Archive - Interview
July 24th, 2012
Costs in MotoGP have exploded since the introduction of four-stroke engines, with the rise turning almost exponential once the relatively simple 990s were dropped to make way for the 800cc MotoGP machines. Since the beginning of the financial crisis, MotoGP has been looking for ways to cut costs, with much of the effort taking place through changes to the technical regulations. The first step was a return to 1000cc engines, with a bore limit of 81mm to keep revs down. The following steps will be the imposition of a strict rev limit - most probably 15,000 RPM - and the introduction of controls on electronics through the adoption of a spec ECU.
There has been much debate about the proposed rule changes, and especially about the introduction of a single ECU. Electronics have come to play a central role in MotoGP, and have been a massive driver of costs in the sport, with the manufacturers focusing much of their development on developing ever-more sophisticated electronics strategies for maximizing performance from the 21 liters of fuel permitted for the MotoGP bikes. The fans and followers are divided: many would welcome a strict limit on the electronics used on the bikes, claiming that the amount of electronic intervention is ruining the racing and taking control out of the hands of the riders and placing it with the software engineers who write the code for the ECUs. Others deride that argument, saying that imposing a spec ECU is yet another step in the dumbing down of MotoGP, and another move away from the unfettered pursuit of advantage in every area, including technology, that underlies the spirit of Grand Prix racing.
Would a spec ECU lead to the unacceptable dumbing down of racing? Would it really help to control costs? To help clarify the debate, MotoMatters.com spoke to MotoGP's Director of Technology Corrado Cecchinelli, the man who was brought in by Dorna at the beginning of last year to help lay out a stable plan for the series in the future. Cecchinelli explained to us the thinking behind the adoption of a standard ECU, and went into detail about the capabilities which such a component may have. Throughout the interview, Cecchinelli was at pains to point out that a final decision had not yet been made on the adoption of a spec ECU, and that the introduction of a rev limit and spec ECU were the final steps in establishing a stable set of rules which could be used unchanged for several years.
MotoMatters: We've heard so much about the introduction of a spec ECU in MotoGP, that we came to you to clear the issue up. What exactly are the plans for the ECU?
At the Sachsenring, after the introduction of KTM's Moto3 GPR production racer, MotoMatters.com spent five minutes with KTM's Head of Motorsports Pit Beirer. We spoke to him about a number of subjects, including the evolution of the factory's Moto3 chassis, their cooperation with Kalex, and whether two strokes would be better than four strokes for racing.
The chassis of the KTM had undergone two evolutions since the beginning of the year, Beirer had explained during the press conference, with the final iteration being introduced at Silverstone. This revision of the chassis will form the basis for the production racer for next year, and was a good enough base for KTM to continue their development around.
What changed between the first two chassis options before you arrived at the final chassis in Silverstone?
Much was expected of Friday's Grand Prix Commission meeting at Assen, which was set to discuss the major changes coming in MotoGP. The results of that meeting turned out to be a damp squib rather than the expected revolution, as decisions on the big changes were pushed further down the road. On Saturday morning, the day of the race, MotoMatters.com spoke to Carmelo Ezpeleta about those expected rule changes, and about the reasoning behind them.
In the discussion, Ezpeleta told MotoMatters.com that his main aim was to both reduce costs and increase the entertainment value of the series. Part of that would be by helping the CRT bikes where they are weak: the electronics are a major issue for the CRT bikes, and Dorna have enlisted the help of Magneti Marelli to provide the CRT machines with a standard ECU, developed using their extensive experience gained from racing in MotoGP. A rev limit is still on the cards, but whether this will be introduced in 2014 or 2015 is as yet unclear.
While unpopular with a lot of people, Ezpeleta laid out exactly why the rule changes are needed: Dorna is in the entertainment business, and is subsidizing both the teams and factories to race in MotoGP. That contribution is substantial, and the only way to keep the series viable is by keeping costs low. Expanding the popularity of the series was also important, and to that end, MotoGP will be going to Southeast Asia in either 2014 or 2015, though Ezpeleta was coy on exactly where that would be. Here's what Carmelo Ezpeleta had to tell MotoMatters.com at Assen:
MotoMatters: I would like to ask you about the new rules for MotoGP, the rules which are coming in 2014 or 2015.
The retirement of Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo's contract renewal with Yamaha have given a massive boost to MotoGP's silly season, with much talk, rumor and speculation about who will be going where in 2013. Journalists are currently grilling anyone without a contract for next year - and that basically means everyone except Stoner, Lorenzo and Stefan Bradl - about their plans for next season and the state of negotiations. With Lorenzo out of the way, the next two key players are Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa, and while Rossi is restricting his comments to his commitment to making the 2012 Ducati work, Dani Pedrosa is being a little freer with his comments about his future.
At Silverstone, MotoMatters.com spoke to Pedrosa for a few minutes about his plans for next season, and the state of negotiations. In the discussion, Pedrosa touched on a few subjects, including his thoughts on retirement, an option he gave serious consideration last year, after a long period of injury. Below is a transcript of the conversation:
Q: Jorge Lorenzo has renewed his contract for 2 years with Yamaha, are you thinking about your future? Are you talking to Honda, or other manufacturers?
After the earlier press conference with Sylvain Guintoli, Miller Motorsports Park also organized a press conference with BMW Motorrad's Marco Melandri. Melandri faced questions on the difference between the V4s and BMW's inline 4, his adaptation to the BMW and that controversial incident in the final corner of race two at Donington Park. Below is the press release interview issued by Miller Motorsports Park with Melandri:
Miller Motorsports Park Presents: Five Questions with Marco Melandri
A switch to BMW for 2012 results in the German marque’s first World Superbike victory
TOOELE VALLEY, UTAH (May 24, 2012) — Miller Motorsports Park will again host the USA Round of the FIM Superbike World Championship on The BigM Weekend, May 26-28. As was the case last year, we will visit with race winners and other notable riders participating in the championship after each race during the 2012 season leading up to The BigM Weekend and bring you a new chapter in the “Five Questions with” series.
The subject of our fourth installment of the season is 29-year-old Italian Marco Melandri, who rides the No. 33 BMW S1000 RR for BMW Motorrad Motorsport. Melandri, who came to World Superbike last year with Yamaha, having spent the past seven seasons in MotoGP. Prior to moving up to MotoGP, he won the 250cc World Championship for Aprilia in 2002. He won four races and one pole with Yamaha, but made the move to BMW this year to take the seat vacated by the retiring Troy Corser. He made history at England’s Donington Park circuit on May 13, taking the German marque’s first series victory, and heads into this weekend’s BigM Weekend at Miller Motorsports Park with significant momentum.
Miller Motorsports Park organized a phone-in press conference with Effenbert Liberty rider Sylvain Guintoli ahead of the US round of World Superbikes, scheduled to take place this weekend. Questions Guintoli fielded questions about injuries, the benefits of staying with the same team for more than one season, and the most important lessons he learned racing a private 250.
Below is the press release interview from Miller Motorsports Park:
Miller Motorsports Park Presents: Five Questions with Sylvain Guintoli
A Frenchman on an Italian bike for a Czech team breaks through in the Netherlands
TOOELE VALLEY, UTAH (May 18, 2012) — Miller Motorsports Park will again host the USA Round of the FIM Superbike World Championship on The BigM Weekend, May 26-28. As was the case last year, we will visit with race winners and other notable riders participating in the championship after each race during the 2012 season leading up to The BigM Weekend and bring you a new chapter in the “Five Questions with” series.
The subject of our second installment of the season is 29-year-old Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli, who rides the No. 50 Ducati 1098R for the Czech Republic-based Team Effenbert Liberty Racing. Sylvain started out in the 250 GP class in 2000, racing there through 2006 with a one-off MotoGP ride in 2002. He moved up to MotoGP full-time in 2007 through 2008. Unable to find a MotoGP ride in 2009, he switched to the British Superbike Championship, but jumped to World Superbike later that year with Suzuki when Max Neukirchner left to join Honda. His first full season in WSBK was 2010, and he finished seventh in the championship on the Suzuki. He moved to Team Effenbert Liberty Racing’s Ducatis in 2011, and finished sixth in the title chase despite having to come back from a serious accident in the first round of the season. This year he scored his first series win at Assen, where his wet-weather skills helped immensely.
At the press conference at Le Mans, where Casey Stoner made the shock announcement of his retirement, Stoner answered questions from journalists present about his decision to retire at the end of the 2012 season. You can find his original statement in this story, but below is a transcript of what Stoner told journalists when they were given a chance to question the Australian about his retirement.
Q: You said you are disappointed in things, would you mind elaborating a bit. Are you talking about the CRT, or the control tires? The things that have annoyed you a bit recently?
It's not just annoying me. I've been watching this championship for a long time, and it's very easy to see what works and what doesn't. This championship and everything that I've worked towards to get here, it's been a huge dream of mine, and then you get here, you race for a few years, and you realize a lot of things, whether it's people having no faith in you, whether it's people not believing in your talent, or the changes that have happened to the championship.
BMW have been waiting for a win in World Superbikes for a long time. Ever since they entered the series in 2009, the German factory has been edging ever closer to podiums and a victory, but they have always proved elusive. At Donington, they finally got what they had been waiting for for so long, and more: Not only did Marco Melandri become the first ever rider to win a World Superbike race on a BMW, but his teammate Leon Haslam finished 2nd, making it a historic 1-2. The duo could even have repeated the feat in the second race at the British track, if not for some rather excessively enthusiastic riding on the part of the two leaders and Johnny Rea.
After the victory, BMW issued a press release containing an interview with Melandri and Haslam, talking about their historic result at Donington. It is reproduced below:
After the first one-two: Double-interview with Marco Melandri and Leon Haslam.
Cheating in motorsports is as old as the sport itself. Whenever powered vehicles gather together to race each other, then someone, somewhere, will try to gain an advantage, either within the rules or, if that is not successful, outside of the rules. In all classes, and at all times, teams, engineers and riders have all tried to cheat in one way or another. Even the imposition of a spec engine in the Moto2 class hasn't prevented teams trying to cheat, and the paddock is awash with rumors regarding which teams are cheating and which teams are not.
The finger of blame is inevitably pointed at the most successful riders, and in recent months, it has been pointed mainly at Catalunya CX rider Marc Marquez. Marquez has a number of strikes against him, making him a popular target for rumors of cheating; firstly, Marquez is Spanish, and as Moto2 is a Spanish-run series, the non-Spanish teams are all fervently convinced that Spanish teams are not monitored as closely as they are. Secondly, Marquez has the backing of Repsol, one of the more powerful sponsors in the paddock, exerting influence not just over Marquez' Monlau Competicion team, but also over the much more important factory Repsol Honda team; the power of Repsol, the gossips suggest, exerts undue influence on the policing process. Thirdly, and most obviously, Marquez is fast, almost suspiciously so. The Spaniard's bike is always one of the fastest through the speed traps, and accelerates hardest off the corners. His team put it down to hard work at finding exactly the right set up for Marquez to excel. One of the lighter Moto2 riders on a well-prepared bike, ridden by a fast and talented rider? That, Marquez' supporters argue, is reason enough for him to be fastest.
To find out more about the situation, and what Dorna and the scrutineers are doing to address these concerns, I spoke to Race Director - and formerly Technical Director - Mike Webb at Estoril. I passed on the concerns that others had expressed to me about cheating in Moto2, and he explained to me exactly what Dorna are doing to monitor the bikes and ensure that cheating is kept to an absolute minimum, and that if it is happening, it does not pay. Here is what Webb had to say:
One of the most fascinating areas of MotoGP is the relationship between rider and crew chief. The way that those two individuals communcate and interact can be the difference between winning championships and riding around in mid-pack. Riders need a massive amount of talent to go fast, but they also need to understand what the bike is doing underneath them and be able to communicate that to their chief engineer. Likewise, crew chiefs have to have a solid grounding in race bike physics and an understanding of how to make a machine that is capable of lapping very fast, but they also need to be able to listen to what their rider is really saying, and understand what he needs to allow him to go fast.
It is a subject that has fascinated me for a long time. At Estoril, I had the chance to interview Jorge Lorenzo together with his crew chief Ramon Forcada. 2010 World Champion Lorenzo came into MotoGP off the back of two 250cc world championships in 2006 and 2007, and was joined by Forcada, a 20-year veteran of the Grand Prix paddock, in the factory Yamaha team. Both men were known for their ability, but they had to find a way to work together to get the best out of the relationship, and out of the Yamaha M1. Here is what they had to say about how that relationship works:
One of the great pleasures in watching Casey Stoner ride a MotoGP machine is the controlled way in which he manages to slide the bike through the corners. In an era when the spectacular slides once so beloved by fans have been tamed by electronic intervention, Stoner has managed to convince his engineers to limit the electronics sufficiently to give him enough control to slide the bike to help get it turned.
His ability has fascinated both fans and journalists around the world, and many have tried to get him to explain how he does it, but Stoner himself has always found it very hard to say exactly what he is doing. At Qatar, a group of journalists - including MotoMatters.com - pressed the Repsol Honda rider again to explain exactly where and when he chooses to slide the rear, and what benefits it provides. Though he protested it was hard - "It's really difficult to explain, so many people have asked me," he said - he went on to talk at length about what he does and why.
Just after the official launch of MotoGP 2012 Aspar team in Madrid, Motomatters.com spoke to Spanish 125 and 80 cc former world champion Jorge Martinez Aspar, general manager of one of only two teams in the MotoGP World Championship with a presence in MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 classes in the 2012 season. Being also one of the few teams in 2012 entered under the MotoGP CRT technical rules, fielding riders riders Randy De Puniet and Aleix Esparago on Aprilia’s ART bikes, the Aspar team is also in the front line of trying to demonstrate that CRT is the right formula to ensure that MotoGP sees a return to full grids.
One subject has dominated the past three years of MotoGP, and indeed all of motorcycle racing. Despite some thrilling racing, technical innovation and both fascinating and tragic stories, the main topic of conversation among those involved in motorcycle racing has been how to cut costs. A raft of new regulations have been introduced, and even more radical changes are currently under discussion for the next few years.
At the official presentation of Yamaha's 2012 MotoGP campaign, Yamaha Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis spoke to MotoMatters.com about the need for MotoGP to shift its focus, from just tinkering with the technical regulations to trying to expand its audience base and generate more income, taking advantage of new media and a more international audience to tap into new markets and more potential sponsors. "The technical regulations are very, very important, and bringing costs down is very important," Jarvis told us. "But the other thing is how to increase the popularity of the sport, and increase the revenue. Just saving costs is still shrinking."
With the cost of racing exploding out of control, factories pulling out and teams unable to afford the rising lease prices demanded for a satellite bike, proposals and rule changes have been coming thick and fast to try to contain costs in MotoGP. The Claiming Rule Teams regulations have already seen the grid expand to accommodate teams running machines using production-based engines, and Dorna, the manufacturers, the teams and the FIM are discussing a range of proposals to cut costs further, including a mandatory standard ECU and a maximum rev limit.
At the Valencia tests in November, MotoMatters.com spoke to HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto about how Honda views these proposals, and whether he believes they will cut costs. As the leading manufacturer in the MSMA, the association representing the factories in MotoGP, Honda has a powerful voice in the negotiations, and in the past has been instrumental in pushing through rule changes. Now that the MSMA appears to have lost its monopoly on writing the technical regulations for MotoGP, Nakamoto, along with the other factory bosses, is having to offer counterproposals to the suggestions put forward by Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta.
We first asked Nakamoto what he thought of the CRT concept itself, and the HRC boss was remarkably positive. "I think the CRT concept is a very good idea," Nakamoto said, adding the caveat that it was too early to make any real judgment, as at the time we spoke to Nakamoto, the CRT machines had only just taken to the track for the first time.
Honda Racing released the following press release, containing a fascinating interview with San Carlo Honda Gresini team manager Fausto Gresini. In the interview, Gresini talks about the decision to stop racing and become a team manager, explains why he chose Spanish rider Alvaro Bautista instead of another Italian rider to replace Marco Simoncelli, tragically killed at Sepang, and why he believes the CRT bikes are a necessity. Here is the interview:
Interview - Fausto Gresini - Team Manager - Gresini Honda
Fausto Gresini is the most successful team owner in the history of MotoGP racing. His story as a team owner begins three years after the two-time 125cc World Champion retired from racing in 1994. It was then that he made the transition, focusing the drive and ambition that he displayed as a rider on team ownership. At the start, the Italian worked with veterans-Alex Barros and Loris Capirossi-but it is his work mentoring young riders where he has had some of his greatest impact.
In 2001, his fifth year as a team owner, Gresini won his first World championship with Daijiro Kato in the 250cc class. But the rising and likeable Japanese star would not be given time to show his true potential; his career and life were cut short as a result of injuries suffered in a crash in the 2003 Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka. Nine years later, Kato remains a strong presence within Gresini Racing; his 2001 title-winning Honda NSR250 and his 2003 Honda RC211V sit in the conference room of the team’s race shop in San Clemente, near Riccione, Italy.