On Thursday night, it looked like a revolution had been unleashed in MotoGP. After qualifying on Saturday, that revolution has been postponed. Three Spaniards on pole, two Spaniards on the front row for both MotoGP and Moto3. No prizes for guessing the names of any of the polesitters, all three were hotly tipped favorites at the beginning of the year.
So what has changed to restore order to the proceedings? In a word, track time. When the riders took to the track on Thursday, the factory riders had a lot of catching up to do. They had been down at Phillip Island, a track which has lots of grip and puts plenty of load into the tires.
The heat resistant layer added to the 2013 tires really comes into its own, the track imbuing the riders with confidence. Qatar is a low grip track, thanks in part to the cooler temperatures at night, but the sand which continuously blows onto the track also makes it extremely abrasive, posing a double challenge to tire makers.
Use rubber which is too soft, and the tire is gone in a couple of laps. Make it hard enough to withstand the abrasion, and it’s hard to get the tire up to temperature.
Coming to Qatar is always tricky, riders needing time to build confidence and learn to trust the tires. Coming to Qatar from Phillip Island is a culture shock, and takes a while to get your head around. Riders need to throw away everything they have just learned, and start again.
It has been a long and confusing wait for the 2014 MotoGP season to begin. An awful lot has happened since the MotoGP bikes were rolled into their packing crates after the Valencia test and shipped back to the factories and workshops from whence they came. There have been shock announcements, shock testing results, and shock training crashes.
There have been last-minute rule changes, made in an attempt to keep all of the different factions in the paddock from rebelling. The final rules for the premier class were only announced on Monday, and even then, they still contain sufficient ambiguity to confuse.
But this confusion and chaos cannot disguise the fact that 2014 looks set to be the most intriguing championship in years. Gone are the reviled CRT machines – unjustly reviled; though slow, they were still jewels of engineering prowess – and in their place is a new class of machinery, the Open entries.
A simpler demarcation has been made, between factories running their own software on the spec Magneti Marelli ECU, and the Open teams using the championship software supplied and controlled by Dorna.
The latest rule change adds a twist, allowing underperforming Ducati all the benefits of the Open class – 24 liters of fuel instead of 20, 12 engines per season instead of 5, unlimited testing and a softer tire – until they start winning races. But the 2014 grid looks much more like a single coherent class than the pack of racing motorcycles that lined up last year.
After a week of debate and discussion, the Grand Prix Commission has finally reached an agreement on the Factory 2 class. It took many hours of phone calls, and full agreement was not reached until late on Monday afternoon, but the agreement contains some significant changes to the long-term future of the MotoGP championship.
The Factory 2 proposal has been adopted in a slightly modified guise, with any manufacturer entering in the Open class liable to lose fuel and soft tires should they win races. But the bigger news is that the full MotoGP class will switch to use the spec software and ECU from the 2016 season, a year earlier than expected.
The proposals adopted by the GPC now lays out a plan for MotoGP moving forward to 2016. In 2014 and 2015, there will be only two categories – Open and Factory Option – with the set of rules agreed at the end of last year.
The new proposal sees manufacturers without a dry weather win in three years to compete as Factory Option entries, but with all of the advantages of the Open class – more fuel, more tires, no engine freeze and unlimited testing. However, should they start to achieve success, they will start to lose first fuel, and then the soft tires.
If Ducati – for it is mainly Ducati to which these rules apply, as they are currently the only manufacturer who are eligible at the moment – score 1 win, 2 second place finishes or 3 third places during dry races, then all bikes entered by Ducati will have their fuel cut from 24 to 22 liters for each race.
Should Ducati win 3 races in the dry, they will also lose use of the softer rear tires which the Open category entries can use. If Ducati were to lose the extra fuel or tires during 2014, they would also have to race under the same conditions in 2015.
Honda’s road-going V4 superbike project has seemingly stalled, for the umptenth time in the past decade. While the bike has been rumored for years, the project just a year and a half ago was confirmed by Honda CEO Takanobu Ito.
Since that confirmation, the project’s delivery time has been pushed back, thought the Japanese motorcycle manufacturer has committed itself to building the MotoGP-inspired road bike.
With reports speculating on a possible price tag well into the six-figure range, the rumormill is on the rev limiter regarding this superbike, so if there is one thing we actually know about the machine, it is that we don’t actually know much about it.
A 1,000cc displacement is of course expected, along with a four-cylinder v-angle cylinder configuration. If we can presume a setup similar to what is found on the Honda RC213V MotoGP race bike, then make that a 90° cylinder head arrangement.
If we had really been on the ball though, we likely could have told you all this, six months ahead of Ito’s confirmation, as patent documents discovered by Spanish magazine SoloMoto shows the V4 superbike engine in line-drawing form, from as early as March 2012.
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.
We knew at some point that the eight-part “TT Legends” documentary would have to come to an end, and today is that day. For the last seven Wednesday’s, we have been enjoying the racing antics of the Honda TT Legends team, as they compete in road racing and endurance events.
Our final installment comes from the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which also happens to be the final stop on the FIM Endurance World Championship calendar. The Honda TT Legends crew is mathematically in the hunt for the Championship victory, but they need a solid result at Le Mans to solidify a Top 3 position.
The big news on the final day of testing at Sepang was not what was happening on track, but rather what was happening off track. The announcement – trailed here and all around the media since early January – that Ducati would switch to the Open category was the talk of the paddock…and social media…and bike racing forums…and biking bars around the world, I expect.
Even though we knew this was coming, it is only now becoming clear just how much of a game changer this decision is.
The announcement was timed curiously, made at the end of the day when the bosses of Yamaha and Honda had already left the circuit and were unavailable to the press. Likewise, the press room had largely emptied out. It appeared to have been made to minimize the impact, especially on the other manufacturers.
Honda and Yamaha now have a couple of days to gather their PR might and put together a carefully worded position on the move by Ducati, which will both give the impression they are entirely disinterested in what Ducati have decided to do, while at the same time exuding a vague air of disapproval. Expect to see the verb ‘to disappoint’ in various conjugations.
On track, however, the situation was largely unchanged from the last couple of days of testing: interesting names at the top of the timesheet, belying the utter dominance of the Repsol Hondas, in the person of Dani Pedrosa. Valentino Rossi was the fastest man on the day, and leaves as the fastest rider of the test, pleased with the progress they have made.
But dig deeper, examine the times set during the long race simulations, and Dani Pedrosa comes out streets ahead, half a second or more quicker than the competition. Pedrosa’s average pace is faster than any other riders best lap on their long run.