The last round of the 2011 MotoGP series, held at Valencia in Spain, also marked the end of the 800cc era, a five-year span that many fans and people in the paddock are happy to see finished. New rules for 2012, intended to reduce costs and attract more entries, allow 1000cc displacement with a maximum bore of 81mm (and an accordingly minimum stroke to cap rpm). The addition of the Claiming Rule Team clause opens up the grid to more entries, but has also generated mixed reactions — again, among both fans and many in the paddock.
The intent of the CRT clause appears to be to allow teams to enter a motorcycle using a production engine housed in an aftermarket or prototype chassis. Strict interpretation of the rule, however, leaves quite a bit of wiggle room. Teams not entered by a member of the MSMA (Motorcycle Sports Manufacturers’ Association, essentially the factories) can apply for CRT status. CRT bikes are subject to the same 1000cc and 81mm limitations as the factory bikes, but are allowed more engines (12 for the year as opposed to six) and more fuel (24 liters as opposed to 21). The only other specific rule states that MSMA manufacturers can purchase a CRT engine after a race for £20,000 (about $27,000) with the transmission or £15,000 ($20,000) without.
A later clarification issued by the FIM stated that “Any complete motorcycle model derived from series production…will not be accepted in the FIM Grand Prix World Championship classes.” This effectively stops a team from entering a WSBK-spec machine, and ensures that the bikes will be at least partially of prototype origin. Still, there is a plenty of latitude for interpretation; anything from a standard engine in an aftermarket chassis to, theoretically, a complete motorcycle built from scratch. Of course, an engine too elaborate or expensive will be in danger of being claimed, and a team stretching the rules can easily and quickly lose its CRT status and be forced to enter as a manufacturer.
Already there are some intriguing CRT bikes confirmed on the grid for 2012. Colin Edwards will ride on the NGM Forward Racing team with a BMW engine in a Suter chassis. Team San Carlo Honda Gresini will field an entry using an FTR frame and CBR1000RR engine. Former Kawasaki MotoGP rider Anthony West will ride an Aprilia-powered bike for the Speed Master team. Jorge Martinez’s Aspar team, which entered Hector Barbera on a satellite Ducati in 2011, will switch to CRT status and enter two bikes in 2012, an indication of how much cheaper it is expected to be. Randy de Puniet and Aleix Espargaro will ride the Aprilia-powered Aspar machines. Even with Suzuki out of the series this year, the confirmed entry list has more than 20 riders (up from 17 last year) and the addition of Aprilia, BMW and Kawasaki to the manufacturers.
Of the entries to date, Edwards on the Suter BMW is the most likely combination to pose a threat to the factory and satellite teams. Edwards has plenty of development experience in the class, the BMW engine is one of the strongest production units, and Suter has won both constructors championships in the Moto2 class to date. Early tests held at the end of 2011 showed the bikes to be several seconds off a competitive, front-running pace, but we can expect rapid development over the winter and well into next season as the chassis manufacturers learn the quirks of the serie’s Bridgestones and teams sort the electronics packages.
Among the dark-horse entries will certainly be one of the Aprilias. Randy de Puniet rode an Aprilia at the Jerez test that had its frame covered in duct tape, and the Aspar team has not indicated a frame manufacturer for the bikes. It’s not clear how much involvement the factory has, and this is where the rules enter a gray area: If the bikes use a prototype chassis designed and built by Aprilia and are looked after by Aprilia personnel at the track, they could potentially be refused entry under the CRT clause.
It will be interesting to see how things pan out over the next couple of years. Carmelo Ezpeleta, the CEO of Dorna, has pledged financial support for the Claiming Rule Teams in 2013 (a switch from satellite teams in the past) and is pushing for more changes to further cut costs, including a spec ECU and rev limit. There is some concern as to whether the factories will want to be involved at that point, and it’s understandable as there is currently a lot of effort in the development of electronics and how that applies to production bikes. As I’ve said before, it will be a difficult situation to justify if stock sportbikes end up having better electronics packages than the MotoGP bikes.
In the meantime, we can look forward to more competition, a fuller field with more manufacturers and most likely some controversy in MotoGP this year. SR