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Saving MotoGP Part 3 - Avoiding The Traps Of The Past

Over the past two days, we have examined the causes for MotoGP's current financial difficulties, and seen why most of the suggestions doing the rounds for fixing the situation are likely to do more harm than good. Today, in the final part of our examination of the state of MotoGP, we submit our own proposals which could form the basis for making the sport a great deal cheaper, and getting private teams back into the sport.

As explained in part one of this series, the biggest problem facing the sport is that horsepower, and with it, top speed, has become incredibly expensive. The best way to cut costs, then, is to make horsepower cheap again.

The easiest way of making horsepower cheap is the old-fashioned way, by raising engine capacity. There is no replacement for displacement, the old saying goes, and for years the quick way to more power has been to bore out the cylinders and add the cubic inches. But while an increase of engine capacity to, say, 1200cc would be a big improvement on the current situation, a braver step is necessary.

For under the current rules, the bikes are limited in two different ways: by engine capacity (800cc) and by fuel allowance (21 liters). Both of these factors can be regarded as having the same goal: to limit the energy output of the machinery. But if both factors perform the same function, why not simply drop one of those limits?

Removing the fuel limit might help make the racing more exciting, but it wouldn't help make the bikes any cheaper. Engine design would still chase the limits of what a given capacity is capable of, and with unlimited fuel to play with, that would make the engines even more high-revving and therefore fragile.

Bigger Is Better. Probably.

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Saving MotoGP Part 2 - How To Encourage The Cheats

Yesterday, we examined why MotoGP turned into the bottomless pit which swallows money, and looked at the mistakes which made this result inevitable. Today, we'll be examining the suggestions being put forward to fix the situation, and get spending in MotoGP back under control, and picking them apart looking for flaws in their logic.

The proposals being put forward come from all around the motorcycle racing world, from seasoned veterans and respected thinkers in major media outlets, to the purest of noobs in every racing corner of every motorcycle discussion board around the internet. The ideas vary from the brilliant to the absurd, with all shades in between. But there are a few common themes which keep reoccurring, and which need to be looked at more closely.

The most common proposal for reducing costs is to limit the role of electronics. There may be a lot of good reasons for wanting to do this - to give more control back to the rider, for a start - but the one thing this suggestion will not do is reduce costs.

For the reason that it won't cut costs, look no further than the lessons of reducing engine capacity to 800cc. Beyond the practical difficulties of limiting electronics, the teams would simply spend more time looking for ways to circumvent the spirit of the law, while balancing on a razor's edge on the right side of the letter of the law.

The Workaround

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Saving MotoGP Part 1 - Why Is MotoGP So Expensive?

Motorsports worldwide have taken a pounding over the past few weeks: first, there was the announcement that Honda were pulling out of Formula 1 with immediate effect; then came statements from Subaru and Suzuki announcing that both manufacturers were pulling out of the World Rally Championship; in the US, American Honda announced that they would not be fielding a factory team in the AMA Superbike championship; and finally, over the holiday period came the bombshell of Kawasaki's withdrawal from MotoGP.

So how did we get here, and more importantly, what can we do about it? Over the next three days, we'll be examining the state of MotoGP, and asking why it turned out to be so hideously expensive. We'll also be studying the likely effects of the most common suggestions being made around the world, and asking how effective these proposals will be. And finally, we'll be making some proposals of our own, which we feel neatly sidestep the pitfalls which have brought MotoGP to its current, parlous state.

Firstly the question of how MotoGP, and motorsports got into this state in the first place. The main, and most obvious culprit is the global financial crisis, which has hit the car and motorcycle sector particularly hard in the second half of 2008. With sales plummeting and the banks only willing to lend money to them at exorbitant interest, the manufacturers are being forced to examine their activities with an almost pathological attention to detail for areas where they can cut costs.

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The Gathering Storm Over Tires

There's an old saying, that goes "Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it." Ever since the introduction of the restrictions on tires - introduced rather foolishly at the same time as the 800cc rule, breaking the engineer's golden rule of only changing one variable at a time - complaining about how tires have come to dominate racing has taken on epic proportions. Fans complained that the racing had become boring, riders complained that they were left powerless to compete if they were given the wrong tires or the tire companies got it wrong, and sponsors muttered that they were unhappy pouring money into teams who would be invisible all weekend because of a simple hoop of not-so-sticky rubber.

After a false start last year, the baying crowd were finally given what they wanted three weeks ago at Motegi: Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta announced that in 2009, the MotoGP series would have only a single tire manufacturer, and that he was open to bids for the contract from tire companies.

What happened next completely altered the balance of power: Michelin, knowing that it stood no chance of actually getting the contract, as any result other than Bridgestone would have caused a bombshell of tactical nuclear warhead proportions to go off in the paddock, threw Dorna a curve ball, and decided not to submit a bid. With Bridgestone the only company to have submitted a proposal, the deal was theirs.

But this leaves Dorna with a problem. They too knew that realistically, Bridgestone was the only option, but had hoped to use the bid from Michelin as a stick to beat Bridgestone with to get more favorable conditions. With Michelin declining to play ball, Dorna is now stuck, forced to accept whatever deal Bridgestone offers them, their leverage removed by Michelin's very clever, and very spiteful move.

The Bells! The Bells!

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Five Different Champions, Five Different Machines

Over the past few weeks, it seems as if almost the entire world has been wallowing in doom and gloom. The world's financial system is being shaken to its core, jobs are disappearing all around the world, and Conquest, War, Famine and Death stalk the face of the planet.

Even in the cosy corner of the world occupied by reckless young men and improbably fast motorcycles, things have not been well. The motorcycling press, including this website, has been filled with stories of the end of motorcycle racing as we know it. MotoGP has gone to a single tire, the 250 class is set to disappear and World Superbikes is likely to start banning technology already available on the street bikes the class is based on. Even the two-wheeled world seems to have boarded the handbasket and set course for Hades.

So it behoves us to stand still for a moment to mark a significant fact. Of the five global road race championships which are contested at the behest of the FIM, all have been (or will be) won aboard a different brand of motorcycle. Valentino Rossi wrapped up the MotoGP title aboard his Yamaha M1, while Mike di Meglio clinched the 125cc title on a Derbi. In the World Superbike series, Troy Bayliss took his third World Superbike title on his third different Ducati, and in the World Supersport series, Andrew Pitt prolonged Ten Kate's dominance snatching the title on a Honda. The only title still left open, in the 250cc world championship, will go to either Marco Simoncelli on a Gilera, or if Simoncelli makes a serious mistake, Alvaro Bautista on an Aprilia.

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Please, no more "spec" talk!

For those fans of MotoGP who aren't properly afraid of Dorna's desire to imitate Formula One, rather than maintain a superior product, perhaps this news tidbit will shed some light on the road we have feared all along.

Now that Formula One already have spec-tires and spec-ECU's, and now that Dorna are seeking to establish both in MotoGP, this haunting promise/threat was issued from the Great Fiasco Machine himself, Max Mosely (speaking of a spec-engine formula, where "manufacturers" simply "re-badge" a spec powerplant, and presumably KERS is no longer life-threatening):

"I know there are those who say this is not the right move, but I'm talking about the real world. If Volkswagen, say, can buy a {road car} engine less expensively {than to build one}, they'll undoubtedly do it. After they put a VW badge on it, it's all the same. Unless we think very seriously about cutting costs, in the next 10 years, we'll be in trouble."

Considering that I proposed something akin to this a year ago for MotoGP - as a joke - I wonder why Mr. SS thinks people will pay to see a world-wide spec series any more than they didn't to see a U.S. one. 

Please, Mr. Ezpeleta, see this path for the foolishness that it is and quit now while you are still ahead!

 

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Spec ECU Again?

The renewed suggestion from Carmelo Ezpeleta, that a spec-ECU needs to be forced onto the manufacturers, has crossed over from "concerning" to insulting, disturbing, and offensive. For some background on my opinion, I'd like to refer you to my thoughts at the beginning of the year.

The pervasive or ubiquitous use of the phrase "traction control", when speaking of a problem with the quality of MotoGP racing, is a red herring, at best. Second only to the even more nebulous "electronics", it is now used as a pejorative, intended to suggest that the riders are not in control of their machines and that this is somehow the fault of everyone but the governing body for the sport. Every team is confronted with the same issue: the electronics are more intrusive in the 800cc era so that the bikes can finish the races on artificially small fuel loads.

I'll put this another way, in order to be more blunt: attempting to call this "traction control" is fraudulent. Rev-limiters and throttle-limiters functioning as fuel misers have overlapping benefits with traction control mapping, but the objectives are different. As Jorge Lorenzo has shown us, a bike can still high side while "thinking" it is saving fuel and "controlling traction". Anyone suggesting that a spec-ECU is the solution to overly paternalistic electronics, or excessive cornering speed, is (L-Y-I-N-G) not telling the truth. A rough equivalent would be to feed a child only rice and water and then begin to lament that he or she is problematically thin. Believing that a subsequent change to "homogenized rice" will solve the problem would be considered sophistry by anyone observing from the outside. This is obfuscation, and an inquiry into motive is begged...

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Make Sure You See The 2008 Laguna Seca MotoGP Race

If you haven't already seen the 2008 Red Bull US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca, then make sure you do, as quickly as possible. Beg, borrow, steal a copy of the race. Head on over to MotoGP.com and sign up for the rest of the season package, just so you can watch the race online. Whatever they're asking, just pay them, because it's worth it. That race was a piece of history. If you love motorcycle racing, or even if you only have a mild interest in motorcycle racing, watch that race.

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Where NOT To Stay If You're Visiting Assen

As I've alluded to in several items on this site, modern racetracks have a hard time. Once built out in the sticks, away from the masses, urban sprawl has meant that houses have gotten ever nearer to the circuits, and as a consequence, complaints have started to increase. The more astute among you may want to point out that those new residents must surely have been aware of the existence of the circuit before buying their home, but that fact doesn't seem to stop people from complaining.

While such complaints might be regarded as rather stupid, some complaints are even worse. Like many other circuits, the TT Circuit in Assen has suffered increasing complaints from neighboring properties. Among the most vocal of these has been a local campsite and recreation park, Camping Witterzomer. Understandable as it may be for a recreation park to complain about noise from an adjacent racetrack - one that has been there for 53 years, a good deal longer than most of the other business in the area - it would seem rank hypocrisy for the same campsite to try to attract business from the very race fans whose activities they despise.

Yet that is exactly what is happening. The owners of Camping Witterzomer have put a good deal of time, money and effort into legal proceedings to limit the activities at the racetrack, including trying to prevent the Champ Car series from running at the track. The mass of complaints and procedures has culminated in the canceling of 20 track days and the KNMV Cup, a Dutch club race series aimed at offering riders a cheap and safe way into racing, and taking their first steps on the track in a safe and organized way.

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