MotoGrandPrix.it and Motorfreaks.nl are reporting that Ilmor will not be present at the next two MotoGP pre-season tests, to be held at Sepang in Malaysia and Phillip Island in Australia. The reasons that Ilmor give are that testing so far away from their base at Northampton in England makes it very difficult to make changes to the bikes when they are so far from home. Ilmor have chosen instead to spend more time developing the engine on the dyno and test bench, to try and improve the reliability of the bike. The electrical failure at Estoril and the problems during testing have highlighted severe shortcomings in this area, rather unsurprisingly for a new motorcycle. However, Ilmor may also spend their time trying to get more power out of the X3's V4 powerplant, as the bike has shown a rather alarming deficit at its outings so far.
Ilmor's withdrawal from the tests also highlights one of the biggest problems facing MotoGP teams: Cold hard cash. The arrival of the four strokes also heralded the necessity of big budgets for engine development, four strokes being inherently more complex than the old 500 cc two stroke engines. The cost of leasing a 500 cc two stroke was around the $1 million mark, where the cost of leasing a Honda RC211V was reputed to be over three times as much, a figure which surely reflects the increased cost factor of engine development. Add to this the cost of shipping a team of engineers, riders, several motorcycles and a veritable treasure trove of racing motorcycle parts halfway around the globe to several venues for extensive testing, at events with little media exposure, and you start to get an idea of the very large sums of money involved in modern MotoGP racing. Despite MotoGP's growing popularity, even outside of its core markets in Southern Europe, and despite some of the best MotoGP racing for years, indeed, some of the most exciting motorsports racing on the planet in any category, it has proved hard to attract sponsors. The big tobacco firms are leaving, and their places are being filled very slowly. It is entirely possible that the team of Valentino Rossi, one of the highest profile figures in professional sports, may be left without a title sponsor next year (though he still has a number of personal sponsors).
If it's difficult for Yamaha and Valentino Rossi to find sponsorship, it is proving nigh on impossible for Ilmor. Rumors abound that one reason for Ilmor pulling out the Sepang and Phillip Island tests is avoiding the embarrassment of having engines blow up in front of potential sponsors. Ilmor will be hoping to iron out most of the engine and electronics bugs before taking part in the Qatar and Jerez IRTA tests. Let us hope that the work they do over the winter break will move them closer to a situation where finding a sponsor becomes a little easier.