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MotoGP Factory or Open class ‘should be a difficult decision’

MotoGP Race Director Mike Webb talks new Open class, the 'final target' for MotoGP rules and the possibility of Honda leaving over the issue of ECU software...
The Factory class is no longer the automatic choice for teams or manufacturers seeking success in MotoGP.

That is the hope of MotoGP Race Director Mike Webb - closely involved in drafting the motorcycle grand prix rules, including the new Open class regulations.

Open marks the latest step in a series of technical changes triggered by plummeting grid numbers following the financial crisis.

A replacement for the off-pace Claiming Rule Team category, the previous perks of extra race fuel, engine changes and a softer tyre relative to the Factory class have been carried over. Open riders will also avoid the new in-season engine development freeze.

Crucially Open machinery is not subject to a claiming rule - removing the risk of confidential technology falling into the hands of a rival and thus opening the door to full specification prototypes.

Open status is simply determined by ECU software: Standard software means the Open class, bespoke manufacturer programming requires Factory status. Both use the same Magneti-Marelli control ECU hardware.

The ultimate goal is to have all MotoGP machines racing under the same technical rules, based on the Open class - but that won't be possible until at least 2017.

"We've had a lot of interim years, where we are trying to get a final rule change done and ideally it should have been done at once in 2012 [when CRT was created]," said Webb, speaking in his office at the Sepang test.

"Instead it has been incremental, over a number of years and it is not for another two years [when the present ECU rules end] that we can get the whole job done. I'm very sad that we're - not so much wasting those years - but we are heading towards a target.

"I'm happy to say that this year looks a lot better than last year and the year before. So even in the interim it's getting better, but I'm sure the final rule package will be better again."

Aleix Espargaro (pictured) caused a stir - and proved the potential of the Open class - by setting the fourth fastest lap time at the Sepang test.

Espargaro was riding the new Forward Racing FTR-Yamaha, which features a full spec M1 engine, chassis and swingarm plus Factory Ohlins suspension. In other words, it is essentially last year's satellite Tech 3 Yamaha fitted with the control ECU, but benefitting from more fuel and a softer rear tyre.

"The Forward Yamaha is playing by the rules," said Webb. "It's exactly as intended and eventually we hope the factories will have their hand forced into saying, 'okay, we'll have to go with those [Open] rules because it's the most competitive'.

"The [Open class] advantages are written into the rules and are deliberate. In the first years of CRT the softer tyres came about because those bikes couldn't even use the harder tyres. It was more about safety, but as the performance of the non-Factory bikes increases it could well turn from a safety issue to an advantage. And that's fine. I'm happy with that.

"The riders see it as well. The Factory riders know that those guys on the 'home made' bikes have actually got several advantages."

Even before Espargaro's front-running form, news had leaked that Ducati are considering moving to the Open class, a further sign that the Open rules have reached a tipping point in terms of outright performance.

Ducati has until February 28 to make a final decision, which could leave only Honda and Yamaha in what has been the 'elite' Factory category. Webb would be happy to see Ducati, and 2015 returnee Suzuki, make the move.

"That's exactly what I hope and with Aleix doing what he is doing, it helps them think 'it's possible'," said the New Zealander. "The final target is that everyone will use the same [Open] equipment and the playing field from the technology point of view will be more level. The factories will always win every race. But the other guys would be a little bit closer.

"There's no lobbying on our part, but we've specifically put the rules in place to actually make it a difficult decision. It shouldn't be, 'There's no chance we're going with the Open rules, we're sticking with Factory'. The possibility that [a manufacturer] will choose Open should be there."

Honda has threatened to leave

Ducati may be 'open minded' about ECU software, but HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto has repeatedly warned that the removal of factory software development would cause Honda to leave MotoGP.

"I don't know [if he is serious]. I take everything Nakamoto says seriously, because he is a serious guy," responded Webb. "He may well have made that decision, that 'if this happens we will leave'."

Could MotoGP survive without Honda?

"Two years ago, the easy answer would have been 'no'. Now, 'yes we think so'. Next year, 'definitely'. There are enough people building motorcycles. But it's like cutting one leg off someone. You could survive, but you won't function as well and you would never want it to happen.

"We will do everything in our power to stop it from happening. But if circumstances got to the point where a company left, the racing would continue, albeit not at the same level."

If a complete control ECU becomes mandatory it would not only reduce costs and level out machine performance, but allow new restrictions to be placed on electronic rider aids such as traction control.

However manufacturers would lose the chance to develop their own software technology, something Honda views as vital to future road machines and a major justification for its participation in MotoGP.

Commenting on the apparent stand-off between Dorna and Honda over ECU software, Webb added: "It's a bargaining thing. Things get traded around a table and eventually you come up with a comprise that everyone can live with. I'm confident we'll do that.

"As I said before, a lot of people are asking if there is a possibility of Honda leaving. There is a possibility of anyone leaving. We don't want to see it so we are doing everything we can to prevent it. So it's less of a confrontation and more of a negotiation."

Despite its vigorous opposition to all-Open class rules, Honda is supporting the new category through its RCV1000R Production Racer.

"I have to say I'm so, so happy with Nakamoto and Honda in general for developing that motorcycle and making it available," said Webb. "I sincerely hope we see them here for as long as possible, to continue developing bikes like that as well as their factory bikes.

"There are only really one or two details that we need to agree on and then everyone will be happy and continue racing.

"In all three classes now - Moto3, Moto2 and MotoGP - Honda has made a commitment to going racing. I want to emphasise that we are all in the same game and there are only a couple of really minor differences. I'm optimistic."

The new Honda may have suffered relative to Espargaro at Sepang, Nicky Hayden being the top RCV1000R rider in 13th, but Webb believes the gap will be closed. "Clearly because it's based on the best bike in the world at the moment, the RC213V, there is room for improvement if they choose to do so."

The Production Honda is sold to teams, ruling out use of top secret technology from the world title winning Factory class bike, an issue Yamaha avoids by leasing its engines to Forward Racing.

Nakamoto recently quipped that Honda had misunderstood the rules, believing that Open bikes had to be sold. For Webb the most important factor is simply price per season, the target for which has been set at just over a million euros.

"It's more a question of what is the cost, rather than if the bikes are being sold or leased," said Webb. "There were a number of years when the satellite lease costs were not sustainable. The current bikes are dearer than we would actually like but it is within grasp of the teams.

"That cost is part of the negotiations between Carmelo [Ezpeleta, Dorna CEO] and the factories - what is an acceptable amount to charge for a motorcycle. At the moment we are happy. If it gets out of control they need to talk about it again.

"There is a significant difference between what Yamaha and Honda are doing now and the cost of a lease previously, which was several million a year."

The second official 2014 test, again at Sepang, takes place next week.


Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Aleix and Pol Espargaro, Sepang MotoGP test, 4-6 February 2014
Pol Espargaro crash, injured hand, bike on fire, Malaysian MotoGP 2014
Pol Espargaro crash, Malaysian MotoGP 2014
Pol Espargaro crash, Malaysian MotoGP 2014
Pol Espargaro crash, Malaysian MotoGP 2014
Pol Espargaro crash, Malaysian MotoGP 2014
Danilo, Malaysian Moto3 2014
Migno, Malaysian Moto3 2014
Alex Marquez, Malaysian Moto3 2014
Navarro, Malaysian Moto3 2014
Rins, Malaysian Moto3 2014
Miller, Malaysian Moto3 2014
Gardner, Malaysian Moto3 2014
Bastianini, Malaysian Moto3 2014
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RossL

February 21, 2014 2:13 PM

"The final target is that everyone will use the same [Open] equipment and the playing field from the technology point of view will be more level. The factories will always win every race. But the other guys would be a little bit closer." Does he mean the factory teams winning every race even when they switch over to open ecu? Because if that's the case, and he's happy with that, it's still not good enough. MotoGP will only be truly great again when satellite teams can beat the factory teams. We need the equivalents of Giberbernau, Melandri, Capirossi, Barros and countless others from back when racing was truly interesting to be able to compete on satellite machines. If Honda and Yamaha are unhappy with that, let them leave.They'll come.crawling back when the racing ismore exciting and more popular.

Mr Murphy

February 21, 2014 5:04 PM

All the years this crap has going been going on and the so called experts hav'nt fixed it yet. Will they be happy when all the factories have gone?We have restrictions on Suzuki coming back,and stupid rules to slow them down. Hey people this is GRAND PRIX racing. Just get on with it. I for one am starting to lose interest. The racing is crap. I am lucky if I can stay awake during a race. I want to see the fastest , most special motorcycles built race unrestricted. Limits on fuel? I want racing that isn't an economy run with a sprint in the last few laps. Bloody Boring. All out unrestricted racing.will fix this. No second rate bikes, based on proddie engines.Racing at the top level is expensive Trying to save a few dollars by dumbing down the bikes is not the way .to go.



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