Almost since the birth of the Motorcycle Grand Prix championship back in 1949, the 250cc class has operated as the feeder class for the MotoGP championship, especially once the 350cc class was scrapped in 1983. Just about all of the great names of motorcycle racing have come up through the class, from John Surtees, to Mike Hailwood, and from Giacomo Agostini to Valentino Rossi, and far, far too many names to mention in between. This year's crop of rookies coming from 250s underline the quality of riders coming up from the smaller bikes.
But the class has a problem: based on 250cc two-stroke twins, an engine size and format which has fallen out of favor with the motorcycling public, there are few manufacturers interested in building machinery for the series. As a result, the current 250 field consists almost entirely of bikes from just two factories: Aprilia and KTM, with a token presence from Honda, and even a stray Yamaha. And so pressure has been growing to change the format of the class, to make the bikes being raced more relevant to motorcycling's biggest markets.
A veritable forest fire of speculation has raged around what will replace the class, with much infighting in the MSMA, the organization of motorcycle manufacturers, as to the technical regulations to replace the 250s. That two-strokes will be replaced by four-strokes is a given, but the question remains as to what kind of four-strokes. Initial rumors suggested that a 450 twin would be the new engine format, but as the behind-the-scenes discussions went on, some form of 600cc engine with severe technical restrictions became the front runner.
That speculation can now be laid to rest. According to Motorcycle News, Carmelo Ezpeleta of Dorna will present the proposed new regulations on Saturday, at the French Grand Prix. The 600cc format seems to be the favored format, but the exact details will have to wait until Saturday afternoon. Ezpeleta will make his proposal to the Grand Prix Commission, consisting of Dorna (as the organizers of the series), the FIM (as the sanctioning body), the IRTA, representing the teams, and the MSMA representing the manufacturers.
The proposals can still be vetoed by the MSMA, but that would require a unanimous vote by all of the manufacturers. With Aprilia and KTM against the idea, but most of the Japanese factories in favor, it seems certain that the rules will be adopted.
Internal acceptance is one thing, however. If Dorna does switch to 600cc bikes, they could run into problems with FGSport, the body which organizes the World Superbike series. FGSport is believed to have agreements in place with the FIM which provide a monopoly on production-based motorcycle racing, and any switch to 600cc by MotoGP could cause potential problems, as 600cc is perhaps the most popular size for road-going sportsbikes. If Dorna is to avoid problems, they will have to find a way around that particular minefield. Whether they have succeeded will be made clear at 12:15pm on Saturday afternoon, at Le Mans in France.