The news that MotoGP is set to change capacity and formula again for the third time in 10 years has caused as much concern as it has joy. Almost everyone concerned has welcomed the return to 1000cc, not least the riders, and many people also expressed the commonly-held opinion that the switch to 800cc was the worst thing to happen to the class. But many observers also pointed out that the change of formula, though aimed at cutting costs in the long term, meant yet more expenditure in the short term as the factories would be forced to develop a brand new engine once again.
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."
Ever since Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta started talking about using production engines in MotoGP bikes, one name has come up again and again in any discussion of this subject. That name is WCM, and the team manager of the time, Peter Clifford. MotoMatters.com had already spoken to Clifford at the IRTA test in Jerez, where he gave us a potted history of the WCM project, but after the Grand Prix Commission announced that MotoGP would be returning to 1000cc, with no restrictions on engine provenance and a bore limit of 81mm, we went back to Clifford to get his opinion of the changes. After all, if there's anyone who knows the real cost of turning a production bike into a MotoGP bike, it's Peter Clifford and his team. The discussion was long and very interesting, and so we have split the interview into two parts. Part one is below, while the second part will be published tomorrow.
MM: When Carmelo Ezpeleta first came up with the idea of using production engines, your name and the WCM project was raised by just about everybody, because basically what they're talking about is allowing you to do what you could have done back in 2003. How do you feel about that?
PC: Well, it's just very humorous isn't it? It was so obvious that that is what needed to happen, but at the time, there was enough machinery at the sharp end and the factories were all keen to have a go at it, so the few people that were left out of that loop, no one cared very much about them. That's just the way it goes, though isn't it.
Yamaha's announcement that they would be fielding Ben Spies as a wildcard rider in the final MotoGP round at Valencia saw fans and journalists rushing to their rule books. The MotoGP regulars were mostly on the last of the 5 engines they had been permitted to use in the last 7 races, but how did the engine limit rule affect Ben Spies? Just how many engines did a wildcard rider have? The answer, it turned out, was as many as Yamaha wanted to give him, for the rule book made no mention of wildcards, and therefore wildcard riders could use as many as they liked. In Ben Spies' case, this was basically two - one in each of the two Yamaha M1's he was using, but in theory, he could have popped a fresh engine in every time he went out.
Friday's meeting of the Grand Prix Commission in Geneva had been keenly awaited by fans and followers of MotoGP, primarily because of the expected announcement of the class' return to 1000cc from 2012 onwards. So naturally, after the press release was issued, almost all the press coverage focused on the details of the 1000cc proposal which had been accepted by the Commission, that from 2012 MotoGP bikes will be allowed a maximum capacity of 1000cc, a maximum of 4 cylinders, and a maximum bore of 81mm.
The Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rulemaking body, met today in Geneva to discuss a number of issues, clarifying a number of open points in the rule book concerning Moto2, as well as a few other minor points. But the point that MotoGP fans around the world had been waiting for most fervently was the new rules for MotoGP to take effect from 2012.
In the huge press release with regulation changes just issued by the FIM, the part covering MotoGP's new rule changes were incredibly brief- just four lines:
Basic concept for MotoGP
There has been a good deal of talk in recent weeks about the proposed changes to the MotoGP class, but confusion still exists about exactly what those changes entail. When even our good friends, the normally extremely well-informed Jules Cisek and Jim Race over at the MotoGPOD podcast get the proposals wrong, then it's time for some clarification. And so we have set out below the state of the proposed rule changes, as they stand now, prior to the Grand Prix Commission meeting scheduled for December 11th, 2009.
The agreement governing the current rules package (i.e. 800cc prototypes) is due to expire at the end of 2011, and so the new rules will come into effect for the 2012 MotoGP season. Under the proposals currently being studied, the class will consist of the following machine types:
The 800cc formula is dead. MotoGP is set to return to 1000cc from 2012, according to a proposal submitted to the Grand Prix Commission at Valencia today. The 800cc bikes have received a deluge of criticism, almost from the moment they were introduced, and that deluge has finally buried them.
The reduction in testing has been a double-edged sword in MotoGP, allowing costs to be cut on the one hand, but punishing the six rookies due to enter the class for the 2010 season. With so many rookies coming, the factories - or at least one of them - have been keen to bend the rules to help the incomers adapt to MotoGP. The request for more testing for the rookies faced a lot of opposition, and up until this morning, it looked like it would be denied.
In the pursuit of radical cost-cutting measures, testing has been one of the main targets of all parties involved in the MotoGP series. Post-race testing has already been cut back to what many perceive to be the bare minimum, with one-day tests after the Barcelona and Brno MotoGP rounds, but the cuts to winter testing have been nothing short of radical. Instead of six or seven multi-day tests, as was the case in 2007 and 2008, winter tests have been cut back to just three true winter tests, plus testing after the final race of the season at Valencia.
The testing season kicks off on the Tuesday and Wednesday after Valencia - traditionally the time at which riders switching teams get their first shot at their new bikes. There will then be a three-month layoff during which no testing will be done at all, before the teams head out to Malaysia for a couple of two-day sessions, starting on the 4th and 21st of February. Three weeks later, the teams return to Qatar for another two-day test from March 14th, in preparation for the season opener four weeks later.
The new test schedule sees a break with tradition and the end of a pre-season aperitif: Apart from the traditional post-race tests at Valencia, no testing will be done in Europe during the off-season. What this also means is an end to the official IRTA tests in Spain, which had turned into something of a crowd pleaser over the past few years, with upwards of 35,000 fans turning up to watch the single one-hour qualifying session shootout for a BMW M coupe, referred to by the fans as "Grand Prix Zero". As yet, it is unclear whether the shootout for the BMW will take place at the final test at Qatar or not, but all the signs are that this, too, has been consigned to history.