The catastrophic earthquake that hit northeastern Japan on March 11th caused devastation beyond comprehension to a large section of the Pacific nation, the tsunami the quake triggered adding further destruction. Even though the thoughts of everyone either involved in or following MotoGP were first and foremost with the nation of Japan and its people, they could not help but consider the fate of the Japanese Grand Prix, due to take place on April 24th.
The 2011 MotoGP season has many things to be excited about - Valentino Rossi on a Ducati, Casey Stoner on a Honda, Ben Spies on a factory Yamaha, and so much more. But the 2012 season is probably just as eagerly anticipated, even though it is still over a year away. For 2012 sees the return of the 1000cc machines, and hopes are high that having the larger capacity back will see closer, more exciting racing.
It is not often that people outside of Dorna's inner circle get a peek inside the finances of MotoGP; commercial contracts with all parties are subject to confidentiality clauses and are a closely-guarded secret. But occasionally the facts leak out, thanks to circumstances which are beyond the control of MotoGP's Spanish commercial rights' holder.
Such is the case with the Motorland Aragon Grand Prix: As reported a week ago, Aragon recently secured a six-year extension to its deal to hold a round of MotoGP. The terms of the deal were not discussed in the press release announcing the deal, but as the circuit is in public hands, the information has surfaced anyway: In 2011, Motorland Aragon will pay Dorna 6 million euros, riding to 7 million in 2012, for a grand total of 41 million euros between 2011 and 2012.
For the third year running, MotoGP is down to just 17 bikes on the grid. And for the second time in three years, a manufacturer is showing an alarming lack of commitment to the series, Suzuki fielding just one rider for the 2011 season. Sponsors are pulling out and teams are constantly complaining about a lack of money. Something has to be done.
Throughout 2009, MotoGP's rule-making body, the Grand Prix Commission, debated ways of changing the class to make the series cheaper, thereby increasing the number of bikes on the grid. The solution, announced in December 2009, was the return to 1000cc machines under specific restrictions aimed at capping costs: a maximum of four cylinders, and an 81mm maximum bore.
But that in itself was not enough. Throughout the entire process, it was also broadly hinted that the requirement that engines must be prototypes would be dropped for privateer teams, with these so-called Claiming Rule Teams being allowed to run heavily modified production engines in a prototype chassis. To ensure the teams would not be forced to spend on electronics what they saved on engines, the CRT machines would also be allowed an extra 3 liters of fuel above the allowance for the factory machines (for our detailed explanation of exactly what the CRT rules entail, see The 2012 MotoGP Revolution Part 1.)
It's been hard being Carmelo Ezpeleta these past few years. Ever since the capacity reduction to 800cc, MotoGP fans all around the world have been baying for the Dorna CEO's blood. The fans blamed Ezpeleta personally for killing off the spectacular 990s and allowing the 800s to degenerate into the rather sterile racing that it has become.
Yet Ezpeleta had little say in the capacity change: under the terms of the contract between the MSMA (the manufacturers' association) and Dorna, the MSMA would get to draw up the technical regulations, and the other parties in the Grand Prix Commission (MotoGP's rulemaking body) would accept what the MSMA put forward. The MSMA, it was felt, knew what they wanted from the series, and as they were providing the bikes, they should get to make the rules.
The Grand Prix Commission - MotoGP's rulemaking body - appear to have too little to do. A meeting last week announced yet another shakeup of the weekend schedule for each MotoGP event, which will see three sessions of free practice, of 45 minutes each, and an hour of qualifying on Saturday afternoon.
The announcement is the latest in a series of changes to the organization of practice, coming just over a month after the previous change. In the meeting of December 9th, 2010, the GP commission announced a return to the four-practice schedule, then agreeing that the MotoGP class would have four sessions of an hour, two sessions on Friday and two on Saturday, including qualifying in the afternoon. That has now been amended to three free practice sessions of 45 minutes (two on Friday and one on Saturday morning), with an hour of qualifying on Saturday afternoon.
There's good news and bad news for the opponents of electronics in motorcycle racing from today's meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, held in Madrid in Spain. MotoGP's rule-making body met to discuss changes to the regulations for the 2011 and 2012 seasons, and electronics was one of the subjects under discussion.
But the first order of business was to rearrange practice. The changes made in the cost-cutting frenzy between the 2008 and 2009 seasons have finally been scrapped once again, and the four-practice schedule used by MotoGP for so many years before makes a welcome return. The schedule had been partially reinstated at the end of the 2010 season, with four sessions of 45 minutes replacing the three one-hour sessions which had been used for the past two seasons. Though the reception was overwhelmingly positive, the one complaint that riders had being that the 45 minute sessions left little time to make changes during the session.
2012 is the year that everything will change. A bafflingly large number of people think this is because of the approach of Planet X, bringing destruction upon the world as foretold by the end of the Mayan calendar (which rather inconveniently now appears to end in 2220), but for motorcycle racing fans, something even more momentous than the end of civilization is on the cards. For 2012 is the year that sees the return of 1000cc motorcycles to MotoGP.
Those who were hoping to see the return of the glorious RC211V and its soul-churning V5 bellow will be sorely disappointed, however. MotoGP may be allowing the return of the liter bikes, but a couple of significant rule changes mean that the face of the grid will be altered irrevocably. There'll be no more barking V5 Hondas, nor howling Aprilia RS3 Cubes, nor will the overly optimistic and sadly failed WCM Blata V6 project be revived. The rules have been written such that the bikes will have four cylinders, use a four-stroke combustion cycle, and are likely to come in well under 1000cc capacity.
The long-awaited rules for the replacement of the 125cc class were announced at Valencia on Saturday, with the details finalized for the 250cc four-stroke formula. The rules contain few surprises from the information that has leaked out over the past few months, with the thought process behind it very clear: a lot of technical regulations have been imposed to avoid the costs from spiraling out of control.