Free Practice 2 for the Qatar GP has just finished at the Losail International Circuit, and the speed gap between the prototypes and the CRTs is abundantly clear. One of the faster tracks on the MotoGP calendar, everyone in the paddock knew going into the Qatar GP that the power advantage held by the Ducati, Honda, & Yamaha prototypes would be apparent down Losail’s .664 mile front straightaway. But now after getting to see how the two bike classifications stack up on the same course and on the same day, the results from FP1 & FP2 show a 13.6 mph gap between the tops CRTs to the top prototype GP bikes.
Roadracing World is reporting that AMA Pro Racing team Attack Performance has gotten the green light from Dorna to enter both American MotoGP rounds as a CRT entry, with AMA Superbike rider Steve Rapp slotted as the rider of the machine. Listed as the machine’s constructor on the entry, Attack Performance is presumably building its own race bike, which is almost certainly to have a Kawasaki ZX-10R motor at its core.
If the team undertakes the next steps in the process of racing in MotoGP, and it is true that Attack Kawasaki is building its own bike, then the team will have a short amount of time to put together a competent race package, as there are only four months until the Red Bull US GP at Laguna Seca.
The Aprilia ART, as it has become known in the GP paddock, is so far the most competent claiming rule team package (CRT) on the MotoGP grid. Powered by an Aprilia RSV4 Factory motor that is World Superbike spec and beyond, the Aprilia ART also features a chassis that has been developed by the very same Italian company. A turn-key CRT package offered by Aprilia, if you believe the rumors circulating in MotoGP, the Noale-based company’s involvement with the ART doesn’t stop at delivery.
Rumored to be the byproduct of Aprilia’s aborted MotoGP campaign, in the World Superbike paddock the RSV4 is described as a MotoGP bike that was sold to consumers with WSBK domination in mind. Taking the World Superbike Championship in only the team’s second year in the series, Max Biaggi and Aprilia have helped perpetuate that rumor further, and currently lead the 2012 Championship as it races into Imola this weekend.
If a few years ago all the paddock gossip was about how Aprilia managed to campaign a thinly veiled MotoGP bike in WSBK, then this year the talk will surely be how the Italian factory snuck its superbike onto the MotoGP grid. Despite the irony in that statement, it takes only a casual glance at the Aprilia ART and Aprilia RSV4 Factory WSBK to see the immediate similarities between the two machines.
Former GP racer Lucio Cecchinello is a Honda man through and through. Team owner and principal at LCR Honda (the ‘LCR’ standing for Lucio Cecchinello Racing), Cecchinello started his racing career on a Honda NS125R, and worked his way up to the GP ranks, where he spent most of his time on a Honda RS125 (he finished his career on an Aprilia though). In 1996, Cecchinello started LCR, making him both the team’s rider and its principal director, an absolute rarity in the paddock.
LCR Honda slowly grew from the 125 & 250 Championships into the premier class of the sport: MotoGP. Campaigning a number of top riders, LCR Honda has seen Casey Stoner, Randy de Puniet, Alex de Angelis, Nobby Ueda, Toni Elias & Carlos Checa all ride the team’s bikes at some point in their careers. This year LCR Honda has Moto2 Champion Stefan Bradl in the saddle, and the team hopes the German rider will be just as impressive on the big bikes as he was with the 600’s.
Taking some time to talk to HRC’s PR machine, Cecchinello shares his unique perspective on having both a racing and managing career. As a satellite team owner, Cecchinello’s opinions about CRTs from a business perspective are especially intriguing, as he forecasts trouble for CRT teams trying to bring in big-name sponsors.
Perhaps most significant are his comments regarding Moto2 though, as Cecchinello believes that the middle class of GP racing should go to a 500cc two-cylinder format, which would allow manufacturers to race in all three class with the same cylinder and head designs. The interview is a pretty good read for any MotoGP fan, check it out after the jump.
One of the biggest compliments ever made regarding the Aprilia RSV4 was actual meant to be a criticism, as when it came time to homologate the RSV4 for World Superbike racing, the competition cried afoul — saying the RSV4 Factory was really a MotoGP bike in a production bike’s clothing. Said to be the leftovers from Aprilia’s aborted MotoGP effort, the Aprilia RSV4 had a meteoric rise in WSBK, and won the Championship after only the company’s second season back in the series.
It should come then with little surprise that the Aprilia and its V4 motor has been the popular choice for teams in the MotoGP Championship looking for a claiming-rule team (CRT) solution. Dubbed the ART, the Aprilia-powered CRT bike also features an aluminum chassis that is designed by the Italian company. Thus with Aprilia offering essentially a turn-key GP solution for teams like Aspar Racing, it probably shouldn’t shock us that the similarities between the production WSBK-spec RSV4 and prototype ART being almost too close to distinguish between the two, even down to the bodywork.
Given the fact that Dorna desperately needs an alternative to prototype racing machines built by Ducati, Honda, and Yamaha for its CRT gamble to work — not to mention the need for CRT bikes and teams that are competitive on the track with the bikes from the OEMs — one can only imagine that Dorna is turning a blind eye to obvious “bending of the rules” that is occurring with the ART project. If the ends justify the means, then surely none of this matters to Ezpeleta et al, and right now Randy de Puniet and the Aspar Racing team’s CRT effort are the MotoGP rights holder’s best bet at recapturing control of MotoGP racing.
That all being said, the Power Electronics Aspar team debuted its ART race bike, and as is the custom, disclosed only some of the most basic technical specifications about the machine. At the helm of Aspar’s ARTs will be Randy de Puniet and Aleix Espargaro, and while the CRTs as a whole have been off the pace of the prototype bikes, RdP’s pace on the Aprilia has been noticeably quicker, and could give some of the slower satellite riders a run for their money. Technical details and photos are after the jump.
Press interviews that are done internally by the teams themselves are usually very one-sided, glowing, and devoid of any controversial or tough questions, so you have to give a hat-tip to HRC for producing a pretty fair shake of an interview with Gresini Honda‘s Fausto Gresini. The former-racer turned MotoGP Team Manager is heralded as the most successful team owner in the history of MotoGP, which is certainly open for debate, though Gresini undeniably has some very note-worthy notches on his belt.
Along with his successes Gresini and his squad unfortunately have also had their fair share of tragedy. Losing Daijiro Kato at Suzuka in 2003 and Marco Simoncelli at Sepang in 2011, the team has been at the center of two dark chapters of the MotoGP story. Running a black livery in 2012, instead of the team’s customary white color scheme, the absence of Simoncelli still percolates underneath the demure exterior of the team, though the Gresini Honda team is clearly looking forward instead of back.
Taking on the challenge of running a CRT entry for the 2012 MotoGP Championship, Gresini Honda will race with both a factory prototype and with a Ten Kate-prepped Honda CBR1000RR motor in an FTR chassis. At the helm of the CRT machine will be Michele Pirro, the same rider who gave Gresini a dramatic finish to the 2011 season, by winning the final Moto2 round at the Valencian GP. Also new to the team is Alvaro Bautista, who has been our dark horse favorite here at A&R. Fast, but underrated, Bautista’s true potential will be measured this year as he joins an all-star team, and rides “the bike” of the GP paddock: the 2012 Honda RC213V.
While a handful of MotoGP riders get the lion’s share of media attention, other riders can only wonder what might have been if they had landed in the premier class on more competitive machinery. With five 250cc wins, Randy de Puniet joined the Kawasaki MotoGP team in 2006, and switched to the LCR Honda team after two seasons. In 2011 he managed a season best 6th on the Pramac Ducati, another victim of the bike only Stoner could tame.
Most folks in the MotoGP paddock acknowledge de Puniet’s abilities and raw speed, and he is also as tough as they come, riding around injuries with impressive courage and determination. De Puniet has reunited with the Aspar Team for 2012, and will explore the future of the CRT formula. If the first-year Aprilia-powered Aspar CRT bike is not competitive, it won’t be for de Puniet’s lack of trying.
If you want to get a quick feel of how the 2012 MotoGP Championship is shaping up from a very knowledgeable person in the MotoGP paddock, then today’s video from Yamaha Racing’s Lin Jarvis is your best bet. Taking some time from his duties of running Yamaha’s MotoGP team, Jarvis talks about the tests underway in Sepang, Malaysia, and is generally optimistic about the season.
Of course sometimes what isn’t said is more important than what is said, and in this season preview you won’t hear a single word about the most important change to MotoGP: the claiming rule teams. Simple omission, or are the OEMs beginning their face-off with Dorna on the future of MotoGP?
Michele Pirro finished his 2011 Moto2 season on a high note, winning the final round at Valencia for the Gresini Racing team. Coming on the heels of MotoGP’s final tribute to Marco Simoncelli, the victory was an especially emotional one for the young Italian rider and his team. Finishing seventh in the Moto2 Championship standings, Pirro’s hard work has earned him a promotion into MotoGP, where the rookie rider will campaign a CRT bike with the San Carlo Honda Gresini team.
Gresini has confirmed that the team will use an FTR chassis, which will be custom-built to use a Honda CBR1000RR motor. This brings the total number of confirmed CRT entries up to five, with several more CRT entries still expected to commit to the 2012 MotoGP Championship. This news means we should see at least 20 bikes on the grid for the MotoGP opener at Qatar, though the question remains: how competitive will they be?
To say Randy de Puniet had a tough season this year might be an understatement. Seemingly finding his groove at LCR Honda during the 2010 season, RdP found himself going into the 2011 known more for his well-raced finishes than gravel trap disappointments. The Frenchman showed a new maturity with his riding, and many thought his riding style would suit the troublesome Ducati Desmosedici GP11 well.
While the beginning of the season often saw de Puniet the fastest of the Italian bikes, it was clear that the move to Pramac Ducati was a misstep in the rider’s career. Jumping ship for 2012, and clear that he did not want to race in World Superbike or on a CRT machine, de Puniet seemingly had a number of options in front of him despite the 2011 season winding to a close: a return to LCR Honda, a factory ride with Rizla Suzuki, and ties to the well-run Aspar MotoGP team.
Those options would be limited though, as 2011 Moto2 Champion Stefan Bradl was shoe-horned into the LCR Honda squad to keep the pretense alive that Moto2 prepared riders to race in MotoGP. Similarly the rug was pulled out from underneath the Frenchman, as Rizla Suzuki got its plugged pulled almost immediately after RdP tested the Suzuki GSV-R, with promising results we might add. Left with few other choices, and certainly none of them better, it comes with little surprise then that Jorge “Aspar” Martinez’s MotoGP team has announced that Randy de Puniet will be one of its two riders for the 2012 MotoGP season.
De Puniet will be joined by former-MotoGP/Moto2 racer Aleix Espargaró on the two bike team. Dropping Ducati and announcing that Team Aspar will run an all CRT effort, the Spanish team will use Aprilia-powered bikes (De Puniet tested one of these bikes at Jerez last week). While a chassis manufacturer has not been announced, paddock gossip has been suggesting that Aprilia could be supplying a custom chassis for the racing effort. If you’ve been following MotoGP and the CRT movement closely, your eyebrows should be raised right now.