Peter Clifford Interview Part II: How WCM Met Its End, And Controlling Costs In MotoGP

In the first part of our interview with Peter Clifford, he talked about the thinking behind the WCM project, as well as the goals for keeping racing affordable. In this second part, we discuss how - and why - the project ended, as well as the general question of costs in racing. Is it still possible to go racing without spending huge amounts of money? Clifford gives his views.

MotoMatters: To get back to the prototype, who did the inspection, was it the FIM who did tech inspection? I think it was in South Africa that it failed inspection...

Peter Clifford: I think the first place we went to was Japan that year, I think.

MM: But you turned up at the race with a rolling chassis and an engine, submitted to scrutineering...

PC: That's right and they said :no thank you.: I think Chris did the first practice or whatever in the wet and was quite quick on it. And then we were told we couldn't carry on with it. I'm pretty sure we did the first practice and then you know behind the scenes shenanigans.

MM: There's lots of reason to suspect that FG Sport were behind it...

PC: If I was Mr Flammini, I would probably have done it.

I think that I was foolish enough to believe what we did here in this MotoGP paddock, that Dorna, that we as a group, because we all felt that when we went MotoGP, went four stroke, that we were going ahead together. And we very much felt that as a team, OK, we're part of this, there were no motorcycles available, it's up to us to be part of this and we'll make our own. And we knew we'd have no objections from anybody else in the pit lane, everybody felt the same, we were all going together, and I think we thought we were masters of our own destiny in this. But we weren't.

MM: There were forces outside the paddock which were against you. How about Dorna, Dorna were extremely helpful to you...

PC: Dorna, you know, Dorna wanted us on the grid. Quite whether, quite how much they pushed things behind the scenes for us, we don't know.

MM: Who wins between the FIM and Dorna?

PC: The trouble with this thing is, why should anyone need to win? Why are we even having this argument? Because what's more important is that motorcycle racing is successful isn't it, you know? And sadly that didn't seem to be the thing that anyone was considering.

MM: No, because the commercial rights are too important, too important to the commercial rights holders?

PC: Was it that? What was really at stake? What was really happening, you know, why was it important that we weren't allowed to go racing?

MM: Do you think that the Japanese manufacturers could have had anything to do with it, because of course it could have been deeply humiliating for them if you'd have turned up on a modified R1 and kicked their asses.

PC: I don't believe that was a major consideration. I don't think that especially as it really wasn't an R1 and we weren't calling it an R1. While we probably could have especially at the early part of that first year given Kawaski a run for their money, we weren't going to give Yamaha a run for their money anyway. So I think there is an element of the fact that in that era the Japanese were quite happy that it was only they who could afford to go racing in the manner that they went. While I don't think they wanted to bend over backwards to help, to make sure that everyone else could keep up, I don't think they were too worried about what was going on behind them really.

MM: They weren't worried that you were going to be taking titles from them...

PC: No, obviously not. I think they were quite happy to compete. People have suggested that before, :the Japanese would have been embarrassed.: I don't think they would have thought we were likely to do that, that was not really going to happen. I mean because the other side of the thing, which certainly was true, was while we were at the back of the field they weren't. And when we stopped being at the back of the field because we weren't there any more, they were. And that's probably an awful lot worse and if they ‘d had their eyes open they'd have realised that.

MM: Do you believe that MotoGP can be made affordable again?

PC: I don't know whether it ever was affordable or is less affordable. I mean, it was flaming expensive and difficult then. I suppose ...

MM: Even when you were running the Red Bull Yamaha 500s, was it expensive then?

PC: It's more expensive now, sure. Two strokes were a lot cheaper to run than four strokes, and they were a lot cheaper to repair if they blew up, and a lot cheaper to repair even if you crashed them, they didn't destroy themselves as much as 4 strokes. So Moto GP as a four stroke formula, I don't see how you can make that cheap again. I'm sure decreasing the engine size made it more expensive 990 to 800 made it more expensive. The cheapest horse power is always a bigger engine.

MM: I've suggested this to a few people, but my idea to make it cheaper is just to remove the engine limitations, because that way you can always get cheap horsepower.

PC: Well my suggestion was if you want to increase performance, reduce the number of gears in the gear box. Go from six, and you can do it successively, you can say 6 speed this year, next year it will be 5 and the year after that it will be 4. And what have you got to do then? You've got to produce broader horse power and all that sort of thing. It'll cost you no money to reduce the number of gears in the gear box, you can keep the same engine design. And you could have done that for the 990's and it would have cost next to nothing. I said so at the time and certain people agreed, but it was never taken on as a serious suggestion because that decision was driven by Honda you know, who still drive the MSMA.

MM: Would Honda ever pull out of Grand Prix racing?

PC: I think wouldn't go so far as to say it's likely but I think it's infinitely possible. I mean Mr Fukui, the last CEO of Honda is an ex-road racer, you know an ex-GP500 man, involved in the team and everything, but I don't think his replacement is. So when the decision was made to can the F1 but keep going with MotoGP - as far one knows of these things - Fukui was at the head. Well Fukui's no longer at the head any more.

MM: What happens if Honda pulls out all six bikes?

PC: Mmm exactly. The other point is that WCM, Team Roberts, were racing teams. We were never going to pull out while there was half a chance of being alive. We were never going to decide to pull out because if we pull out we don't exist any more. Honda are manufacturers first and racers second; they can stop any time, it's not their core business is it? So when you lose the WCMs and the Team Roberts and so forth, you lose any vestige of stability.

MM: I suppose it would make racing cheaper if Honda were to pull out, because they wouldn't need to get a big win. Given half a chance again, you'd like to be back racing?

PC: Yes we would, but as I say you do lose ground and to start to keep going is a lot easier than stopping and starting.

MM: Vito Ippolito has said that we need another production racing motorcycle, like the old TZ 750, 350s, 500s. Do you think that you could get the Japanese to sell the motorcycles instead of leasing them?

PC: As I said, they don't like losing control of the technology.

MM: Did you have this problem in the 500s?

PC: Well, they were all leased. The ROC Yamahas weren't, we owned those. And there was a time, if we go back to that era, when the Japanese saw it as their responsibility to keep the class going: Suzuki produced the RG500, Yamaha produced the TZ500, Honda then produced the 3 cylinders and the twins, and Yamaha then sold the 500 engines to Harris and to ROC.

But that all changed when they went into MotoGP, they seemed at that point to decide it was no longer their responsibility to look after the premier class. Because if you look back to the RG period or whatever and take it through the TZ and the triples and the twins, that was a long time wasn't it? That was twenty years in which they really did quite seriously feel it was their responsibility to provide the machinery. Why that has fundamentally changed I don't know, but it certainly has.

MM: Perhaps because the two strokes were extremely well developed, there was little development left, whereas certainly with the 800s, there's new technology in every year, which is also why the lap times are dropping drastically every year.

PC: And you know it's very difficult to legislate against expense. I mean as I think we were saying the other day, the first thing that happens is it's expensive to build a new engine to comply and then it's even more expensive to work around the regulations, so that the simpler the regulations the cheaper it basically is.

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If I understand Mr. Clifford correctly he suggest that reducing gears wouldn't change the motor design and make things cheaper.

I don't believe this. If I'm the technical director of a MotoGP team and I'm getting a new regulation for the coming season with 5 instead of 6 gears I'll start designing a new engine that performs best with 5 gears.

I don't think an engine optimized for 6 gears will look the same as an engine optimized for 5 or 4 gears.

To me a spec engine with enough power ( 990 ccm or more ) including a spec motor electronic/software package (no traction control) that 1 supplier produces and sells at self cost price appears as the cheapest option.
What's left to the team to develop is chasis, the exhaust and the fairing.
Moto2 seams to show the way...

I'm not so sure that the Moto2 method will save the day and bring the best racing. It's a good test model though. And that's worth the effort in itself.

The idea of reducing gears is to force a broadening of the power band to span the gears best. This will mean making engines that don't rev to the moon and will keep stresses on parts down to make them last longer. It wouldn't be the race for the most power (revs) you can tame with electronics, but a race to make the most power you can use, tamed with a limited system of round levers. The engine lasts longer and is regulated by the free services of geometry. The increase in costs would be the engineering of really quick change gearboxes!

To get more power in the lower revs of an engine one recipe is to increase stroke. More stroke results in higher piston velocity (at the same rev number) which means less max revs.

BUT: When piston velocity (friction), valve acceleration/deceleration and speed of sound for the intake are the 3 main factors that limit the upper rev number then the limit due piston velocity would simply kick in earlier.
And would that stop Honda, Yamaha or Ducati from pouring money in friction reduction research to increase revs again?

Yamaha said their main effort in engine development the last 2 years went into the reduction of friction.

The 990s lofted the front wheel through the first 4 gears, the loss of 1 gear would probably not have sent the engineers in search of more torque. What it might have done though, is prevent the engineers from sacrificing low end in the pursuit of peak power.

How much would it have cost to test the 5 gear rule? How much did it cost to reduce capacity to 800cc?

I remember when I first read of Peter Clifford's idea of using only 4 gears in the gearbox as a way to reduce MotoGP speeds, years back in an old issue of Roadracing World. It really is amazing that the idea was not taken more seriously by the powers that be in MotoGP back then. Obviously other factors were likely involved with the decision to instead reduce engine capacity and go the 800cc route.

Ooooooh...and by the way, thank you very much for the incredible interviews Krop! Very, very insightful and interesting... :-)

I'm pretty sure the quest to open and close the valves better is to be able to rev higher like the mechanically controlled desmos.

If a broader power band is created by simply increasing the stroke, the problems would be easy to solve.

After Kato's death when all of the teams were trying to find ways to slow things down, I think PC was saying that reducing the number of gears would have been preferable from a cost standpoint to reducing fuel capacity and reducing displacement.

The reasoning seems straight forward. If the bikes have fewer gears, they need a wider powerband which usually requires a reduction in peak power. On the surface of things, it appears as though the manufacturers would invest in expensive valve systems and they would continuing tuning the engines until they required a rebuild after every session. However, the people within the sport probably knew that more torque and more low end power would have done nothing but loft the front wheel. If that was the case, then the engines would have received very minor development and the bikes would have been slower b/c of the lost gear.

Burgess has said he was also an advocate of exploring the impact of 5 gears before making radical formula changes.

LOL... the one engine rule would last until Rossi blew an engine. If it happened during Saturday morning practice the rule would be gone before afternoon qualifying.

You're probably right. Rossi himself pointed out (IMHO correctly) recently that a rider gets in trouble fast with a limited set of engines by just having a harmless slide into the gravel pit. If stones got into the engine and ruined parts of it then he can write off this engine.
With my suggested 1 engine/year rule things would get even more dramatic.

But the point of why I suggested it, the intention, is to
1.) have incentive to develop high performance engines
2.) point development direction towards street bike usability. What good is Honda MotoGP engine for me as an end user when this engine gets disassembled every 300 km?

So yes, you're right. As simple as I wrote it's not usable. But I'd like to see rule changes that make MotoGP cheaper and the technology better suitable to street bikes.

Didn't you ever think: Damn, I'd really like to buy a bike like the Yamaha M1 (but with a motor that lasts at least 50.000 km)?

All this talk of the gradual destruction of MotoGP and of golden times once had, makes me wish I got into this sport ten years earlier!
How about this for cost cutting; both riders on all teams buddy up and start racing with side cars? I think Rossi and Lorenzo working together would be a sight to behold!

PC the TwoStroke Institute salutes you :-)
The banning of the WCM was up there with Garry 'Nickers' Nixon's penalty in Venezuela that cost him the F750 championship as the FIM's blackest day.
I have long argued less gears is such a cheap option and the simple fact is nobody will have the 'box right for the whole track, no matter the number of options for each gear. If the team has 20 gearboxes in a row that will still be cheaper than the Marvel 4 and an army of Bill Gates types to program them.
Yes and why hasn't there been a TZ/RS/RG type privateer bike? When a national level superbike laps faster than 1 or 2 MotoGP bike at PI shows it can be done.
Yes ttom that rule would last that long.:-)

This new format of both 1000cc prototypes AND 1000cc production based engines, is a great prospect . MotoGP fans love rivalries, rider AND technical . The MotoGP fan is one who looks up technical specs of engine and chassis. Rider techniques, fastest lines of sliders vs leaners diligently comparing most every aspect of the sport. Then go further to compare the MotoGP bikes and riders to there rival series of WSB. I surely hope the FIM can swallow there ego and let this new format come to fruition .

I think everyone is behind the change (including the MSMA), but people are hesitant to get their hopes up b/c of what happened in Moto2. The GPC will have a lot of details to get ironed out over the next year and we can only hope the 1000cc proposal gets better with time.

"...I think Chris did the first practice or whatever in the wet and was quite quick on it..."

Who is this "Chris?" There was no mention of him in the first interview that I could find.

Chris Burns. He was one of WCM's first riders on the four-stroke machines. I think he had a pretty good season in the BSB series the previous year, so WCM signed him (relatively cheap, I assume) after they lost McCoy and Hopkins.

Pete Benson Nicky Haydens old crew cheif said that the V5 990cc engine was good for 2000km between rebuilds of the top end and a half season on the crank, which they think will do a whole seaon. Thats cheap racing from honda.

Catchy title huh lol. ( David Emmett your more than welcome to use ) On the other side of the coin . With the pulic eger for the new displacement class and mixing of prototypes, production engines worked to the hilt and full grids once again . Attendance and television rating will rise increasing revenue . Lees cost, more profit . this is a win win situation for all concerned . i just hope the grand prix Comission are big enough people to stand up and admit they made a mistake. it wasnt done with malice so i dont see any shame in the fact .

Wasnt reducing the number of allowed gears exactly what happened when the small capacity bikes were getting too expensive back in the day - some of those two strokes had a load of gears.

Also it seems to me that the fundamental problem, and what PC hints at in his answers is, the ceding of power and rule making to the major motorcycle manufacturers. We dont need them, we need WCM and Team Roberts and a bunch more racing teams - whose business is racing.

By giving the factoris control the sport has no real governence, the economics are broken and it's impossible for a racing team to be genuine business that surives let alone competes. Tobacco money masked this for a while.

As things stand, we have a whole bunch of teams just surviving, hanging on by hook or by crook, fuelled by the love of the sport. These people keep grand-prix alive and are in effect subsidizing the shop window for the manufacturers -not the otherway around as it is sometimes suggested.

Deeply frustrating. The sport would be all the better if it were about racing teams not motorcycle manufacturers.

Excellent! Very well said... :-) I agree...the amount of control the manufacturers have in the series is indeed a major issue, especially the amount of power Honda in particular appears to wield.

I agree but the manufacturers are not the problem. The manufacturers are beneficial for a prototype series, and the more technically sophisticated the manufacturing firms, the more intense the competition.

As you've said yourself, the economic model is the travesty. I know it wouldn't be easy, but technically the FIM/Dorna could write economic rules that limit team budgets to the sum of commercial rights receipts and sponsorship money. The series would no longer leach on the R&D budgets of the Japanese conglomerates. Maybe this could pave the way for an engine leasing rule that would increase the factory team budgets.

Economic rules or a budget cap would be far, far more difficult and expensive - by several orders of magnitude - to enforce than technical rules. It would require a sizable team of forensic accountants to have full access to the accounts of every factory taking part in the series, as it is way too easy to hide costs in other departments - materials research goes on the R&D budget, the hospitality goes on the marketing budget, shipping goes on the overall logistics budget, etc. The MSMA would never, ever agree to having accountants going through their books with a fine toothcomb. I am very sympathetic to a budget cap, as it is definitely the fairest way of focusing on clever innovation rather than brute force engineering and throwing money and engineers at a problem to find a solution.

And the MSMA is not the innocent party you believe. It is in the interests of the factories to keep costs high, as it restricts the ability of newcomers to enter the series, reducing competition. As participating in MotoGP is to a large degree a marketing exercise, reducing competition by any means necessary - including pricing the competition out of the series - is entirely justified.

I agree wholeheartedly that restricted spending rules would require a massive expansion of the FIM's powers, and the FIM would likely hesitate to add an array of new financial responsibilities. I was trying to set the economic crisis apart from the MSMA's other underhanded dealings by suggesting the economic problems could be solved with economic legislation, even if such legislation is unlikely.

I don't think the MSMA are innocent. I know they use FIM racing as an advertising country club, and they have no interest in letting anyone else join. While I'm keen to rant against the MSMA as often as possible, I'm also aware that prototype racing requires technically sophisticated manufacturers.

I think a lot of the blame lies with the FIM and the commercial rights holders as well. As much as I dislike the MSMA, there is nothing stopping the FIM and Dorna from creating new development classes for engine manufacturers. Engine manufacturers (including engineering boutiques like Ilmor) could be developing new engines in classes like Moto2. The feeder classes should feature new technical rules like a horsepower cap, displacement cap, engine homologation rules, and new electronic enforcement via spec ECU and data recorders (F1 style). In addition, Dorna should secure a cheap engine like the 600cc Honda lump for private teams who can't work with prototype engine manufacturers. The cheap customer engine will also ensure the continuity of the sport. The FIM could write a rule that prohibits prototype participation in MotoGP and the feeder classes simultaneously; the small manufacturers would graduate to MotoGP for a piece of the commercial rights money.

Unfortunately, the FIM and Dorna know creating the new classes would be time consuming, and it might take decades for the small companies to develop the requisite technologies to be competitive in GP. Instead of doing the difficult work, FIM & Dorna are always trying to find short cuts to get the big production manufacturers into the sport. Inevitably they lose interest, they withdraw from competition, and then the vicious cycle starts all over again.

I truly believe that we are on the verge of a major power shift inside motorcycle racing. The switch to Moto2 and the introduction of new rules is the just the start of a new approach, and it wouldn't surprise me if it were to go along the lines you have suggested. By putting in place rules for allowing a cheap engine option (the CBR unit in Moto2, and production-based engines in MotoGP), teams can afford to go racing for a relatively small amount of money. This places a natural cap on spending, as it won't cost much to beat the privateers, and the factory competition will be limited. Rule changes - such as open engine competition in Moto2 - will become possible, with some time to evaluate how the current ruleset is working. Things will start to change over the next 10 years or so, but it will need a little time to work itself out.

I will defer to your inside knowledge and your optimistic outlook. I too sense the winds of change. I was very optimistic about the initial proposals for Moto2, but the current rules have made me somewhat pessimistic about the potential of future rules amendments. However, you did point out that the future of Moto2 could include prototype engines and the current Honda customer engine. I have reason to be optimistic again. Cheers.