Preziosi: Rule Changes Forced Us To Push Up Costs

Since the global financial crisis struck home in MotoGP, and indeed all forms of motor racing, the dominant theme of all and any news about MotoGP has been about the need for the series to cut costs. There has been no shortage of ideas from team owners, journalists and Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, all of which have included various proposals for rule changes, some more radical than the next.

The one group we hadn't heard from is perhaps the most important group, the engineers and bike designers. Fortunately, Motorcycle News' Matthew Birt had the bright idea of talking to Filippo Preziosi, the technical genius behind the Ducati Desmosedici bike which carried Casey Stoner to a championship in 2007 and 2nd place in 2008.

Preziosi's responses make absolutely clear the problems faced by anyone attempting to use the rulebook to cut costs: "Every modification to the rules pushed us to spend more money," he told MCN. He points out that every change to the rules forced the engineers to find ways to exploit the new rules as efficiently as possible, and try and get the most out of the new situation. All that R&D costs large amounts of money, and drastically pushes up costs.

The same holds true for any attempt to limit electronics, according to Preziosi. More money would be spent examining how to take advantage of a new rules package, and costs would go up. What's more, the Italian engineering genius points out, the rules would be almost impossible to police.

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Pramac To Run Two Ducatis In 2009

The Kawasaki story isn't the only drama that is playing itself out in MotoGP at the moment. Though the factory Ducati team is able to raise extra money almost at will, the Pramac team has been suffering since the withdrawal of its title sponsor, the Italian telecoms company Alice.

Things were thought to be so bad that speculation mounted that Pramac would only be able to field a single bike for Mika Kallio. It was rumored that Niccolo Canepa would take the other bike to Sete Gibernau's Grupo Francisco Hernando team, as the Spanish property magnate has spoken openly of his willingness to pour money into the MotoGP team.

Now, the well-connected Ducati fan site DucatiCorseFriends.com is carrying a statement that this is not the case. Members of the Pramac team told DCF that Canepa would be staying with Pramac.

This does not necessarily mean that both Kallio and Canepa would be wearing the same colors. Team manager Paolo Campinoti has suggested on several occasions that the two riders could bear the logos of different sponsors. And there has been a good deal of speculation that Grupo Francisco Hernando could be one of the sponsors interested in appearing on a Pramac Ducati. The deal would allow GFH to get greater coverage for the African dictatorship where it is building the vacation resort the sponsorship is aimed at promoting, at a much reduced investment. 

 

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Aspar Won't Run Private Kawasaki Team

The Kawasaski saga rumbles on, and it seems to be drawing closer to a conclusion. And sadly for MotoGP and Kawasaki fans, it's looking more and more like the conclusion will be both literal and figurative.

Today, Michael Bartholemy is in Japan for talks with Kawasaki bosses about the level of support they can provide should the Belgian decide to try and run the Kawasaki ZX-RR Ninja MotoGP machines inside a private team structure. Previously, Kawasaki told Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta that they only had enough parts to see out 25% of the season, and would not be able to handle engine development or maintenance. But Bartholemy has stated that he has found a French company which could handle at least some of that work, though no specific companies have been mentioned. If he can persuade Kawasaki to hand over the entire MotoGP operation to this French company, then there is a possibility that the team could be saved.

But it is also clear that this is the final hope for seeing Kawasakis - or whatever they might end up being called - on the grid. Originally, Jorge Martinez, boss of the Aspar team, was linked with taking over the Kawasaki bikes. This would have been a viable option, as Martinez has proven time and time again that he is capable of raising sponsorship to cover the costs. His price, however, is that he runs a Spanish rider, as his sponsorship is almost invariably aimed at the Spanish domestic market.

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Melandri Speaks: Next Week We'll Know For Sure

Since Kawasaki announced that they were pulling out of MotoGP, many gigabytes of online storage have been used up on speculating about the future of John Hopkins and Marco Melandri. But for the most part, it has been nothing but speculation, with little or nothing heard from the protagonists themselves. Hopkins posted a brief statement on his personal website on New Year's Eve, stating that he was as much in the dark as everyone else, but his erstwhile team mate, Marco Melandri remained silent.

Until today: At an impromptu press conference in a cafe in Milan, Marco Melandri finally spoke to the Italian press about his future, and what he expects to be doing next year. The Italian told the assembled journalists that he would know more about exactly what is happening next week. "I'll be getting a phone call from Michael Bartholemy next Wednesday," Melandri said, "to tell us whether he expects to run the Kawasakis in a private team next year. Then on the 31st, I'll get a proposal from Kawasaki in Japan, about whether I will get my full salary, a golden handshake or nothing. I'm hoping the proposal isn't to go work in a shop in Japan," he joked.

As for his future in motorcycle racing, Melandri said it was all still up in the air. He discounted a return to Gresini: "I contacted them after reading about it in the press, but they don't have the funds to provide an extra bike," Melandri said. But the Italian was emphatic about only accepting a competitive ride. "What's for sure is that I won't race on an uncompetitive bike (the 2008 Kawasaki, Ed.) nor am I thinking about other series such as Superbikes. Maybe I'll sit out a year and return in 2010."

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Rossi's Monster Millions Not Coming Out Of Hopper's Contract

The story we reported earlier, about Valentino Rossi obtaining Monster Energy sponsorship is better news than at first thought. The stories appearing in the Italian press all claimed that the money for Rossi's contract would be coming from the terminated contract of John Hopkins. But SpeedTV's Dennis Noyes is citing anonymous sources in Europe stating categorically that this is new money, and has nothing to do with Hopper's Monster Millions.

Of course, if there is one rider in the paddock who is swimming in personal sponsorship, it's Valentino Rossi, but nevertheless, more money coming into MotoGP is an important move. It is a sign that under the right conditions, there is enough money to invest in MotoGP, despite the general economic downturn.

Noyes also reports an interesting stumbling block: the biggest problem for Monster was Valentino Rossi's penchant for changing his helmet paint schemes. Monster needed guarantees that their green claw logo would remain clearly visible on the helmet, however The Doctor decided to paint it on any given week. With these guarantees now in place, the deal is ready to be announced this week.

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Rossi To Take Hopper's Monster Sponsorship?

Amidst the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the cost of MotoGP, there is still the odd bright light shining the way forward. Last week, we reported on two sponsorship deals for Ducati, boosting the income for the Italian factory, and now, another substantial MotoGP sponsorship deal has been done.

For the Italian sports paper Tuttosport is reporting that Monster Energy will be paying Valentino Rossi 2.5 million euros for the next two years to wear the green claw M on his helmet and on the caps he wears, with another half a million available as a performance bonus for winning another championship.

That was the good news. The bad news is that this is probably not new money. Instead, it looks like this could be the result of Monster dropping the currently unemployed John Hopkins (who was on a multi-million dollar deal with Monster), and switching to a man with a proven record of winning. And of course, sponsoring Valentino Rossi is a no-brainer. Thanks to his sponsorship by Italian beer maker Nastro Azzurro, millions of Northern Europeans are now aware of the brand and buying the beer.

The switch by Monster may also point to further bad news for Kawasaki. MotoGP is now the second sport where Monster has backed Yamaha, with the Rinaldi World MX1 team featuring David Philippaerts and Joshua Coppins also racing Yamahas in Monster colors. The original Monster deal with Kawasaki had a clause allowing Monster to move up to being title sponsor of the MotoGP team in 2009, and that deal will obviously have fallen through.

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Kawasaki: Testing, But Not Racing?

Uncertainty continues to cloud Kawasaki's future in MotoGP. Despite the official announcement on January 9th that Kawasaki would be withdrawing factory support from MotoGP, rumors continue to rumble on that there will be Kawasakis on the grid when the season starts, with some sort of private team structure running the bikes.

These rumors have been fueled by the private test currently underway at Eastern Creek in Australia. Test riders Olivier Jacque and Tamaki Serizawa are continuing work on the 2009 version of Kawasaki's ZX-RR Ninja MotoGP bike, lapping the track on Friday and Saturday. The official MotoGP.com website has video of the bike being tested, and is adamant that the bike will be run by a private team in the coming season.

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Ducati Receives More Sponsorship For MotoGP Program

So far this year, the news from MotoGP has been almost uniformly terrible. Kawasaki announced their pullout, the satellite teams managers have all chimed in on the need to cut costs, and the MSMA has met to discuss rule changes meant to reduce the expense of MotoGP. The air is full of doom and gloom, and and MotoGP commentators sound almost uniformly like Cassandra, predicting the imminent demise of the series.

So the announcement by Ducati that two of their sponsors have extended their deals comes as a breath of fresh air, a moment of cheer in these otherwise dark times. Italian energy giant Enel will continue the deal with Ducati which sees its logos displayed on the bikes, riders, and riders helmets of the factory team. Even better news is that Riello UPS, an Italian maker of UPS equipment, will be expanding its sponsorship of Ducati, in a program which has seen its investment in the team grow over the past three years.

Securing extra funding for a MotoGP team is always good news, but what makes it better is the fact that these are two companies from outside the motorcycle industry. If MotoGP is to survive in its current form, it is clear that what is required is more of this kind of outside sponsorship. Indeed, Claudio Domenicali, CEO of Ducati Corse, pointed out as much in his statement at Ducati's annual MotoGP press introduction at Madonna di Campiglio in Italy. "There are also lots of other companies who promote their products through motorcycle racing with the Ducati Marlboro Team such as Alfa Romeo, Gatorade and Puma. Of course these are tough times but there are still plenty of ways to make sure that the MotoGP World Championship remains a leading promotional vehicle," he told the press there. If Ducati can seize these opportunities, then maybe the other teams can too.

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Suzuki To Follow Kawasaki? Exit Rumors Persist

To paraphrase a great Irish wit, to lose one manufacturer may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness. After the dramatic withdrawal of Kawasaki from MotoGP, rumors persist that Suzuki is to follow. MotoGPMatters.com has now been passed on this rumor from three independent sources, two of which are inside the Japanese motorcycle industry, and it is starting to look less and less far-fetched.

The problem is, all that we have heard so far are the five chilling words "Suzuki is out of MotoGP," without any further details being provided. As a result, it is hard to say just how much credence we should attach to this story, but there are good reasons to consider it within the realms of the possible.

Firstly, there has still been no confirmation of Rizla extending their contract with the MotoGP team. The Dutch manufacturer of cigarette papers has already announced that it won't be sponsoring the BSB Suzuki team, which is also managed by Paul Denning, the manager of the MotoGP team. Even if Rizla are still interested, the amount involved is - in MotoGP terms - negligible. Indeed, the Rizla deal angered many inside the MotoGP paddock, as the sum involved - low seven figures, to include sponsoring the BSB team - is only about 5% of what would be needed to run the entire program for a year. A title sponsor, so the argument ran, should cover a big chunk of the teams fees, as Repsol does for Honda, Marlboro does for Ducati and Fiat does for Yamaha.

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Ilmor "Interested In Moto2"

The decision of the Grand Prix Commission to kill off the 250cc class and replace it with a four-stroke formula was met with a great deal of scepticism by both fans and followers of motorcycle racing. Apart from the sadness at the loss of the two strokes, there was some doubt whether the bikes could be built as cheaply as the Grand Prix Commission hoped, negating the aims of making cheaper racing.

However, there is no doubt that there is real interest in the four-stroke 600cc series. Moriwaki have already exhibited a prototype at a couple of motor shows, and Ronald Ten Kate expressed an interest in the series in an interview with MotoGPMatters.com at Portimao last year.

Today, Ilmor said that they, too, are interested in the new class. Speaking to MotoGPMatters.com, Steve Miller, managing director of the British-based company said that they are watching developments closely. "We are very interested in the class," Miller said. "We would definitely like to be involved, if the series is run seriously and the organization behind it is good."

The framework of the new series - a 600 cc four-stroke engine with steel spring valves and a rev limit, fitted into a prototype chassis - would seem to suit Ilmor right down to the ground. The Northamptonshire-based engineering firm, founded around the engineering genius of Mario Illien, has built a reputation for building and developing racing engines over the years. Their last venture into MotoGP - the remarkable Ilmor X3 800cc bike - foundered on a lack of sponsorship. But the firm's prowess as an engine builder is beyond question, and there is no doubt they could design an engine to fit the new regulations.

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Official: Silverstone Gets British Grand Prix from 2010

As Visordown reported - and as we feared - yesterday, Donington's redevelopment plans to allow the track to host a Formula 1 race have proven fatal to their MotoGP round. Today, Dorna officially announced that Silverstone will be hosting the British Grand Prix from 2010. The agreement will last for 5 years, leaving Donington out in the cold until at least 2015.

Speculation on the reason for Dorna's switch from Donington to Silverstone has centered on the emphasis which the Derbyshire track had placed on Formula 1. It is believed that this was not well received at Dorna, and with Silverstone having lost the British Formula 1 Grand Prix from 2010, the Northamptonshire track needed an international motorsports meeting to replace the huge hole left by F1.

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Silverstone To Replace Donington In 2010?

When the management of the Donington Park circuit announced that it was planning major changes to the track, to entice Formula 1 to race there, after Silverstone lost the British F1 Grand Prix, speculation ran rife that if F1 did make the switch, MotoGP would leave Donington. And so far, that speculation looks like it could be correct: Visordown is reporting that inside sources have confirmed that this is going to happen, and from 2010, MotoGP will race at Silverstone rather than Donington.

The news came after Donington received planning permission from the local authorities for the proposed track changes and new buildings, which include a new location for the pits and paddock; a new super-fast front straight, and another rolling downhill section between what is now Goddards and Redgate corner. Once the track changes have been made, then the track would be long enough to host a Formula 1 race.

The fly in the ointment is the small matter of raising 40 million pounds sterling, the first part of a total 100 million pound package of redevelopment. With the financial crisis in full swing, and the British economy suffering badly after the implosion of the housing bubble, the prospect of trying to raise such vast quantities of cash is daunting, to say the very least.

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Rossi To Ride At Qatar - In World Superbikes?

Since the end of the 2008 season, Valentino Rossi has been very public about his admiration of the World Superbike series. So much so that the revealed he had tried to arrange to race in the final World Superbike round of 2008 at Portimao in Portugal. After that proved impossible to arrange, Rossi then spoke of his desire to race triple world champion Troy Bayliss aboard a World Superbike some time in 2009.

Bayliss may have turned down Rossi's offer - or perhaps we should call it a challenge - but Rossi remains undeterred. The Doctor continues to press for a chance to ride in World Superbikes.

Now, according to the British motorcycle racing website bikesportnews.com, it looks like he could get his chance. BSN's Edgar Jessop has revealed that Valentino Rossi hopes to line up at the second race of the World Superbike season at Qatar in March.

The report cites unnamed sources inside the Yamaha Motor Italia team, but despite there being no official statement, the chances of Rossi actually racing in World Superbikes are pretty good. Rossi's MotoGP team boss Davide Brivio has already stated publicly that he is prepared to support Rossi in his bid for a World Superbike wildcard, so The Doctor would appear to have Yamaha's official blessing.

The prospect of Rossi riding in World Superbikes must be have Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta in a cold sweat. This has already been a very bad week for MotoGP, and the chance of MotoGP losing the goose that lays Dorna's golden eggs would see MotoGP's status as the premier motorcycle racing class showing some serious cracks. The next few years promise to be interesting times for motorcycle racing fans.

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Saving MotoGP Part 3 - Avoiding The Traps Of The Past

Over the past two days, we have examined the causes for MotoGP's current financial difficulties, and seen why most of the suggestions doing the rounds for fixing the situation are likely to do more harm than good. Today, in the final part of our examination of the state of MotoGP, we submit our own proposals which could form the basis for making the sport a great deal cheaper, and getting private teams back into the sport.

As explained in part one of this series, the biggest problem facing the sport is that horsepower, and with it, top speed, has become incredibly expensive. The best way to cut costs, then, is to make horsepower cheap again.

The easiest way of making horsepower cheap is the old-fashioned way, by raising engine capacity. There is no replacement for displacement, the old saying goes, and for years the quick way to more power has been to bore out the cylinders and add the cubic inches. But while an increase of engine capacity to, say, 1200cc would be a big improvement on the current situation, a braver step is necessary.

For under the current rules, the bikes are limited in two different ways: by engine capacity (800cc) and by fuel allowance (21 liters). Both of these factors can be regarded as having the same goal: to limit the energy output of the machinery. But if both factors perform the same function, why not simply drop one of those limits?

Removing the fuel limit might help make the racing more exciting, but it wouldn't help make the bikes any cheaper. Engine design would still chase the limits of what a given capacity is capable of, and with unlimited fuel to play with, that would make the engines even more high-revving and therefore fragile.

Bigger Is Better. Probably.

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