The spec tire rule in MotoGP is one of its most hated elements. Introduced for the 2009 season after a mass defection from Michelin threatened to leave everyone except Bridgestone struggling to survive, the standard tire has had a massive impact on the series. The idea behind it was to reduce costs, and for the smaller privateer teams who could only buy their tires, it has helped to bring down expenses.
But the side effects have been fairly disastrous. Having a spec tire may have reduced the cost of tires, but it has raised the cost of development for the chassis, electronics and engines. Instead of building a bike and having a tire company iron out imperfections with different carcasses and compounds, the bikes have to be designed completely around the tires. The problems the engineers face have been especially obvious this year: the Ducati continues to struggle with a lack of front-end grip, while the Honda suffers terribly from chatter. Both problems could be sorted out in a couple of weeks with specialized tires made for them.
That, of course, would raise costs again, for tire manufacturers, but especially for the private teams - those that could not get themselves sponsored by a tire company, that is, like Tech 3 back in 2007 and 2008. What's more, it would also open up the performance gap between the factories and the privateer teams once again, something which the spec tire was supposed to get rid of. When factory bikes get specially made tires and private teams get cast-offs from several generations previously, then the dominance of the factories becomes even greater.
The Australian Superbike series has come up with a novel method of trying to get around the shortcomings of a spec tire without plunging the series into a spending war again. From 2013, the series will open up the tire supply to competition, while imposing a price cap on the tires to be supplied. Pirelli, Michelin and Dunlop will all be able to supply tires to the series, though for a maximum price of AUD $580 a set. What's more, compounds are to be limited: each brand will be allowed to homologate two compounds for the season.
It is an interesting approach which may show the way forward for other series. By imposing both a price cap and a limit on the number of tires that can be used in a weekend, the costs are contained, making the tire budget a known quantity. But by allowing multiple suppliers, you make it possible for different motorcycle design strategies to be successful, once again allowing a tire to be designed more closely for a bike, rather than forcing engineers to design a bike around the tire. The biggest risk is that the teams will all flock to a single supplier, as has happened with suspension and brakes, using the racer's logic that as long as you are on the same equipment as the next guy, you have a chance of beating them - a logic which Tech 3 crew chief Guy Coulon has pointed out is flawed.
This is going to be an interesting development to follow. And with spec electronics and a rev limit now looking set to be adopted in 2014 rather than 2015 - the raising of the proposed rev limit from 15,000 to 15,500 RPM is rumored to have helped persuade the stragglers - new tires will be needed then anyway. The ASBK series will be watched very closely in the next couple of years.
Pirelli, Michelin and Dunlop tyres for 2013 ASBK
For immediate release: 21 August, 2012.
Riders will have the choice to race on Pirelli, Michelin and Dunlop tyres in the 2013 Australian Superbike Championships (ASBK).
International Entertainment Group (IEG) will place a cap on the number and price of tyres to ensure costs are kept to a minimum for all participating.
IEG Managing Director Yarrive Konsky said: “The move was made to allow riders a wider choice and will bring the cost of racing down, as well as add another exciting element to the tactics and strategy of racing.
“IEG thanks Pirelli and Michelin for their interest in being involved once more and Dunlop for their continued support.”
The cap and number of tyres per class are as follows:
Superbike & Prostock: Under $580 per set / 3 front & 4 rear / 2 compounds may be homologated per brand
Supersport & Superstock: Under $480 per set / 3 front & 3 rear / 2 compounds may be homologated per brand
Superlites: Under $350 per set / 2 front & 2 rear / 2 compounds will be homologated per brand
250 Production: Control tyre by Pirelli / 1 front & 1 rear / 2 compounds may be homologated