The Permanent Bureau issued the following official statement ahead of this weekend's race at Valencia:
The saga of the CRT teams continues to drag on. The full list of accepted entries was due to be published at last weekend's Barcelona MotoGP round, but last-minute haggling over rule changes has held back the announcement. More meetings were held over the Silverstone weekend, with the factories (assembled in the MSMA) meeting with Dorna on Thursday, and Dorna and IRTA meeting on Friday to discuss the outcome, leading to publication of the entry list being held back until coming Wednesday, June 15th.
The issues delaying finalizing the list were arguments over interpretations of the claiming rules. Some teams intend to use engines leased from outside manufacturers - meaning Aprilia and BMW - rather than buying the engines and tuning them themselves. The incumbent factories in the MotoGP paddock are extremely unhappy with this state of affairs, regarding it as a way for factories currently not competing in MotoGP to enter via the back door, taking advantage of the extra engines and three liters of extra fuel available to the CRT entries. The teams, for their part, were afraid that they would be legally prohibited from handing over an engine which they have only leased and so do not own. The compromise position is likely to be that the teams will be able to switch status from being a CRT entry to factory status (and therefore running 9 engines - just as Suzuki do - and 21 liters of fuel) instead of handing over the engine if it is claimed by a factory.
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.)
The most common question asked of hardcore motorcycle racing fans by their partners is surely this: "Is that the one that Rossi's in?" That deceptively simple question encompasses just about all of the problems and challenges faced by world championship motorcycle racing both at present and into the future: The similarity to the casual observer of the World Superbike and MotoGP championships; the primacy and importance of Valentino Rossi within motorcycle racing; and the fact that both series appear to be fighting over the same core audience.
That battle is part of a greater struggle, an extended Cold War between the two series over which is to be the dominant motorcycle racing series. This cold war is about to hot up, with the new rules for the MotoGP series which are due to take effect from the 2012 season (see our analysis of the 2012 MotoGP rules, for a full explanation). The admission of 1000cc bikes, and more importantly, the dropping of the stipulation that engines must be prototypes, allowing the possibility that teams will be able to enter MotoGP bikes powered by existing, production-based engines such as BMW's S1000RR or Aprilia's RSV1000R, has raised the hackles of Infront Motor Sports (the commercial rights holder for World Superbikes), and put the organization on a war footing.
Although at first glance, the most important motorcycle racing even taking place over the weekend was the Australian MotoGP round at Phillip Island, a far more significant race was taking place in Macau, China. There, 98 of the 101 federations that compose the FIM (Federation Internationale de Motocyclisme, motorcycling's governing body) met to elect a new president. The choice facing the assembled national federations was between the current president Vito Ippolito and French candidate Jean-Pierre Mougin. The final election saw Ippolito collect 55 votes to Mougin's 41, gaining reelection for another four-year term.
When MotoMatters.com learned that FIM President Vito Ippolito would be visiting Utrecht, just a few miles from MM HQ, we seized on the opportunity to corner the Venezuelan and ask some of the burning questions surrounding motorcycle racing. Questions such as: How will the new MotoGP rules help to cut costs? Exactly what definition of "production bike" is used in the contract between the FIM and Infront Motor Sports for World Superbikes? How will Moto2 affect rider development? And what about electric vehicles and the TTXGP?
Ippolito was extremely forthcoming on all these subjects, and answered the questions with patience and clarity, helping to clear up some of the biggest mysteries in motorcycle racing. For a man who had just arrived after an international air journey, the FIM President was helpful, patient and graceful, and went out of his way to answer our questions. The man's passion for the sport and for motorcycling in general shone through, making Vito Ippolito one of the most interesting interviews we have had to date.
As the interview took place on February 17th, shortly after the Grand Prix Commission had issued a statement with the new 2012 MotoGP regulations, allowing 1000cc and 800cc bikes to run together in the same class, and introducing the concept of the Claiming Rule Teams, basically privateer teams allowed to run production engines, that's where we started our questioning:
MotoMatters: Have you seen the new rules issued by the Grand Prix Commission from today at Barcelona?
Vito Ippolito: I didn't read it all, because I was flying during the meeting.
MM: They announced that 800cc and 1000cc would be racing together, plus a new category, the so-called Claiming Rule Teams.
We continue today with the second half of our interview with Peter Clifford, the manager of the former WCM team, who we asked to get his take on the new rules for MotoGP, which are scheduled to come into force in 2012. In yesterday's episode, Clifford expressed his opinion that privateer teams running production-based engines would find it impossible to be competitive without spending equivalent amounts to the factories. Today, Clifford talks about the problems presented by ever-shifting rule changes, the political risks of the new rules in MotoGP and Moto2, and how long Moto2 is going to remain an affordable class.
PC: The other thing is, we were talking about the Flammini reaction, and it is interesting that he's not saying "I'm going to take everybody to court," and all this sort of stuff. Of course, we still don't know what his contract with the FIM says, that's still secret. He may just feel that what he was relying on in the old days was the way the contract was read, not the words in it. And he had his people at the FIM who read the contract the "right" way, and went in to bat for him and took us off the grid and carried on like that. What he may be waiting for, of course, is another election at the FIM, make sure that he gets the right people in, and they will read the contract in the way that he would like it to be read and this idea would be kicked out, and maybe even the Moto2 rules as well.
MM: Right, and of course that's a huge risk, because if we get a new FIM president who interprets the contracts a different way to Vito Ippolito, because Ippolito has a Grand Prix background, and whenever I've spoken to him, he's said again and again, "what we need are the TZs, the production racers."
The move back to 1000cc by the MotoGP class is looking ever more inevitable. The issue was discussed in the Grand Prix Commission at Valencia, where the MSMA finally accepted that the switch was inevitable, reversing its previous opposition to the change after its own proposal - to lease 800cc engines which private teams could then build their own chassis round - was rejected. The chief drivers behind this project have been Dorna and the FIM, though IRTA is also fully supportive of the scheme, and FIM President Vito Ippolito once again emphasized the importance of making the switch back to 1000cc in an interview with the Italian magazine Motosprint, which Autosport has summarized on its site.
Speaking ahead of the next meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, due to be held on December 11th at the FIM's headquarters in Geneva, Ippolito told Motosprint "The 800cc formula hasn't worked because the power is about the same, while corner speed has increased. And costs have increased too." He pointed out that the manufacturers had accepted the need for change, and that nothing stood in the way of the regulations being changed after the current agreement with the MSMA ends in 2012.
Ever since the news started filtering out of the Grand Prix Commission that the MSMA was prepared to accept the use of production engines in prototype MotoGP bikes, all eyes have been on Infront Motor Sports, where the Flammini brothers run the production-based World Superbike series, awaiting their response. The last time a bike using an engine based (to a very basic extent) on a production engine - the WCM machine, which you can find out about in our interview series with Peter Clifford, the man behind that project - the FIM put a stop to that project, claiming it violated the rules requiring that all bikes be prototypes. Though the Flammini brothers have always denied it and no evidence has ever been produced to support the accusation, suspicion still lingers in the MotoGP paddock that the former FIM president Francesco Zerbi came to the ruling after pressure from FGSport, the company that held the rights for the World Superbike series before the Flamminis sold a majority holding to the Infront group.
The momentum behind a return to 1000cc for the MotoGP class has been building throughout the year. On Saturday, news emerged from the Grand Prix Commission that the manufacturers had dropped their opposition to the plan, making backing for the 1000cc formula unanimous inside MotoGP's rulemaking body. As a consequence, the proposal is almost certain to be adopted for the 2012 season of MotoGP.
Under the new proposed rules, the current requirement that four-stroke motorcycles must be prototypes will be either dropped or defined far more loosely. This would allow both teams and manufacturers to use engines based on production powerplants, greatly reducing the cost of research and development and paving the way for new teams to enter the class. The aim is to cut the cost of running a team roughly in half, from around 10 million euros for a two-rider satellite team down to between 5 and 6 million euros. Using production-based engines and allowing more engineering and maintenance to be done by the teams should be a major contributing factor in making this happen.