With the grid moving to a 1000cc capacity, and a expanding to include Claiming Rule Teams (CRT), the 2012 MotoGP season is going to be bigger than ever.
Suzuki has abandoned the MotoGP this season, and the new rule allows teams to carry 12 full prototypes, reduced from the 17 prototypes last year. Now the only teams present on the grid, Ducati, Yamaha and Honda will be allowed with two factory and two satellite bikes. However, even without the Japanese contender, the grid will expand to 21, thanks to nine new CRT entries. They have borrowed the powerful superbike engines and housed it into prototype frames. To help them grow among the experienced contenders, the CRT teams will be provided with extra fuel and engine concessions.
Even with all the extra assistance, the 2012 MotoGP season will see a vast difference in technology between the much experienced teams and the new under-resourced CRT teams. This difference is expected to be witnessed on the lap timings, from front to end of the grid. “The concept of CRT we agree with, but the lap time difference is too big at this moment,” said HRC executive vice president Shuhei Nakamoto.
With Suzuki out of proportion, the CRT teams have taken up the vacant grid positions, but the previous contenders are very much against it. However, there is time till May for finalizing the grid for the 2013 season and many others to come ahead.
The rules have been categorized for the factory teams and privateer customer teams.
With revised technical and sporting rules, the manufacturers need to develop a prototype with reduced cost. While every team has technical secrets, the teams need to produce very advanced R&D.
Moreover, Dorna wants to support the CRT concept by provided affordable and competitive grid-filling machines and strengthening the prototypes. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta estimated an annual amount of nearly 1 million euros for the CRT and satellite bikes.
“The first step was to have enough bikes on the grid. We have that. Now the second thing is to have them competitive,” said Ezpeleta.
This is going to be a controversial season, with the factory teams trying to go faster with new improved technology, while the CRTs are given an extra edge on the competition. Certain efforts made to give a fair chance to CRTs without preventing the development of factory teams includes 3 litre extra fuel for the CRTs and 6 extra engine changes for the entire season.
This discrimination will be clearly seen on the charts if one of the CRTs develop to perform exceptionally well, and in that case the factory teams will protest against the revised rule. However, this may make the race seem unfair from a fans point of view.
Alternately, the factory teams could provide the engines to the CRTs, and do away with the extra fuel and more engine favor to the CRTs.
According to Masahiko Nakajima, general manager of Yamaha’s Motorsport Development Division, “This is one of the solutions,”. “But if Yamaha supplies a MotoGP engine to a team, the team will also need an engineer from Yamaha. So human resource is quite difficult.”
With millions spent in R&D of the MotoGP engine, the factory teams would not be ready to share the latest technology lying in their motor. Moreover, the cost of engines could mount to as much as cost of the prototype itself.
Aprilia displayed a phenomenal performance with technologies adopted from the World Superbike Champinship, as its technology is exposed in the production model. Nakajima was not impressed and commented “Production based racing is in World Superbike.”
Following this, the factory teams see the competition amongst the manufacturers only, and the CRTs will be considered as a different sport for them. We hope the new rule doesn’t end up with two different tables for CRT and factory teams by the end of season.
Livio Suppo, communication and marketing Director for HRC: “You can try to close the gap between a CRT and a full prototype. Or you can have a clearly different machine in the same race, as happens in the Le Mans 24 Hours for example. I think this is an easier way.”
There are also speculations that the CRTs having cheap running cost on the satellite bikes will not outdo the more advanced factory machines. Ducati Corse general manager Filippo Preziosi commented on this saying, factory-spec bikes will always have factory costs.
“Our idea is to keep our product at a certain level, so we are open to leasing the bikes – not selling,” said Preziosi.
“And it is important to understand what the satellite teams are asking us for. If they are asking for the factory spec, there are factory costs. If they are happy about a different spec – maybe the bike from the previous year or something – the cost would be different. But if you want factory spec at CRT cost, that is difficult to manage!”
According to LCR Honda boss Lucio Cecchinello, the current satellite MotoGP lease amounts to 3 million euros, implying that 66% reduction would be needed to meet Ezpeleta’s target.
Looking at the other possibility, that there are no CRTs on the grid, the competition is left to only 3 manufacturers, which again would cost the craze of the sports globally. The only possible solution here is with more factory teams joining the competition and completely wipe out the CRTs.
“If other manufacturers, for example Suzuki, Kawasaki, BMW and Aprilia, can join MotoGP [this] is the best solution,” said Nakajima. “So we have to reduce the development cost, race management logistics – all the MotoGP costs need to be reduced. Technical and sporting rules will have to change to do this, but allowing development is one of the essential matters for manufacturers. Getting the balance right is difficult.”
It may be suggested that Aprilia is making a comeback to the MotoGP in 2012 season with a new ‘ART’ CRT bike, to be used by the Aspar, Speed Master and PBM teams.
In November 2011, the reports started surfacing that Aprilia will be making a comeback to the MototGP with technologies from its 2011 World SBK winning bike, the RSV4.
Ducati general manager Claudio Domenicali suggested that, “it was not in the spirit of CRT”, and Honda’s Nakamoto backed him by saying, “We agree… if it is a factory machine it is not a CRT.”
Keeping aside all the protest from the factory teams, MSMA allowed the Aprilia team to enter CRT as it is subjected to unanimity among all the members of the Grand Prix Commission.
Yamaha’s Nakajima believes that Aprilia may make a full comeback to the MotoGP championship, after taking experience with the CRT machines first.
“If in the future Aprilia joins MotoGP with a pure factory machine, that is very welcome,” he said. “If Aprilia can learn a lot of things this year then come back to MotoGP I’m very happy. We have to look at performance in the CRT teams with the Aprilia. Some people say this is not CRT.”
Aprilia has certain advantage over other teams by aiding small assemblers. “More fuel and more engines was something that we accepted because the idea was that this kind of bike is home made and not by factories,” said Preziosi, commenting on the CRT rules.
“A factory has a different level of knowledge, a different level of resources, so they have to compete under the same rules. But because others, a small assembler, have a different level of knowledge and resources, it is fair to do that.”
The CRTs can be renewed each season, and teams are allowed to develop, but GPC members can withdraw any satellite prototype.
This drastic change in the rules would not have been possible for Motorcycle Sport Manufacturers Association (MSMA) without the support of Grand Prix Commission(GPC) members including, Drona, Federation of International Motorsports (FIM) and International Road Racing Teams Association (IRTA).
The CRT rules apply to the 2012 MotoGP seasons only, and MSMA will revise the rule for the 2013 season. Other CRT bikes for the 2012 season includes, Suter (one bike), FTR (three bikes) and Ioda (one bike). In addition to the RSV4 motor, Honda, BMW and Kawasaki Superbike will also be providing the factory engine. Thought the CRT have borrowed engines, they are given freedom to develop and test their home-grown motors.
The final pre-season test will be taking place at Jerez on 23 to 25 March, before the championship kicks-off in April.