This, race fans, is Danilo Petrucci, one of the brave souls trying his luck on the future of MotoGP hardware, in his case the doggedly underpowered Came IodaRacing Project machine. Not on a (relatively) zippy Aprilia ART, or a Honda-powered FTR, Petrucci qualifies on the same grid as Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo, and brings to this gunfight a knife that packs a whopping 185 bhp, compared to the factory prototype engines that are rumored to be around 260 bhp.

As I photograph a race, I see a much different version of the event than TV viewers. I watch the recorded TV broadcast later, and can tell you that there is a lot going on with the Claiming Rule Team bikes that doesn’t make in onto TV. I’m generally moving the entire time (when I haven’t stopped to photograph a turn obviously), so I see the entire field go past, lap after lap. Since Qatar I’ve noticed that most of the CRT talk has centered around the machines, and that no one I’ve seen has talked much about what the CRT riders are going through.

Though we currently have in the sub-set of MotoGP bikes a group of machines that are less expensive to run and correspondingly less impressive in the performance category, the fellows riding them are not similarly handicapped when it comes to racing spirit. They aren’t trying half as hard because they have no chance to win. Much of the time it seems just the opposite; because they don’t want to be six seconds a lap slower, they are trying that much harder merely to get within four seconds of the fastest times.

The current CRT rider list is as follows: Colin Edwards, Randy de Puniet, Aleix Espargaro, Mattia Pasini, Michele Pirro, Yonny Hernandez, James Ellison, Ivan Silva, and Danilo Petrucci. That is a group of racers, not a list of hacks who’d otherwise be digging ditches if CRT hadn’t come along. But if you think it’s tough to be stuck on a satellite bike and racing against Stoner and Lorenzo, try lining up on Sunday with a chassis that can barely handle its measly 185 bhp.

Some will say that these CRT riders are lucky to have spots on the MotoGP grid, are being paid to perform a service, and that we shouldn’t feel too much pity for their situations. And there may be truth to this opinion. But when I pass by the CRT garages and see these riders waiting to go out on track, I don’t see men happy just be to part of the MotoGP show. I see racers who know they’re going into battle without a fighting chance.

If these riders got more TV time you might also see just how hard they are riding their ponies against the thoroughbreds. There is some part of the racer’s mind that can only be so philosophical about being on a overmatched machine. Each of them wants to exceed the expectations of his motorbike, and while they speak about battling for top CRT as their goal, I suspect that this achievement represents the minimum level of satisfaction.

Beating a factory prototype is much more of a goal for the rational parts of their brains, while the irrational/racer part doesn’t give a flying handshake about the CRT element and wants a podium. On the grid at Estoril, Aleix Espargaro was interviewed by Azi Farni of the BBC, and when asked what his plan was as best-qualifying CRT bike, he said “Just try to be with Pedrosa and Stoner during the race, then win on the last lap.” He then laughed at the hilarity of his joke as Ms. Farni replied, “Brilliant, good luck with that.”

Though spoken tongue-in-cheek, Espargaro’s joke is telling about his situation. Top CRT is simply not that exciting when it’s also 12th place. When you’re riding your heart out, as all of these guys are, and you come in dead last, and a lap down as Petrucci did in Estoril, it’s got to be difficult to console yourself by saying, “Oh well, my bike is 30-40 kph slower than the prototypes and 10-15 kph slower than the other CRT bikes. I did pretty good!” No, I suspect that only one word means anything among the list of mitigating circumstances for a racer: last.

After three races it seems to me that not enough credit is being given to the CRT riders. They are being asked to race on machines that can’t possibly win (even a satellite prototype can’t win unless a series of unusual events takes care of the factory bikes), and then trust that their performances will be judged in context. Espargaro finished 12th at Estoril, top CRT, a minute and twenty seconds behind Stoner. But as I watched from trackside, he and the other CRT riders were wringing every bit of performance out of their bikes, risking their lives for no glory whatsoever.

So though they don’t get much TV time, have no chance at a podium, and do very well indeed to finish a race on the same lap as the leaders, I count their efforts as heroic. I’ve always liked to cheer for the underdog, and with 2012’s CRTs, we’ve taken ‘underdog’ to a new level. Hang in there, Danilo. Your bike is a slug, but you’re doing a great job with what you’ve got.

Scott Jones is a professional photographer who covers MotoGP and WSBK for racing industry clients as well as racing websites and publications in the U.S. and Europe. His online archive is available at Photo.GP, and you can find him on his blogTwitter, & Facebook.

All images posted, shared, or sent for editorial use or review are registered for full copyright protection at the Library of Congress.

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

  • Nice post. At least these guys are professional motorcycle racers. I take my hat off to the amateurs who put their necks literally on the line every weekend for nothing more than adrenaline, club glory and a silver cup if they’re lucky.

  • sean in oz

    “If these riders got more TV time you might also see just how hard they are riding their ponies against the thoroughbreds.”

    …. and this is the real problem with MotoGP. TV doesnt care whats happening in the race except whats happening at the front. There were plenty of close battles in the 800 era but TV chose to focus on the front runners who were not battling. You can have 100 bikes in the race but if TV only focuses on the ‘aliens’ then nothing changes for the TV viewer.

  • Bryan Niese

    Well written article. It takes guts to go out there with equipment that is so far off the pace and still race with all of your heart. I think Valentino could honestly learn something from their example. Like it or not the CRT format is necessary for the survival of MotoGP in the current economic climate. The CRT’s are probably doing more to advance he future of MotoGP than the factory teams are!

  • MikeD

    +1 on all of it.Good read. (^_^)

  • Jake

    This just further confirms for me that the CRT bikes have no business in MotoGP. Putting a bunch of drastically outmatched bikes on the grid doesn’t fix the problems of the series any more than putting a ribbon on a turd makes a turd smell good.

  • Westward

    I have to agree with Jake.

    It’s a travesty to racing, sure we have 21 bikes on the grid, but 6-7 don’t stand a chance of even being in the top five.

    Factories should be mandated to field 4 factory spec machines. Subsides the satellite teams so they can afford it. Then, what use to be satellite bikes, should go to the now CRT teams, and allow them 7 or 8 engines instead.

    There is no real reason for the bikes to cost as much as they do, simply lowering the price only helps the sport and the manufactures in the long run, because more teams will want to attempt to race, plus the increased exposure would be beneficial…

  • Q: When has there been a MotoGP grid upon which every bike was capable of vying for a podium finish?

    A: Never.

    It doesn’t make any sense to suggest that factories pay out more money when they’re already leaving the paddock (see: Suzuki and Kawasaki) because of expenses. Even running a CRT bike is said to cost on order of ~1 million Euros/season. Racing prototypes is hugely expensive.

    I just don’t get the modern take on “privateers are a travesty” thinking. There have always been privateers in the premier class, and from time to time they’ve really added some serious spice. Long live the privateer. Long live the underdog.

  • P.S. – I think that the 107% rule has proven itself to be quite workable in both Formula 1 and MotoGP. Sure, the guys at the blunt end of the stick aren’t in the hunt for the podium, but a good scrap for position — any position — is still a good scrap.

  • James Sharpe

    Cracking post

  • Dave

    Maybe TV coverage should be on the CRT teams, then I wouldn’t fall asleep during the MOTO GP races. They have been a real bore this year compared to Moto 2 and Moto 3.

  • Westward

    @ Trane Francks

    That is why Moto2 and Moto3 are more entertaining to watch…

    This season is almost guaranteed to have the same three pilots on the rostrum in Moto1. If the Tech3 duo, or even the Ducati squad had more competitive machines, their might be a difference more at the pointy end.

    Though Tech3’s bikes might be closer to factory spec, I will admit the talent might not quite be at that alien level. Also, Bautista and Dovizioso have the slight (and I mean slight) excuse of being completely new to the machines. However, Spies has less of an excuse seeing how his teammate is cracking on…

    But one has to admit, that Moto2 & 3 are less of a farce, as the only real separating factor in the standings boils down more to talent, than technology…

  • Westward

    I would have preferred the grid stayed at 17. not counting the Ducati’s and the Suzuki, at least everyone else had a reasonable change at the rostrum… While on satellite bikes De Puniet, Edwards and Spies all proved that, and sometimes with front row starts too…

  • Jim

    it seems to me that these guys are the essence of what racing should be “determined, hopeful and willing to risk it all”. If these guys don’t inspire you to “go ride” then you may not have a pulse

  • @Westward: We’re certainly in 100% agreement that Moto2 and Moto3 are offering the greater racing spectacles. Personally, I think that if they didn’t allow the traction control and anti-wheelie control, a la Moto2, in the premier class, you’d see the CRT bikes a LOT closer to the sharp end of the pack. Moreover, once teams such as Petrucci’s got some more motor under the fairing, you’d see a much different race.

    Personally, I really miss watching the premier-class bikes backing it into the corners. Watching guys such as Marquez, Espargaro and Luthi being all crossed up going into the corner as a means of getting back on the gas earlier is just a joy to watch. Especially because it’s not something I could ever, ever see myself capable of doing.

    I also think ditching (or limiting) the electronics would be the defining factor in making MotoGP bikes cheaper to purchase. Sure, operational costs would be about the same, but at least initial buy-in and some of the spares wouldn’t be quite so prohibitive. Good luck getting the factories on board for such a ruling, though.

  • Grant Madden

    Great article,those guys ride extra hard just to keep up.Which will make them better riders and when some of the incumbants retire,aye Casey,they will be extra ready and able to fill the gap and so the sport grows and evolves.And chasing faster riders on faster bikes is such a buzzz.I used to love running my CBR600 in F1 class,especially at street circuits.Little 600 is good on the streets and easier to ride on tight tracks.I,ve had my butt kicked by RGV250s on tight tracks and we were chasing a 916 at the time.Great fun!!More the merrier on the grid at any race meeting,within reason.As long as they look good doing it and are enjoying the racing I cant see any problems.Race on.

  • smiler

    Great set of comments and 99% sensible, which is unusual.
    MotoGP had a great oppunity with the intro of 1000’s to reduce the price of the bikes on the grid and therefore ensure companies like Suzuki did not leave and perhaps attract Kawasaki or another company.
    Reduce the electronics package, rev limits, there are many ways to do it and lets face it if there were so worried about cost then they would have stayed with 800’s so the factories did not need to spend a small fortune on new spec bikes.
    Instead they went for a 2 race format, one including prototypes and one with CRT’s. Having satelite teams and privateers and wild cards is great because they can upset the status quo, cause upsets (Bayliss Valencia 2006), But the CRT’s are as it were legislated into MotoGP and are a different type of bike rather than just being further down the food chain, so none of these riders are going to pull something miraculous and beat the others. Which is a shame.
    Because TV is driven by consumer demand and sponsorship then those further down the field will never be on screen, unless it is someone like the BBC covering the event. Even then if Repsol were not on your screen 90% of the time there would be a huge fuss. Best to go and see the rounds you can I guess.
    I think Rossi is learning alot from his current situation, in FP3 today is is down to 0.7 secs off the pace. I think it is Stoner who could learn something from these “true grit” CRT riders.

  • Dan

    Talent and experience will always be talent and experience but a poor ride will always decide which tier of the race you run in. The format needs an overhaul, I just watched Stoner and Lorenzo both get held up by CRT bikes on their final hot laps, the performance gap is too large, if a two tiered championship is going to exist then perhaps a F1 style qualifying would sort the prototypes from the CRT.
    GP needs to be a testbed for new technology as well as a spectator sport, the aftermarket parts segment will benefit from CRT but not future innovations, a better format would be if the factories provided their prototype engines to the privateer teams that the chassis builders ala f1 and Team KR before the 800cc and ironically Moto 3. Factories will benefit from more data and increased income and the teams will benefit from benchmark power.
    motogp 2012 is a bad experiment that may or may not be responsible for the early retirement of one of motorcycle racings great talents and i’ll be glad when it is done with.

  • Ben Faster

    I guess I don’t understand why the bikes don’t at least meet WSB engine output or AMA superbike output 185hp seems unnecessarily low?

  • Bear

    The reason for the lower power outputs than the equivalent Superbikes with ‘the same’ engine is the limitation on engines.

    Superbikes, you can use as many engines as you want. If it carks it after a race / you tune it to a Very finite, known lifespan – well, put another engine in.

    CRT – I forget the number of engines you can use (certainly more than ‘prototypes’ – 12 per year?) – but there IS a limitation. Tune them to the same level as Superbikes, and you’d run out of engines well before the end of the season.

    What’s needed, is control of Electrics, on Protoypes (fat chance on that), but, more likely, a higher claiming price (note, the only people who can ‘claim’ engines, are the Factory Teams – what a joke) or, better still, serious incentives for potential engine manufacturers, like Suter / BMW/ others, to develop, produce and make Race Engines available. Also, some way to get Honda, Yamaha etc to provide reasonably competitive, reasonably priced engines, to go into different chassis, like Moto 2 / Moto 3 have brought non mainstream chassis producers to racing again. Though, Moto 3 seems to not have stuck to the original idea of non factory produced chassis – eg, KTMs trellis framed bikes. I’m not sure if the ‘production’ Hondas chassis is allowed – information on what’s actually happening in Moto 3 is strangely hard to find.