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MotoGP Editorial Part 3 - CRTs and the Future

Wednesday, July 13, 2011
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.

2011 MotoGP Racing Photo Gallery
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MotoGP Racing Bios
Valentino Rossi
Who is the most popular MotoGP racer in the world? Valentino Rossi. Learn more about Valentino Rossi in Motorcycle USA's Valentino Rossi page for career highlights, pictures, and news.
Jorge Lorenzo
Jorge Lorenzo has been a force in MotoGP since his 2008 debut, becoming one of the most dominant Grand Prix riders in the paddock with his 2010 and 2012 MotoGP championship victories. Find out more about Jorge Lorenzo by checking out Motorcycle USA's Jorge Lorenzo page for career highlights, a complete bio, and racing pictures.
Marc Marquez
Marc Marquez made a huge debut in MotoGP and looks to further solidify his name among the greats. Learn about Marquez in Motorcycle-USA’s Marc Marquez bio page.
Nicky Hayden
Starting from humble dirt track beginnings at the age of four, Nicky Hayden has captured many titles including a MotoGP championship. Check out Motorcycle USA's Nicky Hayden page for highlights, videos, and Nicky Hayden biography.
Dani Pedrosa
A 250GP star, Dani Pedrosa has been a consistent title contender througout his young MotoGP career, campaigning from Day 1 for the factory Repsol Honda team. Read more about the Spanish rider on the Dani Pedrosa bio page.
Colin Edwards
A World Superbike Champion and Yamaha MotoGP veteran, Colin Edwards has been dubbed by many as the "Texas Tornado." Read more about MotoGP rider Colin Edwards in MotorcycleUSA's Colin Edwards Rider Bio.
Andrea Dovizioso
Andrea Dovizioso has been steadily progressing in MotoGP after a solid run in the 250 ranks. Not as hyped as some, the Italian returns now rides for Ducati alongside teammate Cal Crutchlow. Read more on the Andrea Dovizioso bio page.
Alvaro Bautista
Learn more about Alvaro Bautista on Motorcycle USA's Alvaro Bautista bio page for career highlights, pictures, and news.
Hector Barbera
Learn more about Hector Barbera on Motorcycle USA's Hector Barbera bio page for career highlights, pictures, and news.
Cal Crutchlow
The 2009 World Supersport Champion, Cal Crutchlow, is making the transition to the MotoGP series after a successful campaign in the World Superbike Championship. Read more about the British rider on Crutchlow's bio page.

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Bret   July 14, 2011 10:25 AM
Personally I like the CRT addition, though I feel they could have done this differently. I don't understand why they couldn't have just changed the rules for the motogp class to allow production based engines. This would make it cheaper for the factory teams and would encourage more factory teams to enter, not just privateers. For example Kawasaki, BMW, and Aprilia could enter with factory teams with out having to design a different motor. A current 1000cc superbike motor puts out more than enough power to be competitive in motogp. So why force the factories to spend millions building a new motor? This change in motogp class rules would eliminate the need for CRT class. Sure Honda, Yamaha, and Ducati can still build some amazing v4's purely for motogp, but it would allow the private teams to enter with out the need for the complex motor buying rules that the CRT needs. Plus factorie teams like BMW could have a team instead of private teams using BMW motors (likely to be a popular motor for them) I really don't understand WSBK's beef. The frames, and fairings are all going to be unique and non production. Sure, some motors are going to be directly taken from those bikes and put into CRT's. Boo Hoo. 240hp to the rear wheel is 240hp. Does it really matter if the power is coming out of a v4 race only motor or a production based factory build monstrosity? Not to me, I will be happy to see a full grid and new faces in MotoGP. Plus there will be the underdog factor. How exciting is it going to be the first time a CRT rider is fighting for a podium? I can't wait. On a side note, I am still happy 1000's are coming back. There will be more than enough hp for everyone with this sized motor. The racing will be happen on the brakes and in the corners where it should be.
irksome   July 14, 2011 07:27 AM
I can't help but think it'll resemble the Le Mans-type auto racing, with the prototype class intermingling with the GT class. I also can't help but think there'll be quite a few crashes due to over-zealous passing. For the spectator however, it will eliminate watching 16 bikes go by for 30-seconds and then waiting a very quiet minute until they come around again. Personally, I'm all for eliminating ECU traction-control but I suppose that'll never happen, it being "cutting-edge technology" and all.
potoduc   July 14, 2011 07:17 AM
I think if you dialed back the rules in WSBK, there would be less resistance to dialing them back in MotoGP. My perception is that the average fan wants to think of WSBK as great racers racing streetbikes and MotoGP as the next level; the best-of-the-best on the fastest bikes. I think that distinction is necessary for BOTH series to thrive. If WSBK dialed its rules back so that they were closer to a "Superstock" type classification, then there would be more room for MotoGP to restrict technology and development without blurring the lines between the two series.

Of course it is probably as much of a pipe dream to expect Dorna and FG Sport to cooperate on such a concept as it is to expect the FIM to be able to lead such a change. Nonetheless, the idea would make some sense for all parties. At a minimum, both series would have decreased costs. There has rarely been a time when both series have thrived. Eliminating the overlap, whether real or perceived, should help both series.

On a separate note, I am always annoyed when self-labeled "journalists" take pot shots at the blogosphere. I am a bit disappointed that the author of this article, who generally does solid work, had to stoop to such trite pettiness. The simple fact is that in some cases, superior reporting (defined as better information AND better writing) can be found on blogs than on more "mainstream" media and web outlets. When I hear a journalist whine about blogs, it is generally because there is a blog writer who is scooping him/her, getting more hits and/or getting better paid than he/she is. It is simply petty jealousy.

Are there crappy blogs out there? Sure, just like there have always been crappy journos of every media. Have you picked up a local paper lately? You can find poor writing and bad information in all forms of media. If you're reading garbage, that's your own fault. A journalist who casts general aspersions on the blogosphere reveals more about him or herself than about blogs.

For the record, I am not a blogger and when it comes to finding information and/or being entertained, I bear no prejudices. Sometimes the best source is a blog and sometimes it is a traditional media outlet. I judge each source on its own merits.

jmdavis984   July 13, 2011 08:46 PM
Good thoughts, good thoughts. I am curious about your "frozen engine development" thoughts though. That seems a bit out of place. If a team cannot develop an engine after race one, how will they improve? It seems like we would end up with another Ducati of 2008, one marque SMOKING the rest of the field because they "got it right." I realize that it is another way to cut costs, but if they can't develop, why not just freeze development altogether and make everyone run last year's bikes? I think it is an impossible line to draw.
GhostRider11   July 13, 2011 08:42 PM
Let's face it... CRTs are a quick fix to the grid shortage but it can also be the 1st phase in making MotoGP more fun to watch like Formula One. It will be a race of 2 classes in one race: the stars of the factory riders battling then the best of the rest battling each race weekend! Bring it on... there should be plenty of drama/racing to watch/read/complain/enjoy next season. Meanwhile Dorna can work on the universal ECU idea and a way to get Bridgestone to make tires that don't last like Pirelli does in Formula One... maybe Pirelli will get the next contract anyway. Hopefully all the advances will show on our production bikes as they advertise each year to sell bikes. It wont be a quick turnaround time for all the bikes to be on equal (or close) footing so let's wait and see... fill the grid, institute a controlled ECU, make tires with less grip, all the while the satellite/CRT teams can work on their chassis/engine/modifications to reel in the factory teams for a better show!
Walt   July 13, 2011 07:28 PM
A great thought provoking series Steve. I actually liked the CRT idea from the beginning. I think it's a great opportunity for a number of highly motivated and creative builders who do not have the resources to design, build and develop their own engines, and who don't build hundreds of bikes per year, to now focus their talents and visions against the best in the world. Racing has become a sport for the large factories, even the most well funded smaller builders were previously unable to even build a bike eligible to compete in any world championship series. I think it's very possible to build a competitive production based engine, Max Biaggi's Aprilia even though limited by WSBK rules has shown some pretty impressive speed, allowing even more modifications would close the gap, and instituting a spec ECU rule, would close the gap even more. It certainly doesn't look like the factories have a monopoly on chassis design as shown by the trouble Ducati is currently having and Honda had early last year. It's quite possible that a CRT team could get it just as wrong or just as right as any of the factories. We may even see some real chassis innovations brought by teams that don't have as much to loose and are looking to advance the state of the art, rather than just looking to win, because lets face it, the factories are still going to employ the best riding talent, so it would be in a CRT team's best interests to attract positive attention some other way.
citizenx   July 13, 2011 04:21 PM
I'm cautiously optomistic. As a fan of the race I want it to work. I guess we just have to trust that the powers that be are taking the fan base into consideration, because without us, there is no moto gp.
m1lookalike   July 13, 2011 03:50 PM
I'm all for CRT's. I think lapped CRT's will mix things up front when the leaders have to come through. The lone leader won't always get as far away from the pack when he has to slow down for the CRT's.