MotoGP: When is a CRT Bike Not a CRT Bike?

October 23, 2013
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
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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.

Although the patronym CRT remains  the 2014 CRT bikes will be factory machines in all but name.
The ill-fated CRT era will become a footnote in Grand Prix history, but how will the new prototype vs. production dynamic play out in MotoGP going forward?

MotoGP Term Paper – Question 1: When is a CRT Bike Not a CRT Bike?

“1984” is a book I would urge all MCUSA readers to peruse, if it hasn’t already crossed your literary paths. The book was written in 1949 by the English social commentator and philosopher George Orwell. In “1984” the key protagonist Winston Smith lives in a world where the facts are constantly re-written by the Ministry of Truth so that history supports the ruling party’s current thinking and where independent thought is condemned as a “Thought Crime.” Winston would have felt very much at home as an observer of MotoGP in 2013.

Readers of this column may remember that I predicted, with laser accuracy, that the CRT concept was doomed from the outset. I also foresaw that genuine CRT bikes would be embarrassingly slow – which they were and are – and that they would get lapped. From my prophesy desk in the temple of Delphi, well a garage quite near Delphi give or take 1500 miles or so, I also revealed that the only CRT bikes which would be even vaguely competitive would be the quasi factory Aprilias – and so it proved to be.

The idea of machines based on production engines racing competitively against prototype GP machines was silly when it was launched in 2012, silly for the interim period and is now acknowledged as being very, very, very silly by its two parents Daddy Dorna and Mummy FIM.

The core idea behind CRT was that the cost of participation in MotoGP would be slashed because any CRT engine could be “claimed” (bought) for 20,000 Euros. Even this core concept was an example of silliness personified, for two key reasons. First, 20,000 Euros – about $27,000 – only bought you the metal. Teams were not obliged to sell the electronics to make the engine go round and round.

More importantly, everyone – Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and the CRT teams – agreed not to claim engines from each other. To do so would have launched a nuclear claiming war because, and please believe me in this respect, $27,000 is the equivalent of the stray peanut you find at the back of the couch for any team racing in MotoGP.

The Texas Tornado  Colin Edwards  will compete in his home state at COTA.
Colin Edwards is no joke when riding a MotoGP bike but even he can’t make a genuine CRT machine competitive.

Despite putting some very handy riders on these bikes – Colin Edwards for one is no Muppet when it comes to riding a GP bike fast – they failed to be anything but an embarrassment – with the sole exception of Aleix Espargaró, and to a lesser extent Randy de Puniet, and the Aspar team. I have never met Aleix but he does seem a thoroughly pleasant young man and he is clearly very quick on the ART machine. However, given Espargaró’s talent, and the fact that he was riding a full factory bike – albeit falsely labeled CRT – the result was wholly predictable.

Right from the off, the ART machine shot the spirit of CRT stone dead and then ran over it repeatedly in a Monster Truck. In fact, you couldn’t get anything less like a CRT machine if you tried to break the rules. The ART was first, last and middle a factory Aprilia with a highly developed World Superbike engine and full on Aprilia twin spar, alloy, GP frame. And you were going to buy that engine for $27,000? I think not!

Not only did the Aspar team have a factory Aprilia machine, they had factory Aprilia staff too. All the smart elements of Max Biaggi’s 2012 World Superbike Championship winning Aprilia team simply changed their T-shirts and started wearing Aspar clothing.

Is this a deceitful, underhand or even unsporting thing to do? Absolutely not. If I had been in team owner Jorge Martinez’s place I would have done the same thing. Clearly, being Spanish ensured that there were going to be no objections from Dorna – especially since they were desperate to have at least one vaguely competitive machine in the CRT category.

However, when you got to the back of the field, and genuine CRT machines like the dog of a thing provided by Forward Racing for Colin Edwards and the bike put out by Paul Bird, things were desperate. Worse still, they were never going to improve because the gap between the prototype bikes and the CRT machines was unbridgeable.

So, the next plan has been unveiled. As you will know, Dorna study “Single Track Mind” closely every month and tend to accept all of my ideas sooner or later. This is why they have increased the minimum combined weight limit for bikes and riders competing in Motos 2 and 3.

It’s also why they have accepted my idea for a control ECU but sadly have managed to screw up my plan with an inimitable degree of incompetence.

Every motorcycle running in MotoGP next year will be controlled by a Magneti Marelli ECU and will have data logging by the same manufacturer. So far, so good. Magneti Marelli know what they are doing in terms of manufacturing race ECUs so costs would have plummeted.

Repsol Hondas Technical Director  Takeo Yokoyama  took time to present the 2014 RC213V prototype machine during a test day at Motorland Aragon.
Despite an attempt to move to a control ECU, the MSMA has found a way around the problem. Honda, Yamaha and Ducati will have the freedom to write their own code in 2014.

Unfortunately, but very predictably, the MSMA – that’s Honda, Yamaha and Ducati by any other name – would have nothing to do with a control ECU package and, roll of drums in the background, control software in particular. They wanted, in fact insisted, on having the freedom to write their own code.

Now I have used the word “silly” on several occasions so far and I am going to use the same word again. It is very silly to make the big three use a control ECU – which is probably made in China for about $2.99 – whilst allowing them the freedom to spend zillions of dollars writing their own code. In fact, I can’t think of anything sillier if I had just won the Silly Person World Championship.

The silliness continues. If you put a control ECU on Marc Marquez’s RCV it becomes a CRT bike and young Marc can have 12 engines in a year – provided he isn’t a “works” rider. He can have the seamless gearbox, the pneumatic valve engine and the trick chassis but without the software he is riding a CRT bike.

The moment the Magneti Marelli ECU has Honda code in it then Marc can have an identical bike but only five engines for the whole year.

The next bit is even better – and far more interesting. A CRT bike can have 24 liters of fuel per race while a “factory” bike is restricted to 20 liters. The factory Yamahas in particular run very tight on fuel and an extra four liters – that’s a gallon – would be a gift from heaven.

The bizarre situation continues. Ducati have already suggested that their customer bikes – such as those used by the Pramac team – will have control ECUs and will make full use of the 24 liters of fuel. If you remember, when the Blessed Casey of Stoner gave Ducati its first MotoGP World Championship he did so on the back of a blisteringly fast engine. What would a current Desmosedici do with plenty of fuel to drink?

The same applies to the customer RCVs which Honda is supplying. Tooled up for an extra 25% of fuel, plus the ability to tune the engines safe in the knowledge that you have twelve, not five, engines waiting in the truck the prototype engines running in CRT guise will be something worth watching.

Nicky Hayden’s 2014 fortunes may improve with Honda’s
production RCV racebike, which will carry an extra gallon of fuel
compared to the full-factory spec Hondas.

Colin Edwards’ Forward Racing Team has already secured the lease of full factory YZM engines; factory swinging arm and factory suspension. There are mixed reports about what else they are getting. Initially, my understanding was that FTR were supplying the frame but Team Owner Giovanni Cuzari commented: “We agreed with Yamaha to lease the engine and the frame, the body of the bike, so we lease almost a complete bike from Yamaha. We have to take care of the fairing.”

To say that Cuzari is confident about 2014 is an understatement since he reportedly had to pay Aspar 400,000 Euros to buy out the remaining year of Espargaró’s contract. You can see what I mean about the 20,000 Euros price of claiming a top CRT engine being laughable!

Given 24 liters of fuel, a full-on factory engine and a top class chassis I don’t expect to see Edwards battling in the lower half of the field next year.

But my tip for the top of the non-CRT, CRT challenge is none other than The Kentucky Kid. Nicky Hayden is not one of the aliens but he is an extremely fine, world class rider and the equal of Alvaro Bautista, Andrea Dovizioso et al.

Next year, he will be riding a customer RCV but, to re-state the key facts, 24 liters of fuel and 12 engines. He also has the backing of a very well-funded and highly professional team in Aspar.

The question of the hour is what will happen if Nicky’s 24-liter RCV proves to be faster than the 20-liter factory Hondas? The standard reaction, in previous years, would be to pull back the spec on the engines in the same way that Yamaha does with the Tech 3 motors.

The difference with the customer RCV is two-fold. First the team owns, not leases, the Hondas. Second, and this is of critical importance, Magneti Marelli will have supplied the ECU code and Aspar’s techies will be fine tuning it. It will be interesting to see how HRC’s boss Shuhei Nakamoto solves this conundrum.

Currently, Nicky is typically only a second a lap off podium pace so I expect the charming American to be challenging for a place in the top six and, with a following wind on the right day, I wouldn’t even be shocked to see him on the podium. The likelihood of this happening is increased by the fact that the prototypes have their fuel cut down by a liter from 2013 and they have to write new code for the Magneti Marelli ECU. Suddenly, Nicky being considerably less than a second a lap slower than the Aliens looks very credible.

So, have I now become a fan of CRT bikes? No, not really, because although the patronym CRT remains, the 2014 CRT bikes will be factory machines in all but name.

What has changed is the dynamic of the whole championship. As I have said, I would happily have a $10 bet – I never was a Las Vegas high roller – on Nicky finishing in the first six regularly but things are actually more interesting than this. Now for a confession: I can’t make a prediction at this stage regarding just how much benefit 24 liters will confer and how much of an advantage the factory written software will be over the Magneti Marelli code.

It might be that things become really interesting and, if they do, expect to see history re-written on the hoof – and at lightning speed. Here’s the scenario.

MotoGP Misano 2013.
If the new non-CRT CRT machines begin beating satellite or prototype machines in 2014, expect there to be plenty of tense meetings throughout the MotoGP inner sanctum.

If Hayden’s RCV, and the quasi factory Yamaha with Edwards/Espargaró on board, use the 24 liter fuel allowance very well and starts beating the satellite factory teams of Tech 3 and Gresini there will be tense meetings throughout the MotoGP inner sanctum.

Worse, or in my opinion better, if Nicky comes rattling past Marquez, Lorenzo et al on the straight and Espargaró shows that the control ECU works very well, thank you very much, there really will be tears before bedtime not only in the satellite teams but also amongst the Holy Prototype trinity.

Good as Cal Crutchlow is, how is he going to cope with 24 liter Hondas and Yamahas on a Ducati restricted to a gallon a race less?

Clearly, this ruins Dorna’s official script. Everyone is relaxed about Honda beating Yamaha and Dorna would be delighted to see Ducati put one over on either of them. But a CRT bike stuffing a zillion dollar factory machine ridden by an Alien? Now that would go down like a pork sandwich at a bar mitzvah.

So here is an STM prediction – and for once, incredibly, I’m not absolutely certain of the outcome. First, the 24 liter rule proves to be too much for the pure factory bikes to handle. Second, Hayden and Espargaró do better than Dorna predict or expect. Third, the regulations are changed in a desperate, mid-season shuffle so that normal service is resumed once more. Fourth, all the current regulations are hurriedly buried in a concrete tomb somewhere deep in the Sierra Nevada and their existence is written out of the motorcycle racing history books.

As I said, “1984” writ large.

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