Much of what Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta is trying to do is focused on cost-cutting. The introduction of a control ECU in 2014 hasn’t been well received by the factories. HRC boss Nakamoto had threatened to take his electronics to World Superbike. But that avenue was shut by Dorna’s new power over the future of World Superbike, which will surely become more production-based. MotoGP can then dumb down its machinery and not worry about being slower than World Superbike.
It isn’t just electronics where too much money is being spent. Honda’s “seamless shift” transmission is a very expensive option for the teams that lease RC213Vs. The gearboxes have their own HRC technician and are removed at the end of the race weekend. The transmission was developed under Ross Brawn when he ran Honda’s Formula 1 project, which is why some refer to it as the “$10 million gearbox.” The Honda RC213V advantage isn’t as much in horsepower, as many riders chasing Hondas think, but the gearbox and electronics, and Honda’s are proprietary.
Valentino Rossi won the last...
Valentino Rossi won the last championship for the 500cc two-strokes before the premier class was converted to the current four-stroke MotoGP format.
It is difficult to overestimate...
It is difficult to overestimate the significance of Valentino Rossi’s contribution to MotoGP’s success. His popularity has transcended normal boundaries and obstacles for racing, giving him — and MotoGP — a huge worldwide audience.
The huge amounts of money...
The huge amounts of money necessary to field a competitive entry plus all the other attendant costs in MotoGP has become a major issue with the still-struggling economy, and has forced a few manufacturers to back out.
It was supposedly safety that brought the 800cc era in 2007. The idea was that the 800s would be slower and less lethal than the 990s that ran from 2002 through 2006. From the start it was a flawed argument — the 800s were faster in the corners, where most crashes occurred. Electronics became more intrusive and passing was passé. The era began and ended with Casey Stoner as world champion, first on a Ducati in 2007 and in 2011 on a Honda. There was great hope that the move to 1000s for 2012 and the next four years would bring back some of the gallantry of the 990 era, and it has, to a degree.
“I think the racing has been better this year, other than a few of them,” Ducati Marlboro’s Nicky Hayden said, though it hasn’t produced the blazing lap times or top speeds some had hoped for. “It’s not the big difference like people expected.” Part of that is down to weather. Much of the MotoGP season has been plagued by foul weather. The result is that the riders have been denied critical dry track time to set their machines up, and especially the highly sophisticated electronics, favoring the established teams over the start-ups, widening the gap between the haves and have-nots.
The 1000s do weigh three kilograms (6.6 pounds) more, but Hayden said that chassis-wise you could take the 800cc engine out, install the 1000cc motor and not see a big difference. The difference comes in riding styles. The engines now make in excess of 280 horsepower, which forces the riders to attack the track differently; the somewhat higher top speeds mean longer braking distances, mid-corner speed is slower, and more acceleration is done on the fat center part of the tire.
One of the crucial moments in MotoGP history came in 2009, with the advent of control tires. Now the manufacturers had to build bikes around a tire, rather than the other way around. The riders naively thought they were getting the same tires Bridgestone had built during the open competition era. One of the senior managers of a rival tire company claims the cost of the polymer Bridgestone used in its pre-control tires — which is made in the U.S. and put through a process in Japan — was about $1500 per rear tire. There was no way the company was going to spend that much on free tires. Suddenly there was less choice and less development.
Overnight Yamaha’s YZR-M1 inline four had to use the same tire as the V-4s of Honda and Ducati. At the start of every year, at least one factory blames Bridgestone for its woes. This year it’s Honda, which claims the Bridgestone front causes chatter. The most vocal Bridgestone critic is Stoner. Yet it’s rarely kept him from continuing to be one of the three fastest riders, along with Lorenzo and Pedrosa. That trio filled the podium at the first three races and two more. At least two of them have been on the podium of every race but one.
Yamaha touts Lorenzo’s successes in its advertising, pointing out the relationship of the company’s race and street bikes. No other marque can claim as close a connection. The crossplane crankshaft that began life in the YZR-M1 made its way into the YZF-R1 in 2009. The R1 has a seven-level traction control system derived from MotoGP. It also has ride-by-wire throttle control, which began life in MotoGP. The system has a variable intake system that spreads the power. The forks on the R1 use a MotoGP trick: The right fork handles rebound damping, the left fork compression damping.
More relevant to production motorcycles than MotoGP technology is World Superbike. World Superbike starts with a set of production crankcases, crankshafts and pistons. Yes, they have great leeway to make changes, but because of their starting point World Superbike is far more relevant.
The switch to a spec tire...
The switch to a spec tire in 2009 was one of the biggest changes to MotoGP in the past ten years. Some riders have found that the rule isn’t exactly what they’d hoped for.
What FIM boss Vito Ippolito would like to see is one set of Superbike technical regulations for everybody, World Superbike and all the major domestic championships: British Superbike, AMA Pro, Australian Superbike, German Superbike. That will be impossible in the near term — not surprisingly, there is a great disparity in the current regs, especially in electronics and tires — but an effort will be made to make their technical rules similar in time. That will further delineate the difference between the two championships, positioning MotoGP for a stronger leadership position.
The last word goes to Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team owner Herve Poncharal. “Not a lot of people realize how important for the future of both Superbike and MotoGP the fact is that now we have one owner” Bridgepoint, he said. “This is not only politics and business, this is very important for the future of two championships, because clearly we have to reposition them and make more complementary to each other. The two championships need to go down on costs, like we’ve done for 250/Moto2, and 125/Moto3. We need to do the same.”