How Much Does it Cost to Race in MotoGP?

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MotoGP is a special animal. Like how Formula 1 is for automobiles, MotoGP is supposed to embody what the cutting edge of technology can bring to the sport of motorcycling. The talent is the pinnacle of its field, and the bikes are rolling R&D platforms.

This also means of course that the costs are exuberant, and instead of an instant applicable payoffs, the value of racing instead comes down the road many years later as the technology trickles down to the production-level bikes.

This makes MotoGP unlike the racing other series, whereas in World Superbike for instance, teams are working with a bike that is actually sold en masse to the consumer, costs for product line development can be absorbed, and the fabled “Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday” marketing buzz phrase has some bearing on reality.

Because of the intangible returns on investments, and escalating environment of prototype racing, it is not surprising to see the semi-departure of Kawasaki for 2009. So how much money are teams really losing by racing at the top of the sport?

For starters, let’s look at how much it costs NOT to race in MotoGP. If Kawasaki were to break their contract with Dorna Sports, it would reportedly cost them about $26 million USD, which includes the $5 million USD they’ve spent developing the 2009 ZX-RR.

That’s not a bashful sum of money, but when you consider that the 2008 season cost Kawasaki $46 million USD, there’s nearly $20 million worth of savings on the table, after penalties. But why does racing cost so much?

A $46 million dollar season buys you two riders, in this case $8 million for Marco Melandri & $4 million for John Hopkins, but factor in an additional $9 million in revenue from Monster Energy drink which sponsors Hopper. That nets out to $3 million in rider expenses alone (Hopper’s Monster sponsorhip is not factored in when calculating Kawasaki’s costs to racing).

Additional personnel expenses come from the pit crew where Hopkins requires 7 pit members, and 6 pit members for Melandri. On top of the pit crew expenses, there are the 2-3 chassis engineers, with a technical support crew of another 6 technicians, and these guys aren’t cheap.

The salary of a Chief Engineer in MotoGP can reach $160,000 USD per year. While Kawasaki is a “Factory” team, and thus spends more than the satellites, it is considered the most modest of the factory teams in the series. Some sources place Honda’s MotoGP expenditures at $100 million USD.

Satellite Yamaha Team Tech3 is reporting that their 2009 season will cost $8 million USD. This is a team who’s manager drives an economy car, and mechanics, when they’re not sleeping in the back of the team tractor trailer, double-up on hotel beds during race weekends. At this bargain basement price for GP racing, you are nearly on par with what it costs to win in World Superbike.

Ducati reportedly spent $10 million USD out-the-door for the 2008 WSBK series, with “competitive” teams spending $5-6 million USD. World Superbike teams have around 20 people in their employ, with each rider having 5 dedicated pit members.

Rider salaries can vary wildly though. Rookie rider Regis Laconi made a paltry $105,000 USD, while riders like Troy Bayliss and Max Biaggi command nearly $2 million. To put that in perspective again, MotoGP back-marker, Anthony West, raked in almost $800,000 USD last season while on the ZX-RR.

So if you were a company that was looking to cut expenses, what series would you race in?