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Off-track issues suggest season of transition

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Matt Roberts | 14:00 UK time, Wednesday, 7 December 2011

I was asked a question on Twitter last week by @robostarred, who said this: "Is MotoGP a credible sport now? Given [there are] only 3 manufacturers left, and road bikes [are] now being used."

It is an interesting and a contentious question that is being asked as much inside the paddock - from riders to journalists - as it is among fans, as premier-class grand prix motorcycle racing moves away from 100% prototype racing in 2012.

However, the first thing to point out is that the Claiming Rule Team (CRT) bikes that are being prepared in readiness for next season - the ones that will fill the grid in the not-too-distant future - are certainly not road bikes.

They remain largely prototypes, albeit currently with tuned Superbike engines, and although they have made a predictably slow start to life in testing with inexperienced riders on board, they will soon be lapping quicker than any production model at most circuits.

Already, in his first test after signing to ride Aspar's Aprilia-powered CRT bike (which is currently just a slightly modified version of the RSV4 Superbike), Randy de Puniet lapped just 1.6 seconds off his qualifying time on the Ducati GP11 at the Spanish Grand Prix earlier this year.

The more that chassis is adjusted and adapted to work purely on a circuit, as opposed to public roads, the faster the bike will become, not to mention engine updates etc.

The fact there will be only three factory teams in Honda, Yamaha and Ducati taking part next season just goes to underline why Carmelo Ezpeleta, the CEO of the sport's television and commercial rights holders Dorna, is making the right move in taking such drastic action now.

World champion Jorge Lorenzo struggled to encourage a title sponsor last season. Photo: Getty

Of course, an ideal world would see a grid full of factory-supported prototype machinery but the withdrawal of Suzuki follows on from that of Kawasaki in 2008 and Aprilia in 2004, and any further disengagement from one or, heaven forbid, all three of the remaining factories would pull the rug out from beneath the championship completely.

Last season the Yamaha factory team, with the number one plate and world champion Jorge Lorenzo on board, could not encourage a title sponsor, while Ducati are still bankrolled by a tobacco company which could be forgiven for cancelling its standing order if the team were to experience another campaign as disappointing as 2011.

The concept of CRTs is aimed at moving away from a championship between factories, instead opening it up to teams, just as Formula 1 has done, with the likes of Brawn GP, McLaren and Red Bull enjoying great success in recent seasons.

In much the same way, motorcycle manufacturers will become engine suppliers to MotoGP teams and, although there will still be the possibility of factories running their own "official" teams, future regulations to limit engine performance and, more critically, that of the electronics packages will further reduce their advantage.

Drastic rule changes are always met with scepticism but in my experience they are soon forgotten about once the racing starts, especially if they are to the benefit of the spectacle, as has been the case in F1.

The fact is that the current format of MotoGP is no longer cost-effective in today's economic climate, as the withdrawal of the aforementioned factories proves. As well as the huge expense of producing motorcycles that cost the best part of £1m each, manufacturers face the additional outlay of research and development, administration, logistics and personnel costs, which send their outlay soaring well above £10m per season.

A CRT team could, in theory, run for as little as 20% of that amount, with much of their outlay recouped by the share of television monies that Dorna distributes among private teams (factory teams do not receive a share), as well as sponsorship and hospitality packages.

There are also sure to be further incentives being offered by Dorna to encourage new CRT teams to sign established names such as Colin Edwards (Forward Racing), Anthony West (Speed Master) and De Puniet (Aspar Team).

When I recently spoke with Paul Bird, the owner of Paul Bird Motorsport, I asked him about the financial implications of his decision to withdraw from World Superbikes to join the CRT revolution with a single rider entry in Cumbria's James Ellison next season. He could barely stop himself from laughing. "Don't worry, it works out," he grinned.

These are changing times for MotoGP and it may be hard for the purists to take, but a radical shift has been needed for some time. Ezpeleta's priority is to defend his business interests, which thankfully for us fans represents the long-term health of the sport, and his idea is being embraced by the teams - if not the factories - with the paddock's two biggest outfits, Gresini and Aspar, already signed up, and Tech3 beginning work on their own chassis.

Like their four-wheeled counterparts in F1, MotoGP bikes of the future may no longer be the fastest two-wheeled machines man can design but they will still be the fastest motorcycles on the planet raced by the fastest riders.

In the meantime we face a transitional season or two that may well give further ammunition to the naysayers as the new bikes struggle to be competitive. However, there can be little doubt that CRT represents the future of MotoGP. By 2013, hopefully we should once again be talking about the racing, not the politics.


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Matt. I wasn't aware that there was such a speed differential expected between the factory teams and the new CRT teams. In using your analogy with F1 it has me worried about potential incidents involving lapped bikes (as we have seen in F1 numerous times). After losing Marco this season I hope everyone involved has atleast looked at this potential issue.

  • Comment number 2.

    Never ridden a bike - but don't watch F1 and do watch MotoGP - WORK THAT OUT!

  • Comment number 3.

    I will not side with the doomsayers till conclusive proof arrives on track in race trim that the CRTs will struggle to avoid being lapped twice. Just the whole concept begs the question, where does all the money go? How do Dorna end up having to bankroll all the satellite teams?

    The Lorenzo situation with Yamaha still looks stupid from every angle. I don't know whether to buy Lin Jarvis' line that it being an anniversary year, Yamaha had decent title sponsorship offers but chose to go it alone. All those stories during winter testing that they were in discussion with Airasia, have the world champion on one bike and ROTY + next big thing on the other, and still fail to tie up a deal stinks of something badly wrong.

    On the other hand, it's so good that Randy and Colin will stay in the championship, we get West and James Ellison again, and I've been waiting a while to see the Inmotec too. Are the Marc VDS CRT project, and that FB Corse 800cc project from months ago now both officially dead?

  • Comment number 4.

    Nice blog, and i agree MotoGp needs to change, and change in a big way. Having only 15-17 bikes on the grid to start with and knowing full well that only 1 of the maybe 4 "aliens" will win, is getting really boring. I actually preferred the Moto 2 class this year as a spectator spectacle.
    But as MotoGp heads towards a prototype production hybrid, where will that leave WSBK ? That series will either have to step back into the original idea of the series, i.e. road bikes with some "mods", or amalgamate with Motogp, as i don't think the world of bike racing can sustain 2 series with increasingly similar rules.

  • Comment number 5.

    The new rules are excellent news. The races became dull processions with the 800's, if there are a range of bikes, with the same size engines, different engine manufacturers, and different chassis, the maybe the "2nd tier" championship will become the one to watch. It'll be nice to see a full grid.

  • Comment number 6.

    @ 4 - That's a good point regarding the standing of WSBK - as a fan of both series i'd hate to see it absorbed by "the top class", but i do think that it's now only a matter of time until we see a return to production type bikes for WSBK.

    I for one will be watching with interest to see how the CRT bikes, teams and riders go next year - i too am a little concerned about the potentially large speed differential between the bikes leading to a big pile up or a very serious accident for someone. I do think that it wont take long for some of the riders and teams using CRT's to get fed up with being smoked at every race and we could see a bit of an exodus at the end of next season unless something is done to close the gap.

    Let's face it - next years championship will be battled out by the top four again - and thats no different from what we've had for the last few years - its the racing behind the "aliens" that counts!!!

  • Comment number 7.

    I do remember back in the early 2000's satellite teams were capable of challenging strongly for podiums and race wins . Now there appears to a vast difference between factory bikes and satellite team bikes . This can;t be right because effectively we've got probably the worlds top 4 riders - Rossi, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Stoner on factory machines plus Spies and the rest don't really have a hope of winning although had Simoncelli been around for next year for Gresini who could have broken the monopoly

    I missed the days when team Gresini and Honda Pons could fight for wins. There is just too much of a gulf between factory and satellite bikes

  • Comment number 8.

    I'm really happy to see the CRT teams there, as a direct result of the governing body's reaction to the financial realities of our times. As well as putting more bikes on the grid, not only does it mean we get to see Colin in 2012, it's also increasing opportunites for younger talent at the highest level. Big fan of that. Don't really see there being a safety issue in terms of speed differential, the gap is not THAT big.

  • Comment number 9.

    I would be nice to see new talent but going round the track with no chance of catching the factory teams will be a rather boring.

    SO it will be Stoner Padrosa then maybe Lorenzo thats about it ...

  • Comment number 10.

    hi guys, good to see plenty of positive feedback on CRTs... so far!!

    @LJ having slower riders on track will certainly be a concern for the organisers in the first season and I am sure marshals and riders will be well briefed on blue flag protocol, which is used a lot in practice and qualifying anyway. As @Pondo1664 points out the speed difference in most cases won't be huge and will gradually reduce

    @daggersfan3 I personally think the 50th anniversary was a happy coincidence, it will be interesting so see what they do in 2012. I'm not sure about FB Corse but as far as I am aware Marc VDS have halted their project with Suter and are looking at an alternative plan for 2013

    @widdertwanky in my opinion Superbikes have become too sophisticated in recent years anyway but there will always be enough interest in top class superstock racing as @Bestyboy suggests

    @IL_LEONE if you have become tired of it think how their sponsors feel!! :-)

  • Comment number 11.

    Interesting blog, thanks. my take after 50 yrs of watching bikes race is that the main reason we watch Moto GP rather than SBK etc, is to see the worlds best riders dicing it out in close proximity at the fastest speeds available... remember the classic Rossi v Jorge paint swapping? Rossi taking Stoner at Laguna Seca?

    Ergo, Dorna should do whatever they have to to provide a racing spectacle. if this means changes then so be it. Nobody enjoys watching processions of bikes , even if theyre the fastest in the world, especially only 3 or 4 competitive ones. i agree with the view that Moto2 is more interesting, more riders, closer racing

    Can i REALLY put the cat amongst the purist pigeons and advocate Moto GP goes to a 2 short race format ???? Ive said for 10 yrs that SBK days are far fuller and more competitive because of it, and if a bike is not competitive on its set-up, it has a chance to change and be more competitive for the second race !
    Purists can wish all year long for the old days of 2 strokes etc etc...i loved em ..what beasts to handle, but theyve gone and manufacturers need to link Moto GP expenditure to return nowadays, so they need road-ish bikes

    (Incidentally i think F1 should do the same as its terminally boring frequently - 72 laps ??!! )

    Lets open up the debate .....

  • Comment number 12.

    I don't think you will have to worry too much about lapping. Unlike F1 the races aren't long enough, 45 minutes on average compared to 2 hours in F1?

    F1 is dull for its length of race and I hate that they can talk to the pit crew. It should be once they are racing it is just the man and the machine. Have a problem? Pull into the pits and sort it, makes it much more interesting when they have to climb up the positions again!

  • Comment number 13.

    Take Silverstone MotoGP, Rossi Qualified 13th with a 2.05.781, where would that have put him on his bike in the World Superbike race? Yep...13th!

  • Comment number 14.

    Good to see a civilised and sensible debate. I'm not sure what all parties could do. They were damned if they did, and damned if they didn't. Personally, I'm a purist, and feel (still) that MotoGP should be Prototypes, Superbikes Production bikes.....
    However, things had to change; 15-17 size grids is simply unacceptable, some teams only having 1 bike.....
    Why aren't Kawasaki, Suzuki, BMW, Aprilia, etc not in the Premier category??? Why couldn't Yamaha get a Title sponsor?? Something is wrong when the World Champion's team can't attract one....

    One final personal thought - the end of an era, no more 2 strokes....there was nothing like the sight, sound and smell of a 2 least they're still around in MotoX, Enduro....

  • Comment number 15.

    This has been coming since the scrapping of the 500cc class. The championship is now purely for the benefit of the manufactures at the expense of the would be competitors and the fans.
    I seem to recall that the old motorcycle F1 class is pretty much what is put into place here.
    There is no route in for privateers. There is little chance of of this class being run at national level and therefore, we do not see the Grand Prix grids being bolstered by the best of the local talent having a pot shot at the stars. This has lead to the underpopulated grids and a feeling of deja vu due to the lack variation in the fields.
    I have long held the view that the sport will be meddled with until a certain manufacturer wins with an across the frame four cylinder four stroke. This appears to be the case. I have got to the stage now where I am only watching the 125s and the upcoming stars. Once the choice of bums on seats is made in the premier class the show is half over. Its a shame but we've all just let it happen.

  • Comment number 16.

    Im not a big fan of this CRT idea, but without them, there would be a pathetic 12 riders on the grid next season. Costs of full factory prototypes has spiralled out of control in recent years, and few satellite teams can afford the multi million pound price tag for leasing a bike for a season. And now we are down to 3 manufactures competing. So as the factory's have refused to alter the rules and `dumb` down their bikes to make them more affordable, i cant see what else Dorna could of done but introduce CRTs to fill the grid up.

  • Comment number 17.

    Motogp has been on a downward spiral since the 500s.

    How many non factory wins/podiums were there in the 2000 or 2001 season, and how many in any given year since. IMHO the bike counts for so much more than it ever has before with millions spent by the factories on electronics alone that sattelite teams just don't get till the factory team has an advantage somewhere else. Riders just can't make the difference anymore unless conditions are tricky.

    Moto2 has been a revalation for me and is now the must see event of the weekend, looking forward to Moto3 next year and I expect a repeat of this year in MotoGP with Honda having a 5%-10% advantage over everyone else!

  • Comment number 18.

    Moto GP at its best is really wonderful to watch – way above F1 (I followed F1 for years until it became a procession, and races could be won by punting others off the track). The essence of sport is that the outcome is unknown – predictability is death.
    We love great engineering, but wouldn’t watch if the bikes were raced by remote control – it’s the riders we identify with - if the machines are more equal, then fine.

  • Comment number 19.

    @2 - If you don't watch F1, how can you comment?

    I've watched all forms of motorsport for as long as I can remember and have found that this year in MotoGP has been the worst for spectacle in a long time, it definitely needs a shake up and perhaps the CRT regs will help this. Have thought for a while though that CRT will spell the end of WSBK so things must change there as well, after all, why would the likes of Honda, Ducati etc spend all that money developing two different bikes and engines for essentially the same outcome in terms of speed? It is good to see some big name signings for the CRT teams and I'm especially looking forward to watching Westy in the wet again, maybe then we'll see CRT really challenging for a win.

  • Comment number 20.

    Ultimately the situation we're at now is the inevitable consequence of the consolidation of the motorbike industry into a few high volume players. This idea is at least fifteen years too late. When F1 got the Cosworth V8 anybody could build a decent chassis around it and have a competitve car, but that was when chassis were designed on a drawing board, with nothing but sound engineering principles as a guide.

    Nowadays with ever more sophisticated CAD systems, the idea that a small custom frame company can design a frame, fit an Aprilia lump and then go out and beat a HRC or Yamaha works bikes is honestly pie in the sky.

    They should never have dumped the 500's, MOTO2 is a better series to watch these days.

  • Comment number 21.

    Moto gp used to be the best form of racing around. In the past few seasons i have found that i have been tuning in more to watch the moto 2 class, as that has been the best in terms of racing since its inception.
    Anything that can get more bikes onto the grid for moto gp can only be a good thing, and the only way for this to happen is to cut costs to encourage new teams in. I can only hope that after a winter of development and possibly a season the new CRT bikes can become competitive and not like the new teams in F1, lapping considerably off the pace. The only way to properly attempt to level the playing field would be to restrict the electronics packages that the factory teams have spent years developing, putting them considerably ahead of the new teams in this regard. BSB will be interesting to watch this season, as if im not mistaken, they are restricting the electronics and making all teams subject to the "evo" rules, thereby leveling the playing field to some extent.
    If that works in BSB then it would be great to see established in moto gp, although the factories would probably oppose, as it would be fantastic to see more than 4-5 people at most battling to win the race !
    At least there are now more bikes on the grid for next season, so there should be more scrapping for points etc downfield. that can only be a good thing for the future of the sport as a spectacle !

  • Comment number 22.

    Do agree with Chad Secksington, that it is probably `pie in the sky` thinking that the CRTs will be able to bother many of the full prototypes at the majority of circuits in the dry.But if i had to put my money on one CRT rider causing a few surprises, i would put it on De Puniet on the Aprilia, which i suspect will be the best CRT bike out there.
    In fact with Aprilia reputedly developing a new frame for their RSV4 for Motogp/Bridgestone use, i wonder how much in the `spirit of the CRT rules` that bike will be. No doubt the Grand Prix Commission will keep its beady eye on that one.

  • Comment number 23.

    The power of the manufacturers needs to be reduced.Engine supply with independent chassis design along the lines of CRT is the future. World superbike has become more than a production based series and needs to follow a similar technical model to BSB. The 800cc era became progressively less interesting. Honda pushed for this engine size and after much development and expenditure, finally won. But did they have too much say in the direction of Motogp in the first place?

  • Comment number 24.

    Grand Prix motorcycle racing has always seen grids composed of factory-backed prototypes and modified production machines. Yes, Norton, Matchless, Suzuki, Yamaha, etc., sold GP machines to the public but the fact remains: GP grids have included bikes with large performance differences. Remember the 1960s when we saw 40bhp Manx Nortons alongside the Honda fours, MVs etc? Some bikes produced 40bhp whilst others 80bhp! Yes, the best riders got the best factory-backed machines. Did it spoil the fun? No! I personally think, with lap-times of around 1:40 on some circuits, to have 15 bikes in a race is not really acceptable. I believe the rules should be basically as they have always been: a cc limit and let people enter whatever they want. Factory exotica - fine. Modified production - fine. I have big hopes for the CRTs and if Honda, Yamaha and Ducati decide to enter CRTs in place of prototypes - good. Claim the engines and we will have full grids of 250bhp bikes! If Stoner and co. won't ride, fine! There will never be a shortage of riders, we know that!

  • Comment number 25.

    MotoGP bikes are different from other bikes cos they are unique just like F1. If the bikes become production there will be no fun and excitement to watch MotoGP. These sports are different from production bikes. The riders who ride or drive these bikes and Cars are different from US and those machines made them different from us.

    As Legendary Vale said, reduce the electronics but keep the 1000cc just like brutal 500cc era. This will reduce the costs. Compared to F1, its very very less cos big teams like Ferrari, McLaren spend £80m-£100m every season.

    I will definitely stop watching MotoGP if they switch to production development and also so many people like me will do that.

  • Comment number 26.

    MotoGP needs this.

    The distance between factory and satellite teams has become too large and as a result the competition has been between the factory Honda and Yamaha teams, with Casey Stoner chiming in when he was at Ducati. Remember when Gresini were winning races? It wasn't that long ago! It's fine having a large number of manufacturers if they're sticking around. Suzuki were making great progress until Hopper went to Kawasaki, who themselves pulled a Honda F1 by withdrawing despite having produced a competitive machine.

    Kenny Roberts' team had a strong season in '06 with Kenny Roberts Jr showing strongly on a bike which doesn't sound a million miles away from the new CRTs, but unfortunately they were scuppered by rule changes for '07. Moto GP doesn't just need more bikes on the grid, it needs a competitive field. It needs to bring back exciting racing, which has been sorely lacking for the past few seasons.


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