Single Tire Rule To Be Announced At Motegi?

A year on, and the more that things change, the more they stay the same, at least in MotoGP land. Paolo Scalera is reporting that once again, Dorna are threatening to impose a single tire rule at a meeting to be held at the Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi.

The problem, according to Dorna, is one of safety. The competition between Bridgestone and Michelin has reached such a peak that corner speeds are increasing almost month by month, and with them, the speeds at which riders are crashing. The only way to reduce corner speeds, or at least stop them from increasing, is to put an end to the competition between tire brands.

The  general assumption is that any single tire contract will be awarded to Bridgestone, but Ezpeleta denied this. The contract to supply tires for the series will be opened up for general bidding, with the main stipulation being that all teams will have access to the same tires, and tires will be supplied to the teams for free.

But much to the dismay of Bridgestone's current crop of riders, Bridgestone have repeatedly stated that they have no real interest in being the single supplier for MotoGP. The Japanese tire maker see little advantage in producing tires in a series with no competition, and one which would cost them significantly more money without aiding tire development. Michelin would be the obvious candidate for the role, having currently been forced out of most other motorcycle racing series by the imposition of a single tire rule there.

What's more, the motorcycle manufacturers are opposed to the switch as well. For them, MotoGP is a technology showcase, a chance to demonstrate their engineering prowess, and hopefully, superiority. For the promotor, Dorna, MotoGP is an entertainment product, a way of generating income by stimulating public interest. In short, the manufacturers want the races decided by tens of seconds, while Dorna wants the races decided by tenths of seconds.

Worse could be to come for the manufacturers, as Dorna is also rumored to be ready to submit proposals to ban the use of electronic suspension, and limit the development of electronics used in engine management systems. Since much of modern engine development for street use revolves around electronics, this would render MotoGP even less useful as a technology showcase, and is likely to hasten the day that the World Superbike machines - essentially hopped-up street bikes - start outperforming the pure racing prototypes which the FIM's MotoGP regulations demand.

Any moves to adopt a single tire and to limit electronics would be likely to find favor among a sizable chunk of MotoGP's fan base. But whether these moves would help achieve the closer and fairer racing the fans desire is questionable.

In the case of a single tire rule, we need only look at a leading Superbike series. In theory, everyone is eligible to receive the same tires, but according to anonymous sources in the series' paddock - anonymous, because of the reputed 6 figure fine hanging over the heads of anyone making negative remarks about the spec tires - sometimes, tires returned after a race unused are not destroyed, but taken out of the tire warmers, thrown in the back of the truck, and reused again at the next race meeting, much of their grip gone from being heat-cycled. According to those same anonymous sources, these essentially junk tires somehow never end up fitted to the teams which win week in, week out, but turn up surprisingly often on second-tier bikes.

Of course, this is all just an anonymous rumor, with no one willing to break cover and make these claims openly, and so their veracity has to open to question at the very least. But in the light of a series which costs the tire maker money, and is sure to see the podium all wearing caps bearing the name of the tire maker, regardless of the way tires are distributed, the pressure to cut costs must be considerable. And reusing tires is potentially a way of saving money.

As for controlling electronics, the lessons of the Yoshimura Suzuki team in the AMA series are clear. The AMA tried to outlaw electronic traction control, and did so by banning front wheel speed sensors. While other teams struggled to find a way round the rules, Yoshi ran away with the series using cleverly designed electronics from Bazzaz performance, which replaced the measurement of speed sensors with well-crafted algorithms. The outcome was the same: traction control in clear violation of the spirit of the rules, while passing every single inspection they were subject to, as  they operated clearly within the confines of the letter of the rules.

Anyone who has spent any time working with programmable electronic systems, and especially with the people who program them, has learnt one lesson very early on. Any system is capable of being hacked, of being twisted and bent in such a way as to do the programmer's bidding, rather than the bidding of the person who designed it. Any attempt by an organization whose primary task is organizing and promoting motorcycle races to impose rules which cannot be bent, at the very least, is doomed to failure. After all, if Microsoft, IBM, NASA, and every single banking organization around the world are incapable of building a system which can't be hacked, what makes you think that Dorna will do any better?

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Comments

1) Who are all these manufactures that are against a spec tire?!? It's not HRC, as we've seen recently. That leaves only Yamaha... which is unlikely due to Rossi's success. In fact, everything I've seen or read says the exact opposite. Manufactures WANT a spec tire!!! Colin Edwards said in an Moto GP interview how he feels for the manufacters who are "complaining about spending 50 million and not having the opportunity to be competitive." --- That doesn't sound like the manufactures like the tire competition. 

2) Did you know that Bridgestone supplies F1 with tires? And, yes, F1 has a spec tire. How does this fit into your: "Bridgestone sees little advantage in producing tires in a series with no competition". It doesn't.

I don't know where you've gathered these facts, but I apologize if I don't trust them. And while I'm at it, c'mon, get over it. Moto GP needs a spec tire. It's not the end of the world and it's certainly not the end of technology. People seem to defend the tire competition as if they work for one of the companies. I spend my money going to races and if I know my favorite rider has no chance of winning because some moron tire company I'm sorry, but I'm not interested in spending hundreds of dollars to attend that crap.

Total votes: 96

1) Takeo Fukui, the CEO of Honda, is on record as being against a spec tire. What we've seen recently from HRC is HRC giving in to demands from Repsol, the Spanish sponsor of Dani Pedrosa.

2) If Bridgestone already have Formula 1, why would they need another global series with a spec tire for their global marketing?

MotoGP only "needs" a spec tire if you regard the series as entertainment. Racing is about going faster than the next guy, using whatever advantage you can get. If your favorite rider can't get hold of the winning equipment, then you're in trouble. Fans of John Hopkins and Ant West are going through a very difficult time, as despite having the best tire, they're still at the back of the field. But that's racing. 

Total votes: 78

Re Fukui's role, Dennis Noyes wrote: "Several articles written by the Italian and Spanish media stated that the decision to continue with [Michelin] had been made by former HRC President and current President of Honda Motor Company Takeo Fukui, but SPEEDtv.com has learned from a Honda Motor Company spokesperson that the decision was not made by Fukui and that the quote published in Spain and attributed to Fukui to the effect that Honda would break with their long-time (25 year) Grand Prix partner on the basis of one bad season is incorrect because the Honda Motor Company president was not involved in the discussions and at no time spoke to the media about this."

So, supposedly Fukui wasn't involved, maybe it was Hamane, head of HRC, but whichever it was the HRC decision wasn't about a control tire, but about staying with Michelin. Saying HRC is against a control tire is jumping to conclusions (unless you have a link to this "on record" decision).

It's pretty much like the other 2 commenters said: Ducati and some of the Bridgestone riders are against a control tire because they've been enjoying a relative advantage for the last couple of years and they aren't eager to abandon it completely.

Something that's amusing about all these stories is how Pedrosa comes in for implicit (or explicit) criticism. Pre-2007, it was always the Evil H thwarting the will of the riders (Rossi, Biaggi, Gibernau, Hayden, etc). Now, because Pedrosa seems to rub some people the wrong way, the spin is that poor HRC is being forced to submit to a rider and his sponsor.

Total votes: 71

I don't have a link to an online source, but in the Spanish magazine Solo Moto issue #1684, dated September 16th 2008, there's a piece citing both HRC's managing director Kosuki Yasutake and Yamaha's Masao Furusawa as being opposed to having a single tire supplier. Furusawa is quoted as saying "for us, MotoGP is a laboratory for testing and developing our technology."

As for Pedrosa, I think that Puig and Repsol have expanded their influence inside HRC over the past few years, as HRC's engineering division has become increasingly leaderless. The Spanish contingent are promising to deliver a racer capable of winning multiple championships for Honda, and HRC are willing to accept their advice and direction. At least, for the moment. If Pedrosa doesn't win a title soon, his days at HRC could well be over. Ironically, that could be the making of Pedrosa, as once again, he would be forced to prove himself, a situation in which he excels.

Total votes: 89

Your misstating of Fukui's comments makes me a little suspicious of other quotes.

Furusawa's comment, "for us, MotoGP is a laboratory for testing and developing our technology" doesn't sound like it has anything to do with tires, and in the link I posted, Noyes mentions how wrong the Spanish and Italian press have been regarding Japanese factory comments on control tires.

My apologies if you're ultimately proven correct, but knowing your viewpoint regarding anything Ezpeleta does, I can't say I'm convinced the factories care one way or the other about a control tire, except out of self interest (i.e. existing Bridgestone customers). After all, if the famous feud between Rossi and HRC came down to credit for wins, why would HRC want there to be any doubt that their victories were due to their bike, and not the tires?

I agree that Pedrosa is under the gun: Hayden, whom Pedrosa seems to hold in contempt, won the WC in his 4th season at Repsol Honda. If Pedrosa want to end the debate about relative performance, he needs to win the WC in '09.

Total votes: 77

I'm surprised that you think I have a negative opinion of Carmelo Ezpeleta. Ezpeleta has been enormously successful in expanding the popularity of MotoGP, and turned it into a highly lucrative series, and as such, I have nothing but respect for his work.

Total votes: 76

MotoGP only "needs" a spec tire if you regard the series as entertainment. Racing is about going faster than the next guy, using whatever advantage you can get. If your favorite rider can't get hold of the winning equipment, then you're in trouble. Fans of John Hopkins and Ant West are going through a very difficult time, as despite having the best tire, they're still at the back of the field. But that's racing. 

If I regard the series as entertainment? So if fans stopped showing up, MotoGP would just keep right on racing? Not likely. Admit or not, MotoGP IS about entertainment. If no one watched it wouldn't exist. Technology is an aspect of the series that makes it great--but never at the expense of the series.

You're correct that inferior equipment will always hinder a rider. However, pointing this out doesn't lean the debate in favor of a tire competition. In fact, the tire competition hinders the bike manufacturers by creating a potentially un-level playing field.

Total votes: 91

Perhaps I should have said "if you regard the series primarily as entertainment."

I would argue that the entertainment is secondary. The racing is what is important, and then you try and find a way to make it pay, which is where the entertainment part comes in. You go racing to try and beat the other guy. You hope that fans will turn up, to provide the funds to payroll your program, but the main aim of racing is to win.

The problem with schemes to make racing more entertaining, or level the playing field somehow, is the question of where you stop your tinkering. You start off with simple rules, a limit on fuel and capacity. Then you limit tires which can be used. Then you limit electronics, throttle body diameters, bore and stroke dimensions, horsepower outputs, etc etc. It's a slippery slope, and one which can all too easily lead in the direction of NASCAR.

There always has to be a balance in the rules, finding a compromise between completely open rules, which are likely to favor the biggest spender, and a tightly controlled series, in which the machinery becomes nearly irrelevant. I would argue that as MotoGP is a prototype series, it should always resist regulation for as long as possible, and try to remain an open class. There are plenty of other more restrictive series, such as Superbike, Supersport, Superstock, and even one-make series such as the GSXR Cup.

MotoGP's distinctiveness is that it is the pinnacle, in terms of riders, bikes, and engineering. Unfortunately, that means that the racing can run the risk of being boring. That could pose a threat to the popularity of the series, but in my opinion, that's a risk worth taking.

 

Total votes: 90

1- the manufacturers who are against the tire rule are most likely the ones on the dominant tire- most prominently, ducati. it's been well written that honda did not want to throw away 30+ years of a partnership (including their time in wsbk with castrol honda and the old F1 series) because of one or 2 bad years. they were forced to do so by the powers that be inside the pedrosa camp.  

2- i don't understand how the f1 analogy relates. how does a company with no competition say that it's the best tire company when they can't prove it? let's face it, michelin dominated the market in moto gp for years, and now that bridgestone has come along and blasted then out of the water, how do you think the public feel about the quality of bridgestone tires?and if bridgestone has no competion, just how would they prove that they make a great tire? greatness is measure against worthy advesaries.

as an aside- did you happen to notice how wsbk (a pirelli spec tire series) did not want the ama superbike series racing on the same track as they were this year at utah? they demanded that the ama superbikes race on a different configuration at miller. why? pirelli did not want the humiliation of having the "local" ama dunlop laptimes being faster than a supposedly superior "world series".  how could dunlop, in a local series produce laptimes that might be quicker that wsbk spec bikes ridden by world class riders? the answer is: no tire competition for pirelli in the wsbk series driving technology forwards. 

Total votes: 88

I think it is slightly ironic that Bridgestone may not want to be the sole supplier in MotoGP after accepting that role in Formula One.  Michelin did not want to be the sole supplier in F1 for the exact same reasons mentioned here, so they did not even compete for the contract.  They may find the sole-supplier role more agreeable here in MotoGP, because they've already done it.  Bridgestone, on the other hand, may see a bad business case for being the lone supplier in both world-wide prototype series at the same time.

It bears pointing out that Bridgestone didn't exactly "...come along and blast [Michelin] out of the water..."  It took them several years, gradually improving and developing an advantage one racetrack at a time.  It's also way too soon to forget that they were not the dominant manufacturer until a series of drastic rules changes - tire allotments being one of them - took effect at the same time to begin the 2007 season.  If not for that one key component, much of this debate may not ever have happened.

If Dorna and the FIM really want to bring down speeds, and "improve" the competition, they could simply ban both Bridgestone and Michelin, bring on Dunlop and Pirelli as suppliers, and force the bikes to ride around with ballast on them in proportion to their arbitrarily determined horsepower advantage...  sound familiar?

Total votes: 69

it took bridgestone 4 years to be on par or even surpass michelin who have been the dominant force in the premier class since the early 90's  (and in wsbk as well) and 5 to wrest the title from michelin. while it's true that they needed the help of a tire rule that take the advantage that michelin had (close proximity to most of the racetracks allowed tire building and shipment overnight), but surely, can't michelin adapt after 2 years? more likely the problem lies internally, with the retirement of nicholas goubert, michelin's long standing director of competition.

the last wsbk title on a tire other than michelin (save for the single tire spec rule) was 1993, with an inspired scott russell.  before last season, the last premier gp title for another manufacturer beside michelin? i can't even remember- possibly 1992 with rainey aboard. so for a company to step in and do what they have done in a few years, (remember that they didn't have a major factory team on the tires until ducati in 2005) in my book, that's getting blasted :) 

 

Total votes: 92