MSMA: Engines To Be Leased From 2011, More Details To Follow At Estoril

MotoGP's biggest problem right now is the number of bikes on the grid. The withdrawal of Kawasaki, leaving just a single bike in the Hayate team cut the grid down to 18 bikes, and once Sete Gibernau's Grupo Francisco Hernando team pulled out, the field was cut just to 17. With Kawasaki almost certain to withdraw the last remaining bike from the Hayate team next year and the return of the extra Ducati for the Aspar team, the grid is likely to stay at 17, though it could increase to 18 if Honda does add an extra bike, as HRC has hinted it might.

To deal with this problem, and drastically reduce the costs of participation, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta suggested that the rules be altered to allow production-based 1000cc engines in prototype chassis to run against the existing 800cc full prototypes. As a serious suggestion, it was almost certainly doomed from the start, but as a bargaining gambit, it has been a stroke of genius. The suggestion immediately jolted MSMA into action, and at the Sachsenring, the manufacturers organization offered a counter proposal to lease just 800cc prototype engines on their own, rather than entire bikes. They asked the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rulemaking body, for some time to come up with a more detailed proposal, which they promised to present at the meeting scheduled for this weekend at Indianapolis.

That proposal was presented this morning to the Grand Prix Commission - sort of. After the Grand Prix Commission met, the press release issued contained only a few minor detail changes to the 2009 tire regulations, so tracked down Herve Poncharal, boss of the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team and IRTA's representative inside the Grand Prix Commission and asked him just what the MSMA's proposal had consisted of. The answer, it appears, is a little more complicated than just a straight proposal. 

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Honda Against MotoGP Engine Leasing Proposal

The press conference given by HRC President Tetsuo Suzuki was remarkable in many more ways than one. The announcement that Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso had been signed to new contracts, subsequently denied by Alberto Puig, then clarified as a "basic agreement" was the most striking news to come out of that press conference, but the press conference contained more than just the rider announcement.

Buried among the big news of the basic agreement with Dovizioso and Pedrosa and the statement that HRC would not be signing Jorge Lorenzo was some potentially more significant news on the future of MotoGP. At the press conference, Mr Suzuki also discussed the proposal put forward by the MSMA a month ago at the Sachsenring to lease just engines to teams, in an echo of the Moto2 class and Kenny Roberts' Team KR effort. According to Michael Scott in the excellent online magazine GPWeek, Honda is opposed to the idea. "We prefer to lease entire machines," the HRC boss told the press conference, though he stressed he was speaking on behalf of Honda, and not for the MSMA.

The proposal to lease engines was put forward by the MSMA in response to the suggestion put forward by Dorna of using highly modified 1000cc production engines in the bikes, alongside the existing 800cc full prototype equipment. Both of these proposals are aimed at drastically cutting the cost of participating in MotoGP,  something that all parties acknowledge is a problem.

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Monday Test To Be Run With Both Sealed And Unsealed Engines

On the face of it, the rules limiting the number of engines to be used for the rest of the season are clear enough: Each rider will have just 5 engines to use for the remaining 7 races. But as MotoGP fans and followers began to contemplate the official one-day test to be held on Monday, after the Brno round of MotoGP, questions immediately began to arise over which engines could be used in those tests.

The rules seemed ambiguous. The relevant parts of the regulations had been announced at the last meeting of the Grand Prix Commission on July 25th, at the British Grand Prix in Donington. Under section 2.3.6 of the rules, the following subsections had been added:

1.) In the MotoGP class the number of engines available for use by each rider is limited. For the 2009 season a maximum of 5 engines may be used by each rider for the final 7 scheduled races of the season, that is from and including the Czech Grand Prix until the end of the season. Should a rider be replaced for any reason, the replacement rider will be deemed to be the original rider for purposes of engine allocation.

6.) To prevent the running of a used, allocated engine outside of MotoGP events, all allocated engines will have security seals placed over either exhaust or inlet ports (on at least one cylinder bank, in the case of V-type engines) before leaving the circuit. Teams wishing to re-use such an allocated and sealed engine must request the Technical Director to remove the security seals. If the Technical Director or his staff find that the security seals are not intact, the engine will be deemed to be a new engine in the allocation, with the appropriate penalty.

This seemed to indicate that non-allocated engines had to be used for the tests, but we were not sure, so we turned to the man whose job it is to know, MotoGP Technical Director Mike Webb. He explained the situation simply and clearly as follows:

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Herve Poncharal Marathon Interview Part 4 - Spies, Toseland And Why The 800s Are Still Exciting

In the concluding part of our four part interview with Herve Poncharal, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha boss turns his attention to the performance of his own team this year, and discusses why it is so hard for an independent team to get on the podium. Along the way, Poncharal underlines the importance of tires, dismisses criticism of the 800cc switch, and talks about just how well the Fantastic Four of Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa have been riding. Finally, we turn our gaze to the future, and discuss where Ben Spies is going to be next year, and who will be riding for the team in 2010.

Before reading this installment, you may want to go back and read the first part, where we discussed the rookie rule; part two, in which Poncharal talked about cost-cutting and possible new rule changes; and the third part, in which he covered sponsorship and how the riders are paid too much.

MGPM: How about the team? How do you think the team has done this year?

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Herve Poncharal Marathon Interview Part 3 - How Tobacco Made MotoGP Too Expensive

After talking about the rookie rule in part 1 of our interview with Herve Poncharal, and the necessity of cost-cutting in part 2, in today's episode, the Tech 3 team boss turns his attention to the question of sponsorship. Along the way, we cover the question of how tobacco sponsorship nearly put MotoGP out of business, how many riders are paid too much, and how MotoGP can benefit potential sponsors. The series will conclude tomorrow, when Poncharal will talk about James Toseland, the 800s, and Ben Spies.

MGPM: One of the other things I've written about is the fact that MotoGP's expensive, but there's two ways you deal with that expense: you either cut costs or you raise more money.

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Herve Poncharal Marathon Interview Part 2 - Moto1 And Cost Cutting

More from our monster interview with Tech 3 Yamaha boss Herve Poncharal. After yesterday's episode, in which Poncharal discussed the rookie rule, and how it has helped the satellite teams survive financially, today the point in the interview where Poncharal spoke in his role as the head of IRTA, and discussed the proposals which have been submitted to reduce costs in MotoGP, after the current agreement to run 800cc engines runs out in 2011.

Over to the interview:

MGPM: I wanted to speak to you about your role in IRTA. How can we make MotoGP cheaper? There is the suggestion of using the 1000cc production engines in MotoGP, what people are calling Moto1.

HP: So, for a long time, you know, we in the independent teams, but maybe me the most, we have been pushing for ways to cut costs, talking about it any time we had a meeting, a committee meeting within IRTA where you had factory team representative and independent team representative. And every time, everyone was looking at me like, pfft, OK, OK, here he goes again. And I always told everyone "If we can have a good show, if we can do this, but be a bit cheaper, we will be stronger, we will grow here".

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Herve Poncharal Marathon Interview Part 1 - Why The Rookie Rule Is A Good Thing

Since the end of 2008, Herve Poncharal has found himself a very busy man indeed. As head of both the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team and the IRTA representative in the Grand Prix Commission, Poncharal has had his hands full both on and off the track. With the global financial crisis impacting MotoGP so heavily, Poncharal has been especially busy finding ways to cut costs and secure the future of the championship, working in tandem with the other members of the Grand Prix Commission.

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FIM Clarifies "Rookie Rule" - Less Than 9 Races Make A Rookie

Words are tricky things. Immediately after the announcement of the so-called rookie rule, debate immediately broke out over the meaning of the words "rookie" and "factory team." The response of Dorna and the FIM has been a little too akin to that of Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll's Through The Looking Glass, insisting that when they use a word, it means exactly what they choose it to mean, neither more nor less.

Of course, this was not going to be a tenable situation for long. Speculation was rife in the press that factory teams could consider signing promising young stars such as Marco Simoncelli, Alvaro Bautista or Ben Spies for the last few races once they'd secured (or failed to secure) their current championships, then claim that because they'd been under contract in 2009, they should no longer be regarded as "rookies" and could go straight to factory teams for 2010.

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Decision On MotoGP Engine Leasing Expected At Indianapolis GP

The radical drop in the size of the MotoGP grid has everyone inside MotoGP worried. First Kawasaki officially withdrew, leaving only Marco Melandri on the Hayate in the class, then Grupo Francisco Hernando pulled out of sponsoring Sete Gibernau's GFH team, dropping the number of entries from 18 to 17. Add to that the shenanigans surrounding Yuki Takahashi's replacement by Gabor Talmacsi, after Talmacsi was able to bring funds to the cash-strapped team, and the picture of a series in crisis is complete. 

Clearly something has to be done, to reduce costs and to expand the number of bikes on the grid. Last week at the Sachsenring, the Grand Prix Commission met to discuss the situation, and Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta launched the idea of a two-tier system, allowing bikes with prototype chassis with engines based on production bikes to race against the current generation of fully factory supported prototype 800s. The story was unearthed by Paolo Scalera of the Italian sports daily Corriere dello Sport, and senior MotoGP journalist Michael Scott in last week's issue of GPWeek opined that the move was probably a bullying tactic by Ezpeleta, aimed at forcing the factories into coming up with a counterproposal.

It seems the thought of racing against production-based engines has done exactly that. At Donington, Tech 3 boss and head of IRTA Herve Poncharal spoke extensively to, covering a wide range of subjects. One of the subjects he discussed at length was the cost-cutting proposals put forward by the MSMA to counter the exodus of teams from the premier class. He revealed that as Mike Scott had predicted, the MSMA had offered to lease engines only to MotoGP teams at a much more affordable price, allowing them to build their own prototype chassis around the engine. 

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MotoGP Tire Rules Tweaked - Front Tires

When the single tire rule was announced, there were a number of concerns over just how well it would work. So far, those fears have gone largely unrealized, in part due to the weather cutting down on track time, but also because Bridgestone's tires have been working across a wide enough temperature range that almost everyone has been able to use the potential of the tires.

There have been critical voices, of course. Valentino Rossi, in particular, has said that he would like a third compound to choose from, as he believes the overlap between the two compounds available is not great enough. There have also been complaints about the lack of dual compound tires, with softer compounds on the sides of tires and a harder compound in the middle, though these tires are scheduled to make an appearance later this summer. The biggest problem, though, has been the need to conserve the tires which will be used during the race, leaving riders to go out on track on tires they know they won't be using on Sunday, and gathering data which isn't directly useful for finding a race setup.

After the Le Mans round of MotoGP, the Grand Commission met to discuss the tire situation, and decided to make some minor alterations to address this last issue. The allocation of front tires has been modified slightly, so that as of the Dutch TT at Assen, the riders will be able to choose to take either 4 of each of the two available compounds, or 5 of one compound and 3 of the other. The allocation of rear tires - 6 of each of the two available compounds - will remain unnchanged.

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