Ever since the news started filtering out of the Grand Prix Commission that the MSMA was prepared to accept the use of production engines in prototype MotoGP bikes, all eyes have been on Infront Motor Sports, where the Flammini brothers run the production-based World Superbike series, awaiting their response. The last time a bike using an engine based (to a very basic extent) on a production engine - the WCM machine, which you can find out about in our interview series with Peter Clifford, the man behind that project - the FIM put a stop to that project, claiming it violated the rules requiring that all bikes be prototypes. Though the Flammini brothers have always denied it and no evidence has ever been produced to support the accusation, suspicion still lingers in the MotoGP paddock that the former FIM president Francesco Zerbi came to the ruling after pressure from FGSport, the company that held the rights for the World Superbike series before the Flamminis sold a majority holding to the Infront group.
Since then, a number of things have changed. Firstly, the Grand Prix Commission is discussing a change to the rules which would explicitly allow the use of production-based engines, and making them legal for use. Secondly, the current FIM President, Vito Ippolito, is regarded as being considerably more independent than his Italian predecessor, and has a history as a team owner in the Grand Prix series. A charge of breaching the rules - which is how WCM was disqualified - would no longer stand, nor would it find political support from FIM headquarters in Switzerland.
But the Flamminis are still determined to halt any attempts by the Dorna-run MotoGP series onto what they perceive as their own territory. Paolo Flammini reiterated this standpoint again today, in an interview with the Italian website GPOne.com, telling the veteran journalist Claudio Porrozzi that they are prepared to defend their rights. "I repeat what I said earlier," Flammini told GPOne.com, "We have had assurances from the President of the FIM, Vito Ippolito, that these new rules would not be approved. So far, he has been true to his word, and I hope that this will continue in the future." The consequences of Ippolito not holding up what Infront Motor Sports regards as his end of the bargain would be dire, Flammini warned. "We are ready to take whatever action is necessary to defend the contract we have with the FIM, which, let us not forget, also covers the 600cc class based on production bikes."
The threat of action which Paolo Flammini is alluding to is centered around the contracts which FGSport - and now its legal successor, Infront Motor Sport - holds with the FIM. The Flamminis have long claimed their contract with the FIM grants them the exclusive right to organize races for production-based motorcycles. This contract extends, they argue, to any use of production equipment in a racing series.
So far, the FIM and Dorna have been wary of challenging those claims, but with Vito Ippolito at the helm of the FIM and the motorcycle industry in crisis, that reluctance may well disappear. At Valencia, Ippolito told veteran American journalist Dennis Noyes that he did not believe that the World Superbikes contract would prevent the use of heavily modified engines in MotoGP. According to Ippolito, the contract with IMS covers racing production motorcycles, not all forms of racing using production-based parts.
The truth in this matter is hard to determine. The contracts between Infront Motor Sports and the FIM are confidential, as you would expect in a commercially sensitive deal. The only people who know the actual terms of the contracts are the parties to the contract, IMS and the FIM, which would include the FIM's president Vito Ippolito.
The proof of the pudding, of course, will be in the eating. The Flammini brothers made similar noises when the Moto2 class was announced at the end of last year, but until now, they have been completely silent on the matter. The veiled threat issued by Paolo Flammini in the interview with GPOne.com ("[our contract] also covers the 600cc class based on production bikes") could be a sign that Infront is preparing an attack on two fronts. If the Grand Prix Commission, with representatives from the manufacturers, teams, Dorna and the FIM, persist with their plan to allow production-based engines, Infront could sue for breach of contract on both the Moto2 class and the proposed changes to MotoGP, is the implication to be taken from Flammini's pronouncements.
But Flammini made the same threats after the Moto2 class was announced, and so far, the lawyers have been sitting idly by. If Infront Motor Sports - part of one of the richest sports marketing groups in the world - really has a legal leg to stand on, those lawyers would be springing into action.