The testing limits imposed as a cost-cutting measure in MotoGP have finally been lifted. At the meeting of the Grand Prix Commission in Valencia, MotoGP's rule-making body dropped the rules limiting testing to non-contracted riders outside of MotoGP's official tests, and allowed contracted riders (e.g. any rider currently racing in MotoGP) to ride the bikes at private tests. The GPC accepted the argument put forward by Ducati that testing is already limited by the number of tires available, and that restricting testing to test riders did little to cut costs, as the factory riders were being paid anyway.
In part 1 of this series, we discussed the new 1000cc rules for 2012, especially those for the so-called Claiming Rule Teams, the privateer teams which will be allowed to use engines from production bikes if they so wish. In part 2, we discussed Infront Motor Sports' objections to those new rules as organizers of the World Superbike series, and why their objections are likely to fail. In part 3, we turn our attention to the reasoning behind these new rules, the politics which surround them, and the circumstances which have served to put the changes into high gear.
Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna, is one of the most vilified men among many fans of MotoGP. He is blamed for the many changes that have altered the face of MotoGP, not least for killing off the 990s and bringing in the 800s, which have robbed the sport of so much of its spectacle. Ezpeleta gets the blame for each new rule change, charged with fiddling while Rome burns.
But those accusations have absolutely no basis in fact. Ezpeleta is innocent of almost all of the crimes that he is charged with over the rule changes, as almost every one of those changes were at the direct request of the manufacturers, while Dorna and IRTA, the organization that represents the teams, have done their best to mitigate the damage done by the factory-imposed rules.
Behind the world of motorcycle racing lies a hidden world of high finance, and moves there have a potentially huge effect on the racing itself. A report in the Financial Times from earlier this week - spotted and reported by Bikesportnews - carries news of a financial transaction that could, potentially, have major implications for the two major two-wheeled racing series, MotoGP and World Superbikes.
Behind the glamour, passion and engineering excellence that is MotoGP lies a world which receives a lot less attention, but is at least as important: the world of finance. For running a motorcycle road racing world championship costs money, and though the goal of any enterprise - including running a world championship - is to make a profit, in a world of declining motorcycle sales and economic uncertainty, making money in motorcycle racing is no easy feat.
That task is especially difficult for Bridgepoint Capital, the venture capital firm that took a controlling stake in Dorna back in 2006. Bridgepoint reportedly paid CVC some EUR 550 million for the stake in Dorna, an amount that was widely regarded even at the time as a very generous valuation, especially as CVC had acquired Dorna for around GBP 45 million just 8 years earlier in 1998. The purchase was funded in part by loans taken out by Bridgepoint from a range of banks.
The outlines of the future MotoGP calendar are becoming clear, as deals are being signed throughout the year. One key question left open was the future of the French MotoGP round, with the contract between Dorna and the event organizers coming to an end after this year's MotoGP round. There was never any question that France would be left without a Grand Prix, the only question was whether the race would continue to be held at Le Mans.
And after a press release issued by Dorna, that question is still uncertain. For Dorna has renewed their deal with Claude Michy and his organization, PHA, to organize the French MotoGP round for the next 5 years, through 2016. However, as the deal is with the promoter, where the French GP is to be held is not specified.
If the changes to the 2012 MotoGP regulations were aimed at filling out the grid, then they appear to have succeeded. Today, the FIM released the numbers of teams who had put in for a provisional entry for the 2012 season. The numbers were very promising: 16 teams entered, of which 14 were accepted, representing a total of 21 riders.
As in the Moto2 class, the number of entries actually accepted will be much smaller. The ideal grid size, as both Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta and IRTA staff have confirmed, is around 24 bikes. But with the total commitment of the current factories likely to remain somewhere between 14 and 16 bikes (6 Hondas, 4 Yamahas and probably 5 Ducatis), getting an additional 8 to 10 bikes on the grid from the current entry list should be perfectly feasible.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the new MotoGP rules due to take effect from 2012 are just the start of more major changes coming further in the future. The hiring of Corrado Cecchinelli - formerly of Ducati Corse - as Director of Technology was one part of this puzzle, and today another piece fell into place, with the signing of the former Director of Bridgestone Motorsports, Hiroshi Yasukawa, as an advisor to Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta.
Yasukawa's exact role is unclear; the press release merely says that the former Bridgestone executive will be "providing his insight on the further development of the sport." Given Yasukawa's previous job, it seems likely that his input will focus mainly on the role that tires play in the series, and ways of affecting the series through the use of a spec supplier.
The news emerging from MotoGP contract negotiations recently has not been promising. The Brno circuit is asking for money from the national government to help support the Czech Grand Prix, the Jerez circuit saga continues, with debts still unpaid to the contractors Serviobras and FCC who carried out construction work, and the Sachsenring circuit has still not secured an extension of its contract with Dorna to host the German Grand Prix from next year.
With all of the media interest that Valentino Rossi's switch to Ducati has generated, the biggest change to the MotoGP series since the introduction of the four-strokes in 2002 is going largely unnoticed. The switch back to 1000cc machines is proceeding quietly apace, however, with the factories working towards rolling out their 2012 MotoGP bikes over the next few weeks - Ducati is due to test their 2012 bike at Jerez some time this week - prior to the first official outing for the machines at Mugello on July 4th, the day after the Italian Grand Prix.
After the financial difficulties that have recently dogged the Jerez Circuit, at last there is some good news. Today, the Andalucian State Government announced that it would be underwriting the Spanish MotoGP round at Jerez for the next five years, guaranteeing its future until 2016.