Of the two new MotoGP projects currently being bandied around in the press, the candidate which looks most likely to actually make it onto the grid in the near future is surely the FB Corse machine. The bike - a custom-built chassis housing an 800cc three cylinder, based on the design for BMW's MotoGP bike by the Oral Engineering Group and discussed here a couple of weeks ago - actually exists and has been seen by journalists, and appears to be reaching fruition. Indeed, so far advanced is the project that the Italian website Motocorse.com spoke with one of the two men behind the project, Andrea Ferrari (the F of FB, the other being Sergio Bertocchi), who gave a summary of where the project stands and how close the team are to actually signing a rider and putting the bike onto the track.
According to Ferrari, the bike is now complete, after the team finished the chassis into which the Oral-designed in-line triple will be dropped, but now that it is ready to ride, the project faces its first hurdle. The obstacle to be overcome is the bike's semi-automatic transmission, which used a hydraulically-assisted gear change, allowing a rider to shift gears in around 20 milliseconds. All forms of assisted gear shifting were outlawed at a meeting of the Grand Prix Commission earlier this year, and so now the FB Corse team are working on a manual gear change, a problem which is not particularly complex, but time-consuming all the same.
When asked about the advantages and disadvantages of running a triple, Ferrari pointed to weight as the main advantage the bike has. Under FIM rules, triples may weigh 7.5 kg less than the four cylinder bikes currently on the grid, about a 5% weight saving. The downside, fairly obviously, is that it is harder to get the torque and horsepower from a triple that a four cylinder of the same capacity offers. This problem is made worse by the new engine regulations allowing the teams only 6 engines to last an entire season in 2010. Nonetheless Ferrari feels that they can be competitive, telling Motocorse.com that the bike is already producing 90 Nm of torque at 18,000 rpm, a figure that equates to around 225 horsepower. The engine has also run 2,500 km on the bench without suffering any mechanical failures, and so reliability should not be a problem.
The bike will be running Magnetti Marelli electronics based on the Marvel 4.5 unit, the top spec ECU used by almost all of the major manufacturers in MotoGP, making it an almost entirely Italian effort. Only the suspension will not be Italian, the team initially going with Ohlins suspension which the rest of the MotoGP paddock also runs, but plans exist to work with Italian suspension manufacturer Bitubo.
The other part of the package that may or may not be Italian is the rider. Alex de Angelis has been linked most closely to the ride, though Ferrari was at pains to point out that none of the riders the team had talked to had signed anything yet. But the name that came as a surprise was Leon Camier, Ferrari revealing that the team had had several meetings with the man almost certain to take the BSB championship this season. Ferrari also said they had had exploratory meetings with Niccolo Canepa and Toni Elias. The team is also looking for an experienced rider to do the bulk of the testing work, and both Shinya Nakano and Italian rider Roberto Rolfo would be ideally suited to this role, according to FB Corse principal Ferrari.
The project has received a great deal of support from Dorna and Carmelo Ezpeleta, with Dorna spending a lot of time evaluating the project, but Ferrari told Motocorse.com that they only really wanted one guarantee: that the bike would be competitive. To this end, both Dorna and the MSMA had offered concessions to allow the bike to get onto the grid, giving the team more time to make the changes necessary to comply fully with the regulations. Dorna and the MSMA have offered to allow the bike to run for a single year with the hydraulic and pneumatic systems as currently designed, while FB Corse works on making the bike completely compliant.
Initially, the bike was scheduled to make its debut at the final round of MotoGP at Valencia in early November, but that plan has been shelved, allowing the team to concentrate their resources on completely redesigning the gearbox. Instead, the bike will run regularly at the Vallelunga track just outside Rome until the weather stops play, at which point the team will head to Spain, to test at the tracks that host MotoGP there and get their first real points of reference, and see where they stand.
To help fund the project, a reality TV show is planned, the cameras following team members 24 hours a day as the project gets underway, while an Italian radio station could also both follow and sponsor the FB Corse team. All in all, it looks like we might actually see this bike on the grid next season. Just how competitive the bike actually is is another question altogether, but if Dorna is prepared to put money into the project, then it is surely a realistic proposition.