MotoGP’s New Rules on ECUs & Factory Riders Explained

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There was a small flurry of excitement when the minutes of the last meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, including rules on the spec-ECU and factory entries were announced last week. That was then followed by a bout of confusion, as everyone tried to figure out what all of the various changes meant, and what impact they may have on the series. It appears that the answer to that question is “not as much as you might think,” so let us take a look at what has changed.

The changes announced in the FIM press release (read it here) outline two major changes, both regarding the replacement of CRTs for 2014. Since the return to a larger capacity, the Grand Prix Commission (MotoGP’s rulemaking body, comprising representatives of the FIM, Dorna, the teams and the manufacturers) opened the door to a simpler, cheaper form of racing, which in practice (though not by rule) consisted of putting tuned engines from road bikes into prototype chassis.

To help such teams compete against the engineering prowess of HRC, Yamaha Racing, and Ducati Corse, teams entering under the CRT rules were given extra engines and extra fuel, to allow them to make more power and sacrifice reliability. To prevent other factories from entering under the guise of a CRT, the GPC instituted a claiming rule, which meant that any factory could buy the engine from a CRT for 20,000 euros.

This Claiming Rule was felt to be a horrible compromise. It was in place despite a gentlemen’s agreement among the existing factories never to actually claim an engine from a CRT, and whether it was effective or not is still open to dispute. There have been persistent complaints that Aprilia’s ART machine is a covert factory Aprilia, with the Aspar team being fingered as a front for Aprilia’s operation. Given the rules – the team applied for, and was given CRT status, and has not had it revoked – such complaints were unjustified.

A more effective way of distinguishing between factory and non-factory entries has now been decided upon, made possible by the adoption of the spec-ECU. From 2014, teams can choose either to enter as an MSMA or “factory” entry and use their custom-written software, or they can use the spec-software commissioned by Dorna and supplied by Magneti Marelli. Factory entries get 20 liters of fuel per race and 5 engines to last the season, non-factory entries get 24 liters of fuel per race and a maximum of 12 engines per season.

With this new distinction, MotoGP is no longer divided between Factory Prototype and CRT, but between Factory and Non-Factory entries. Factory entries can be in either a factory or satellite team, and are free to use their own software; non-factory entries are private teams, and must use the spec-software supplied by Dorna.

At the Sachsenring, the GPC finally adopted the full set of technical specifications for the spec-ECU to be used in 2014. This means that the spec ECU has now finally been officially adopted, and the three factories involved in MotoGP can start work on porting the custom software they currently use on their MotoGP bikes to work with the spec ECU hardware to be used from next year. The FIM should make detailed specs about the standard ECU available online, but at the time of writing, no documents had been uploaded, and even the updated rulebook promised in the FIM press release had not been posted.

The use of the spec software now determines whether an entry is considered a factory entry or not. The spec software – currently being developed by Magneti Marelli based on the input of some of the existing CRTs – will be fully configurable based on a number of parameters defined by Magneti Marelli. It is fully functional, and includes traction control, launch control and wheelie control.

Factories, however, wish to retain control over their own software. Developing their own software allows them to find ways of managing fuel economy and vehicle dynamics (e.g. traction and wheelie control) which may be applicable to their road bikes. To that end, they prefer to write their own software so that they can more fully understand the underlying process of controlling a motorcycle, rather than just optimizing the equipment which they have been presented with.

With the method of distinguishing factory and non-factory efforts decided, the current limits on riders on factory machines were also extended, in a slightly modified form. Currently, each manufacturer may supply factory prototypes to a maximum of four riders, two in the factory team and two in the satellite team. At the Sachsenring, the GPC appears to have dropped the stipulation on which team the riders must be in, removing the limit on the maximum number of riders in each team.

The limit of four riders per manufacturer is still in place (though why that limit was ever imposed remains something of a mystery), but now, factories can support those riders in any team they wish. This opens the way for the return of the “superteam”, such as the three-man factory Honda team seen in 2011, when Casey Stoner joined Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso in the Repsol Honda squad.

That does not mean that such a move is imminent. Currently, both Yamaha and Honda look set to maintain their current setups, with Yamaha retaining two riders in the factory squad and supplying the Tech 3 team with equipment for two riders, while Honda will continue to field the two-man Repsol Honda squad, and supplying one bike to LCR and one to the Gresini satellite squads.

The only factory likely to reorganize is Ducati. There have been long-term rumblings from within Ducati about the Pramac team, and Ducati could move the entire operation internally. In terms of finance, this would make little difference, as Ducati already pay the wages of both Ben Spies and Andrea Iannone, as well as most of the staff inside the Pramac team, but it would provide Ducati with more control.

Interestingly, the language of the new rules appears to open the way to factories supporting more than just the four riders they currently can. The press release says that manufacturers may “choose to enter up to 4 riders for the season who will participate with ‘Factory’ status”. In this case, ‘Factory status’ means in either a factory or a satellite team, but free to use the factory software, and limited to 20 liters of fuel and 5 engines.

Arguably, this could mean that the factories may decide to supply or support more riders, but they must be entered as non-factory riders, meaning they would have to use the spec Dorna-supplied software. This distinction is important, as it could mean that factories could place young riders in private teams on non-factory bikes, to give them a year to acclimatize to the class before moving them into satellite or factory teams.

For example, this could clear the way for HRC to support Scott Redding at Gresini, where Redding will ride one of Honda’s production racers. Or it could leave the way open for Yamaha to place a young rider on one of the NGM Forward Yamaha M1-powered bikes using the spec-software.

One of the reasons for the new rules is also the engine freeze, which will severely limit engine development over the next few years. Bore and stroke is already fixed until 2014, but the freeze on development will see a homologation process for engine internals instituted as well. If factories want to continue engine development, they will have to do it without factory status, which means through a private team.

Ducati is rumored to be considering such a path, with private teams running Desmosedicis using the spec software, while Ducati updates the engines to prepare for the end of the current freeze, and the start of the next one.

The rules announced at the Sachsenring, though ostensibly just tweaks to existing rules, pave the way to the future. Bigger changes are expected from 2017 onwards, with talks ongoing about the rules from then on. The spec-ECU – and just as important, built-in datalogger – are key in those developments. Dorna, the FIM, and IRTA are still pushing for a rev-limit to be introduced, and a datalogger is a crucial part of policing a rev limit.

They also hope to impose the spec-software on all teams from 2017, including the factory teams. From then, MotoGP should revert to a single class once again, with everyone competing under the same set of rules: one fuel allowance, one engine allocation, one rev-limit, and everyone using the spec software. That is still a long way away, and will face fierce opposition from the MSMA.

Photo: © 2013 Jensen Beeler / Asphalt & Rubber – Creative Commons – Attribution 3.0

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.