The momentum behind a return to 1000cc for the MotoGP class has been building throughout the year. On Saturday, news emerged from the Grand Prix Commission that the manufacturers had dropped their opposition to the plan, making backing for the 1000cc formula unanimous inside MotoGP's rulemaking body. As a consequence, the proposal is almost certain to be adopted for the 2012 season of MotoGP.
Under the new proposed rules, the current requirement that four-stroke motorcycles must be prototypes will be either dropped or defined far more loosely. This would allow both teams and manufacturers to use engines based on production powerplants, greatly reducing the cost of research and development and paving the way for new teams to enter the class. The aim is to cut the cost of running a team roughly in half, from around 10 million euros for a two-rider satellite team down to between 5 and 6 million euros. Using production-based engines and allowing more engineering and maintenance to be done by the teams should be a major contributing factor in making this happen.
The niggling doubt whenever the proposal has come up has been the position of the World Superbike series. Since the introduction of the Moto2 class, Paolo and Maurizio Flammini of InFront Motor Sports and the men who run World Superbikes have complained that Dorna and the MotoGP series are encroaching on their territory and made veiled legal threats. Their threats have centered around their claim that they and InFront Motor Sport have a contract with the FIM which gives them the exclusive rights to organize racing based on production motorcycles. Any move to allow production motorcycles to compete in MotoGP would be a breach of that contract, the Flamminis claim, and they would be prepared to defend their exclusive rights in court.
The problem for most outside observers is that no one outside of the FIM and InFront Motor Sports knows exactly what the wording is in that contract, and what definition is used to delineate the racing of production motorcycles. The first clue came when the Moto2 class was finally announced. The Flamminis threatened to sue, but actual legal proceedings never materialized. The official position of InFront Motor Sport was that the use of a standardized engine avoided any conflicts with the rights they hold, but the seeds of doubt had been planted in the minds of everyone following the story.
At Valencia came a much greater clarification of the details of the contract between the FIM and InFront. Speaking on the Spanish TV show "MotoGP Club" respected American journalist Dennis Noyes said that he had been told by FIM president Vito Ippolito that the World Superbike contract would not be an impediment for the use of production-based engines in MotoGP. The contract, according to Ippolito, states that InFront has the exclusive right to race "production motorcycles" not "production engines." If InFront were to take the FIM to court, they would have no leg to stand on.
What this means in practice is that if a team turned up with a modified Yamaha R1, Honda CBR1000, MV Agusta F4 or BMW S1000RR, it would not be declared legal. However, if someone turned up with, say, a heavily modified engine based on Yamaha R1 crankcases in a Harris chassis, they could roll it out on track and compete. By the same token, if the teams turned up with a 2006 Yamaha M1, or the 2005 Ducati Desmosedici ridden by Loris Capirossi, they would also most likely be legal. The discussions at the moment are based around racing four-cylinder four-strokes, limiting the number of permitted cylinders in an attempt to cap costs.
The proposed rule changes are making the WCM team run by Peter Clifford and Bob MacLean at the start of the four-stroke era look like the visionaries they were. MotoMatters.com recorded a lengthy interview with Clifford at the beginning of the year, during the IRTA Tests at Jerez. That interview will be appearing online during the course of the next week. For anyone who wants to know what the future will be like, it will make compulsory reading.