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 MotoMatters.com 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.