With all of the prototype seats occupied for 2014 – barring a contractual bust up between Ducati and Ben Spies, which is only an expensive theoretical possibility at the moment – battle has commenced for the rest of the MotoGP seats regarded as being most competitive. While the factory bikes – the bikes in the factory and satellite teams being raced as MSMA entries – are all taken, the privateer machines – using Dorna spec-ECU software and extra fuel – are still mostly up for grabs.
The three most highly sought after machines are the 2013 Yamaha M1s to be leased by the NGM Forward squad, Honda’s production racer (a modified RC213V with a standard gearbox and metal spring instead of pneumatic valves) and the Aprilia ART bikes, which are a heavily modified version of Aprilia’s RSV4 superbike.
Of the three, only the ART machine is a known quantity, with Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet having raced the bikes with some success in 2012 and 2013, joined by Yonny Hernandez and Karel Abraham this year. Teams and riders will have to guess about the performance of the Yamahas and Hondas, though given the basis of the two machines, it is a safe bet they will be relatively competitive.
The most popular machine among riders is the Yamaha M1, naturally enough. The bike is a near complete 2013 machine, with a few parts excluded, such as the fuel tank, and will utilize the spec-ECU software from Dorna, being developed by the current CRT teams.
Given just how good the 2013 M1 is – Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi have won races on it, Cal Crutchlow has scored regular podiums – it is expected to be the best privateer machine on the grid next season, and anyone hoping to advance in the series is angling for a ride on it.
With the 2013 MotoGP season at its halfway mark, now is a good time to take a look back and examine the engine usage for the teams and riders.
In 2012, with the engine durability regulations in their third full season, the factories appeared to have the situation pretty much under control. The only excitement arose when something unexpected happened, such as Jorge Lorenzo have an engine lunch itself after he was taken out by Alvaro Bautista at Assen last year.
For 2013, the engine allocation was reduced from six to five engines per season. Each rider now has five engines to last the entire season, for use in all timed practice sessions during each race weekend. With three seasons already under their belt, no real drama was expected, yet that is not quite how it has turned out.
Just when it looked like the MotoGP silly season was getting ready to wrap up, a few new developments threw a spanner or two in the works. A week ago, most MotoGP pundits were convinced that Cal Crutchlow would be going to Ducati, Scott Redding would be moving up with his Marc VDS Racing team, and there was next to no interest in Yamaha’s leased engines.
At the Sachsenring, many things changed, in part at the instigation of Honda, and in part because of Yamaha.
Honda has made the biggest move in the market. At the Sachsenring, credible rumors emerged of Honda attempting to secure both Redding and Crutchlow, in two different moves. HRC’s approach to Crutchlow could cause the biggest upset. The Japanese factory is known to be very impressed by Crutchlow, but their dilemma is that all four Honda prototype seats are ostensibly taken for 2014.
While both Marquez and Pedrosa have contracts for next year, and Bautista is locked in at Gresini for 2014, Stefan Bradl’s seat at LCR Honda could possibly be available. While Bradl is locked in to a two-year deal with HRC, Honda hold the option to decide not to take the second year, potentially freeing up Bradl’s bike, and that seat could then be taken by Cal Crutchlow.
Honda’s decision to skip the MotoGP test at Barcelona has so far not paid off. The first day of its three-day test at the Motorland Aragon circuit was an absolute washout, with torrential rain forcing the Honda riders to spend almost all day in the garages.
Only Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista put in a few laps, Bradl shaking down the 2014 version of the RC213V, which Honda has brought to the test, and Bautista checking a few things from Barcelona. Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez did not venture out on track.
Instead, Honda took the time to introduce the 2014 version of the RC213V it is planning to test in Aragon. The bike is completely new, including a new engine and chassis, the engine ready to managed the reduced fuel allowance (cut from 21 to 20 liters) to be introduced at the request of the MSMA from next year.
Cal Crutchlow called it right on Friday. “We know the Hondas take a little bit longer to set up, but when they come out Saturday morning, they normally take a second off.”
It was more like half a second on Saturday morning, but by the afternoon, Dani Pedrosa took nearly 1.6 seconds off his best time on Friday, smashing the pole record which had stood since 2008.
That was a lap set on the supersoft qualifying tires still used at the time, which had Nicky Hayden happily reminiscing about the fun to be had on the sticky one-lap rubber.
It was an extraordinary lap by Pedrosa, though the Honda man himself was not overly impressed. When asked if it was his best lap ever, Pedrosa acknowledged that it was good, perhaps one of his best, but still not as good as his lap at Valencia at the end of last year.
As Randy de Puniet heads to Japan to test Suzuki’s 2014 MotoGP bike, the possible availability (some won’t be convinced it’s a reality until a pair of Suzuki motorcycles appear on the grid in Qatar next April) of two new factory seats has spawned a Silly Season unto itself.
If that possibility entailed another satellite prototype team, the furor would be considerable, but that it’s a new factory team means reason and rationality are running for their lives.
So once again we have the chance to observe the unique mindset of the top level motorbike racer. To that mindset, at least in this modern era, the factory ride is the Holy Grail of motorcycle racing. It’s easy to see why this has happened.
After the days of the 500cc two-strokes, when a highly-developed formula meant a privateer team could compete with the deep-pocket teams, the four-stroke era has seen costs skyrocket, and factory-deep pockets dominate the win column. It’s for very good reasons that riders feel you have to be on a factory bike to win races. But the thing is, not all factories are equal.
The first test of the 2013 MotoGP season is completed, and Dani Pedrosa has completed a clean sweep, topping the timesheets on all three days. The Repsol Honda man confirmed his role as title favorite by posting a fast lap under the existing pole record set by Jorge Lorenzo last year.
He also opened-up a serious gap to the trio who have been chasing him all test long, putting nearly a third of a second on Jorge Lorenzo, the Yamaha man falling just short of his own pole record. However, what may worry Lorenzo more is the fact that Pedrosa declared at the end of the day that his objective was not to be fastest, but test the bike.
Valentino Rossi closed the gap to his teammate, ending the test a tenth from the time set by Lorenzo, though still four tenths from Pedrosa’s best lap. Rossi also leapfrogged over Marc Marquez, finally finishing ahead of the Repsol Honda rookie after ending the first two days behind him. Marquez finished as 4th fastest, six tenths behind Pedrosa, and the young Spaniard also had his first crash of the season, losing the front end on the way into the final corner. Marquez walked away unhurt, his Repsol RC213V did not fare quite so well.