The NGM Forward racing team were pioneers of the CRT concept. It was the NGM Forward team who were the first to present their plans to race the bikes presented as an alternative to the cripplingly expensive factory prototypes, launching their 2012 campaign with Colin Edwards at Misano in 2011. Edwards had an excruciating year aboard the Suter BMW, jumping ship to the Kawasaki-powered FTR for the 2013 season.
Now, Forward is preparing the ground for its 2014 campaign even earlier. In an interview with GPOne.com, NGM Forward boss Giovanni Cuzari revealed that the team is already in talks with several manufacturers for the season after this one. Cuzari said he had had a recent meeting with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta to discuss 2014, when major changes will take place in MotoGP, with the dropping of the CRT category and the introduction of a new division, between the MSMA entries and the non-MSMA entries. Cuzari told GPOne that he had discussed the projects proposed by Honda (production version of the RC213V) and Yamaha (leasing M1 engines for use in custom-built chassis), but he also said he had had contacts with both Suzuki and Kawasaki.
That Forward should be linked with Suzuki is no surprise: the Suzuki MotoGP project is proceeding apace, with the first appearance expected at Barcelona as part of a full testing program which will include five tests in Europe, according to MCN. Suzuki will have to work with an existing team on their return to MotoGP, and though the Aspar squad are the hot favorites for the spot, Suzuki has been in talks with a number of teams.
The news that Kawasaki is interested in making a return to MotoGP is more of a surprise. Cuzari told GPOne that he had already had talks with Kawasaki boss and engineer Ichiro Yoda. "I spoke to Ichiro Yoda, and they are interested," Cuzari said. That Kawasaki should approach Forward over a possible return is not surprising. The Forward team took over the Kawasaki project at the beginning of 2009, after Kawasaki had first announced it was pulling out of MotoGP, then agreed to stay on for one more year to avoid an eight-figure fine for breach of the contract it had signed with Dorna, which was set to run through the end of 2011. In 2009, Kawasaki and Forward ran under the Hayate banner, with Marco Melandri as a rider, even managing a podium at Le Mans that year. If Kawasaki were to return, Forward would be the obvious partner.
News that Kawasaki is showing interest in MotoGP is a positive sign that manufacturers other than the three competing - Honda, Yamaha and Ducati - are still interested in MotoGP. The problem they face is the same reason they left: the astronomical cost of competing in the sport, driven mainly by the switch from two strokes to four strokes, and the increasing focus on electronics as the basis for increasing performance. Whether the rule changes for 2014 will make MotoGP more affordable is debatable - the reduction in fuel consumption from 21 to 20 liters, and with software development remaining unregulated, costs will continue to skyrocket - and so much will come down to whether Yoda is capable of persuading the board to see either the R&D or the marketing benefits from participating.
For 2013, the NGM Forward will continue to participate under the CRT rules, with Colin Edwards and Claudio Corti racing FTR Kawasakis. Edwards has already spoken with great enthusiasm over the switch to the FTR chassis, which is slightly more flexible and provides more feedback than the Suter BMW machine he raced last year, but in an interview with Motoblog.it, Edwards was damning on the new spec Magneti Marelli electronics. "We don't have the parameters we want to use," Edwards said. "The electronics we have are practically what we used to have 5 or 6 years ago, so we're having to try to invent ways of doing what we want and getting them to do what we need." Clearly, much work is still needed on the Magneti Marelli system.