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MotoGP 17

Open season on the factory teams

No doubt who was the star of last week’s Sepang tests, even if Marc Márquez did stun his rivals with a ridiculously fast race simulation on the final day.

motogp race  Open season on the factory teams

Márquez’s ominous speed on Honda’s latest RC213V wasn’t entirely unexpected, whereas the pace of Aleix Espargaró on his Open-spec Yamaha M1 had a few jaws dropping up and down pitlane. The young Spaniard’s best lap was less than half a second slower than Márquez and within a couple of tenths of factory Yamaha riders Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.

Espargaró’s speed suggests that the best Open-class bikes will have a chance of fighting for podiums this year, especially at thirstier tracks where their 20 per cent extra fuel may give them a real advantage over factory bikes. It also confirms that Dorna’s control software – mandatory on Open bikes – is working pretty damn well.

Before Sepang the Open bikes already had the 2014 rules written largely in their favour – all part of Dorna’s sensible plan to narrow the gap between factory teams and privateers to create bigger battles near the front of the pack. As well as four more litres of fuel, they also get to thrash their way through more than twice as many engines as do the factory machines and they can go testing whenever they like, unlike factory riders.

So you’d think that the Open bikes (the Openers?) already had enough going for them. Not quite, in Dorna’s opinion. After the tests Bridgestone confirmed that the Openers will be blessed with softer-spec rear slicks for 2014, as were the slower CRT machines last season. Softer, more grippy rubber was a major part of Espargaró’s ability to embarrass the factory Ducatis during 2013 aboard his Aprilia CRT bike and it may help him do the same to a few of the aliens this year.

motogp race  Open season on the factory teams
Espargaró testing at Valencia

Dorna’s plan

I’m sure there was only one man happier than Espargaró at the conclusion of Sepang 1, and that would’ve been Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta. He must surely have cracked open a bottle of bubbly and lit up a big fat cigar when the youngster’s lap time popped up on his laptop.

Deciding to give the Open bikes another weapon – more grip – is Ezpeleta’s way of causing yet more discomfiture to the factories. He is already pushing hard against factory opposition to make the entire MotoGP grid Open spec, and anything he can do to help Open bikes perform as well, or better, than factory machines will ultimately help his cause.

He’s playing the long game, because the rules aren’t up for a wholesale rewrite until 2017, but in the meantime every little helps. If Espargaró can bully a few factory Hondas and Yamahas this year, I can already see Ezpeleta sat in his office overlooking the pitlane, grinning madly, clinking champagne flutes with Dorna management and puffing on a Cuban.

Sepang test – fastest times
1. Marc Márquez, Honda 1min 59.533sec
2. Valentino Rossi, Yamaha 1min 59.727sec
3. Jorge Lorenzo, Yamaha 1min 59.866sec
4. Aleix Espargaró, Yamaha 1min 59.998sec
5. Stefan Bradl, Honda 2min 0.112sec
6. Dani Pedrosa, Honda 2min 0.223sec
7. Andrea Dovizioso, Honda 2min 0.370sec
8. Pol Espargaró, Yamaha 2min 0.655sec
9. Andrea Iannone, Ducati 2min 0.725sec
10. Álvaro Bautista, Honda 2min 0.788sec

The biggest point of disagreement between Dorna and the factories is control electronics. The factories want to continue electronics R&D – currently by far the most significant area of development – while Ezpeleta wants everyone running his own spec software, so he has full control of the train set. His ultimate aim, of course, is to be fully in control so he can turn down rider aids, like traction control, to turn up MotoGP’s entertainment value.

motogp race  Open season on the factory teams

And this is where Ducati’s struggles are also playing into Ezpeleta’s hands because they are considering entering their machines under the Open rules to help them close the gap on Honda and Yamaha. I am sure Ezpeleta is hoping that the Italians will go Open (perhaps he is even encouraging them to do so) because that will only push MotoGP another step in that direction. Ducati have until the end of this month to decide which way to go.

If they do go Open, Ezpeleta will be delighted, unlike Honda and Yamaha, who will be apoplectic with rage because the Open rules were written specifically to help privateer teams, not to give struggling factory teams a leg up. However, no one thought to include a regulation that prevented factory teams from running under these rules.

If Ducati go Open, they will enjoy the extra four litres of fuel, but the main attraction to Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna is the lack of engine restrictions. Not only do Open teams get 12 engines per rider, instead of five, they can also modify and redesign their engines as much as they like, whereas factory teams must seal their engines at the start of the season.

Honda are already unhappy with Yamaha, for leasing last year’s factory M1 equipment to Espargaró’s and Colin Edwards’ NGM Forward team. They have complained that this isn’t in the spirit of the Open rules and they are correct.

Dorna’s Open concept was for the factories to sell machines to private teams, not lease them. Dorna quite rightly want private teams to be able to buy bikes and then operate on their own without factory involvement. That way, when the racing is over the teams will have equity, which they can then sell on or use again. So long as private teams have to lease equipment they will have no equity and they must fork out a huge annual fee to the factories. That’s not sustainable for the vast majority of teams.

motogp race  Open season on the factory teams
Colin Edwards

Honda did what Dorna wanted them to do – they built the RCV1000R that teams can buy and own. Meanwhile Yamaha told Dorna that building an entire machine and/or engine to sell to privateers was beyond their resources. Also, they didn’t want their latest MotoGP technology getting into the hands of non-factory people, so they offered a compromise – to lease engines. Dorna had little option but to accept the offer.

At Sepang 1 Espargaró rode with a 2013 M1 engine and chassis, because FTR are still constructing the frames that will form the backbone of the Forward team’s 2014 effort. At Sepang 2 Espargaró may run an FTR frame, so it’s quite possible that his lap times will be less spectacular as the British frame constructors dial in their new kit. FTR are under a huge amount of pressure, because designing and building a frame that works as well as a factory Yamaha unit – the product of decades of GP knowhow – isn’t going to be easy.

For the sake of FTR, Espargaró, Edwards, Ezpeleta and the rest of us, I hope they do a great job.

More from Mat Oxley
Silly season or stupid season?
Inside the mind of Casey Stoner
A changing of the guard

motogp race  Open season on the factory teams

Add your comments

17 comments on Open season on the factory teams

  1. Duque Domocos, 12 February 2014 15:41

    I say give everybody the control (Dorna) ECU and let us see some real racing.

  2. Aldo, 12 February 2014 17:15

    All I have to say is…

    GO ROSSI GO GO GO!!!!!!!!!!

  3. The Original Ray T, 12 February 2014 18:22

    It’s hard to imagine owning race bike has any “equity” beyond the end of a season. The little guys versus the factories has been playing out for decades, and for decades, I’ll never understand why factories believe that a victory is only valid from a factory team, and not a privateer on that same brand. (i.e. the Gary Nixon fiasco with Kawasaki).
    I can understand that Honda and Yamaha do not want their heavily invested R&D to be stolen by privateers, but on the other hand, maybe there is a way to make back money by supplying 4-5 teams with the same bike as the factory. Currently, it looks like a lottery to see which rider ends up on the factory Honda.
    If MotoGP is just left open, we’ll just see domination and more bike than rider performances…we don’t want to go down that F1 path..please.

  4. N. Weingart, 12 February 2014 20:20

    Another secret to forward racing’s open bike is Aleix Espargaro himself. Thanks for explaining why FTR is testing witha Yamaha frame, I couldn’t find that info anywhere else and it is rather important for a frame manufacturer to race their product. At least in my book it is. I’m curious as to why you said that Dorna had no choice but to let Yamaha lease engines. The whole point of the CRT class and now the open class is to allow private teams to race without going bankrupt paying outrageous leases to the manufacturers for old tech bikes. Dorna could have said no and cut Yamaha out of the open class and further eroded the influence of the MSMA over technical regulations, or couldn’t they because…

  5. Mat Oxley, 12 February 2014 22:16

    N Weingart (sorry, don’t know your first name). Dorna caved in to Yamaha lease proposal because it gets 2 more good bikes on the grid. Dorna are playing the long game, getting where they want to go step by step, rather than in one big jump.

    Ray T, well, some equity is better than no equity and I see no reason why teams shouldn’t get at least two years out of an RCV1000. Then they can sell it to whoever for a few 100k – collectors etc. That’s a lot better than coughing up a million euro per year lease fee.

    Yes, there will always be a gap between factory and non-factory, for all kinds of reason, not just equipment. But at least Dorna are working at closing the gap and starting to get tough with the factories who have been running the show (well, kinda) for far too long.

    I hope that come 2017 when everybody may be on control software that Dorna will gradually turn down the rider aids. As all the riders want!

  6. bjb, 13 February 2014 04:52

    Mat: “Dorna are playing the long game, getting where they want to go step by step, rather than in one big jump.”

    If Dorna had a clue they’d have supported what Kenny Sr was trying to do back in the day i.e. make the bikes more like F1 in the sense that it’s not 100% reliant on full factory machinery. It would have been great if there were strong non-factory teams like RedBull, McLaren etc are F1. I think we’d have had a much healthier grid.

  7. Pavlo, 13 February 2014 06:18

    Still don’t understand why the manufacturers are so keen on electronics. Presumably in order to market bikes as ‘safe’? And then persuade clueless people it is safe for them to ride? Can’t they test their electronics somewhere else? Wsbk maybe?
    It is a bit disheartening to hear all these interviews how the riders need to change their electronic settings, engine braking etc etc. I would love to hear some one say, ‘yeah I just need to ride it a bit harder!’ Am I losing it? Have I lost the plot?

  8. Mat Oxley, 13 February 2014 08:40

    BJB, you are 100% right, of course. Kenny had the correct concept, without a doubt. He was ahead of his time!

    Pavlo, look out on the street. What’s everyone playing with? Electronic gadgets! That’s the world at the moment. Factory electronics are out of control in MotoGP, so Dorna are trying to rein them in. Thing is, all the top riders ride the bike 100% with or without electronics. Personally, I’d rather they did so without, so I can see them working, rather than the little black box

  9. Elliot, 13 February 2014 14:05

    There’s always the lines dragged out “racing improves the breed” and “technology will bleed down from racing to production”.

    I think the part of electronics now that I struggle to see bleeding down to a proddy bike in the near future is the GPS/corner-counting/location aware electronics (or software) that all the current factory bikes utilise.

    My limited imagination fails to visualise the day I ride my bike to work and it adjusts the TC, engine braking characteristics, etc based on some inbuilt knowledge of every corner of the A406 + current: weather patterns/traffic/oil-fuel spillages (what if my bike can’t connect to the internet that morning?).

    Not convinced that location aware electronics are going to be do-able in the real world, so with my best Duncan Bannatyne voice on “I’m out”.

    -Banning the location aware elements of software & electronics would be the first place I’d start.

  10. N. Weingart, 13 February 2014 14:54

    Thanks Mat for your answer. Here’s hoping Dorna stays the course. I enjoyed your talk with John McPint very much, he’s a great guy and brilliant ambassador for road racing.

  11. Pavlo, 13 February 2014 15:03

    Very well said Elliot

  12. Ba Wild, 13 February 2014 15:26

    Elliott: agreed 100% I cannot conceive of corner by corner gps traction control eber being of use for anything other than on track. It is absolutely the first thing that should be outlawed and as immediately as possible,

    Playing the long game is fair enough and Dorna do a decent job selling interest in motoGP when the good racing is in moments rather than races. I enjoy the soap opera politics and technical tour de force in MotoGP but it is hard to argue that it is not hurting the sport.

    It is interesting, Matt says Dorna are playing the long game because one thing I believe they are most guilty of is NOT playing the long game with regards to followers of the sport. The European moves to restrict access away from the casual viewers, from where tomorrows addicts are nurtured remains short sighted.

  13. Elliot, 13 February 2014 16:01

    Whilst I’m on a roll…

    How you deal with the wider aspects of TC is a double-edged sword.

    On the one hand you’ve got Gary McCoy sliding and smoking the rear wheel, Marco Melandri doing the same one-handed in the final corner at P.I., the dramatic high-sides that put a racer into a near-earth orbit and followed by the racer running over to their bike to see if they can get it going again (like it or not, even Dorna shows the crashes on it’s highlight/YouTube channel).

    The other is Carlos Checa high-siding at the Craner Curves (nearly losing his vision and having his spleen removed), or worse. Deaths, career ending injuries aren’t something Dorna will toy with lightly*.

    That said the racers are still capable of dramatic high-sides now (Stoner at Indianapolis, Lorenzo last season, etc) so maybe the current electronics are more about saving fuel and managing tyre degradation than outright safety.

    *The only caveat is that BSB seemed to outlaw TC without a dramatic effect on accidents against another year. I’d actually prefer BSB to have rules that if the TC is available on the road bike, and that road bike costs less than £XX,000 all-in, then the un-altered road-going TC can be used. -that would in theory improve the breed?

  14. Thomas Burger, 13 February 2014 21:17


    Minor Correction: (Although he might prefer it this way) Dovi is listed as riding a Honda rather than a Ducati.

    => 7. Andrea Dovizioso, Honda 2min 0.370sec


  15. chrisb, 14 February 2014 18:33

    Mat, spot on old chap!

    TC was such a bore in F1 thankfully that was one thing they managed to get rid of, well eventually anyway, sorry allegedly, really seeing parallels here, 1993/4 F1 20113/14 Moto GP – mmm need to think on that

    really looking forward to this season, it does feel that Moto GP has resurrected itself to the demise of WSB, and am looking forward to a trip to Jerez in May – but sadly as I can’t deal with fortress silverstone that will be the only Moto GP I will see this year, bit ironic really, Moto GP sorts itself out, gets a group of incredible riders together for the first time in years the bikes are awesome and we won’t be watching it. oh well back to WSB on Eurosport, wonder if that will have an impact on that series and it will retake Moto GP and we’ll all be back to square one?

    great article and lovely to see you actually read our responses!

  16. phil V, 15 February 2014 09:01

    Control ECU with TC toned down is the only way to go. Although I get the feeling Ezpeleta won’t ever be really happy until all bikes capable of winning have Spanish riders on them, and that really isn’t that far off….!

  17. Skippy Stone, 2 March 2014 04:28

    I am always amazed at how many bikers are willing to accept “communistic” rules. Maybe all the complaining about NASCAR from the motorcycle community is just a ruse, to cover the need for the lowest common man form of racing.

    Can we make sure MotoGP leathers match, too? Because, I don’t think it will matter much what dang bike they ride in the DORNA future, and thus we might as well have all the dang same robots on all the same dang robot bikes.

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