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EXCLUSIVE: Ilmor explain MotoGP plans

1 January 1901

A British motorcycle will win the MotoGP World Championship for the first time since the glory days of the British bike industry in the 1950s if Formula 1 engine guru Mario Illien (top picture) succeeds in a radical plan to break into the two-wheel world.

Illien, 57, has spoken fully for the first time about his ambition to launch a full two-bike MotoGP team in 2007, backed by an intended €20 million budget, to coincide with the start of the new era of 800cc engines.

"We will react faster and make decisions faster," he said. "We have to be able to compete for the world championship within three years. I am confident that we can do it."

Illien, whose Ilmor engines have won two Formula 1 titles with McLaren-Mercedes and 11 Indianapolis 500 races, was comparing his operation to the Japanese factories that dominate the MotoGP grid. He has a team of 12 people working on the MotoGP project in his factory at Brixworth, Northamptonshire, where the V4 engine is being built. The company employs 60 people at the plant, and a further 52 in the USA.

"We have done three track tests, and we've had an engine running on the dyno since April," he said. "We haven't had a catastrophic failure yet, and one of the engines on the dyno has run for more than 13 hours."

Illien, who was born in Switzerland, said the team has now built seven engines and two complete motorcycles. The engines are four-valve, twin-cam designs with gear-driven camshafts, and the valves are pneumatically operated.

He confirmed that he is talking to grand prix veterans Alex Barros and Max Biaggi in the hope they can debut the bike at the Portuguese MotoGP on October 15 and in the final round of the season on October 29.

Eskil Suter (lower picture), a former 250cc grand prix rider who has previously built chassis for Kawasaki's MotoGP bikes, has designed a twin-spar aluminium frame for the project, and is convinced that the bike will be successful.

"The bike behaves as planned or even better," he said. "We're very excited about how it works."

It's no secret that series organisers Dorna would like to see British riders figuring more prominently in MotoGP, and what could be better for spectator and TV appeal than a top British rider on a home-built machine.

Candidates might include current BSB stars Leon Haslam and Shane Byrne, both of whom have grand prix experience, former WSBK champions James Toseland and Neil Hodgson, who wants to return from American Superbike duties with Ducati, and MotoGP veteran Jeremy McWilliams.

This is, however, entirely paddock conjecture at this moment and Illien has made no comment about British riders.


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