Kawasaki: Why Flog A Dead Horse, When You Could Revive A Live One?

The latest news/rumor on the Kawasaki front - or perhaps that should be the final nail in Kawasaki's coffin - is that Dorna is attempting to acquire the Kawasaki bikes so that Marco Melandri can race in MotoGP in the 2009 season, as reported by various press sources. Carmelo Ezpeleta is said to be willing to pay for the bikes to run out of his - or rather Dorna's - own pocket, in order to pad out the grid and give it some semblance of credibility.

If this is true - and that's a big if, as one of the sources is Alberto Vergani, Marco Melandri's manager, and Italian riders' managers are about as reliable as Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf, though they tend to err slightly more often on the side of optimism - then it is both completely puzzling and remarkably short-sighted. If the Kawasaki - or "Dornasaki" as some wags are labeling it - does turn up on the grid, it will be a bike that is likely to start at the back and travel rapidly backwards. As the year progresses, the competition will receive a steady stream of upgrades, improving at each race. And each of these upgrades will leave the Comatose Kawasaki yet another step behind, heaping calumny upon humiliation over the head of the poor rider foolish enough to volunteer to ride the ailing beast.

Any attempt to resurrect Kawasaki will be doomed to failure, with no money for development. The attempt offers nothing to either the team or the rider(s) involved, and is more likely to damage Dorna than anything else, despite allowing the Spanish company to save face. This is surely a rescue better left untried.

But what is the alternative? I hear you cry. Well, believe it or not, there is one, and one that offers hope not just for the 2009 season, but for MotoGP going forward. I was fortunate enough to visit Ilmor over the past week, to speak with the people involved in their ill-fated MotoGP X3 project. What struck me there was the passion and interest which everyone still had for MotoGP, and their desire - verging almost on desparation - to get back into the series, and make a point. The people involved in the project were filled with a burning desire to prove that they can build bikes, and that the poor performance of the first iteration of the X3 was unjustly laid at their door. They believed they had learned a great deal about the bike since the project was called off at the beginning of 2007, and after consulting widely with people with lots of experience of building competitive MotoGP bikes, have done tests with a modified bike which saw it vastly improve on the time set by its previous incarnation.

But two responses I received stuck out in my mind. The first was how long it would take for Ilmor to get the bike ready to race, should the money appear to fund the project. "About 3 minutes," was Ian Watson's response, the designer responsible for the engine. The other - and even more relevant - reply came up in a discussion of money. When I told them how much Olivier Jacque said Kawasaki were spending on their MotoGP project (about 40 million Euros), jaws dropped. "We could do it for a fraction of that," they said, heads nodding in unanimous agreement.

In the light of the enthusiasm for MotoGP which seeped from every pore at Ilmor, it is frankly bizarre that Dorna would even contemplate pouring money into the corpse of Kawasaki. Carmelo Ezpeleta would undoubtedly have to spend several million euros just to keep a moribund bike on the grid. A pall of despair would hang over the entire project, and it is hard to imagine anyone - rider, team or fans - who could summon any form of enthusiasm for such a venture.

Contrast this with the passion which I saw at Ilmor, their willingness to learn and their determination to succeed, and it is immediately obvious what the better choice would be. Instead of investing in a dying cause, and trying to drag a manufacturer who has given up on MotoGP back into the series, Dorna and Carmelo Ezpeleta could bring a new manufacturer into the series, a manufacturer which is committed to staying, and has a proven track record of success. It would be a public relations triumph, bringing a new manufacturer into the series in the midst of a financial crisis, and has the potential to rekindle interest from the circles of Formula 1. With F1 growing every more expensive, the companies involved might once again start to ponder participating in racing with almost the same media exposure for less than a tenth of the cost.

Dorna has the chance to start breeding new interest, and a new stable of participants in MotoGP. The tragedy is that they would rather try and flog the dead horse that is Kawasaki.

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Comments

I'll fly with you... :-)

This seems like such the obvious right thing to do, for Dorna to lure Ilmor back into the fray rather than waste anymore time with Kawasaki. I'm not holding my breath on this though...

I hope Ilmor is still interested in making an engine thats legal for the Moto2 class.

Excellent idea, though I'm not holding my breath. I can't imagine Dorna making a move to support an 'outsider'. Seems like Dorna is intentionally trying to screw the series sometimes. I'm sure there are all kinda of politics going on in the background, but it just kills me.

I'd like to see the guys at Motoczysz get a chance to compete as well. From reading info in their blogs, it sounds like they already have an 800cc bottom end ready to go, they just need some capital to invest in R&D on the air valves.

Too bad the rules are (in part) set up to keep the little guys out.

Although I would cheer for the Ilmor team as the ultimate underdog, I'm afraid they are too far behind and would fare even worse than an unsupported Kawasaki. The Ilmor bike would probably have a few more DNFs (maybe more than just a few) and if it made the entire race, be lapped by every other bike on the grid. It may pay off and be a legitimate competitor a few years down the road, but I wouldn't say that it would be better off on the grid this year than the Kawasaki.

Find a neutral third party to investigate the effort, provided some seed funding from Dorna to give Ilmor those three magic minutes and run the best ZXRR vs. the X3½ ridden by a set of former GP racers on the same day and get some data. In theory this could be done in a few weeks, providing some crucial feedback to make a sound decision...

That is, if a sound decision is actually being sought.

-jim

Sorry, but I don't buy this idea for a second. No offence to the hard working engineers and mechanics, but that Ilmor was atrocious. Seconds off the pace, and that was a long time ago. Sure, they could get a bike running in 3 minutes, but to suggest that it would be anything like as fast as even the Kawasaki is a joke. They've learned a lot since then? Uh huh. You'd be better off hauling a couple of last year's Yamahas out of the skip and running them without any factory support. Seriously, if anyone should get a that kind of opportunity it would be Team KR.

Two things:

Firstly, what was the reason the Ilmor was so "atrocious", and whose fault do you think that was? Do you think they wouldn't be able to fix the problem?

Secondly, I think people have rose-tinted spectacles of the Team KR project. The KR bike wasn't competitive until they got some help from Honda with the chassis, making it less KR211V, and more RC211V. Though I'd love to see KR back in the paddock, if I had to choose between the two to build a successful package, I'd go with Ilmor.

Whose fault that the Ilmor was atrocious? The guys that designed the engine, mostly. That would be Ilmor.

Yes, Team KR had a lot of help from Honda, before Honda proceeded to shaft them completely with the 800cc engine. But the fact remains that King Kenny and his guys built a good bike and raced it. That thing certainly wasn't just a rebadged Honda. Half the teams in World Supers buy their swing arms from Kenny so he knows a thing or two about bikes that Ilmor don't.

I accept your argument that it would be nice to subsidize a small manufacturer, but I think we'll have to agree to disagree on which small team we would support. :)

...to a certain extent:

In consulting the Spalding scripture, the '06 bike did get some design help from Honda.  The main frame spars had to be different for the new engine anyway, so they recommended making them longer to get a little more chassis flex.  However, there were so many iterations over the course of the year, they never really arrived at a frame/swingarm/setup combination that was ideal.  Not surprisingly, the best compromise was found at Estoril, in the penultimate race of that year.

One thing is certain:  it didn't matter what they did with the bike in '07 because the motor was a 3-legged dog, and unless they'd had enough money to swoon Ducati for a couple engines, the project was doomed by the switch to 800cc. 

I still wish there was a reasonable way to drop the Kawasaki I-4 in that KR V-4 frame effectively, and for someone to step forward with appropriate funding for Ilmor.

Sorry, Im not as well versed in The Queen's English as I thought I was. I thought wag stood for Wives and Girlfriends and usually refered to the Footballers. Whats it mean in this context?

"If the Kawasaki - or "Dornasaki" as some wags are labeling it..."

Seriously why even waste the money on this. This is unthinkable! Unfathomable! Where was he with millions when teams were struggling to compete? Seems to me that it would have been better for him to give Suzuki and Kawi a budget bump with his money rather than let them be uncompetative. I can timagine that Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and Suzuki are going to sit by while this happens. A serious conflict of intrest would generated by this idea and I wouldnt stand for it if I was paying my own way.

It's a very old English word. There's an excellent explanation on this page:

"wag, now meaning "person fond of making jokes," is recorded in English since 1553; it derives from the verb to wag (i.e. to make a swinging movement), perhaps in this context as a shortening of waghalter "gallows bird," a person destined to swing in a noose or halter, soon applied humorously to mischievous children (the same notion remains in the Dutch expression voor galg en rad opgroeien), later to all young men without the naughty connotation, finally to witty persons."