing's roots - the Manx Norton was, after all, a development of the Norton International, and the very first 500cc  two stroke machines to be raced were based on roadgoing engines from Suzuki and Kawasaki. 

Much of the debate has of course centered on the ability of the CRT machines to be competitive, or whether they will be so slow as to form a danger to the factory riders, being lapped several times a race. While the CRT machines had barely turned a wheel on track, those questions were impossible to answer, but now that the CRT machines have had a few outings in public, it is possible to start drawing some preliminary conclusions.

But first, we need a benchmark. Comparing the CRT times against the race lap records provides a good benchmark, though the fact that the lap records were set on 800cc machines means that those times are a little slower than the 1000cc factory prototypes will be capable of (based on the times set so far, the difference between the 800cc lap record and the 1000cc lap records should be under 1%). Taking the existing lap records, we can measure both how close to the pace the CRT bikes are, and exactly how much progress they need to make to be competitive. We can also measure the amount of progress the CRT bikes have made in their short existence.

Below are three sets of tables. The first contains the improvements each of the riders on a CRT bike has made since their first track outing on their new machines. The second set contains a full list of times set by the CRT riders at all of the tests that have taken place so far. And at the bottom, a table comparing the times set by the World Superbike machines at tracks where MotoGP also visits.

Looking at the best times posted by the CRT machines, the worst fears of the critics of CRTs can be allayed. Though the fastest factory riders are likely to lap at least some of the CRT bikes, the pace being set by the CRT riders is sufficient to keep them all on the same lap at most tracks. To avoid being lapped over the course of a 26-lap race, a rider has to lap at under 104% of the fastest rider's pace, and based on the times set in testing so far, all of the riders have managed to set a time that would prevent them from being lapped. Indeed, of the CRT machines, only the BQR Kawasakis have posted times outside the 107% qualifying limit that would see them excluded from a MotoGP race. Since that first test, the BQR machines have cut their deficit to just under 104%, suggesting that they are likely to get lapped, but only just.

The best of the bunch so far have been Randy de Puniet and Colin Edwards. That the two most experienced and most successful MotoGP riders should have posted the best times on CRT equipment should come as no surprise, but what is interesting is just how fast De Puniet, especially, has been. The Frenchman's best time on the Aspar Aprilia was just over half a percent off the lap record pace, and almost as quick as the time set by Hector Barbera on the satellite Ducati who was also at the same test. The Aprilia has been the fastest CRT bike since it first hit the track, but it has seen some important changes in its brief existence. It started out at Valencia in November, as a standard WSBK Aprilia RSV4 shod with Bridgestone's MotoGP-spec tires, but since then it has morphed into a different bike. Aprilia has (visibly) modified the chassis to alter the flexibility of the frame, altering the thickness of the chassis beams, while the bodywork has also been modified, the bike no longer tied to the road bike silhouette as decreed by the WSBK rules.

Starting from a proven base and using electronics already developed by the factory in World Superbikes, the Aprilia was fast out of the gate, but more importantly, the bike has also shown good improvement throughout testing. From the kind of pace that would have seen him finish a race nearly a lap behind, De Puniet is now close to the pace of the factory bikes, with two more tests before the season starts. In the hands of De Puniet, at least, Aspar's decision to replace their satellite Ducati with two CRT Aprilias looks to have been a sensible one.

Colin Edwards is a little further off the pace, ending the second Sepang test some three seconds off the pace off Casey Stoner, and 2.5 seconds behind Hector Barbera on the satellite Ducati. But the Suter BMW has made huge steps forward since its introduction at Jerez, Edwards improving by nearly 4%. Three iterations of the chassis and much work on the Bosch electronics have seen Edwards get closer to the front at every test, but the gap remains. At Jerez, Edwards should be able to get even closer to the factory machines, with fewer sections relying on outright acceleration than at Sepang.

The contrast between the Aprilia of De Puniet and the Suter BMW of Edwards provides some interesting insights. As stated, the Aprilia started from an existing solid base, and had a mountain of data to build on. Though the bike has needed some work - mainly to deal with the much stiffer Bridgestone tires and the greater loads generated by the carbon brakes - the foundation was already there, and with assistance from Aprilia's race department, getting close to the factory bikes was a relatively straightforward task. At NGM Forward, on the other hand, Edwards started from a much lower base and was dependent on Suter to come up with chassis redesigns. Though Suter is a highly-experienced chassis builder, the Swiss company does not have quite the resources of Aprilia, and they don't have the amount of data that the Italian factory has with the existing bike. In addition, Aprilia are using a race-proven system, while Edwards is helping develop a system which is still relatively in its infancy. The amount of data available is key: the ability to test strategies against a database of existing data makes building models a much faster process. Aprilia has that data, Suter and Bosch do not.

Of course, the real challenge for the CRT machines comes now. Cutting the deficit from 5 seconds to 3 is relatively easy, as merely solving some of the more glaring problems will provide big gains. But the closer you get to the times set by the top bikes, the more difficult and the more expensive the gains become: Going from 3 seconds to 2 seconds is as at least as hard as going from 5 to 3 seconds, and cutting the deficit from 2 second to 1 is a task of mammoth proportions. The final second is the most expensive, and the hardest to find. The tenths' improvements get increasingly difficult, and the final half a second can only really be found by the rider. Though De Puniet and Edwards are both outstanding riders, they are not quite the same caliber as the Jorge Lorenzos, Casey Stoners and Valentino Rossis of this world. Until one of the Aliens gets on a CRT bike, a CRT machine is not going to win a race.

That was never going to be a realistic goal, however. Only Ben Spies has broken the hegemony of the four Aliens in the dry, and a non-factory rider hasn't won a race since 2006, when Toni Elias beat Valentino Rossi and Kenny Roberts Jr at Estoril. Even then, it took a set of leftover Michelin specials, handed down to Elias after Dani Pedrosa decided he did not need them. The aim of the Claiming Rule Teams was to provide an affordable alternative to the satellite machines, and cut equipment costs from over 2.5 million euros and upwards down to a million euros per season per bike. If the CRT bikes can compete with the satellite bikes, that goal will have been achieved, and on the evidence so far, they are not too far off. By mid-season, De Puniet and Edwards should be worrying Abraham, Barbera and Bradl. By the end of the year, they might even start snapping at the heels of Crutchlow and Bautista.

Improvements for each rider over the course of testing for the CRT machines:

Rider Bike Slowest Fastest Improvement
Improvement %
Randy De Puniet ART 102.94% 100.57% 2.37% 2.43%
Colin Edwards Suter BMW 105.02% 101.29% 3.73% 3.92%
Aleix Espargaró ART 104.45% 101.37% 3.08% 3.21%
Mattia Pasini ART 105.64% 101.56% 4.07% 4.30%
Danilo Petrucci IODA 103.58% 101.87% 1.70% 1.77%
James Ellison ART 104.68% 102.68% 2.01% 2.10%
Yonny Hernandez FTR Kawasaki 105.48% 103.70% 1.78% 1.88%
Ivan Silva FTR Kawasaki 107.50% 103.78% 3.72% 4.00%

* For the difference between percentage and percentage points, see this nice explanation


Below is the complete list of times set by all of the CRT machines during testing, expressed in percent of the lap record time at the tracks they were testing on:

Valencia November 17-18 Lap record 1:32.582
Rider Bike Day 1 Day 2
Ivan Silva BQR Inmotec 104.94% 104.44%
Yonny Hernandez FTR Kawasaki   105.07%


Jerez November 23-25 Lap record 1:39.731  
Rider Bike Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Colin Edwards Suter-BMW 104.18% 102.88%  
Iván Silva FTR-Kawasaki 104.88% 103.78% 104.48%
Yonny Hernández FTR-Kawasaki 105.48% 104.28% 104.28%


Valencia January 30-31 Lap record 1:32.582
Rider Bike Day 1 Day 2
Randy de Puniet Aprilia ART 102.94% 102.50%
Aleix Espargaro Aprilia ART 104.45% 103.26%
Mattia Pasini Aprilia ART 105.64% 104.45%


Sepang 1 Jan 31-Feb 2 Lap record 2:02.108  
Rider Bike Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Colin Edwards Suter BMW 105.02% 102.86% 102.14%
Ivan Silva FTR Kawasaki 107.50% 106.71% 105.01%


Jerez February 20-22 Lap record 1:39.731  
Rider Bike Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Randy De Puniet ART 101.87% 101.17% 100.57%
Aleix Espargaró ART 102.88% 102.88% 101.37%
Mattia Pasini ART 103.58% 102.28% 101.56%
Danilo Petrucci IODA 103.58% 103.58% 101.87%
James Ellison ART   104.68% 102.68%


Sepang 2 Feb 29-March 1 Lap record 2:02.108  
Rider Bike Day 1 Day 2 Day 3
Colin Edwards Suter BMW 102.79% 103.04% 101.29%
Ivan Silva FTR Kawasaki 104.91% 104.44% 103.83%
Yonny Hernandez FTR Kawasaki 105.45% 105.00% 103.70%


World Superbikes vs MotoGP:

  Silverstone Misano
WSBK 2:05.259 1:36.546
MotoGP 2:03.526 1:33.906
WSBK as % of MotoGP lap record 101.40% 102.81%

Silverstone and Misano were chosen as these are tracks shared by both series, and provide two very different types of circuit: a fast, sweeping track like Silverstone, and a tighter, more closed circuit like Misano.

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What worries me isn't De Puniet or Edwards, but a 3rd tier rider(no disrespect, they'd all ride circles around me!) on an underfunded CRT team. They question is, can these teams lap within reason for an entire race? Having the 1000cc factory riders approach a slower rider while duking it out on the last lap for win could spell trouble, especially if there are still big differences in top speed and acceleration between the CRT and factory bikes. Of course, we haven't seen a lot of last lap duels, so maybe this won't even be an issue

and it happens in just about every race series the world over, and even in MotoGP/500cc not terribly long ago. Take a look at a GP when Doohan was riding, they lapped guys all the time. Check out the Roberts, Spencer, Gardner, Lawson etc era, there were some pretty dodgy operators out on track in those days, lots of privateers who might do part of a season or even just their home race, usually on equipment which was far more outclassed than the difference between an M1 and an FTR Kawa.
How the rider dealt with lapped traffic was just part of the race, sometimes it played into their hands, other times not. Speeds are far higher these days, especially in the corners, so it is probably more dangerous than before, but the CRT guys will be racing the whole year and should at least behave predictably and it's not like Spencer et al were not riding to the machine's limit in the old days.
The modern guys are just going to have to take a concrete pill, harden up, and learn some old skills.

Agreed. I don't understand all of the complaints about CRT. Are they all coming from people who only started watching MotoGP in the past 5 years? On the MotoPod podcast last week they read one of their listener letters who clearly remembers the earlier eras of MotoGP and pointed out (with numbers) exactly how much slower the privateers were. So let them get lapped, and indeed it may be slightly more dangerous, but given that these CRT riders are going to be there every week they should be able to carefully deal with people lapping them (if that happens). For that mattter we should support more one-off teams! Why try to liven up the series again with a local crew as breganzane has said... Anyway, the CRTs are here, so man-up people!

They also used to run on true road courses with walls, light poles and houses in the impact areas. Doesn't mean it's a good idea to do that again. I'm all for a more competitive series but CRT bikes aren't going to do that until the factory machines are gone. A big grid with half the bikes being uncompetitive isn't compelling to me. And one thing about lapped traffic. You guys are right that the leading guys in about every series have to deal with it, but it's not like Checa and Biaggi have to get around a guy on a 600 motoring down the front straight at Phillip Island in the superbike class. I question the wisdom of putting several bikes on the grid that can barely qualify. I hope I'm wrong and we have some close racing but as long as the factory teams are there the CRT teams are irrelevant.

"A big grid with half the bikes being uncompetitive" explains the situation in the last few years, minus the "big grid" part.

Lapped traffic can hardly be construed as a positive attribute; therefore, contemplating ways to reduce the impact of lapped traffic on the spectacle should not be dismissed as a superfluous academic consideration for people who need to take a "concrete pill".

The fans don't fret about interference from backmarkers b/c it generally makes the sport more interesting. Unfortunately, everyone else suffers as a result of rolling chicanes.

Lapping riders will not be such a problem. Even last year there were quite a few races with lapped riders. "Casey Roadblock Teams" will present more of an obstacle for the faster riders on a hot qualifying lap, than in the race itself.

Both Forward Racing, and BQR are using I4 "screamer" configurations with the BMW and Kawasaki engines.
It was proven a few years ago, that this was not the most competitive configuration. Which is why all manufacturers except Yamaha are using a V4 configuration. We all know what Yamaha has done to remedy this deficiency while still using an I4 configuration.
Kawasaki used the "screamer" engine on the ZXRR, and it was not very competitive.
Forward Racing and BQR will get faster as they get more data, but eventually they will be held back by the I4 engine configuration.
I think Aprilia with it's V4 is the only CRT bike out there that could stand a chance of being competitive in Moto GP.

The beauty of CRT MotoGP versus WSBK is that if a team decides that the stock firing order is holding them back, there is nothing to stop them turning a BMW into a long-bang I4 (besides money).
Peter Cliffordd already provided us with a blueprint of CRT with his WCM bike back in the early 990 era. There have been some great interviews with him more recently, and he explains that the only thing that reamained from the R1 engine was the geometry of the engine mounting points. That to me is what CRT should really be, the CRT engines should end up far more highly tuned/modified than an SBK bike.

I have a sneaking feeling the MSMA will meet some proposal to find lower cost satellite machines. Meanwhile the mixing of the "prototypes of other derivation" that the CRT's are may add some new interest into the series. It's already a two series series. The factory machines and the hand me down developmentally stunted satellite bikes. Rarely do they cross paths after the first few corners. If the CRT's can mix with those bikes all the better. We may see some variety of machinery on track again. While the CRT's won't likely trouble the contenders I'm sure Dorna will see to it that they get some rule or testing advantage to at least keep them from being a hazard.

David, do you know which tracks you will be visiting this MotoGP season? I will eagerly await your report of the paddock scenery especially that of the CRT machines. How close are the CRT Aprilias to the WSB ones? What kind of results would Edwards be getting if he was on a CRT-Aprilia-Art machine? What's your personal opinion of the CRT concept and how would you 'fix' MotoGP if you had the resources? If you already covered these... please give a link. thanks.

I will be going to the IRTA test at Jerez, Qatar, all of the European races (except for Le Mans), and possibly to Indy as well (someone has kindly offered to pay for my ticket).

The CRT Aprilias started out as WSBK Aprilias, but the chassis has now been modified. There's a sort of a groove running down the frame spars, which suggest the chassis stiffness has been fairly significantly modified. The engine is probably WSBK spec, mainly because they know that engine is reliable, though they might be using the gear cams.

As for Edwards, I think he'd be right with De Puniet if he was on an Aprilia, but he's done a great job so far, better than I thought.

Finally, I wrote down my my thoughts on fixing MotoGP a couple of years ago, in a three-part essay. You can find those parts here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. the article written by Simon Crafar about the CRT Moto was really good and he suggested that CRT is the future and its a fantastic thing that it's happened...

And the more I see and hear the more I think I am inclined to agree with him....


Again, I'm gonna keep saying it, CRT is a good idea. I'd like to echo the sentiments written above by breganzane and gfbeurling. The whole point is that it'll evolve. And imo the technology will be easier to transfer to road bikes, after all, isn't the entire point of racing for factories to develop for road bikes?

I'm certain that the RSV4 in WSBK this year is running chain driven cams, because WSBK banned gear driven cams. And as far as I can see, there's nothing in the CRT rules stopping teams developing engines in the off season) but I could be wildly wrong there. I read that article Simon Crafar wrote, and agreed with every word of it.

I also think the idea of a stock ECU is a goodun. Sod the rev limits imo. With regards to TC, I think that there'll be a lot of focus on how this pans out in BSB this year. And judgement will be made after this season on TC. I'm still undecided, a 250BHP bike needs something, I don't care who you are, that's an awful lot of power to govern with your wrist.

The biggest beneficiary of the shrinking grid size of MotoGP has been SBK. There are plenty of GP riders who should probably have been able to stay in the series but for a lack of available rides. Had the CRT's not happened this year RDP and CEII would probably have been out of the series. RDP clearly has the speed to be in GP. While he's had erratic results on his good days he can trouble the front guys. Those results have seen him slip down in the order of competitive bikes under him but it's not impossible while he's still fast to put something together. CEII may be at the tail of a career but still very fast and probably one of the best guys to be in the box with a new and upcoming team mate. Then there's guys like Melandri and Aoyama. Both had some trouble that let them slip out of GP too soon in my opinion. Make some bad ass CRT's or EVO superbikes or whatever you want to call them. Put some known good guys that still have some top level ability on them and there won't be as much to worry about .

..I always thought used to add an element of another skill to the race to the line that's both entertaining in itself (that is, the lining-up and judging the moment particularly with a pursuer on your tail) and can break up the dull processionality that is proving so dreary for fans of the sport (as distinct from personality fanboys). I'm looking forward to it.