Testing for the MotoGP class is set to undergo a radical shake up for 2012, with the current restrictions on testing to be abolished. According to both Italian magazine website MotoSprint and the Italian sports daily Corriere dello Sport, the Grand Prix Commission will approve a plan to scrap the testing limits imposed after the global financial crisis in 2008, and allow MotoGP riders to test the bikes as often as they like, within a few set limits.
The testing changes are a response to the cold hard reality that the testing limits have done nothing to cut costs. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta told Corriere dello Sport's Paolo Scalera at Phillip Island that the limits, introduced to cut costs, had done "precisely the opposite." While contracted riders - that is, riders currently racing in MotoGP - are restricted to a very limited number of test days, the factories are free to test as much as the like, with the proviso that Bridgestone is only prepared to provide them with 240 tires (equivalent to 120 sets of tires) each year to test with. So the factories go testing almost as much as they did in the bad old days, only they are having to pay extra to contract test riders, and the feedback they are getting is not of the same quality as the MotoGP riders can provide, the test riders being at least two to three seconds off the pace of the factory men.
Two factors have made the situation even more glaringly obvious: the first is the return to a maximum capacity of 1000cc for 2012. With Honda, Ducati and Yamaha all having built new bikes to campaign in 2012 - whether they are using the full capacity or not is unknown - the factories were allowed an extra 8 days of testing ahead of next season. But while the main development has largely been done early on, the real work of refinement will take place over the winter, and it is that process that will gain the final few tenths that mean the difference between victory and defeat. That process really needs the speed and finesse of the factory riders to complete, as they are the only people fast enough to fully test the parts being tested.
The second and most blatant problem with the current testing limits has been apparent from Valentino Rossi's utter failure to get to grips with the current iteration of the Ducati Desmosedici. As early as the first race at Qatar, Rossi's crew were talking about treating the rest of the season as a test, working on developing the bike for 2012. But that approach has also not met with much success, as the limited time on track - less than four hours of practice plus the race - during a weekend has left little time to test parts fully. When parts have been taken from the testing done on the 2012 bike, that, too has not provided much benefit. The difference in engine characteristics between the larger engine which Rossi tested for next year and the 800cc engine used in the GP11.1 has meant that any improvements have not been apparent for the 800s, and the data has not transferred well between the two engine capacities. Rossi, along with all of the Ducati riders, has continued to struggle in 2011.
The proposal to be adopted at Valencia removes the restriction on factory riders testing. The tire limits will remain in place, and according to MotoSprint, each factory will be allowed to nominate a track at which it will be allowed to test as often as it wants with factory riders. This means that instead of Yamaha sending Katsuyuki Nakasuga to Sepang and Ducati sending Franco Battaini to Mugello, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi can go in their places. The riders and factories can test all they want, until the tires run out. The proposal came from the factories, with Ducati pushing for the change with the full support of Honda, and though the change has to be formally approved by the Grand Prix Commission, which contains representatives of Dorna, the FIM and the teams, as well as the manufacturers, it is customary for the rest of the GPC's members to accept what the MSMA propose.
But Dorna is fully behind the change to the testing rules. At Phillip Island, Carmelo Ezpeleta told the Corriere dello Sport that it was absurd that MotoGP was "the only sport where the athletes cannot train, cannot improve." But the move may also prove to be a tactical one, giving the factories something they asked for just before the looming conflict over the Claiming Rule Teams breaks loose.