The Moto2 category, brought in to replace the 250 class, is proving to be a big hit with the people it was aimed at: The teams. The series organizer is already predicting that the 34 available places will be over-subscribed, meaning that the grid could feature no 250s at all in 2010.
Interest is not just coming from the current crop of 250 teams though. The Tech 3 team, currently active in MotoGP with Colin Edwards and James Toseland, has already expressed an interest, and in an interview with the French motorcycle magazine MotoRevue, the team manager Herve Poncharal explains just why.
"<Satellite> MotoGP teams like us have little more to do at a weekend than just adjust the bike and fiddle with the settings. We have nothing more to do, it's stipulated in our contracts that we are not allowed to make any modifications to the machines which have been placed at our disposal. If you have a highly-skilled team, it's hard to hang on to them if you don't have enough of a challenge for your boys for the entire year." Poncharal's problems are caused by the contracts by which the satellite teams are supplied bikes. The bikes are only leased to the team, and as a consequence, there's only a very limited number of options the teams have for setting the bikes up.
Poncharal sees Moto2 as a chance to hang on to the young engineers he is bringing into motorcycle racing, as well as a chance for fellow team founder Guy Coulon to get back to designing and building chassis, a skill he is currently unable to practice. "Moto2 will allow us to get back to what we used to do during the winter and the Grand Prix. We have young engineers who do fewer races than their counterparts in Supersport. If we can give them more work to do, they are more likely to want to stay with us."
The new category will also make it easier to find sponsorship. "Right now, a satellite squad can't sell their sponsors the possibility of a world title," Poncharal said. But Moto2 offered an opportunity for breeding talent. "We can take young riders from 125 or national championships, train them in Moto2 and then get them ready for MotoGP. I know that the people in charge at Monster are very interested in doing this."
The Moto2 class has so many advantages for Tech 3 that it could lead them to focus there efforts in the new class, and move away from MotoGP. "We are all being forced to reconsider our activities," Poncharal told MotoRevue.
Poncharal and Coulon's enthusiasm for the new class underlines a fundamental weakness with MotoGP. For the past 10 years or so, the factories have been tightening their grip on the machines they lease to private teams, allowing the teams to do less and less to the bikes. This discourages the teams in two different ways. Firstly, as Poncharal points out, it takes a lot of the fun out of being involved in MotoGP for the mechanics and engineers, as their creativity and problem-solving skills are limited more and more. The series is a lot less attractive to bright young engineers when the only challenge they face is working their way around the limitations imposed by the factory.
Secondly, of course, the restrictions prevent the teams from being competitive. While the factory continues to develop the factory bikes, improving them throughout the season, the satellite teams are left to wait for upgrades from the factory, and left without a means of taking their fate into their own hands, and testing their own modifications. If there is one thing the manufacturers fear more than being beaten by other factories, it's being beaten by their satellite teams. Restricting the flow of parts to the satellite teams and the amount of development they can do is one way of ensuring the factory teams don't get shown up.
If Tech 3 do pull out of MotoGP, there are plenty of people waiting to take their place. Not least the Aspar team, who have been engaged in discussions for over a year now about entering into the premier class. Aspar boss Jorge Martinez has hinted that Yamaha will be providing him with bikes in MotoGP next year, and while the current assumption has been that Martinez would be getting two extra machines to be provided by Yamaha - probably as a result of the one-bike-per-rider rule currently being suggested - it is entirely conceivable that instead, Aspar could find himself taking Tech 3's bikes. This would allow Aspar to bring Alvaro Bautista to MotoGP, something that Jorge Martinez has been working towards for some considerable time.
So far, though, Tech 3 are still in MotoGP. But with the Moto2 class such an attractive prospect, and so much more affordable than MotoGP, the new class could end up being as much of a threat to the premier class as World Superbikes.