A popular figure in the MotoGP paddock, Simoncelli tragically lost his life in 2011, during the second lap of the Malaysian Grand Prix.
It has been ten days since Carmelo Ezpeleta announced to an unsuspecting world that a new category would be added to the MotoGP class to contain Ducati, the ‘Factory 2’ class.
The change was to be ratified on Tuesday, 11th March, in a telephone meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, and Ezpeleta was confident that it would go through without too many problems.
Tuesday came and went, and no agreement had been reached. In fact, it has taken all week and much of this weekend for the situation to approach a resolution.
Sources with knowledge of the situation have now confirmed that an agreement will be announced on Monday, allowing the rules to be set in place for the start of the season on Thursday, March 20th.
So, who is to blame for the three-class farce? When the ‘Factory 2’ regulations were first announced, fans and followers were quick to point the finger of blame at Honda. With good reason: HRC has made a series of comments about the way everyone except HRC have interpreted the Open class regulations.
Honda thought it was their duty to build a production racer, so that is what they did. The fact that it is hopelessly uncompetitive against the Forward Yamahas – 2013-spec satellite Yamaha M1s running the 2013-spec Open software – led to suggestions from Honda that what Yamaha was doing was unfair.
When Ducati announced that they would also be switching to the Open category, Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo was quick to denounce the move, saying it would drive costs up for the Open class teams.
Thus, It was easy to put two and two together, and come up with HRC putting pressure on Dorna to impose a penalty on Ducati, for fear of them exploiting the benefits of the Open class. Those putting two and two together appear to have come up with a number which is not as close to four as they thought, however.
The CRT-replacement Open class in MotoGP is causing an even bigger shake up of the class than was expected. The outright speed of the Forward Yamaha at the first two Sepang tests provoked a testy response from Honda, who claimed it was entirely against the spirit of the rules.
Then came news that Ducati was to switch to an Open entry, giving them the freedom to develop their engines and use more fuel, in exchange for giving up their own ECU software.
This provoked an even angrier response from Honda, Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo telling the MotoGP.com website that they were unhappy with the introduction of the new ECU software Magneti Marelli brought to the second Sepang test, which was much more sophisticated, though it was not used by the teams.
It seems Honda’s complaints have not fallen on deaf ears. Today, in an interview with Spanish sports daily AS, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta announced that a third, intermediate category is to be introduced for 2014.
The 2014 MotoGP season marks a key point in the evolution of Grand Prix racing. Next season, all entries in the MotoGP class must use the Magneti Marelli standard ECU and datalogger as part of their hardware package. For the first time in history, electronics have been limited in motorcycle racing’s premier class.
It is a small victory for Dorna and the teams; however, only the hardware has been regulated. All entries must use the standard ECU, but the choice of which software that ECU runs is up to the teams themselves.
If a team decides to run Dorna’s standard software, they get extra fuel to play with, and more engines to last a season. If a factory decides they would rather write their own software, they are also free to do so, but must make do with only 20 liters to last a race, and just five engines to last a season.
The difference between the two – entries under the Open class, using Dorna software, and as Factory option entries using custom software – is bigger than it seems. Open class entries are stuck with the engine management strategies (including launch control, traction control, wheelie control, and much more) as devised and implemented by the Magneti Marelli engineers, under instruction by Dorna.
Factory option entries will have vastly more sophisticated strategies at their disposal, and manufacturers will be free to develop more as and when they see fit.
The freedom to develop electronics strategies has been a deal-breaker for the factories throughout the four-stroke era. The change in capacity from 990cc to 800cc in 2007 vastly increased the importance of electronics in the overall package, with more and more money going into both the development and the management of electronics strategies.
The combination of a vast array of sensor inputs, fuel injection, and electronic ignition has meant that vehicle control has moved from merely managing fueling to dynamic and even predictive engine management. Engine torque is now monitored and managed based on lean angle, bike pitch, tire wear, fuel load, and a host of other variables.
So it comes as no surprise that Honda is already making threatening noises over the regulations due to come into force from 2017 onwards. Dorna intends to remove the freedom for factories to use their own software from 2017 onwards, with all bikes using the same, spec, Dorna-supplied software, as currently being developed for the Open category.
Despite the posturing ahead of this year’s Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix, which seemed to suggest that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would exercise an option to forgo hosting the 2014 MotoGP Championship, Dorna and IMS have come to an accord on keeping the Indianapolis GP for next season, with a date in mid-August still to be announced.
Keeping three American races on the calendar for at least the immediate future, IMS also announced that it was working with MotoGP on a “long-term future” to keep the premier class coming back to Indianapolis, which bodes well for the US keeping its dominant role in hosting the MotoGP Championship.
Casey Stoner has quashed rumors that he could make a return to MotoGP. In an interview with the British magazine Autosport, he says he will not come back to Grand Prix racing while it continues in the direction it is heading in. “I’m closed. I’m done with it,” Stoner told Autosport.
There have been persistent rumors that Stoner could come back for a couple of wildcards at the end of the season, though the Australian has denied he would be interested in coming in as a wildcard.
More outlandish rumors surfaced a month ago, claiming that Stoner was close to making a shock return to Ducati, and that the Italian company’s new German ownership had offered him a large sum to race again.
Talking to the Indy Star, Mark Miles (CEO of Hulman & Co, the parent company to Indianapolis Motor Speedway) has put some doubt into the historic venue’s commitment to host the MotoGP Championship.
Having a contract to run the race through the 2014 season, Miles said that IMS might opt-out of the final year in its agreement with Dorna (IMS apparently has this option for a brief window after the 2013 Indianapolis GP).
“We’re going to make the most of the opportunity,” said Miles talking to the Indy Star. “Our mindset now is that we’re going to go through 2014, but we’re going to look at this year and evaluate it right after.”
However while the news has focused so far on IMS’s ability to opt-out, both Dorna and Indianapolis Motor Speedway have options in their contract to go through with the 2014 round, and with a bevy of variables in the air, we may or may not see three American GP rounds next year.
So far, so good. That seems to be the story from the first day of practice at Le Mans. A full day of dry weather – except for the last few minutes of FP2 for the Moto3 class, where the rain turned briefly to hail, only to blow out again as quickly as it came – means that everyone had a chance to work on their race set up.
With the top four separated by just 0.166 seconds, the top five are within a quarter of a second, and Alvaro Bautista, the man in ninth, is just over seven tenths from the fastest man Dani Pedrosa.
A good day too for the Hondas. Dani Pedrosa was immediately up to speed, as expected. Marc Marquez was also quick in the afternoon, which was less expected. Unlike Jerez and Austin, this was the first time he rode a MotoGP machine at Le Mans, and getting used to hauling a 260 hp, 160kg bike around the tight layout of the French track is a different proposition to riding a Moto2 bike with half the horsepower here.
He took a morning to get used to the track, asked for a few changes to the base set up inherited from Casey Stoner, and then went and blitzed to second in the afternoon, 0.134 seconds off his teammate.
More important than Marquez’s speed is his consistency, however. In the afternoon, he posted seven laps of 1’34, which looks to be the pace to expect for a dry race. Only two men did more, Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo having posted nine laps at that pace, with both men also consistently a tenth or two quicker than the Spanish rookie.
That MotoGP is too Iberocentric – too many Spanish races, and too many Spanish riders – is obvious to all who follow the sport, with the possible exception of a blinkered Spanish journalist or two. The series has to change, to move away from having four races a season in Spain, and to explore new markets in South America and Asia.
This is exactly what is to happen, according to an interview Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta gave to the Reuters news agency on Friday. Reuters reporter Alan Baldwin spoke to Ezpeleta at the Barcelona circuit, where the Dorna CEO was attending the Formula 1 race.
In the interview, Ezpeleta laid out his intentions to move away from Spain and, to a lesser extent, the US, and towards Asia and South America, with new races to be held in Brazil and Asia, though as he has done before, Ezpeleta would not be drawn on exactly which Asian country.