Another Sponsor Pulls Out - Kenny Noyes' Jack&Jones Team Folds
The Moto2 entry list remains a work in progress, as teams granted starting places struggle with finding sponsorship, and alter their entries accordingly. The latest victim of sponsorship woes is the longest named team on the grid, the Jack&Jones By Antonio Banderas Racing team. The Jack&Jones squad had signed Kenny Noyes and Gabor Talmacsi to campaign the 2011 season, but after their title sponsor, the urban clothing brand Jack&Jones, decided to pull out of racing sponsorship, the team has been left without sufficient funds to continue.
Rather than risk failing to find sufficient funds to contest the 2011 season and leave riders and crew no time to find employment elsewhere in the paddock, team boss Dani Devahive decided to pull the plug on the project now, giving Noyes, Talmacsi and the rest of the team four months to find places elsewhere. "This was probably the hardest decision I've ever taken in the ten years I've been in the paddock," Devahive told Motociclismo. "Antonio Banderas and I both had high hopes for this project, but the lack of a viable economic future forced us to take this hard decision." The withdrawal of the team leaves the 2011 Moto2 grid without an American rider, unless Kenny Noyes can find a ride in another team.
The disbanding of the Jack&Jones squad brings an ambitious project to an end. At Barcelona, Spanish superstar actor Antonio Banderas had spoken of his hopes of moving up to the MotoGP class in a few years, and the team were reckoned to be one of the most solid in the paddock. The collapse of the team is clear evidence of the risks involved in Moto2, risks which have caused almost every team in the Moto2 paddock to become incredibly defensive and conservative.
The Jack&Jones squad had gambled on using the Harris Moto2 chassis, a gamble that went badly wrong. While Moto2 was meant to be a level playing field, with a spec engine and only the chassis making the difference, most people believed that there would be little to choose between the bikes, and the class would mainly be a test of rider skill. That has been true for the most part, with the strengths and weaknesses of the main chassis players - FTR, Suter, Moriwaki - producing a well-balanced contest.
But that has not been true for all of the chassis builders. Some, such as MZ, NCR and RSV, got the chassis wrong in one aspect or another, and have been left struggling a couple of seconds off the pace, or in the case of the RSV, dumped by the teams using the chassis within a couple of races. The fewer the bikes a chassis builder has on the grid, the more development has suffered. Only the Motobi (a revised TSR chassis) has managed to score regular points among the smaller manufacturers, with most of that down to Alex de Angelis rather than the bike.
The Harris chassis appears to have been a similar case. The strength of the Harris was its stability under braking, an asset which Kenny Noyes put to good use at the ultimate stop-and-go circuit, Le Mans, taking pole for that race. What the Harris did less well was turn, or hold a line in long, fast sweepers, as the Jack&Jones team found to their dismay at Mugello. That lack of turning, coupled with a lack of rear grip - Randy Mamola described the bike as "like riding with oil on the tire" after trying the machine at Valencia - left Noyes and his teammate, former 125 and 250 star Joan Olive constantly down in the bottom 15 places. Those results are most likely what pushed Jack&Jones over the edge, and led to the decision to withdraw their title sponsorship of the team.
It is easy to point the finger of blame at the riders rather than the chassis, but both Noyes and Olive have had success in their previous classes. Olive scored multiple podiums in the 125cc class, his best championship finish being 7th in the highly competitive class in 2008. Noyes was runner up in the Spanish Formula Extreme championship in 2009, the Spanish equivalent of Superbikes. At the right track, Noyes showed himself capable of running with the top Moto2 riders, until his tires gave up on him, leading the race at Jerez, and bagging pole at Le Mans.
Noyes' and Olive's results highlight another problem with Moto2. Because of the size of the grid, scoring points can be extremely difficult. In the 125cc class, the regular riders can be sure of scoring a handful of points, if only due to attrition by the other 26-odd riders. In Moto2, with starting grids of 40+, scoring points becomes extremely difficult outside of the top teams on good equipment, as there are so many riders battling for the final points. Those points generate income for the team, both in terms of sponsorship and in terms of financial support from Dorna.
The grid size turned points scoring into something of a lottery. Winner of the Sepang Moto2 race Roby Rolfo also managed to score no points in 10 of the 17 Moto2 races. Pons Kalex rider Sergio Gadea had a 2nd place finish at Mugello, but also had 9 other races scoring no points at all. Consistency was the preserve of the very few, as even Andrea Iannone, who ended 3rd in the Moto2 championship, had three finishes scoring 4 points or less, as well as four no-scores. Look at the points scoring for the 125cc class, and riders tend to score the points roughly equivalent to where they finished in the championship. Look at the points scoring for Moto2, and apart from Toni Elias and Julian Simon, points appear to be distributed almost at random.
With 40 riders on the grid, and points awarded apparently at random, results are hard to come by in Moto2. Add in a chassis lacking in one area or another, and points become almost as rare as unicorn droppings. No points mean no sponsorship, and competent teams and strong riders being forced to drop out. With the cost of failure so much higher in Moto2 than in the other classes, the teams are all turning deeply conservative. The example of teams that gambled in 2010 - teams such as Jack&Jones - has scared everyone into playing it safe, hence the 2011 grid is dominated by Suter, FTR and (to a lesser extent) Moriwaki. Gambling on something new that might pay off in the future is no longer an option.