The FIM today finally announced at least a preliminary version of the rules for the new four-stroke class to replace the 250s. Many of the proposals had already leaked out, and even been discussed publicly, but now that the basic proposals are out in full, a much clearer picture of the goal of the regulations is starting to appear.
The main points of the regulations, which are due to come into force in 2011, can be summarized as follows:
All engines must be conventionally aspirated (e.g. no turbos) four-stroke engines with a maximum capacity of 600cc, using a maximum of 4 cylinders. The following maximum engine speeds will be enforced using an electronics package to be supplied by the organizers:
|4 cylinder engines||16,000 RPM|
|3 cylinder engines||15,500 RPM|
|2 cylinder engines||15,000 RPM|
Valves will be as conventional as possible, with no pneumatic valves or variable valve timing or lift allowed. Valves must be of an iron-based alloy, ruling out the more expensive alloys.
Fuel Injection and Exhaust Systems:
Fuel systems are to be as conventional as possible, too. Throttle bodies must be circular, with a single control or butterfly valve. Variable inlet tract systems are banned, as are variable length exhaust systems and direct injection. Throttle body internal diameters will be limited as follows:
|4 cylinder engines||42 mm|
|3 cylinder engines||48 mm|
|2 cylinder engines||59 mm|
Fuel injection pressures will be limited to 5 Bar, and spec fuel injectors will be used. The engines must use conventional, commercially available unleaded fuel.
The maximum noise levels will be raised to 120 dB/A.
Gearboxes will be limited to 6 speeds, as they are currently. However, the gear ratios will be considerably limited. At the start of the season, teams will have to nominate all gear ratios they will be using that year. For each speed, 3 possible ratios will be permitted, as well as 2 different primary drive ratios.
One rule on transmissions is worthy of note:
Electro-mechanical or electro-hydraulic clutch actuating systems are not permitted.
It is not entirely clear what the purpose of this is, though the main suspect must be electrically or hydraulically assisted slipper clutches.
The organizer (in this instance, Dorna) will provide a standardized or spec ECU, which will cost a maximum of JPY 75,000 (about EUR 650, or USD 820). The spec ECU will include fuel injection, ignition, datalogging, timing transponder and rev limit functions. All other electronic systems for datalogging or electronic control will be banned.
Chassis, Running Gear and Materials:
All major chassis components (frame, tank, seat, fairing, swing arm) must be prototypes. The rules explicitly forbid use of items from road-going machinery, to avoid a conflict of interest with Infront Motor Sports (formerly FG Sport) and the World Supersport series.
Carbon brakes are banned, as are carbon wheels. Rim widths and diameters are limited front and rear, to 4 inches (front) and 6-6.25 inches (rear) with a diameter of 17 inches. Tire quantities will be restricted.
"Non-conventional" materials and manufacturing processes will be banned, to try and keep costs down. The FIM will issue a list of banned materials, which it will presumably have to keep updating regularly. Iron-based or aluminium alloys must be used for several key components, including crankshafts, camshafts, con rods, valve springs, pistons, crankcases and cylinder heads. No definition is given of an "iron-based" alloy.
Teams will only be allowed one bike and two engines per race weekend. There will be a claiming rule, allowing any team to purchase the engine of any other team, minus throttle bodies, exhaust system and ECU, for EUR 20,000, or USD 26,500. Any claim must be made within 1 hour of the race finishing. Refusing to sell the engine will mean automatic disqualification.
So What Does It All Mean?
It's clear that the FIM has gone out of its way to ensure that there are no clashes between the current World Supersport regulations and the new Moto2 class. The rules specifically forbid the use of production chassis components. However, it remains to be seen whether this will be sufficient for the Flammini brothers, as it would still be possible to drop, say, a Honda CBR600RR engine into a custom chassis and enter it into the series.
The rules also highlight Dorna's thinking on MotoGP. The introduction of a spec ECU is an obvious testbed for a similar move in MotoGP, and with Dorna controlling the specifications for such a system, they will be attempting to exclude traction control.
Unfortunately, providing a spec ECU makes the job of the data technician that much more difficult, and to get the maximum advantage out of the situation, teams will need to employ a lot of highly-skilled and expensive programmers. Though aimed at reducing costs, this one measure will turn out to be the one which increases costs the most.
The claiming rule looks like being the rule least likely to succeed. If Team A can buy Team B's engine at the end of the race, and Team B believe their biggest advantage is in their engine, then it is in Team B's interests to ensure that the engine doesn't make it back into the pits in one piece. Ideally, the engine would destroy itself as the rider entered pit lane at the end of the race.
Obviously, you couldn't afford to do this as a privateer team, as the costs involved would be too high. But if you are a major manufacturer, sacrificing an engine each race weekend is an affordable way of discouraging the privateer teams (who would have the most to gain from the claiming rule) from actually trying to apply the claiming rule.
The point of the rules is clear: To attempt to reduce the cost of racing, and get more teams into the class. With a factory-spec Aprilia 250 costing around $1 million to lease for a season, that's a laudable and necessary aim. The question is, will they succeed? Issuing a list of banned materials (excluded because of the cost of manufacturing) seems like a great place to start, but like the list of banned performance-enhancing substances in professional sports, it's hard to keep up. Whether or not the bikes get cheaper to produce, the regulations are certainly going to be a lot more expensive to enforce.
The final question is whether the 250 class will be capable of capturing the imagination of the fans. This is a much more difficult question, and one that has no clear answer. The current 250cc two-stroke racing machines, though arguably the purest race bikes on the planet, no longer have any bearing on the types of bikes that most MotoGP fans or other motorcyclists ride. The two stroke-engine is slowly dying out, mostly as a result of its reputation as extremely polluting, a reputation it does not necessarily deserve. Replacing two-stroke engines with four strokes will certainly bring the bikes being raced much closer to the type of machinery the fans rode up on. This is also the reason for selecting 600cc as the maximum engine capacity, the 600cc sportsbike is a huge sales hit for just about every manufacturer who makes such a machine.
The problem is that the rules as they stand will leave the bikes racing around the track looking a lot less sophisticated than the machines the fans rode up on. Oval inlet tracts, variable inlet length, variable exhaust length, all these things are becoming commonplace on 600cc road bikes. Traction control is not far behind. And as the 600cc market becomes more cutthroat, and the World Supersport series becomes more important as a marketing tool, the evolution of the 600cc bikes is only going to get faster, with the 600cc supersport machine on the dealer's floor quickly outstripping the Moto2 bike in terms of sophistication.
The real test will come when the racing starts. If the World Supersport bikes keep getting better, then they are likely to be, and to remain, quicker than the new Moto2 class bikes at every circuit both bikes go to. The question is, will that matter to the fans?