While the 2013 World Superbike and MotoGP championship seasons are barely underway, there has already been plenty of activity in both series with regards to 2014 and beyond as both championships continue their quests to reduce costs and improve parity among the teams. Both series will be significantly different from their current forms in the medium-term future, but World Superbike especially could be altered dramatically as soon as next year.
After long and stormy negotiations between Dorna and the manufacturers, the 2014 MotoGP rules include the compulsory use of a spec ECU. Factory and satellite teams will be able to use their own software in that ECU, but will be subject to a maximum fuel capacity of 20 liters (the current maximum is 21 liters). The maximum number of engines allowed for the season will also drop from six to five for the factory and satellite teams. The remainder of the grid, currently filled with Claiming Rule Team entries, must use the spec ECU software but will have a fuel capacity of 24 liters and 12 engines to use.
An important note attached to these regulations is that they “are subject to the satisfactory conclusion of ongoing negotiations between FIM, Dorna and the manufacturers concerning the supply of additional machines and engines for use by other teams from 2014.” The expectation is that Honda will supply a production racer suitable for MotoGP and that Yamaha will make engines available to teams willing to produce their own chassis. This will effectively end the CRT era in the class (although it will still be an option) but there will remain a two-tier structure with factory and non-factory teams operating under different rules. Ideally, there will be much less of a gap between the two groups as there was at some races between the factory and CRT riders in 2012.
While this is a step in the right direction of more competitive bikes on the grid, there is a fly in the ointment. With ever-stricter rules, spec components and stifled development in MotoGP curtailing performance, the gap between prototype machines and World Superbike equipment is steadily diminishing. At Jerez late last year, a group of MotoGP riders — the factory Ducati teams and the Avintia Blusens FTR Kawasakis — were on track with World Superbike regulars. While Nicky Hayden on the Desmosedici was quickest, the MotoGP riders as a group were no faster than the World Superbike riders. As announced last year by Bridgepoint, the parent company of both series, Dorna now controls both World Superbike and MotoGP with CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta at the helm. The fear is that Dorna will more distinguish the two series by putting tighter restrictions on the superbikes to slow them down.
The World Superbike rules for 2014 have not been released but Ezpeleta has hinted at several changes in store, including price caps and tighter technical regulations — perhaps even more in-line with current Superstock rules. Riders and teams have commented that the series is in good shape and there is no need for Dorna to interfere. Simon Buckmaster, manager of the PTR Honda World Supersport team, pointed out in a press release that the major expense for his team is not electronics or engines. “The biggest cost is actually the logistics of racing, i.e. freight, staff and travel. Anything that reduces this would be a very good way forward.”
It’s not surprising that the World Superbikes are just as quick as MotoGP bikes. The current Bridgestone tires and engine limits in MotoGP (WSB has qualifying tires and no cap on the number of engines used) is just too much of a disadvantage to overcome.
MotoGP has definitely arrived at a crossroads. Too much is at stake now and too many people have their own interests to worry about. Dorna wants to put on a good show with every bike on the grid having a chance to win. The manufacturers and component suppliers want to use the series for technical development. And the riders are out to prove they are the best in the world. Each group is pulling the series in its own direction; there is currently no way to please everyone, but the series needs all three groups to survive.
MotoGP is a huge business, with boatloads of money constantly changing hands. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board last year reportedly paid more than $500 million for a 39-percent stake in Dorna, putting its value at over $1.3 billion. This year, Ben Spies’ Ducati will be sponsored by Ignite Asset Management, “a New York-based, alternative-asset-management firm led by a group of hedge-fund industry veterans and supported by private investors with a passion for motorsports,” according to a Ducati press release. And when Monster Energy announced its sponsorship of the Yamaha team earlier this year, it was reported that the company had to buy out Jorge Lorenzo’s personal sponsorship deal with Rockstar, valued at €1 million ($1.4 million). I know racing MotoGP is expensive, but with all that money — and that kind of money — flying around at the front of the grid and in Dorna’s coffers, perhaps the way forward is not cost-cutting for everyone, but rather Dorna finding a way to get some of that money into the hands of the teams that desperately need it.