Two rounds into the 800cc era and the MotoGP landscape hasn’t changed much, with Valentino Rossi still the hands down ace in the paddock. Maybe in 20 years instead of the 990cc and 800cc eras, we will simply refer to it as the Rossi Epoch.
Two rounds into the MotoGP season and the new 800cc GP machines have greeted us with a couple surprises. But, to use a worn out cliche, the more things change the more they stay the same. Valentino Rossi owns a commanding lead in the championship standings, the competition is fierce, and the current crop of MotoGP machinery is turning laps at a blistering pace. With a new era upon us, it is time for a closer examination of the tools of the MotoGP trade.
The biggest bit of technical news heading into 2007 was, of course, the drop in displacement from 990cc to 800cc, which has forced all the manufacturers to redesign a new GP racer. The most important factor of success on the track remains the talent of the human rider behind the controls, to which Rossi is the best example. But the greatest rider in the world can’t contend without competitive machinery at his disposal, to which Rossi is again the best example, as his 2006 M1 let him down on more than one occasion.
While top speed numbers have been reduced somewhat, the 800s ability to carry more corner speed has enabled faster laps. Smaller engines have meant lower horsepower figures, but how much horsepower loss has the displacement drop seen? Yamaha claims its final version of the ’06 M1 produced 250 hp compared to its new ’07 M1, which it credits with a nebulous power claim of “around 200 hp.” As far as raw power numbers go, it is fun to see how each manufacturer answers the question on their spec sheets. Honda keeps its cards closest to the vest, not even venturing an answer (although MotoGP.com lists “over 220 hp”); Yamaha, as mentioned, says “around” 200; Kawasaki and Ducati claim a respective “in excess of” and “more than” the 200 mark; Suzuki is the most forthcoming and confident in its assertion of “220+ at 17,500 rpm.”
Ilmor has already fallen by the wayside in MotoGP, with the team suspending operations due to insufficient funds and lack of a competitive package on the track.
It has already been pointed out in previous articles, including SPEEDtv.com columnist Dennis Noyes’ MotoGP Analysis: Rossi’s Problems, that the Ducati appears to have the edge in raw horsepower, judging from the top-speed times at the season opening round at Qatar, where the race winner, Casey Stoner, was able to blow by Rossi on the long straight. But producing power isn’t as important as how it is delivered and optimal power delivery will be the key to success in the 800 era.
Yamaha is on the record, in its latest edition of Insider magazine, in predicting that 800cc MotoGP powerplant will follow the F1 trend of making up for horsepower loss in a displacement drop by creating a higher-revving engine. In its first year of existence, the 800 engine will undergo a constant evolution as teams try to create the most effective package.
MotoGP’s heartless natural selection process has already seen one team fall by the wayside, with the ill-fated and brief Ilmor foray into MotoGP on temporary hiatus. Although the bike was blessed with adequate power, trying to find rider-friendly power delivery proved to be the Ilmor’s undoing.
While the displacement drop lies at the heart of the MotoGP changes this season, there will be other factors which spur development in order to be the fastest bike once the green flag drops.
Although the smaller 800cc engines weigh less than their 990cc predecessors, the minimum weight limit of 148 kg (326 lbs) remains the same. Yamaha has experimented with moving about 7-9 lbs of ballast around on the new M1 to see how it effects balance and handling. Looks pretty balanced to us!
The drop in displacement has resulted in lighter engines, but the 990-era minimum weight limitation for four-cylinder bikes of 148 kg (326 lbs) remains. (Minimum weights for MotoGP bikes differ based on number of cylinders, but all 2007 bikes utilize four-cylinder powerplants.)
This has presented MotoGP engineers with a problem/opportunity with what to do with that extra weight. Yamaha acknowledges moving about 7-9 lbs of ballast around on different areas of the bike to experiment with how it effects the center of gravity and handling of the new M1.
Another requirement that changes from 2007 is the 21-liter fuel ceiling, which drops 1 liter from ’06 and follows the trend that went into effect back in 2005 to reel in power-production on the 990s and its 24-liter tank. Capping the fuel capacity forces engineers to find the perfect balance between power production and fuel efficiency. Engineers are aided in this balancing act by the sophisticated electronic systems which adorn every MotoGP machine. Part of that package includes traction control, which on top of making the bikes safer, also ensures power is transmitted to the rear wheel with minimal loss through wheel-spin.
Engine output and character is crucial to racing success, but aerodynamics and tire development will also be critical. The question over MotoGP supremacy may come down to, literally, where the rubber hits the road. In this regard new-for-2007 tire regulations will have a major impact in a rider’s fortune on Sunday.
Previously, riders had a virtually unlimited amount of tires to work with over a GP weekend. Current rules state that they are now limited to just 31 tires at each round, 14 fronts and 17 rears (rain tires are exempted). The selected tires are bar-coded and kept under tight control. While 31 tires seem like a lot, shrewd tire choices might make the difference in winning and losing, as team and rider have to play a guessing game to make certain they don’t waste the perfect tires for Sunday conditions during a Friday or Saturday practice session. (Dunlop is exempted from the current rules until Dunlop-equipped riders – only Tech 3 Yamaha riders Makoto Tamada and Sylvain Guintoli at the moment – win two races.)
Due to new-for-2007 tire regulations, MotoGP riders are limited to 31 total tires each round, 14 fronts and 17 rears, which are barcoded and kept under tight control.
Tires have always been an important component to racing excellence, but with the 800’s higher cornering speeds, maintaining grip over an entire race is even more challenging.
“When developing the tires we have to carefully analyze the data from previous races at each circuit and then take into account that the new 800cc Suzuki GSV-R has different technical characteristics to its 990cc predecessor,” explains Masao Azuma, Rizla Suzuki’s Bridgestone engineer in a recent press release. “With higher cornering speeds from the 800cc bikes, edge grip as well as traction are very important, that means the amount of grip that the rider can extract from the tire, entering, during and exiting the corners.”
Necessity is the mother of invention, and in the cutthroat world of MotoGP you either evolve or die. Expect the 800s to continue improving on their record-shattering laptimes as the 2007 season progresses.
For now, here are profiles of the MotoGP machinery, which include a quick summation of where they stand thus far, the top riders campaigning on the machine, and the specs as best as we could find them.
The dominant manufacturer of the 990cc era, Honda expects more of the same with the 800cc V-Four powered RC212V.
The mighty Honda Racing Corporation is renowned for its dominance in MotoGP and claimed last year’s Constructors Title with its RC211V. Hayden’s 2006 MotoGP title win was the crowning achievement on what was the most dominating machine of the 990cc era, with the 211 winning the Constructors Title every year save one (2005). Of course, Valentino Rossi took away HRC’s bragging rights with a pair of MotoGP championships after defecting to Yamaha, but Honda remains the powerhouse in Grand Prix racing. Dropping a cylinder off the 211, Honda enters the 800cc era pinning its considerable money and resources on the V-Four RC212V.
Honda has three major players campaigning on the new 212, with its factory-supported Repsol riders Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa joined by the marque’s top satellite rider, Marco Melandri, as the title-contending trio. A testament to Honda’s competitiveness, the manufacturer supplies RC212Vs for six riders, including three satellite teams: Hannspree Gresini, LCR, and Konica Minolta. Honda also supplies its V-Four powerplant for Team Roberts’ MotoGP entry, the KR212V.
The lone manufacturer to go the five-cylinder route in 2006, Honda drops down to four just like everybody else with its V-Four RC212V powerplant. That make three Vees (four if you count Ilmor) versus a pair of Inlines in the MotoGP paddock.
Two rounds into the championship and Dani Pedrosa appears to be the clear ace in the Honda fold, with the reigning champion Hayden unable to find his rhythm on the smaller machine. Many speculated that the drop to 800cc and the subsequent smaller bikes would be advantageous to the diminutive Pedrosa, but we’ll have to wait and see how that assumption pans out. While Hayden acknowledges struggling to adapt to the new bike, Melandri hasn’t been much better, with the Italian rider’s fate tied to his Bridgestone tires as the Hannspree Gresini team is the only Honda squad to sport Japanese rubber.
Honda RC212V Specs
Engine: Liguid-cooled, V-Four, four-stroke, DOHC
Carburetion: Fuel injection
Max Power: NA
Max ’07 Race Speed: 191.9 mph (Dani Pedrosa – Qatar)
Primary Drive: NA
Final Drive: Chain
Frame: Twin Tube
Front Suspension: Showa telescopic fork
Rear Suspension: Showa new unit Pro-link
Tires: Michelin (Repsol, LCR, Konica Minolta), Bridgestone (Hannspree Gresini)
Front Brake: NA
Rear Brake: NA
So far in 2007 the reigning MotoGP champion, Nicky Hayden (above), hasn’t put up the results of his Spanish teammate, Dani Pedrosa.
Fuel Tank: 21 liter
Weight: over 148 kg (326 lbs)
Height: 1,125 mm (44.3 inch)
Length: 2,050 mm (80.7 inch)
Width: 645 mm (25.4 inch)
Ground Clearance: 125 mm (4.9 inch)
RC212V Riders – Teams – Tires
Nicky Hayden – Repsol Honda – Michelin
Dani Pedrosa – Repsol Honda – Michelin
Marco Melandri – Hannspree Gresini Honda – Bridgestone
Toni Elias – Hannspree Gresini Honda – Bridgestone
Carlos Checa – LCR Honda – Michelin
Shinya Nakano – Konica Minolta Honda – Michelin
The new Ducati Desmosedici GP7 appears to have the horsepower edge judging from the opening rounds, with the V-Four powerplant generating the top speeds thus far.
Ducati rattled some cages right out of the gate in 2007 when Casey Stoner took the checkers at the opening round of Qatar. Stoner taking the win from Valentino Rossi was the headline, but generating a lot of buzz was the manner in which the young Aussie bested The Doctor. The new Desmosedici GP7 showed a demonstrative power advantage, with Stoner able to overtake Rossi on the straights and was up front in the top speed figures, along with the three other GP7 riders.
Another V-Four powerplant, the Desmosedici attempts to build off the success of its GP6 predecessor, which Loris Capirossi piloted to second-place in the 2006 championship. Already exhibiting the power, it will be up to Ducati and Bridgestone, who supplies tires for both the factory Marlboro and satellite Pramac d’Antin teams, to find a competitive combination, so that prodigious power transmits to the track surface in as efficient a manner as possible.
Ducati Desmosedici GP7 Specs
Engine: liquid-cooled, 90-degree V-Four, DOHC
Ignition: Magneti Marelli
Casey Stoner displayed a clear power advantage over Valentino Rossi during the opening round at Qatar, where the young Australian was able to overtake The Doctor on the corner.
Carburetion: Indirect Magneti Marelli electronic injection, four throttle bodies with injectors above butterfly valves. Throttles operated by EVO TCF (Throttle Control & Feedback) system
Lubrication: Shell Advance Ultra 4
Max Power: More than 200 hp
Max Recorded ’07 Race Speed: 196.5 mph (Alex Barros – Qatar)
Transmission: Six-speed cassette-type gearbox, with alternative gear ratios available
Primary Drive: NA
Clutch: Dry multi-plate slipper clutch
Final Drive: Chain
Frame: Tubular steel trellis-style chassis, with pressed aluminum swingarm.
Front Suspension: 42mm Ohlins inverted fork
Rear Suspension: Ohlins rear shock
Wheels: 16.5-inch front and rear
Tires: Bridgestone (Ducati Marlboro, Pramac d’Antin)
Front Brake: Dual Brembo 320mm carbon disc with four-piston calipers
Two rounds into the championship and the fastest recorded speed has been tallied by Pramac d’Antin GP7 rider Alex Barros at 196.5 mph at Qatar.
Rear Brake: Single stainless steel rear disc with two-piston caliper
Weight: 148 kg
Fuel Tank: 21 liter
Ground Clearance: NA
Desmosedici GP7 Riders – Team – Tires