MotoGP Editorial Part 3 – CRTs and the Future

July 13, 2011
Steve Atlas
Steve Atlas
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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.

Hondas Marco Simoncelli conducted a simulated race run on Day 3 that resulted in the fastest lap of the day.
The third installment of road racer Steve Atlas’ MotoGP editorial sheds light on what exactly CRT means and how it might affect racing in 2012. In the picture above, Marco Simoncelli demonstrates his own version of ‘wheelie control.’

‘CRT.’ Those now infamous three letters are a major reason for the speculation and turmoil which has sprung up recently surrounding MotoGP racing. So what does CRT stand for? For those of you not following the 2012 GP rules changes closely, CRT stands for: Claiming Rule Teams. And what exactly are those? They are an entirely new kind of MotoGP team, the basis of which revolve around the ability to use a production-based engine, housed in a prototype chassis with bespoke fairings, in an effort to boost the dwindling grid numbers that plague today’s premiere grand prix class. Though only an outline of the concept has been made public with more details to follow, currently six one-rider teams have been granted acceptance onto next year’s grid. With a rules change of such massive proportions, needless to say, also came an equally large outpouring of reactions from across the racing world.

The general opinion among the hordes of bloggers howling behind Internet anonymity seems to go along the lines that these new teams will only take away from the sport, clumping it far too close to the production-based World Superbike Series, and is little more than a last ditch effort for Dorna to save their proverbial skin from the wrath of the FIM. The current accord between the FIM and Dorna means the former reserves the right to pull the series’ promotional rights from the latter’s well-manicured hands if the permanent grid number falls below 17, which is where it currently sits, though it has been under that number several rounds this season due to rider injuries.

Before diving into and researching the various sides of the issue, my initial opinion generally agreed with that of the arm-charm warriors. On the surface the new rule does nothing more than deface the sport and diminish the value of MotoGP as the pinnacle of worldwide road racing to insure that the cash cow which MotoGP has become, stays firmly in Dorna’s pampered hands. And to an extent, this is the case. But can you blame them? With hundreds of millions, potentially billions of dollars on the line down the road, all of a sudden the notion of sacrificing a bit of prestige sounds like a very small price to pay.

After digging deeper into the new rules package while penning the opening two parts of this feature, my opinion has now floated far more into the middle ground. Turns out the masterminds behind MotoGP and the new rules package contain a bit more ‘master’ than I originally gave them credit for. That’s not to say they have it nailed. Oh no. Far from it. At least in my humble opinion. But when looking at it from a variety of angles, a key one being the profitability of the sport and its marketability to the masses, all of the sudden claiming rule teams don’t seem nearly as horrible.

Bridgestone will introduce its first-ever asymmetrical rear soft slick tire at the French Grand Prix in Le Mans.
With homologated engines on the horizon, chassis development will become more important than ever in 2012.

First things first, for those who have not been following the 2012 rules changes, let’s quickly look at what constitutes a Claiming Rule Team and how they will vary from the factory and factory-supported teams (those of you who know this, skip to the next paragraph). It all revolves around the legality of using production-based engines. They must be a maximum of 1000cc, with a bore no bigger than 81mm, and no more than four cylinders. The engines must be housed in a prototype chassis with bespoke bodywork, not resembling anything mass produced, the idea being this will massively reduce the cost required for a privateer team to get into MotoGP. Some of the details designed to level things out for these teams: the CRTs will be allowed a bigger allotment of engines for the season, as well as the ability to carry more fuel. On the other hand, to keep the factory and factory-supported teams from exploiting these rules, at any point during the season any of these team’s engines can be ‘claimed,’ as the name suggests, by the competition for a pre-set price. There are also rules dictating how many times engines can be claimed, by who and when, and so on, though exact details are still being hammered out. You get the general point, though.

Where the ‘purists’ harbor their biggest complaint is that Grand Prix racing is and always has been centered around prototypes, machines designed and produced from the ground-up to go racing, representing the pinnacle of two-wheel technology. And they have a valid point. If all was sunny in today’s economy, there’s no question that this is what GP racing is all about and these rules would never even have been introduced. But if the economy was still all peachy Kawasaki would likely still be involved in the series, Suzuki would have two riders, and other manufacturers like Aprilia and BMW, who had both expressed interest in GP racing before the bubble broke, would likely each have two-rider teams as well.

Jorge Lorenzo got off to an early lead via his pole position start - Estoril 2011
MotoGP grid numbers have been diminishing and competitiveness has been declining over the last few years.

Anyhow, back to reality… And back to the issue of how to raise grid numbers. Fast. The above option was what the brightest and best people MotoGP currently employs were able to come up with over the past few years. And while to an extent it blends the lines between production-based racing and GPs more than anyone would like, overall I don’t hate the idea nearly as much. But that’s not to say I don’t have one of my own. I am a journalist, after all. What good would I be without an opinion?

My idea takes cues from various successful motorcycle and auto racing series’ worldwide. The basic MotoGP rules structure — displacement, size, eligibility, etc. — remains the same as the proposed 2012 regulations for 1000cc prototype machines with the exceptions of the following changes. First, a date close to the start of the 2012 season shall be set by which time all manufacturers must finalize all testing and development of their new 1000cc prototype engines, after which time any further advancements will be prohibited. Performance will then be evaluated through a host of official pre-season tests, using various non-contracted riders, as well as the team’s performances during the opening three rounds of the season. The goal here is to set as level of a playing field as possible, in terms of base engine performance. Adjustments in fueling and intake size will be employed as needed to level the field as much and as quickly as possible. Once finished, all future internal engine development will be frozen.

Second, every manufacturer on the grid who fields a factory team will also be required to supply at least one additional, two-rider support team with engines of the exact same spec as that of the factory bikes. There will be no limit as to the maximum number of teams each manufacturer can supply. Factory teams, however, will not be required to supply transmissions, intakes, fuel systems or electronics to the support teams, this being the responsibility of each individual team, and with the exception of electronics, shall not be limited in any way. Chassis supply will also be at the discretion of each manufacturer, with no limitations on design beyond the basic parameters that are already in place.

As for said electronics, a sole outside-the-industry supplier will work with and develop a universal ECU to be used by every team. This unit will provide all of the teams the exact same data parameters and areas of control ability, to be agreed upon by the teams. However, to remain frozen and

Cal Crutchlow - Le Mans 2011
MotoGP riders will have to break out the books to learn the new parameters of the changes coming in 2012.

non-adjustable will be the following: traction control, wheelie control, launch control, as well as off-throttle back-torque/deceleration. These areas may only be controlled mechanically. And that’s it. These are the basic parameters, as hopefully that’s all which is needed.

The idea behind these being that the largely reduced costs from less electronics and frozen engine development, and the guaranteed performance of factory-level engines at a set leasing price, would be all that is needed to attract enough additional support teams that CRTs would not be needed in the first place. I think following these lines grids could easily grow into the 20-plus range quite easily.

But this is merely my arm-chair opinion, of which has little more real-world weight than that of the GP-inspired blogs, most of them hidden behind clever screen names. Many will likely go belly-up before next season even starts when it’s author is presumably forced from their parents’ basements in search of gainful employment and their own mailing address.

But the reality is that starting next season CRTs will come into effect, so the question remains: Will they be a viable option to boost grid numbers or a shameful last-ditch grasp to pad the field? What this comes down to, more than anything, is will these production-engine based machines still look, sound and feel like a proper MotoGP bike? In other words, will they have bespoke bodywork, sound like shrieking banshees, and be close enough in lap times to avoid embarrassment?

A host of recent videos of the 2012 Marc VDS bike testing (Suter frame with BMW S1000RR-based engine) were recently released and had the carbon brakes not been visible I would have chalked it up as just another of its Moto2 machines; it currently uses the same Suter Moto2 bodywork and sounds much more akin to that of a high-pitched 600cc Moto2 bike than even that of today’s 800cc MotoGP machines, despite it featuring a muffler-less, straight-through exhaust. What state of tune that BMW-based engine was in, and whether or not the bodywork will be redesigned is unknown. Initially the signs don’t look terribly promising though.

On the other hand, it can easily be argued that without such a drastic change as that of CRTs, the sport as a whole would be in grave danger of becoming extinct. And while the ideas I suggested above don’t require a change nearly this dramatic, what I am unable to take into account is exactly how much costs need to be reduced in order to attract enough new teams to keep everything in the black, so to speak. And because the girds need to grow by several bikes literally overnight, the CRT option may be the best solution — unfortunately the exact facts and figures that are required to really figure this out will never be privy to us in the general public. Only time, and a couple seasons of racing, will tell if this idea is genius or the beginning of the end for GP racing. But one thing is for sure, here’s hoping that the CRT bikes from the five other 2012 teams look and feel a lot more like today’s GP prototypes than the current Marc VDS bike, or World Superbike may soon be the only road racing world championship left.

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