With Ducati having elected to switch to racing as an Open entry in the MotoGP class, it is time for a quick refresher course on the rules. Below is a primer on the key differences between racing as an Open entry and racing as a Factory Option entry, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.
After assessing its position during the two Sepang tests, Ducati Corse has decided to enter the 2014 MotoGP Championship under the “Open Class” rules, which means the factory Ducati team will have more fuel, more engines, and more importantly no engine development freeze for the 2014 season.
In exchange for those advantages, Ducati Corse will be forced to use the Magneti Marelli ECU package supplied by Dorna, rather than the company’s factory-developed electronics.
Explaining its decision, Ducati says that “after carefully considering the two options, [Ducati] has decided that the most suitable one for the current needs of the Bologna-based manufacturer is the Open one, which gives the possibility to the race department to continue the development of the bike and the engine throughout the entire season.”
On Thursday, the riders opted almost unanimously to go out first thing in the morning. It was a wise choice, conditions proving ideal to see the fastest ever lap around the circuit set, beating Casey Stoner’s time from 2011.
The name of the rider that took Stoner’s record from him? Marc Marquez, the man brought in by Honda to replace the departing Australian.
Marquez’s time was impressive, but he was not the only man to get under the two minute mark. Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, and the continually surprising Aleix Espargaro also cracked the barrier, though none were quite capable of getting under Stoner’s old record.
The first 30 minutes of testing had produced a scintillating start to the day, whetting the appetite of all in the paddock for more.
While Marquez’s time is without doubt a fantastic lap, perhaps the most impressive time was set by Jorge Lorenzo. His fastest time, and the fastest time of the test up until that point, was set on his flying lap of the day.
It was, if you like, a simulation of the start of the race: firing off the line from pit lane exit, getting up to speed immediately, and then going on to set a lap record.
Normal fare for Lorenzo, whose flying starts have become something of a trademark. What made it truly incredible was the fact that this was done on new tires, on his very first laps of the day.
On race day, Lorenzo has the morning warm up to get up to speed, but not today. Fast straight out of the starting blocks, then following it up with another 1’59.9. If you ever needed proof of Lorenzo’s metronomic ability, this was surely it.
Motorcycle racing championships are like a pendulum, flowing back and forth between one rider and another, between one manufacturer and another. One year, Yamaha is on top, the next, it’s Honda. One year, Yamaha manages to exploit the rules best, the next year it’s Honda.
On the evidence of the first two days of testing – scant evidence indeed, but all we have to go on at the moment – conditions appear to favor Honda. With a liter less fuel to play with, and the new tires being introduced by Bridgestone, it looks like the tide is flowing Honda’s way, while Yamaha is set to suffer.
For the Factory Option entries at least; in the Open category, the tide is flowing very firmly in the other direction, with Aleix Espargaro and the NGM Forward Yamaha blowing Honda’s production racer out of the water.
That the fuel reduction would favor the Honda was expected, but the advantage might be bigger than Yamaha would like to admit. After a tough first day of testing, Jorge Lorenzo spent all of Wednesday trying to recover his confidence in the bike, as his crew searched for a setup that would smooth power delivery and give him the precise throttle control his high-lean-angle – and high risk – strategy demands. They were successful, at least in renewing Lorenzo’s confidence in the bike, he told the press.
A change to the electronics gave him the feeling he had with last year’s machine, and he was able to ride more freely. With that change made, he went in search of a fast lap, setting it at around 3:30pm, in the hottest part of the day.
It has been a fascinating first day of testing at Sepang. And like all fascinating days, it has been long, tiring, and utterly inspiring. There were surprises, disappointments, and rumors confirmed and denied. It was, in short, a good day at the office.
Marc Marquez was fastest – it barely goes without saying – the 2013 World Champion picking up where he left off. He was quick from the off, and put in a final burst of speed at the end of the day to open the gap on the rest, finishing with half a second advantage.
Braking stability was the watchword for the Repsol Honda team, especially rear grip on braking and corner entry, with both Marquez and Dani Pedrosa working on a slightly revised version of the 2014 RC213V which both men had tested at Valencia last year.
Their main focus – like those of everyone on their first day back on a MotoGP – was just to get used to the speed again. The switchover had been toughest for Cal Crutchlow, the Englishman claimed. He had ridden a motocross bike for exactly one day, he said, spending the rest of his winter training on his bicycle. The speed differential between a 20-speed racing bicycle and a 6-speed Ducati Desmosedici is nothing if not cavernous.
The happiest faces were at Yamaha, though in different garages and on unexpected faces. Valentino Rossi took the second fastest time, had led for a large part of the test, and looked a much happier rider all round. The rapport with new crew chief Silvano Galbusera was good, the atmosphere in the team was good, but above all, a few small changes which Yamaha had made to the YZR-M1 had proven to be significant.
The test ban is over, and the MotoGP season is about to get underway. Bikes are already circulating, as the test riders put the first versions of the 2014 models through a shakedown to ensure that everything is in place, and working the way the engineers intended. In a few hours, we get the first glimpse of what the 2014 season could hold.
The rule changes for 2014, though at first glance are relatively small, could have a major impact. For the front runners, the fuel allowance is dropped from 21 to 20 liters, a change requested by the manufacturers to give them the engineering challenge they demand to justify their involvement.
All of the Factory Option (the designation for the bikes which have been referred to as factory prototypes for the last two seasons) entries must now use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU, but they retain the ability to develop their own software for the computer which sits at the heart of every modern vehicle.
That reduced fuel allowance will place a premium on fuel conservation, meaning the manufacturer who can reduce friction, thermal efficiency and combustion efficiency will hold the upper hand.
It’s not just the factory bikes that have a new designation. The CRT category has disappeared, replaced by the Open class. The change is not as big as the renaming would appear. Like the CRT bikes, they have 12 engines instead of 5 to last the season, and 24 liters of fuel to last each race. And like the Factory Option bikes, they must also use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU.
The difference, with both the Factory Option bike and last year’s CRT machines, is that now they must use the Dorna-controlled software, written by Magneti Marelli to Dorna specifications. The switch to control software means that the claiming rule, which defined the CRT class, has been dropped. Anyone can enter anything in the class, from modified Superbike (as long as, like Aprilia’s ART machine, it uses a prototype chassis) to full-fat factory engine, as long as they use the spec software.
What effect will the new rules have on the racing? Less fuel is rarely a positive factor in any form of racing. Of the various ways of limiting performance – engine capacity, rev limits, and fuel flow – fuel limits are invariably the most expensive, both in terms of engine development and in terms of the price riders pay to keep their weight down.
The fourth installment of Suzuki’s four-part video series (part 1, part 2, & part 3 here) on its MotoGP program is out, and this time around the Japanese OEM is talking about the relentless perils of testing, testing, and more testing (no surprises here). One of Suzuki’s biggest hurdles though, as it gets ready for the 2015 season, is switching from its Mitsubishi electronics system, to the spec-ecu being built by Magneti Marelli for Dorna.
The process is more difficult than it sounds. Not only does Suzuki have to do the general development necessary to get the most out of the Suzuki XRH-1 GP prototype (more photos here, too), but then once complete, Suzuki must port those settings to the Magneti Marelli unit. Meanwhile test riders Randy de Puniet and Nobuatsu Aoki are constantly finding things to improve with the race bike, which can require further changes to the ECU software.
No one ever said it was easy to race in the premier class of motorcycle racing, and Suzuki’s efforts prove that point. With the MotoGP proving itself to be an ever-changing landscape for rules and regulations, Suzuki also faces a very slim window to use the bike that they are currently developing. Thus in our minds, their place as the 2015 underdogs has already been solidified well ahead of their debut. Good luck to all of them.
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.
The rain on Monday morning brought a welcome respite for tired journalists at least, after a night spent filing stories until the early hours of the morning. It meant that the Misano MotoGP test did not get underway until very late in the morning, with most riders staying in the pits until well after noon.
Once they got started, though, there was a lot to be tested. Both Yamaha and Honda had brought the latest versions of their 2014 prototypes for testing, but with the championship heading into its final five races, there was a lot to work on with the current crop of machines.
That was particularly true for Dani Pedrosa. The Repsol Honda man dropped from second to third in the championship at Misano, Jorge Lorenzo matching him on points, but taking the position on the basis of having more wins. Pedrosa has complained of a lack of rear grip almost all season, and if he is to retain a shot at the title, his team have to find a solution.
The performance of Aleix Espargaro and Randy de Puniet has made it clear that Aprilia’s ART machine is the bike to be on for any rider not on a factory or satellite machine. There are a lot of reasons for the bike’s success: the engine in its standard state is very strong, the bike handles exceptionally well, and is very easy to ride.
But perhaps the biggest advantage which the Aprilia has is the use of Aprilia’s WSBK-derived electronics package, which is helping to make the bike extremely competitive. “Electronics are 75% of the bike,” Aleix Espargaro said in a recent interview with the Dutch MOTOR Magazine.
And here lies Aprilia’s dilemma. From 2014, Aprilia will be forced to choose. If they wish to continue as a non-factory entry (as the category replacing the CRT will be called), they must use the Dorna-supplied spec-software, written by Magneti Marelli for the spec-ECU.
Though the spec-electronics has made huge bounds in the six months since it was introduced, it is still very much a project under development. However, Aprilia’s software is a proven package, with many years of development behind it.