Cycle News - Archive Issues - 2000's

Cycle News 2005 11 09

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

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Page 82 of 83

By IN "HE PADDOCK MICHAEL SCOTT Will Race For Food rld Championship motorcycle racing has always firmly resisted being compared with car Grands Prix. It prefers to remain apart, perhaps to avoid comparison. And the way car Formula One has turned from sport into business over the past decades has reinforced that view. MotoGP is, of course, also a business, and while its shareholders must obviously envy the sheer scale of revenue generated by Formula One, and the zillions of TV viewers, it is run along very different lines. Lines that seem to be leading it into bleak pastures, unless somebody has a good trick up his sleeve. Or a very great deal of money. One fundamental difference between two- and four-wheeled GP racing lies in the technical regulations. In the car world, these are a source of constant dispute - handed down from on high by the FIA, the equivalent of motorcycling's FIM. They are then bitterly argued over thereafter by the teams W blow-ups (to reduce engine-tuning levels). In 2006, the might and the noise of Formula One will be enfeebled much more, when the state-of-the-art threeliter V IOs are dumped in favor of 2.4-liter V8s, made to a template of size and a minimum weight. Future proposals include one-make tires and for the FIA to issue the engine-management ECUs. Tough talk, indeed. But you can see the savings would be massive. And you can see why they think they need them. With the tobacco sponsorship money sooner or later quite doomed, the rule-givers in Formula One have decided to cut their coats according to the no-longer shrink-proof cloth. In MotoGP, the dWindling-money syndrome is much more pronounced. This is thanks to Yamaha, which bent over back- the other way. Already in 2005 we've seen a major electronic step forward. This is in ride-bywire throttles, where a hybrid system has evolved - the rider controlling two throttle butterflies directly, the remaining two under the control of a computer. (Honda has a different system for its V-five.) The forthcoming 800s will raise the demands for electronic wizardry and mechanical tomfoolery still further. You can be sure that nobody's going to want to be slowing down or giving away any horsepower. There's only one way for that to happen - higher revs, higher technology, "peakier" tuning, pneumatic or electronic valve control, and even more electronic overrides. There are advantages to this, of course - such technology is directly relevant to ward to please Valentino Rossi, and managed to pee Gauloises off to the extent that they're pulling out; and thanks to Honda doing the same thing to Telef6nica MoviStar, by snatching its prize rider Dani Pedrosa for the Repsol team. Add in the tobacco problem, and count the remaining big sponsors. It won't take you long; unless Red Bull comes charging in. There's only Repsol spending anything like what everyone's come to know and love as real money. The response of MotoGP's technical rule-makers is rather surprising. Rather than dumbing down to suit, they're going sportbikes, and has benefits in safety and fuel effiCiency. In terms of cost, there are only disadvantages. Many people think the 800cc rule is a Honda charter, though HRC president Suguru Kanazawa insists that his current role as chairman of the relevant manufacturers' association, the MSMA, is only a coincidence. Certainly Honda is the most influential member of the MSMA, and certainly these rules play into its hands, as the company with the greatest technological resources. And Honda is by far the richest of the motorcycle companies, and the and manufacturers, while great banks of highly paid engineers try to weasel ways around them. Bikes are quite the opposite. The technical rules are decided by the manufacturers. The changes sometimes seem arbitrary - like the moving-target engine restrictions for 2007: first 900cc, and then suddenly 800cc. But in bike racing, arguments have been solved at source, and nobody says a word. The great thrust in Formula One, for a decade or more, has been to limit costs. It will take a great deal of limiting before these come anywhere back toward the real world, but this is just what the FIA has in mind. They believe a savings of 90 percent is possible, without damaging the spectacle of Formula One. (What spectacle?, ask MotoGP fans.) The savings come via Draconian technical rules, tying designers' hands behind their backs, and driving toward a major dumbing-down. Already this year they had tires that must last both for qualifying and the race, and penalties for engine best able to afford the investment required to drive this sort of cutting-edge technology forward. But why blame Honda? Decisions of the MSMA are unanimous, and if Yamaha, Suzuki, Ducati and Kawasaki really have been bullied and kicked into line, they have only themselves to blame. The greater worry lies in the simple arithmetic. In addition to the departure of Gauloises and MoviStar, neither Kawasaki nor Suzuki has any serious sponsorship at present. There is another forthcoming specter. MotoGP is enjoying unprecedented popularity at present, purely because of Rossi's massive star quality. Sooner or later, Rossi will be gone. And so will vast swaths of both the trackside and the TV audiences, and a huge chunk of public awareness. If MotoGP can't attract good sponsorship now, with Rossi riding the crest of a wave, how much worse will it be without him? One way or another, the cost of racing will have to be met. The factories will have to pay. That means the factory accountants will start to look very carefully at the cost of the exercise, compared with the benefits. You might imagine that unless Suzuki can really pull its socks up in the near future, it might come out on the wrong side of that equation, and it's not the only one. It's too late to stop the 800s now, and a major opportunity has been lost. World Superbikes had obligingly dumbed themselves down, and there was room for MotoGP to do the same. Keeping the 990s, but clipping their wings. There are various ways of doing this - intake restrictors and suchlike. But nobody had a more elegant solution than WCM team boss Peter Clifford. He explained that simply cutting the number of gears from six to four would oblige engineers to build softer engines with nice, wide powerbands. Instead, MotoGP is off on another flight of fantasy. Let's hope there'll be a way to pay for it. eN CYCLE NEWS • NOVEMBER 9,2005 83

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