From the moment it was first suggested by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, the aims of the proposed switch of the MotoGP class to 1000cc were crystal clear: To reduce costs and to increase the number of bikes on the grid. The official announcement of the basic rules for the 2012 MotoGP season reinforced that objective. The idea behind the move is that the larger engine capacity allows power to be produced more cheaply, and by limiting the engine bore to 81mm, revs can be capped, keeping maintenance costs down. The bore limitation, together with a more relaxed attitude towards the interpretation of the word "prototype" will make it possible for privateer teams to modify production engines for use in prototype chassis, making participation in MotoGP significantly cheaper, in theory at least.
It was also hoped that the switch to 1000cc would attract new entrants to the series. The reduced cost of horsepower and, more importantly, the reduced role of sophisticated electronics - which the current crop of horrifically peaky 800cc four-strokes require to make them rideable - should put competing MotoGP within reach of smaller manufacturers. The hope is that the new rules will mean that designing and building a MotoGP bike can be done for a couple of million dollars, rather than many tens of millions the current bikes cost to build.
It looks like the Grand Prix Commission may have already scored their first success in this area. Over on the MotoCzysz company website, Michael Czysz has posted a blog entry suggesting that the Portland, Oregon-based company could be considering breathing new life into their shelved MotoGP project, the MotoCzysz C1. "I believe based on the rules that MotoCzysz could have an extremely competitive 81mm 4 cylinder motorcycle ready for the grid by 2012," Czysz wrote.
Limiting MotoGP to a maximum of four cylinders and a maximum bore of 81mm plays directly into the strengths of MotoCzysz, Czysz believes. Their radical inline/V hybrid with two counterrotating cranks carrying two cylinders each, placed longitudinally in the chassis was already using an 82mm bore, as like the Grand Prix Commission, the design team believed that any larger bore diameter would allow greater revs and necessitate the use of either pneumatic valves or desmodromically operated valves, creating additional complexity and therefore additional expense.
The rule switch to 800cc effectively killed off MotoCzysz' MotoGP aspirations. The smaller capacity made higher revving engines inevitable, removing any hope the MotoCzysz project might have been competitive. Instead, the firm has turned its gaze to electric vehicles, taking part in the inaugural running of the zero emissions TTXGP earlier this year. But the return to the larger capacity has reawakened Michael Czysz' ambitions. "Though I do believe this [electric motorcycles] to be the ultimate performance vehicle of the future, I would give anything to have a shot at MotoGP in to 2012" he writes. "The 2012 season is a great opportunity! MotoCzysz now has the base motorcycle, enough time and rules actually leaning a little in our favor- we could not ask for a better opportunity."
Alongside announcing his intention to put a bike on the MotoGP grid in 2012, Czysz also gives his own analysis of the proposed rules, as well as coming up with a few proposals of his own. The analysis is very clear-sighted, and repeats some of the other criticisms already made about the proposed rules. The most obvious and indisputable criticism he makes is that changing formulas raises costs dramatically. The 2012 rules will be the third change in 10 years, placing huge demands on manufacturer's R&D budgets. "The single greatest cost to a team is when a new rule renders their current equipment uncompetitive or worse, illegal," Czysz writes. He also points out that those changes also have a more disturbing indirect effect: "It is not only the cost of the new project that is looming for a team but the uncertainty that a similar rule can be employed again at will, rendering their 'new' motorcycle useless." Changing rules too often makes investment in a series a risky prospect.
The other criticism Czysz makes is a much more familiar one, especially to readers of this site. Placing limitations on a racing series always looks like a good idea at first, but nothing stimulates an engineer like a challenge, and there are few better ways of burning through money than giving an engineer a challenge. As Czysz puts it, "Limitations often divert efforts to smaller and smaller areas where it is increasingly more expensive to find a competitive advantage." The 81mm bore limit will most likely encourage engineers to go in pursuit of exotic lightweight materials to produce pistons and connecting rods from, to bump up piston speeds and allow the engines to rev higher. Czysz points to the example of NASCAR, where in an attempt to reduce costs, the series outlawed shocks with external reservoirs. The response of the suspension engineers was to create a new - and much, much more expensive - shock with an external reservoir which looked like an internal one, and complied with the phrasing of the rules.
The MotoCzysz chief then goes on to propose his own set of rules. Some of them are sensible, and identical to proposals we made nearly a year ago: "Instead of more restrictions, which only redirects costs and dumbs down championship racing, we should try lifting restrictions," Czysz writes. Remove capacity limitations and you have a very cheap way of producing more horsepower. The need to get bikes to corner and handle places an automatic limit on capacity, as increased capacity means more weight, more physical size and more gyroscopic mass, which soon outweigh the advantage the extra power confers. What's more, limited fuel and spec tires effectively cap the maximum horsepower which can be both produced and applied.
One rule, however, is not so sensible. Calling for a compulsory pit stop is making the kind of fundamental mistake that we see in Formula One. Czysz correctly asserts that the flag-to-flag races have thrown up some interesting and exciting racing, but he makes the mistake of attributing the excitement to the pit stops. Certainly, the pit stops added interest, but the interest was entirely artificial, and had little or nothing to do with the question of who is fastest on a motorcycle. The pit stops disguised the underlying problem, that the 800cc bikes demand to be ridden with razor sharp precision, and making it impossible for riders to compensate for even the tiniest mistake.
I like to compare pit stops in MotoGP with on-board radio communications in Formula One. The radio communications provide entertaining and interesting listening, but simultaneously, by providing the driver with second-to-second information about the state of the car, the state of the race and the strategy the other drivers are using, they kill the racing, making it possible for drivers to manage a race rather than actually having to compete. Take the radios away, and the racing might get more interesting. Likewise, adding compulsory pit stops in MotoGP turns a straight race into a lottery, with the potential for a sticking wheel nut, brake pad or fuel hose to transform the race from a game of chess into a game of roulette.