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".
Anyway, especially the manufacturers, they didn't want to move too much, they were very rigid, and there were almost no decisions ever taken. And I remember at the end of October in Valencia, when we switched to the one tire brand, we changed the winter test schedule because we didn't need to have so many tests. Basically I was pushing for less tests, less tests, but the manufacturers, not even the biggest one were still very conservative, saying we need to test, we need more laps. And I said, "hey, if it's the same rule for everybody, less tests, less this, it's the same, you don't need to test." Because at the end of the day, you can test 365 days a year if you want, but can you afford it? What does it bring to the championship, to the show, because at the end of the day what we want to have is exciting racing, with people who can afford to be there, and teams that can be healthy. But they said "No, no, no, we need more tests, more tests."
A month and a half later, there was a crisis meeting in Japan, and the ones who were so conservative before, now they were exploring any kind of possibilities to reduce costs, like having two day events, Saturday and Sunday, reduce the tests, have engine life longer, have fewer engines, one bike rule, anything. Everything was coming from the MSMA. And we are shocked, because I asked them to do something much more marginal, and it was "no way" and now, pfft, you know?
Anyway, with the current rules we have, the only thing we could do for 2009 was reduce the amount of track time. This is what we have done, but honestly, it has helped a little bit to reduce costs - especially for the engine - but not by a lot. Next year it was supposed to be the one bike rule, but they calculated that effectively, the cost reduction would be very little, because it was mainly engine, and altogether, this would create more problems for very little savings, so everybody agreed not to do it. If it's 40% down, let's do it; if it's 5, 10%, don't do it, so we didn't do it. We decided to keep the two bikes.
So, what to do? Clearly there is a problem. Kawasaki went from 2 to 1 bike, we know next year 99.999% for sure they won't be here; we know Scot is struggling, we saw the Talmacsi/Takahashi thing; we know Gibernau is leaving, Grupo Francisco Hernando is gone; we know there are a few independent teams who are struggling; we know factories like Suzuki are not 100% sure for the mid-term. So, we had 17 riders in Germany with a race the following week in England. If you have one or two riders injured, you can easily find yourself with 15 or even less riders on the grid.
So clearly, we have to find some solution. And we have the Grand Prix Commission, where we have representatives of MSMA, FIM, Dorna, IRTA, where everyone is throwing ideas on the table and for sure the most active to try to get things moving are Dorna and IRTA. So Carmelo just proposed the production engines, because of what happened in Moto2.
The Moto2 project was very much criticized in the beginning, very much, by everybody. And I'm laughing now, because there's so much excitement about it. But I can't believe when I read some interviews or I hear some comments from people who were saying we're going to kill the sport, it will destroy everything, the 250 was the history of the class, and now they are so enthusiastic. Anyway, it was a big success, and I think it's very much in the air.
You have to remember that us, we teams and promoters, we were thinking multi-engine. The single engine came from a unanimous proposal from the MSMA which they pushed very hard. And I think it's good, because clearly, they didn't want any competition between any factories in this class. They wanted it to be cheap, competitive, prototype and what they call an educational class, and I think, honestly, this class as it is now, with a one engine rule, with a one tire rule, having the possibility to get all of this for a lot cheaper than what was happening with the two stroke, it matches the economic climate we have at the moment.
I'm pretty sure it will be exciting racing. More bikes on the grid and a big fight. A big fight. And I think we will see some very different bikes, because we're hearing about carbon fiber chassis, we're hearing about tubular chassis, we're hearing about many different things. And also the shape and everything, you will see some small companies with a lot of knowledge that will be investing here, sometimes with crazy technology, but I think it's exciting and different. Because at the moment, it's an Aprilia Cup, let's be honest, and Aprilia is choosing riders and saying "you have the best parts". And still, it's exciting because still you have exciting racing, but they are all the same. And even though it is a one-engine rule, it will be more different than now we have a full prototype because now, only one manufacturer is involved.
So, because the Moto2 class was a big success, then we were thinking "what can we do to make it cheaper in MotoGP class" and we thought "OK, why can't we do Moto1" - Moto1 has no meaning, but just to use it as an example. This is just a rough idea, but like the Moto2 project when it started, it's multi-engine. We could use some production parts, I don't know, maybe the case, crankshaft. Start from a production 1000cc engine and have everything else full prototype, like in Moto2. With of course support from the MSMA to fine tune the technical regulation like they've done for Moto2, because they are the experts. Maybe have a restrictor because they don't want to see the 1000cc faster than the 800, though I don't think that will happen. But anyway, it's always difficult to have a balance as we have seen in World Superbike with the V twin and the four with the different engine capacity. So this was one way to try to find a solution and for sure that will help to take the costs a lot down and put more bikes on the grid.
So this is an idea we threw on the table, asking the MSMA "what do you think?". They came back with something else, the first thing we have heard from MSMA is there could be - because they are clearly also accepting the fact that there are not enough bikes on the grid and the bottom price they can give at the moment sometimes even losing some money for the lease fee, some teams will never be able to reach, so we must find a solution where they can afford it. And they came with a proposal that they might be in the position from 2011 to supply engines only, 800cc prototype engines, at a really affordable cost.
MGPM: Like Kenny Roberts?
HP: Exactly. But they are now thinking to do it, all of them, maybe not Suzuki, but all of the ones who are supplying the independent teams, Ducati, Honda and Yamaha, at an affordable cost. This is an idea, but asked us to wait until Indianapolis to come with a real strong proposal. So now there are different ways to make it cheaper. And we have to study, but clearly every member is concerned and is aware that we have to find something drastically cheaper as soon as we are able.
MGPM: Have you ever asked Yamaha to sell you the bike instead of leasing it?
HP: No. Because I think it will never be accepted. And I understand why, because even in the time of two stroke, when the technology was less high, if they sell you the bike, well what are you going to do with it? You're going to go racing! But if you race, you don't have enough parts, so it means if you buy the '96 bike, then you want to have the parts. But they are already working at the factory on the '97 bike, and then if they sell it to you if you don't run it properly you can create problems, so normally, they always want to have staff with you.
So at the end of the day, it is not that easy, either you buy a production bike like before, a TZ or an RS, you are free to do whatever you like to it but you don't complain, you know. But if you have a factory-spec bike, then it means for them, well, they have to develop parts for the '97 bike, but they still have to follow development for the '96 bike. But what about the guy who sees other teams in front of them, he is going to complain that Yamaha is not supporting them, it will create a lot of problems. Especially now with the high technology we have, so there's no way they would sell a bike, no way. So, to buy a bike, what am I going to do with it? I'm going to need them to supply parts, I'm going to need them to supply engine maintenance, I'm going to need them, and it's going to be as expensive as it is is now.
MGPM: But you could sell the bike at the end of the year to another smaller team.
HP: But this has no value. If you sell it with no parts, no engine maintenance, what do you do with it? After X kilometers, your bike can't run. So you think the factories will take care of let's say the '09 bike, '08, and maybe an '07 that has been sold? You end up nowhere. Then you will for sure, you don't know who is going to finally own the bike, but it will be a Yamaha spec bike, and this guy maybe will modify, change parts, sell some parts to somebody and they say "hey, I've got a factory bike, but I've got no support, my rider is doing really well, but you let me down."
MGPM: Do you expect problems from InFront, the people who run World Superbikes if you have production engines?
HP: You know, I think for sure, for me, like for everybody, these two championships are too much alike. The public, I mean, not the very very specialist fans, do not understand. Even when I go to see a sponsor, I have to tell them, "my championship is the one Valentino Rossi is in." And they say, what's the difference with Superbike, and when you start to explain "I'm a prototype, etc etc" you can see their faces go blank. So clearly, to have these two championships as close as each other is not a good thing. You create a polemic, you create a problem. But, anyway, this is the way it is, this is supported by the FIM, nothing to say, they have the right to do whatever they want. But we have a great relationship with Vito Ippolito which is the FIM president, any decision which is taken is supported and together with us voted by FIM. As long as FIM knows what they can support, then it'sfine.
MGPM: So it's up to the FIM to sell it to the Flamminis?
HP: No, no, I think the FIM knows what it can support and what it can't support because it has the contract with the other championship. And I don't think we never heard Vito having a concern, you know he has been supporting 120% the Moto2 project, and he's supporting all the ideas coming now to make the MotoGP class cheaper.