With Ducati having elected to switch to racing as an Open entry in the MotoGP class, it is time for a quick refresher course on the rules. Below is a primer on the key differences between racing as an Open entry and racing as a Factory Option entry, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Factory Option: Factory Option bikes have 20 liters of fuel, and 5 engines to last the season. No engine development is allowed, the engine specifications being frozen before the first race in Qatar. Factories have to supply template engines with specifications of all parts at the race, those parts must remain unchanged. Development is frozen on parts not accessible when engine is sealed. In short, this means engine internals, crankshaft, crankcases, cams, valves, pistons, conrods, etc. Gearboxes can still be modified. Engine specifications must be identical within teams. This means that engines for Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez must be identical, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi's engines must be identical, Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro's engines must be identical.
Testing is also limited for Factory Option teams. They can take part in all official tests (the three one-day tests after Jerez, Barcelona and Brno) and on five days at a nominated circuit.
Factory Option teams must use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU and datalogger, but can develop their own software and use their own sensor package.
Open: Open class bikes can use 24 liters of fuel, and can use 12 engines throughout the season. There are no restrictions on engine development, each of the 12 engines can be completely different, and engines can be different between teammates.
Testing is limited only by the tire allowance (120 tires per season per contracted rider). Riders can test when and where they want, although not on a circuit where a race is to be held within 15 days.
Open teams must use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU package, including datalogger, sensor package and software.
Open teams have an extra option tire, of softer compound.
The Pros and Cons
Why would you choose to stay with the Factory Option? For the manufacturers, one major way they justify their participation in MotoGP is the returns on research and development. Having just 5 engines for the season offers a chance to learn about engine durability. 20 liters of fuel means that they have to pursue combustion efficiency and throttle response on very lean mixture. And the freedom to develop their own software means that manufacturers can learn about vehicle dynamics and controlling motorcycles under all sorts of different circumstances.
Why would you choose to go Open? More fuel, a softer tire, but most of all, more testing and the freedom to develop the engine during the year. In Ducati's case, they fear they need to modify the engine to improve bike balance and behavior. They may need to change the location or dimensions of engine components, add weight to the crankshaft, relocate engine or gearbox shafts, change the engine attitude (rotating it forwards or backwards). They can't do that under the engine development freeze, but they can as an Open entry. And under the Open rules, they can test those changes with Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow.
Tires: The softer tire available to the Open teams offers a clear performance advantage, but only in the early stages of the race. The less complex championship software is not as effective as managing tire wear as the software produced by Yamaha and Honda, which means that tire performance will drop more towards the end of the race. HRC and Yamaha use data collected during practice to enter into their predictive algorithms, which modifies the traction control settings based on predicted tire wear for each lap. The same software can also modify its own behavior based on feedback from sensors, adding or subtracting traction control if tire wear is more or less than expected.
Fuel: Having 20% more fuel is an advantage for the Open teams over the duration of the race. But in the early laps, carrying around 3kg extra weight will make stopping the bike a little harder, until the fuel burns off. The Factory Option teams will struggle with throttle response, especially at tracks such as Motegi and Misano which are heavy on fuel. The Open bikes will not have an issue with fuel, giving better throttle response all throughout the race.
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