There has been a good deal of talk in recent weeks about the proposed changes to the MotoGP class, but confusion still exists about exactly what those changes entail. When even our good friends, the normally extremely well-informed Jules Cisek and Jim Race over at the MotoGPOD podcast get the proposals wrong, then it's time for some clarification. And so we have set out below the state of the proposed rule changes, as they stand now, prior to the Grand Prix Commission meeting scheduled for December 11th, 2009.
The agreement governing the current rules package (i.e. 800cc prototypes) is due to expire at the end of 2011, and so the new rules will come into effect for the 2012 MotoGP season. Under the proposals currently being studied, the class will consist of the following machine types:
- 1000cc factory prototypes. These will be prototypes much as they are today, but with some kind of rule package in place to limit engine speeds and keep down costs. Various sources inside the paddock suggest that only four cylinder prototypes will be allowed, and a fixed bore and stroke ratio will be put in place. By limiting bore size, the piston speeds generated by a relatively long stroke engine will ensure that engine speeds will be also be kept down to a reasonable maximum. The hope is also that the extra capacity will negate the need for higher engine speeds, with extra horsepower available at lower revs.
Fuel will be kept at its current level, and a maximum number of engines for the year (probably 6 engines for 18 races) will also stay in place, as the manufacturers have been very happy with the R&D they have gained from this restriction, and they have learned a great deal about extending engine life which they can apply directly to their road bikes.
These factory bikes may also be available to satellite teams to lease, just as they are in the current situation, but factories may choose to cut back the number of prototypes on the grid to save the costs of maintenance and production.
- Modified 1000cc production engines in prototype chassis. The idea here is similar to the Moto2 class, but without the spec engine. Private teams could use the engine from a road bike as a basis, modifying it extensively to produce their own power plants. There are unlikely to be very many limits on the permitted modifications, and the end result is likely to bear very little resemblance to the engine it was based on, with new crankshafts, pistons, cylinder heads, beefed up crankcases, cassette gearboxes and a host of other changes. The FIM is likely to put limits on the bore and stroke, and these may be the only dimensions which remain unchanged from the original donor engines.
These engines will be fitted into prototype chassis to be built by the teams or custom chassis builders, very much in the mould of Moto2. To avert the wrath of Infront Motor Sports and the World Superbike seriers, production chassis are likely to be strictly forbidden. However, the rumors that Aprilia could produce a prototype chassis to house a modified version of its RSV4 engine to sell to privateers could test the legal boundaries of this rule.
Under the terms of the current agreement, the rules could only change in 2011 if there is unanimous agreement between all of the manufacturers joined together in the MSMA. The manufacturers have a large investment in the current 800cc class, and they are unlikely to want to abandon this a year early. However, they may decide to allow the modified production engines in a year early, especially if that allows them to cut costs by reducing the number of bikes they lease to satellite teams. So, if the MSMA unanimously agree to allow it, in 2011 we could see the following bikes on track:
- 800cc factory prototypes, basically, the bikes we see on track today.
- Modified 1000cc production engines in prototype chassis. This would allow privateer teams to get a year's head start on the factories in developing their chassis, and give them a shot at being, if not competitive, then at least capable of staying close to the factories once they switch to 1000cc a year later.
For those readers interested in an exhaustive discussion of the background to these articles, we can highly recommend Dennis Noyes' exhaustive treatise on the state of the proposals so far, and the many obstacles and factors which may come into play before the proposals turn into regulations. Noyes' article is in three parts over on Speed TV, part 1, part 2 and part 3.