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Ilmor plans MotoGP engine

18 August 2005

Following KTM's recent withdraw as a MotoGP engine supplier - and continued doubts over the Blata V6 project - hope for teams seeking a competitive powerplant could be on the horizon, with the news that Ilmor Engineering are planning to 'design, build and supply' a MotoGP engine.

Ilmor Engineering was founded in 1983 by Mario Illien (middle pic) and Paul Morgan, who set out to build a CART engine to beat their former employer Cosworth. Funding was provided by CART team manager Roger Penske, who took a 50% stake in the business in return, with 25% later sold to General Motors.

The company's first CART engine was produced in 1986 and just a year later claimed its first victory. The powerplants, built in Northamptonshire (UK), would go on dominate the sport and the company would expand into Formula One in the late 1980s.

A partnership with Mercedes began when Ilmor were commissioned by the German company to build an F1 engine for Sauber in 1993. Mercedes renamed the engine as their own the following season and also later purchased the 25% stake in Illmor held by GM.

From 1995 onwards Mercedes have supplied F1 engines, designed and built by Illmor, to McLaren - with title winning success - while steadily increasing its ownership of what became 'Mercedes-Ilmor'. Mercedes will soon own the whole company, which it recently renamed 'Mercedes-Benz High Performance Engines'.

However, Ilmor Engineering has now been reborn as an independent company following the purchase of the 'Special Projects Group' part of Mercedes-Ilmor by the original founders - Illien, Penske and Elizabeth Morgan (widow of Paul, who was killed in a plane crash in 2001).

Professional Engineering, a publication available to members of the UK's Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), reports that the buy out of the Special Projects Group 'will allow (Ilmor Engineering) to work more closely with companies that might otherwise be put off by its association with Mercedes-Benz'.

The company currently has 55 staff, but intends to increase this to 200 through new projects - one of which is 'a plan to design, build and supply a new engine for MotoGP motorcycle racing. The company has designed it and is now looking for a customer'.

"We expect to start machining components in the spring ready for assembly and test," managing director Steve Miller told PE.

MotoGP engine capacity rules are to change from 990cc to 800cc from the 2007 season onwards, making that date an ideal time for Ilmor's arrival in the premier class - where they would face the likes of Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Ducati.

Perhaps the most realistic possibility is that, as with many of Ilmor's four-wheel projects, the MotoGP engine would be designed, built and developed by Ilmor and paid for and 'badged' by a mainstream manufacturer that wants to enter MotoGP, but lacks the budget/expertise/time to start their own engine project from scratch.

However, to achieve two-wheeled success, Ilmor would need to avoid the mistakes of Cosworth, which was commissioned by Aprilia to build an engine for their RS Cube MotoGP machine from 2002-2004.

The engine was a mini F1 unit, packed with state of the art technology - but was simply not suited to MotoGP, where rideability is far more important. Noriyuki Haga, upon leaving the team at the end of 2003, was quoted as saying he needed an analogue bike, not a digital one...

The bulk of Ilmor's business is currently based around the Indy Racing league, where engine's jointly designed and built by Illmor and Honda have won the Indianapolis 500 for the past two seasons and took victory in 14 out of the 16 IRL races last season.


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