MotoGP Editorial: Can 1000cc Save the Day?

June 15, 2011
Steve Atlas
Steve Atlas
Contributing Editor |Articles |Articles RSS

Professional-grade speed and an attitude to match, Steve Atlas is the new blood at MotoUSA. Atlas has AMA racing creds that are even more extensive than his driving record.

American Nicky Hayden complete 61 laps on the new 1000cc Ducati and left the Jerez circuit with positive results.
MotoGP teams are already starting to test their 1000cc machinery, but will the bump in displacement bring back the spectacle of Grand Prix racing’s glory days? 

When it comes to the 2012 MotoGP season, the question on everyone’s mind is whether or not the reintroduction of 1000cc machines will bring back the awesome show of years gone by. Will another 200cc of displacement equate to tire sliding antics and power-wheelies, which by proxy would improve the spectacle of the sport? And much to the displeasure of World Superbike, the gurus in charge of MotoGP are planning to add ‘Claiming Rule Teams (CRT), which is an attempt to beef up the grid by allowing privateer racing teams to use production-based engines housed in a prototype chassis, similar to what they have in place now for the Moto 2 class.

To level the playing field some, these claiming rule teams get an extra four liters of fuel and are allowed to use eight engines per year as opposed to only six for the teams running full prototypes. But there is a downside to all of this that may go unnoticed if we don’t bring it up now. In an effort to keep finances in check across the grid, the CRT class is supposed to play a huge role in this proposed evolution of the series. After any race, for a set price, any other team on the grid can purchase another team’s engine or possibly the entire bike. The fine details of this rule are yet to be specified in its entirety but you can imagine how this is all going to work out, can’t you? It will be a cluster. The objective is to keep teams from going buck wild with the sponsor money, while ensuring the current factory and factory-supported squads remain on full prototype bikes. More on CRT later…

Back to the original question: Can a couple hundred cubic centimeters make MotoGP a better show? I think a good majority of race fans, at least from the rumblings that I’ve heard, are quick to say yes. How could a return to the original 990cc four-stokes that were wild, too-tough-to-tame animals not make for some good TV? Maybe they forgot that the obstacle to power slides and wheelies nowadays rests more with the current state of electronics as opposed to engine size. These advanced traction control systems allow MotoGP bikes to be ridden far more ‘in line’ and hooked up, with a major emphasis on having a

Casey Stoner on the Honda 1000cc prototype at Jerez.
MotoGP bikes are getting more advanced day by day. As a result the racing is becoming less interesting – unless it’s raining, of course. Then tire sliding antics quickly come to the surface due to limited grip and loss of electronic help.

team of data and programming engineers that can set up a bike which maximizes its potential the entire way around the track. Everything from corner entry to mid-corner speed all the way down to how far the rider can open the throttle on corner exits is controlled by the ECU. Unfortunately, the rider has become a smaller and smaller part of the equation as the systems become more sophisticated. That, my friends, is an unfortunate side-effect of the electronics found on current MotoGP bikes.

Those same electronics are the reason that I don’t expect to see fire-breathing 1000s and the riders hanging on for dear life like Gardner, Lawson and Mamola did back in the 2-stroke GP era. All we are going to get are slightly faster lap times and bigger crashes. This is because the traction control, wheelie control and corner-entry systems are so superior to what they were even two or three years ago that keeping the bike under control, no matter engine size, is getting easier and easier. It also means that the show will be very much the same as it is now. Unfortunately, race bikes circulating the track a couple of seconds faster will not look much different to the naked eye. By taking slides and power wheelies out of the equation you just have faster 800s, plain and simple.

It’s time for the big boys at Dorna to wake up and smell the espresso. They essentially need to take two steps backwards before that can make any forward gains since the racing has become more and more mundane and the grids have been smaller and smaller every year. Let’s do something to improve the show and 2012 is the perfect opportunity to pull it off. The Claiming Rule Team class is a nice gesture, at least they’re thinking outside the box. But we need to do something a little crazy and take a chance on the riders. Let the riders dictate the outcome of the races the way it was in the glory days of the sport.

As for the CRT Class, I’m still on the fence. On one hand it should, in theory, add a handful more bikes to the grid, which is something the series is desperate for. Factory support is dwindling with the departure of Kawasaki and the writing is on the wall for the one-man Suzuki squad. Few people think they will stay in MotoGP after this season and rumor has it that Suzuki is competing this year because it had already signed a two-year deal with rider Alvaro Bautista and there was no way out of it.

Today I did a total of 25 laps on the 1198 Superbike  which is sort of a historic motorcycle for Ducati: beautiful and fast. I liked it! - Valentino Rossi
There’s one area that limiting electronics could potentially hinder in the future and that’s the trickle-down effect between racing and production street bikes. Several showroom-stock liter-class bikes are now coming equipped with traction control as a standard feature, a big factor being the direct correlation to technology developed in MotoGP. But that’s a whole new can of worms, one which we will save for Part 2 of this multi-piece editorial.

The use of production-based engines for the new CRT might directly infringe on World Superbike’s deal to be the exclusive worldwide series for production-based motorcycles. This could cause even more of a rift between the world’s premiere motorcycle racing organizations and nothing good can come from that. That is the stance of Infront Motor Sports CEO Paolo Flamini in a recent discussion with Motorcycle USA.

“Obviously, MotoGP can be any capacity they choose, this is not our business,” said Flammini during a one-on-one interview at Miller Motorsports Park on May 30th. “It is not quite clear whether it is possible to use production-based engines or not. So that is what we are asking the Federation (FIM) to clarify and it is something that is becoming very urgent. So we open a table with the FIM in February and expect some results in the next few months.”

Almost two weeks later FIM President Vito Ippolito issued the FIM clarification, stating: “Any complete motorcycle model derived from series production, homologated or not for the FIM Superbike/Supersport/Superstock is not eligible and will not be accepted in the FIM Grand Prix World Championship classes.” The keyword in that statement being “complete motorcycle,” presumably giving production derived engines a pass?

Certainly the production issue didn’t stop Dorna from putting Honda CBR600RR-based engines in its all of its Moto2 bikes. On paper, this too seems to conflict with the World Supersport series. It looks to us like Dorna won’t lose too much sleep over the ethical or legal side of its approach to CRT. The big difference between Moto2 and CRT is that there will not be just one engine to choose from. The CRT efforts can use any engine they can get support for. Currently the Marc VDS plans to put a BMW S1000RR engine in a Suter chassis with Scott Redding at the controls. Will it be competitive? Maybe. Will it be good for the sport? We will have to wait and see.

We will let Dorna and Infront sort out the legal ramifications but pundits to the CRT philosophy will be quick to point out that this approach has not brought much success to Grand Prix motorcycle racing in the past. Look at the ill-fated Harris WCM teams of the early 4-Stroke MotoGP era. Before the WCM team was shut down for using production-based R1 engine cases, they were not even competitive. So are we going to see a bunch of back-markers wreaking havoc on the closing stages of GP races next year or will these bikes actually run a whole race? Then there’s the potential for engines expiring and stoppages related to oil and debris on the tracks which won’t be good for the live TV viewers. Without a doubt there’s a multitude of potential problems with CRT. Then again, they could be competitive and everything will be just fine. Again, we will have to wait and see.

Colin Edwards was taken out on the start. - Welkom
Instead of better racing all the 1000cc era may produce is faster lap times and bigger crashes, which in turn may shrink the starting grid even further.

So how do they improve the show? We have an idea. MotoGP could outsource the production and design of the engine management systems and make a universal ECU and Traction Control system with set parameters that every team would have to follow. They could reduce the amount of traction control and various other features that currently make watching the races less exciting. This idea would also reduce the team’s operating costs, which is something the FIM has been pushing hard to do for the past couple years. It may sound like a huge departure from the norm but there’s already a spec tire so why not spec electronics?

This approach is nothing new in the world of racing. Formula 1 has adopted a similar type of system, and it has worked extremely well. The series producing some of the best racing in its history in the past few years including the 2010 championship that went down to the final round with four drivers from three different teams in a position to take home the crown. Does it get any better than that?

A spec-electronic package could be exactly what MotoGP needs to do to get fans reinvested in the sport and return it to its place as the pinnacle of motorcycle racing around the world. And if they are going to be at the top, the more I think about it, they really need to stick to a prototype-only format. That’s been the heart and soul of the motorcycle Grand Prix series for decades and is one of the major reasons people still tune in to it. The advancement of the bikes and their components is more intriguing than the racing right now but the fans are still there.

While standardized electronics might reduce some of the exclusivity that each OEM racing department currently enjoys, the negatives would seem to be outweighed by the potential for better racing on track. It will also allow the manufacturers to focus on engine and suspension development and finding a way to get the power to the ground in a useable manner without relying on the intuitive electronic aids. This would benefit both racing and street bike applications. Of course, all of this is much easier said than done, I’m sure, but it is yet another reason why limited electronics could be an appealing concept for the race fans…

Valentino Rossis crash took out Casey Stoner in the process. - Jerez
Reduced electronics in MotoGP may prove key in upping excitement from the series by increasing rider inputs rather than relying on an advanced ECU.

An additional downside to moving to a larger engine and leaving the current state of electronics in place is that when riders do fall, the speeds will be increased and the consequences higher. This could cause an influx of injuries and as a result further reduce grid sizes. Could you imagine 10 bikes on the grid for a MotoGP race? Maybe that’s where the CRT approach comes into play.

If you’ve read this far then you can see where I’m headed: Ideas like Claiming Rule Teams and 200cc bigger engines that are still being tamed by highly sophisticated electronics are most likely the wrong answers to the right question. The real solution requires a bit of outside-the-box thinking. Limit the electronics with a controlled ECU and you not only increase the excitement level but further cut costs and allow more manufacturers to enter the series. Imagine if Aprilia and Kawasaki came back or perhaps BMW would enter the series with a full-blown MotoGP bike. We would be looking at a grid of twenty or more riders. Then Dorna could turn off the TC and we would be treated to one heck of a tire-spinning show. In my opinion, that would keep fans glued to the edge of their seats for the entire race.

Just for the record, I am all for the move to 1000cc engines. I would just like to see the world’s best riders show us why they are considered the world’s best. Gardner, Lawson and Mamola never had traction control and their bikes were absolute animals with light switch throttles. But watching Wayne slide the rear on corner exit with his front wheel crossed-up and rising towards the sky with the engine howling as he hangs on for dear life in that last gasp dash for the finish line… That is what’s currently missing from Grand Prix motorcycle racing. That is what we want to see again.

That’s all I have to say for now — my brain hurts and I have a Formula 1 race to watch. But stay tuned for my next round of rants, you won’t want to miss them…

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