Norton Plans MotoGP Effort

September 10, 2010
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

There are few things more frustrating to a journalist than abiding by a voluntary news embargo. As I sat listening to Norton CEO, Stuart Garner, tell me about his plans to go GP racing my fingers were itching to be at the keyboard giving Motorcycle USA readers the news first. But, an agreement is an
Stuart Garner
Norton CEO, Stuart Garner, is committed to having Norton race in MotoGP.

agreement so our pages stayed blank – whilst Austrian magazine “Speedweek” broke the story!

To be fair to Norton, Gunther Wiesinger got his lead direct from Dorna, so there had been no foul play at Norton. Here’s the full detail of what, might, be happening.

First, Dorna has offered Norton two places on the 2012 MotoGP grid, but Norton has not yet accepted them. Garner wants GP racing to be successful and this means having all of the right infrastructure in place. However, plans are much further advanced than might first be thought.

You may be forgiven for thinking that a tiny factory, with less than 40 employees, simply can’t compete in the world’s most prestigious motorcycle racing championship and, were it not for a set of wholly exceptional circumstances, you would be correct. All three elements are of equal importance.

First, in England – and some other parts of the world – having Norton race again is the equivalent of being able to see Elvis play live on tour. Norton is the iconic motorcycle manufacturer and, in the right marketplace, the brand is solid gold. Equally, it has to be said that Norton does not enjoy rock star status in many countries – not the least of which is America.

Stuart Garner
While Norton is a rather small motorcycle manufacturer it has vast resources including ‘Motorsport Valley’, which contains many companies devoted to high tech engineering.

Next, because of this iconic status, Garner intends to go GP racing at a profit. It is not fair to reveal the precise details of his plans but they involve both motorcycling and non-motorcycling companies, and seem to be both credible and achievable. If Norton can race at less than no cost this will be a very clever trick.

Finally, Norton does not have to develop its own bike in-house. Within 100 miles of Norton’s headquarters is “Motorsport Valley” – the area of central England which contains a huge number of specialist companies servicing the Formula 1 car industry as well as aerospace and defense. Regardless of what it might say on the product’s label, much of the world’s highest tech engineering takes place on Norton’s doorstep, having been undertaken by firms completely unknown to the general public.

Stuart Garner
Norton may be covering their bases in terms of engineering and finance, but running a solid MotoGP team is incredibly difficult.

These companies live and die by being state of the art and by having lightning fast design-to-production schedules. No longer do you need a factory with a vast R&D facility when really smart engineers, computers and CNC machining can do the same job for a fraction of the cost.

Garner also wants Norton to race with a quirky style. He is a million miles away from the corporate suits of mainstream companies himself and, if Norton does appear in the MotoGP paddock, expect some explosive TV interviews – and much more!

So, everything looks to be good for seeing Norton on the MotoGP grid with a 1000cc bike in 2012 and its presence will certainly enliven the series.

My only concern is that there might be a misunderstanding of the difficulties involved. Look at the Suzuki GSV-R. Suzuki know an awful lot about GP racing, have two excellent riders in Loris Capirossi and Álvaro Bautista but still struggle to get in the top-10.

It is not to say that Norton can’t get on the podium – just that having engineering, skill and flair in addition to good riders and a healthy budget will not be enough. As Colin Edwards famously said: “Everyone is fast in MotoGP.”

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