The 2011 MotoGP season has many things to be excited about - Valentino Rossi on a Ducati, Casey Stoner on a Honda, Ben Spies on a factory Yamaha, and so much more. But the 2012 season is probably just as eagerly anticipated, even though it is still over a year away. For 2012 sees the return of the 1000cc machines, and hopes are high that having the larger capacity back will see closer, more exciting racing.
But the 1000cc bikes face a problem: Over the past couple of years, testing has been cut back enormously in an attempt to cut costs. So far, this has not been too much of a problem, with less testing merely meaning less development, which was fine as long as the capacity remained unchanged. However, the 1000cc bikes will need significant work to get them raceworthy, and that means having the current riders test the machines. The teams and machines will require more than just the two 1-day tests scheduled for the Estoril and Brno rounds of MotoGP if they are to get to work on both the existing 800cc bikes - which they still have to race for the rest of the season - and the new 1000cc (or whatever capacity the major manufacturers settle on as optimal) for 2012.
GPOne.com is now reporting that an extra day of testing will be added to the schedule, to take place after the Mugello round of MotoGP. With Estoril being so early in the season, all of the focus there will be on developing the 2011 bikes, and data from the Brno test in August will arrive back at the factories later than they would prefer to be able to build nearly completed bikes for the Valencia test two-and-a-half months later. So adding an extra day of testing after Mugello will allow some factories to roll out the first versions of their 2012 bikes at the end of July, to provide preliminary feedback in time for the Brno test.
So who will actually be rolling out their 1000s at Mugello? So far, participants are extremely uncertain, though the Italian-language site MotoCorse.com has taken a tentative guess at who might be there. Given that Mugello is just a few miles down the road from Ducati's Bologna headquarters, it seems a racing certainty that the Italian manufacturer will have a version of its 1000cc (or 900, or 930cc) machine to test. That will depend on the progress of the GP11, though: if Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden believe that the current bike is too far behind the Honda and Yamaha in terms of development, they could decide to focus on the GP11 instead; being competitive in 2011 remains a priority for the Italian factory. Both Yamaha and Honda have traditionally been rather conservative in rolling out their new bike too quickly, preferring to test the new bike at private tests in Japan, until they are ready to hand over a version relatively close to racing spec to their permanent riders. As a consequence, Brno is the earliest we can probably hope to see a Yamaha or Honda.
Of course, the point of the new 1000cc rules was also the hope of seeing new entrants into the class. Mugello could therefore be the place where we see the first CRT bikes, and perhaps even a new manufacturer or two. The people behind the Inmotec project have hinted at making a wildcard appearance at Jerez with their 800cc project, and the Spanish engineering firm has been linked with various 1000cc projects in the past. They were even linked to a deal to supply engines for Norton's MotoGP project, but that linkup has never proceeded beyond the rumor stage. Inmotec admitted they were talking to Norton about building an engine for the legendary British brand, but the deal is believed to have fallen apart over costs.
Where that leaves Norton's MotoGP project is unknown: the British manufacturer has two slots on the 2012 grid, but the company is still in talks with Dorna about actually racing. Norton is believed to be keen to go racing, but question marks remain over where they would source a competitive engine.
Of the other manufacturers, both Aprilia and BMW have reported an interest. Dorna would only accept Aprilia back in as a full factory prototype entry, something that Aprilia is not keen on, as that would mean racing with just 21 liters of fuel rather than 24. BMW, meanwhile, looks more likely to act as an engine supplier rather than a bike manufacturer, but the close links between the Munich factory and Dorna would mean that BMW would be welcomed into the fold with open arms. Earlier BMW projects have come to nothing, though, so there is little certainty that BMW will actually build a bike.
As for the "pure" CRT entries, the Marc VDS team will almost certainly turn up with the Suter prototype for further testing. Rumors also persist of both FTR and Kalex building MotoGP machines, or at least supplying chassis for teams. Kalex' project is rumored to be further along than the FTR project, but given the amount of mystery still surrounding both projects, it seems unlikely that either machine could make the test at Mugello.
There is still time for a few surprises, though, and with so few 1000s likely to take to the track, Mugello could be a place for a team to pull a rabbit out of the bag, and grab some extra publicity by rolling up with a 1000s. We shall know for sure on July 4th.