Honda Racing Corporation today issued the first photo of their Production Racer, to be sold to MotoGP teams for the 2014 season.
The photo was taken during the Motegi test at which Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki participated, which also featured the first semi-public run out of Suzuki's MotoGP machine. While times were reported by German-language website Speedweek, (see our time comparison here), no times were available for Honda's production racer. Honda comments only in a press release (see below) that the results were 'more than what we had expected' in the words of HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto.
From the photo (the close up above is a cut out of the full photo shown at the bottom of the page), the bike looks extremely familiar. The lines - as far as they are visible from the artfully out-of-focus photo, with EXIF data removed and supplied at a resolution designed to obscure rather than reveal - are almost identical to Honda's RC213V MotoGP machine. Fairing front section, tail and swingarm alll look the same, and the visible section of the frame (from the fuzzy detail available) does not look radically different. This would make sense, given that the bike is directly derived from the current MotoGP machine, and has been modified mainly to reduce costs. We will have to await further photos and details from Honda to get a really close-up view of the bike.
The first full public outing of Honda's MotoGP production racer is expected at the tests at the Valencia races, Honda having encountered some delays in the production of the machine. In an interview with the official MotoGP.com website, Nakamoto confirmed several details about the machine, which he had previously discussed at the Sepang tests earlier in the year. Honda's production racer - which remains nameless at this moment - will run an engine similar in design to Honda's RC213V machine, but missing a few crucial parts. The bike will use conventional valve springs rather than pneumatic valves, run a conventional gearbox instead of Honda's seamless transmission, and make use of the allowance of 24 liters of fuel. The bike will feature Nissin brakes, and Showa suspension. As the bikes are to be sold rather than leased, teams will of course be replace the suspension and brakes if they so wish.
The price for the bike is expected to be around 1 million euros. HRC will also sell an upgrade kit for the bike for 500,000 euros, which will be available in the second year to bring the bike up to the matching spec. HRC have said they are prepared to build and sell five of these production machines.
The price of both Honda's production racer and Yamaha's engine lease package remains an obstacle, however. Although the Honda is sure to be a very complete machine, and Yamaha's engine has proven to be fast, their level of performance is still uncertain. With the CRT machines making major steps forward in their second year of development - much as the Moto2 bikes did in theirs - a CRT bike is looking increasingly like an attractive alternative to Honda and Yamaha's offerings. In the hands of Aleix Espargaro, the Aprilia ART machine has proven to be capable of challenging satellite Ducatis, while Hector Barbera has also shown the FTR Kawasaki to be capable of surprising the satellite bikes, though the machine remains down on horsepower. Engine upgrades are expected this year for both machines, bringing them even closer to the front.
This creates a dilemma for existing CRT teams. Should they remain with the bikes they know, and which are rapidly matching the pace of the satellite bikes? Or should they place their trust in Honda and Yamaha, and hope that those bikes will get them closer to the front than the CRT machines will? The big question is how competitive Honda's production racer and Yamaha's lease package will be. Some assumptions can be made on this score: without pneumatic valves and Honda's trick seamless gearbox, they will have problems matching the Honda and Yamaha satellite machines. And with Ducati starting to make serious progress in the development of the MotoGP bike, those machines will be harder to catch in 2014 than they are now. Scoring a top ten finish will be as hard with a production racer as it will be on a CRT bike, so it will be purely a matter of money. With CRT bikes still substantially cheaper than the production racers are expected to be, that could be a concern. However, with the Honda and Yamaha brand on the tank, production racers could be more attractive to national or regional distributors of those brands, potentially offering a new source of sponsorship for teams.
So far, nobody has committed one way or another. Teams are still biding their time and considering their options, waiting to make a decision. It will be a while before it becomes clear exactly which way the teams decide to go.
The full text of the press release issued accompanying the photo appears below:
Honda will unveil an entirely new production model machine for the 2014 FIM Road Racing World Championship, Grand Prix MotoGP class by the end of 2013. The new model will enable entrants to race in MotoGP at lower cost starting from next season.
Development of the model is currently slightly behind schedule but Honda Racing Corporation (HRC), with its test rider, managed to successfully test the prototype at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit. The test took place from May 23rd through 24th, 2013.
By conforming to 2014 MotoGP technical and sporting regulations, Honda intends to finalise the development and to announce the introduction of the model by the end of this year.
“The test results - comments Shuhei Nakamoto, Executive Vice President of HRC – showed more than what we had expected, in particular, with its running performance. We are very pleased at this stage and we will announce more in the not too distant future.”