Sometimes decisions are a long time in the making. Tech3’s decision to leave Yamaha and sign with KTM may have been made in the space of a few months, but the genesis of that choice, the process that made it all possible is ten years in the making.
If MotoGP hadn’t switched from 990cc to 800cc at the start of the 2007 season, if the ban on tobacco sponsorship in sports hadn’t been enforced from 2005, if the financial system hadn’t collapsed under the weight of tranches of “ninja” loans, Tech3 would be a Yamaha satellite team for the foreseeable future. Whether they wanted to be or not.
How did MotoGP get to a place where Tech3 could switch to KTM? To make complete sense of the story, we have to go back to the end of the last century.
Through the last 1990s, the popularity of Grand Prix racing was waning, while the World Superbike series went from strength to strength. The manufacturers were losing interest in the 500cc class, as two strokes were gradually disappearing from the road.
Big-bore four-strokes were the flavor of the month among motorcycle buyers, and the factories were investing less and less in their two-stroke racers.
The manufacturers expressed an interest in racing four-strokes in the premier class, and Dorna sketched out a contract with the MSMA, the organization representing the manufacturers, and MotoGP was born.
From 2002, 990cc four-stroke machines would enter the class, and go up against the 500cc two-strokes. (The 990cc capacity was chosen to avoid any perceived encroachment onto the territory claimed by World Superbikes, then owned by rival promoters the Flammini brothers, which had bikes with a maximum capacity of 1000cc at the time).
From 2003, MotoGP would be completely four-stroke, the two-strokes banished forever. The agreement was made for five years, Dorna promising stability in the technical rules to allow the factories to get a return on their investment.
The Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP’s rule-making body, met last week to make a few minor updates to the rules for MotoGP in 2016. The two biggest changes to the rules relate to the two biggest changes to the series for next year: the change of tire suppliers and the switch to spec-electronics.
The change that will most please the fans will be the official end of the Open class. All references to both the Open and Factory classes are to be removed from the regulations, as the switch to spec electronics, all teams running both the standard Magneti Marelli hardware and official Dorna unified software, mean there is only one class in MotoGP again.
This does not mean that all factories are equal, however. Special concessions remain for factories that have not won a race and have not yet accrued six concession points (based on podium positions).
Manufacturers with concessions will be allowed to use twelve engines for a season instead of seven engines, they will be allowed unlimited testing with factory riders instead of test riders, and engine development will not be frozen.
2016 heralds a new era for MotoGP. Two major changes take place to the technical regulations: Michelin replaces Bridgestone as the official tire supplier (for more background on that, see the interview we did at Brno with Michelin boss Piero Taramasso), and everyone will be forced to switch to the spec electronics package, managed by Dorna and developed by Magneti Marelli.
Much confusion surrounds the introduction of spec electronics. Firstly, because there are so very few people who actually understand the role of electronics in motorcycle racing, it being a dark and mysterious art for fans, media, even riders.
Secondly, because the adoption of spec electronics has been a process of constant negotiation between manufacturers, Dorna and Magneti Marelli, as they try to reach a compromise which is acceptable to all parties.
That has resulted in the rules being changed a number of times, with such changes not always being communicated directly or clearly to outside parties.
So where do we stand now, and what is the process? I spoke to Corrado Cecchinelli, Dorna’s head of technology for MotoGP, on progress with the electronics, and especially the spec software package, ahead of the 2016 season.
Ducati is to lose the first of the special concessions granted at the start of the 2014 season.
The two podiums which Ducati scored at Qatar bring its dry podium total to three, which means that the fuel allowance for all Factory Option Ducati bikes will be cut from 24 liters to 22 liters, as we reported on Sunday night.
The allowance of 22 liters is still 2 liters more than the 20 liters used by Yamaha and Honda, who race without any concessions.
Once upon a time, Grand Prix racing rules were fairly simple: bikes had to have two wheels, weigh 130kg, have a maximum capacity of 500cc and a maximum of four cylinders. The switch to four strokes in 2002 added a lot of complexity to the rules, and things have been getting slowly worse since then.
MotoGP now has two different categories with three different rule sets covering a single class, depending on entry type and results in recent years.
With Suzuki and Aprilia entering the series in 2015, and another rule change on the horizon for 2016, it’s time to take a quick look at the rules for this season, and see what has changed since last year.
It has been a busy day for announcements at Misano. After the earlier official news that Aprilia will be returning to MotoGP in 2015 with Gresini, this afternoon, Avintia Racing announced they will be switching to Ducati hardware for the 2015 season and beyond.
At a press conference held in the Avintia hospitality unit, Antonio Martin, boss of both Avintia Racing and the Avintia construction company which is the team’s title sponsor, and Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna announced a two-year deal, which will see Avintia field Ducati Desmosedici GP14s running Open class software in 2015, and GP15s running the spec software in 2016.
Hector Barbera will be on one bike in 2015, but the second seat at Avintia is still open.
Stefan Bradl’s LCR Honda is sporting a new livery at Assen, after the team secured a major new sponsorship deal. The tie up will see the bike in CWM’s colors for three races in 2014, and will continue as a major backer in 2015.
The new sponsorship deal is so significant that it offers LCR Honda new possibilities. Lucio Cecchinello has made no secret of his desire to expand from a single bike to a two-bike team, but so far, the financial backing necessary has been missing.
The deal with CWM World has the potential to be the key support which would allow Cecchinello to add a second, Open bike to his satellite Honda RC213V currently being ridden by Bradl.
One of the main complaints aimed at the last-minute rule changes in MotoGP is that they made it impossible to explain to the casual viewer exactly who is riding what, and why.
How many categories are there exactly in MotoGP? Who has more fuel and who doesn’t? And who loses what privileges if they win or podium? To clear up some of the confusion, here is our simple guide to the categories in MotoGP.
When was the last time a non-factory rider won a MotoGP race? Any MotoGP fan worth their salt will be able to give you year, track and rider: 2006, Estoril, Toni Elias.
Ask them why he won and they will give you all sorts of answers – Dani Pedrosa taking out Nicky Hayden in the early laps, Colin Edwards not being able to maintain his pace to the end of the race, Kenny Roberts Jr. misjudging the number of laps left in the race, or, as Valentino Rossi put it, because “Toni ride like the devil” – but none they can be sure of.
There is a less well-known explanation for Elias’ performance, though. Ahead of the Estoril race, Elias was given a set of the overnight special tires shipped in especially for Michelin factory riders.
In this case, Elias was handed a set of ‘Saturday night specials’ destined for Dani Pedrosa, but which Pedrosa had elected not to use, and so were going spare. Elias liked the same kind of soft carcass tire that Pedrosa was being offered, and went on to exploit the advantage it offered.
What does that have to do with Friday at Qatar? Two things. Firstly, it highlights exactly how important tires are in motorcycle racing. Tires dictate a huge amount of the performance of a motorcycle. They are the connection between the bike and the track, but that is a very full and complex function.
Tires determine how far a bike can be leaned, how much drive the bikes can get out of a corner, how well the power delivery of an engine transfers to the tarmac, how hard the bike can brake, they provide a certain amount of suspension, and they pass information about track surface, grip conditions and where the limits of braking and turning are for a motorcycle.
And that’s just the beginning. Tires are (quite literally) a black art. Their complexity cannot be underestimated.
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.