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MotoGP Editorial: Can 1000cc Save the Day?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011
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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NOLANinja   June 16, 2011 08:24 PM
Great article, and I definitely agree with limiting rider aids and putting the riders more in control. The comparison to F1 is a perfect example, as F1 pulled itself back from the brink in the late 2000's by banning traction and launch control, moving to a spec ECU, attempting to cut costs, and this year switching to a type of tire that wears very quickly and introduces a major strategy decision into racing as well. It has produced some of the best F1 races ever, and if MotoGP follows the same format, we will hopefully see a return to the glory days of GP racing. As a Kawasaki rider, I hate that I am unable to cheer for my chosen make at the highest tier of motorcycle racing, and I hope that changing regulations may lure manufacturers such as Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Aprilia into a renewed or expanded MotoGP effort.
GhostRider11   June 16, 2011 11:16 AM
Great start Steve! You hit most of the major points, can't wait for your follow-ups. Dorna needs to listen to the riders Valentino Rossi has been saying to cut back the electronics for some time now. Josh Hayes and even Casey Stoner limit the amount of electronics they want to use when racing! Bring the 1000s back and cut the ECU usage for all in addition to the CRTs which will become other Factory Teams once things level out for everyone. Maybe Suzuki will stay in MotoGP then!? Since the powers-that-be want MotoGP to be like Formula One and run the same calendar/track schedule... then go all the way and really make MotoGP the top class of motorcycle racing! Steve? You should be on the board of directors at DORNA or something like that so that your views can make a bigger difference for the future!
birdman   June 15, 2011 06:38 PM
The main thing needed for interesting racing is tires that dont last the whole race. Every comment Ive read from riders who raced at the top level pretty much say this. The last episode of 1000's and the previous 500s were more interesting because the tires were getting cooked. Riders used to talk a lot about managing their tires. But now they have tires that easily last the race. You can see this by looking at race lap times. They barely drop. So once a rider gets in front thats basically it for the race. If the tires were only good for 10 laps flat out then there would be a lot more strategy, as some might try and go hard from the start, while others save their tires for the end. This leads to what we all really want to see - sliding, overtaking, riders having to use all their skills.
Bret   June 15, 2011 10:33 AM
Great article Steve, I agree completely. I have been looking forward to the 1000's coming back since the 800's started. A limited Electronics package needs to be implemented along with it though. With the advancements in electronics it is feasible that at some point the rider could just hold the throttle wide open and the computer will do all the work, then grab as much brake as possible and the computer will again do all the thinking and work. All the rider will have to do is be small in size, (hence the jockeys being very successful with the current 800's). MotoGP is not Robot Wars. Why are there computers controlling the throttle and the braking?
camchannell   June 15, 2011 09:05 AM
There is one key factor to the CRT teams that was not mentioned in this article: ITS THE FACTORIES THAT GET TO DO THE CLAIMING. Not the other CRT teams!
The CRT rules reveal an ingenious twist: It is not the Claiming Rule Teams who will be allowed to claim their competitors' engines, but instead, it will be the manfacturers, assembled in the MSMA, who will be allowed to claim the engines. The concept seems strange at first, until you think about the objective of the claiming rule: the ability to claim an engine was intended to prevent factories spending large amounts of money developing engines, then supplying them to CRTs to race with extra fuel and a weight advantage. By allowing only the factories to claim CRT engines, the Grand Prix Commission ensures that factories have little incentive to enter CRTs as a subterfuge, as they risk losing their engine technology - which all of the factories guard preciously. At the same time, they avoid the CRTs manipulating the rules to gain an even bigger advantage, by engaging in mutual buying agreements to obtain an extra engine allowance.

The right of the factories to buy the engines is limited, with the CRTs only liable to sell 4 of their engines to the MSMA, and each manufacturer inside the MSMA only permitted to claim an engine once from a CRT. The engines will cost 20,000 euros to claim including the gearbox (or 15,000 without the gearbox), and the CRT will be allowed an extra engine in their allocation if one of their engines is claimed.

This factor alone will make the CRT a bigger success than I think people realize, and I for one am looking forward to what happens next year!
screamer69   June 15, 2011 08:53 AM
if it means that we will have less races were the field spreads out, posistions are set and few passes are made, than by all means, bring on the 1000's...
jmdavis984   June 15, 2011 08:01 AM
Formula1 IS using a spec ECU, and the racing has improved. But, now they are looking at a spec engine. Is that the way we want MotoGP to go? If not, then lets stop making comparisons to the two series. If you watched the race in Catalunya closely, you would see plenty of evidence of Casey with the rear wheel trying to pass the front, and he did it in complete control. Sic shows us on a weekly basis that the riders can still crash. It is obvious that only three factories are making an effort, and I think that is one major problem.

But, what if we compare MotoGP to AMA Motocross or Supercross. How many riders win in that class? I would say three or four (the same number as can win in MotoGP). How much do they win by? HUGE margins (the same as in MotoGP). However, I don't hear people crying about weak racing in those series. Something else to consider is that we may just be at a point in racing where the number of capable racers is too few? Or, perhaps Dani, Casey, Jorge, Dungey, Stewart, Reed, and Villipoto are just that much better than anyone else. If either is the case, no spec ECU will change the outcomes or the competition of the races.

One final thing. The 500 2-stroke bikes were the spec for the Motorcycle GP series for what, 20, almost 30 years? How many times has the spec changed since 2001? We are looking at the 4th major change to motorcycle grand prix spec (990cc, 800cc, 1000cc, spec tires) in little more than 10 years. If the FIM would allow the technology to settle down for a little while, it would give the chance for more factories to "catch up" to the trend setters (Ducati, Honda, & Yamaha). So, rather than changing the rules every two years (which FORCES more development, and drives costs WAY up, by the way), maybe the FIM should choose a solution and stick to it.

My take? I like the 800's. I appreciate the fact that it is an "odd" (not found on the street) engine size. I appreciate how much HP the engineers are getting out of those little motors. If we stick to the F1 comparison, they use TINY motors comapred to the ever popular NASCAR, and get WAY more HP out of them. I even like the electronic aids. I dare you to name ONE person on your staff who rode a street bike with TC, fuel injection, adjustable maps, etc, and thought "I sure wish this had CV carbs." As a street rider, I NEED the technology that comes from the MotoGP electronics, and I think we as consumers will miss out on a LOT of development if stuff like that is left to the aftermarket.
HokieRider   June 15, 2011 07:07 AM
These MotoGP riders are making millions of dollars a year, and yet it seems like the vast majority of work being done during the weekend is in the garage. It seems like nowadays, when a rider can't find the right set up, more often than not, they can't find an agreeable electronics set up. I agree, drastically reduce or get rid of the electronics and make the riders earn their paychecks. I also think the excessive electronics let riders think they can make aggressive moves they wouldn't otherwise dare to make without those rider aids. And a question for Atlas. Is there any indication that the governing bodies poll the customers (ie, us the fans) for where they would like to see their product go, or are they just making decisions and creating ideas out of the blue? If the latter is the case, it's no wonder the sport is struggling, that's a very poor business model.
Superbikemike   June 15, 2011 05:52 AM
plain and simple..... limiting the electronic aides is the only way to bring back the awesome racing of the 990's. motogp racing has sucked for years now.... i feel the riders are not getting a chance to show case all there skills.... just these shitty electronics engineers and there laptop.... the guys running dorna just don't listen, no matter how loud we cry, just a bunch of rich guys who know best.... GP's=boring racing, with dwindling fields and smaller crowds watching.... dorna is just soooooooo slow to react.... it's plainful to watch
buzzdsm   June 15, 2011 04:28 AM
Here is a crazy idea....lose all the electronic aids. I want to see wheels spinning, rear ends sliding, and front wheels going air-born. Safety devices are great on the street but they make for boring racing. It's coming down to the skinniest riders on the best bikes winning over and over.
leward18   June 15, 2011 03:49 AM
True enough. Great article Steve. Couldn't be explained any better than that.