Mat Oxley

MotoGP’s new direction

Next year MotoGP takes the next step towards achieving its avowed intention of filling the grid with (roughly) equal machinery.

Following the recent introduction of low-cost, streetbike-powered (and therefore uncompetitive) CRT bikes, a new type of machine is now available to privateer teams. These bikes come from Honda and Yamaha, whom rights-holder Dorna had threatened with new technical restrictions if they didn’t get into the spirit of MotoGP’s egalitarian new direction.

Dorna told the factories they must offer for sale two bikes (for one rider) at a target price of €1 million. Honda has built a lower-cost version of its RC213V – with steel valve springs instead of the factory bike’s pneumatic springs – while Yamaha is leasing 2013 YZR-M1 engines.

The manufacturers didn’t want to comply but, if they hadn’t, Dorna planned to introduce an rpm limit and control software, which the factories would do anything to avoid. Yamaha evaded two of Dorna’s demands – it is leasing engines only and leasing rather than selling because it doesn’t want its MotoGP technology in the public domain.

The Honda is already running, tested by none other than Casey Stoner (above). Honda’s recently retired 2011 MotoGP champion was impressed – perhaps not surprisingly.

To close the gap down the grid, Dorna has granted benefits to these new privateer machines, to help them challenge the factory bikes. While privateers must use Dorna’s Magneti Marelli-made spec software, they get to burn 20 per cent more fuel and use more than twice the number of engines in a season.

MotoGP veteran Colin Edwards had yet to ride his M1-powered 2014 machine when this was written, but reckons carrying a generous 24 litres of fuel will make him competitive, especially at tracks where some factory bikes run so low on fuel that their management systems have to turn down the power.

“Theoretically, when you put all the numbers together, it looks like there’s a definite possibility that we will be running near the front,” says the Texan. “Any track where you see people run out of fuel on the last lap or the cool-down lap, those are the thirsty tracks, so that’s where we might have an advantage over factory bikes.”

Stoner – never one to dish out undeserved praise – had a ball on the Honda during testing. “The bike was good to ride and had great grip,” he said. “I enjoyed it because the electronics package wasn’t the same as the factory bike and it allowed me to ride a little more loose. The back end was stepping out into corners and out of corners, which got the blood rushing again and reminded me what I love about racing.”

Now that’s ironic, considering that Stoner walked away from MotoGP partly because he didn’t like the lower-cost/lower-grade machinery coming onto the grid.

So, the million euro question: can these machines actually beat the factories?

“I’m afraid,” says Yamaha’s factory MotoGP project leader Masahiko Nakajima, without sounding like he means it. “On the straights at some circuits maybe they will have more speed because they can run full rich, so their maximum torque will be stronger, while we have to use a leaner setting. But then we will have our own software for driveability and cornering while they will have control software.”

Nakajima is correct when he suggests that the factories have better software, but even more crucial are their riders: Yamaha has Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi on board, while Honda has Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa.

There’s no doubt, however, that this new kind of privateer machinery is a big step in the right direction for MotoGP.