The grids for MotoGP have been falling steadily since the start of the four-stroke era, but that process has accelerated since the introduction of the 800cc bikes. Every year, the grids have become thinner, any upward trend proving tragically all too temporary, as we saw with the withdrawal of Kawasaki at the start of the season, and later Sete Gibernau's Grupo Francisco Hernando team pulling out.
The reasons for this are simple and well-known: MotoGP has simply become too expensive. The cost of running a satellite team with a pair of bikes is around the 7-8 million euro mark, and even then, you first have to persuade a manufacturer to supply the bikes, something the manufacturers have not proven to be keen to do. A range of plans have been drawn up to counter the problems, and proposals are on the table to drastically cut costs, including a proposal from the manufacturers to lease just engines at a much more affordable price than the 1.7 million euros that a pair of bikes currently costs.
But the MotoGP grid could be set to expand in 2010, even without additional help from the manufacturers. The French website Moto Caradisiac is reporting that the former World Supersport team Gil Motor Sport will be fielding two riders in MotoGP next year, together with technical support from Eskil Suter's Suter Racing Technology company. The two rider team, to be run by Gil Motor Sport's boss and French eccentric Jean Christophe Ponsson, will be using bikes produced by Suter and based on Ilmor's jewel-like X3 power plant.
The news is confirmed by a statement on the Gil Motor Sport website, which reads:
GMS confirms the several meetings with Suter Racing Technology in order to evaluate the feasibility for Gil Motor Sport to enter the 2010 Moto GP championship with two riders, on the Suter Racing Technology chassis and engine motorbike.
The agreements in principle from these meetings determinate the responsibilities of each one. Gil Motor Sport will take in charge of the general management and the logistic. Suter Racing Technology will take charge of the technical part.
Gil Motor Sport informed the Dorna on the 14th July 2009 about this project and that Gil Motor Sport already held a part of the budget required. Gil Motor Sport also informed the Dorna that the deadline to finalize the 2010 season budget is the 30th September 2009.
The plan, according to Moto Caradisiac, is for Ponsson and Gil Motor Sport to run the team, while Suter will provide the bikes to race. Ponsson has a budget of four million euros to run the team, or roughly half of what an ordinary satellite team would cost to run, and an amount which Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta could easily match, if he felt it was in the interest of the sport to expand the grid. With the Hayate team almost certain to leave the paddock at the end of this season, and severe doubts hanging over the future of Scot's MotoGP effort, there is a very good chance indeed that Ezpeleta will do whatever he can to help the GMS effort.
But there is good reason for scepticism as well. MotoGPMatters.com has made enquiries with Ilmor about the ability of Suter Racing Technology to run the former Ilmor bikes, for which Suter designed the chassis and Ilmor's brilliant senior designer Ian Watson created the engine. When contacted, Ilmor Managing Director Steve Miller told MotoGPMatters.com that they had not been approached by Suter or Gil Motor Sports about using the engine.
So first, there's the question of whether Suter even has the right to supply the bikes. Ilmor has made no secret of their desire to return to racing, but the sums that they felt would be needed to get back to racing outstrip what Ponsson and Gil Motor Sport has to spend on the project.
Next, there's the question of competitiveness. When it raced, the Ilmor's engine produced plenty of power, but the bike's lap times were over a couple of seconds off the pace. Things have moved on a great deal since 2007, and with little development having been done, the X3 will be even further off the pace than when they were racing. What's more, the previous projects that Eskil Suter has been involved in recently - Kawasaki's early MotoGP bikes, the MuZ 500cc GP bike, and the Foggy Petronas FP3 Superbike - have found it hard to be competitive, often managing to run mid-pack at best, dead last at worst.
Finally, there's the feasibility of the project as a whole. The team statement cites September 30th, 2009 as the deadline by which the team budget and plans will be finalized. That deadline, just two months away, lives little room for error, and the team will have to work flat out to find riders, sponsorship and, indeed, bikes, if it is to come to fruition. This is a fascinating development, if it should come off. But you would be well advised not to hold your breath.