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post #1 of 7 (permalink) Old 07-05-2009, 09:05 AM Thread Starter
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Kropotkin on the rules, the 800's and runaway costs.

Saving MotoGP Part 1 - Why Is MotoGP So Expensive? | | Kropotkin Thinks

Saving MotoGP Part 2 - How To Encourage The Cheats | | Kropotkin Thinks

Saving MotoGP Part 3 - Avoiding The Traps Of The Past | | Kropotkin Thinks

Originally Posted by Kropotkin
Motorsports worldwide have taken a pounding over the past few weeks: first, there was the announcement that Honda were pulling out of Formula 1 with immediate effect; then came statements from Subaru and Suzuki announcing that both manufacturers were pulling out of the World Rally Championship; in the US, American Honda announced that they would not be fielding a factory team in the AMA Superbike championship; and finally, over the holiday period came the bombshell of Kawasaki's withdrawal from MotoGP.

So how did we get here, and more importantly, what can we do about it? Over the next three days, we'll be examining the state of MotoGP, and asking why it turned out to be so hideously expensive. We'll also be studying the likely effects of the most common suggestions being made around the world, and asking how effective these proposals will be. And finally, we'll be making some proposals of our own, which we feel neatly sidestep the pitfalls which have brought MotoGP to its current, parlous state.

Firstly the question of how MotoGP, and motorsports got into this state in the first place. The main, and most obvious culprit is the global financial crisis, which has hit the car and motorcycle sector particularly hard in the second half of 2008. With sales plummeting and the banks only willing to lend money to them at exorbitant interest, the manufacturers are being forced to examine their activities with an almost pathological attention to detail for areas where they can cut costs.

Naturally, one of the first places the manufacturers are looking is at their racing programs: After all, though racing is an undeniably powerful marketing tool, its benefits are for the most part intangible and hard to quantify. The most commonly hailed benefit of racing is its role as a rolling laboratory; a place to develop new technology to improve the breed, as the expression has it. But appeals to accountants to regard racing as a platform for Research and Development are likely to fall on deaf ears, as R&D budgets are the first area where the bean counters look for savings, and among the first casualties in a recession.

As racing fans all over the globe see the sport they love come under threat, the demand is growing for Something To Be Done. The Something which is to be done is occasionally set out in a clear list of suggested actions, such as Fausto Gresini's proposals to reduce the cost of racing, which included a ban on carbon fiber brakes, running three bikes to a two man team, a rev limit of 17,000 rpm and engines having to last for five grand prix weekends. At other times, it involves more vague ideas, such as FIM President Vito Ippolito's calls for electronics to be limited in order to cut costs, though Ippolito is silent on just what should be banned and how that would save money. But usually, it remains little more than a call for action, any action, as a demonstration that this problem is being taken seriously.

Just Ask Bernie

Along with these calls for action, there is usually a reference to Formula 1, pointing to the world's premier four-wheeled formula as an example of a series taking action to cut costs. Over the past couple of years, the FIA, the governing body of car racing, has introduced a package of measures ostensibly aimed at leveling the playing field and cutting costs, including introducing a spec ECU, banning traction and launch control, and requiring that engines last for two race weekends, with penalties for failing to do so. Not content to leave it there, the FIA has a host of new regulations ready aimed at reducing costs even further, including limits on wind tunnel testing, a ban on further engine development, and even proposing a single, standardized engine.

The problem with all of the cost-cutting measures put in place by the FIA is that so far, they have had little discernible impact on budgets in Formula 1. The teams are still spending something approaching half a billion dollars for a full season of racing, and there is little relief in sight. Clearly, the FIA's plans have not worked out the way they intended.

The reasons for this are surprisingly simple, and familiar to anyone who has tried to put together an employee incentive program, or draw up legislation, or run a large project, or generally tried to impose a set of black-and-white rules on a world composed almost entirely of shades of gray. And they also serve as a clear lesson and warning to those now calling for drastic action in MotoGP.

The problem with the rules drawn up by the FIA, as well as the rules proposed by various authorities for MotoGP and other series, is that they don't take a few fundamental principles of economics and politics into account. The most important of these are the law of unintended consequences, the law of diminishing returns, and the tendency for rules to encourage a practice known as "gaming the system".


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post #2 of 7 (permalink) Old 07-05-2009, 09:06 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Kropotkin
It's The 800s, Stupid

The law of unintended consequences will be familiar to all MotoGP fans, whether they are aware of it or not. After Dajiro Kato's tragic accident at Suzuka in 2003, the Grand Prix Commission decided to reduce the capacity of the MotoGP bikes from 990cc to 800cc. The intention was to make the bikes slower - and therefore safer - in the hope of preventing a similar accident from happening again.

It didn't work, of course. As soon as the 800cc Ducati GP7 made its first appearance at Brno, it was setting lap times just a second slower than the 990s, with still seven months of development left before the 800s were raced in earnest. Lap records were being broken in that first season of the reduced capacity bikes, and what's worse, the 800s were arguably less safe than the 990s. The lower top speeds meant that braking happened later, making for higher corner entry speeds, while the lost mid-range power meant that it was harder to compensate for mistakes using the great lumps of torque the 990s had, and so maintaining corner speed became crucial. And as bikes were going faster round corners - the place where most crashes happen - they were moving faster when they crashed, dumping riders in the gravel at higher speeds.

But the most insidious effect of the switch to the 800cc formula - and the clearest example of the law of unintended consequences turning round and biting Dorna in the posterior - was the fact that the reduction in capacity raised the costs of racing enormously. Apart from the obvious costs of having to design new bikes from scratch (though only Honda built something completely new), the smaller capacity did the worst thing possible in racing: It made horsepower expensive.

Let me explain a little what I mean by this. When the new formula was announced, the Japanese manufacturers were convinced that the slower bikes would shift the emphasis in MotoGP, reducing the importance of top speed and making maneuverability and the ability to flick the bikes from side to side absolutely key. Of course, this idea lasted right up until the bikes crossed the line to end the first lap of the first race of 2007 at Qatar, as Casey Stoner simply blew past the rest of the field on the Ducati Desmosedici GP7. By reducing the horsepower of the bikes from 250+ horsepower to 200+ horsepower, 10 extra horsepower suddenly became a lot more significant.

But with less capacity - and less fuel - getting more horsepower from the engine meant that the already highly-strung machines had to be tuned even further, making the bikes less reliable and more fragile. Honda quickly learned just how expensive this could be, reducing the engine life from around 600 kilometers between rebuilds to about 300, though Honda would never confirm those figures. And an engine rebuild meant flying the engine back to HRC, where a team of engineers would spend three days stripping it down and reassembling it, before flying the engine back to the teams at the next race.


The other unintended consequence of the more highly tuned engines was the need for more sophisticated and complex electronics to allow for smooth engine delivery. The pursuit of horsepower had left the engines all but unrideable without some way of easing the power delivery. Traction control and fuel management became ever more important to going quickly without running the risk of being launched into outer space by an ill-tempered 800, a situation exacerbated by the reduction in fuel capacity from 22 to 21 liters.

In a further twist of fate, the fact that the electronics made the peaky engines more manageable further drove the chase for horsepower, increasing the importance of electronics again in a vicious circle. Previously, when ECUs were much more rudimentary things, the only way to tame a peaky engine was by sacrificing a little bit of top end in return for a bit of mid-range and a more ridable motorcycle. But now, traction control takes the sharp edges off the power delivery, ensuring that no matter how spiky the torque curve, the rear wheel never spins unexpectedly. Freed of the requirement to provide a smooth power delivery, the engineers can chase horsepower, and in achieving that goal, make the electronics even more indispensable yet.

Adding to the costs is the fact that the hunt for increased performance always runs into another iron law of economics: the law of diminishing returns. Every time the engineers make the bike go faster, it makes it more difficult, and more expensive, to find further improvements. A little like dieting, the first few pounds are easy, but the more weight you lose, the harder it gets to find extra pounds to shed.

The laws of physics lend a helping hand here too: the power needed to overcome air resistance increases as the cube of the velocity. In other words, if you want to go twice as fast (with no changes to the aerodynamics), you need to produce EIGHT times the horsepower. Obviously, even the bright sparks at Ducati or Honda are unlikely to be able to double the speed of their bikes, but the same holds for small increases: A 1% increase in speed requires an increase in horsepower of approximately 4%.

The difference between a fast bike and bike capable of winning championships is only small, perhaps only a few tenths of a second a lap. But the amount of money it costs to get those extra tenths is astronomical. The LE (satellite spec) Gilera which Marco Simoncelli started the 2008 season in 250s cost around 300,000 euros. The RSA (factory spec) version of the same bike he finished the season on cost 1,250,000 euros for the season. Simoncelli was doing pretty well on the LE spec bike, but the extra two tenths or so of a second that he found on the factory spec bike was the difference between being a contender and being World Champion. The problem is that to be able to get those two tenths, he had to spend four times the money.

The situation is exponentially larger in MotoGP. And every time the engineers find another horsepower, it makes the next horsepower gain that much harder to find, and that much more expensive. But with the smaller capacity putting horsepower at a premium, the laws of unintended consequences and diminishing returns combine to create a giant pit which swallows dollars, a million at a time.

A Rod For Their Own Backs

If the above made you feel sorry for the manufacturers, spare your tears. The MSMA - the body representing the manufacturers on the Grand Prix Commission - helped draw up the regulations, and understood the possible consequences of the rule changes, first to the four strokes, and then by reducing the capacity. And although it would be going too far to claim that the manufacturers were aiming at increasing costs, they were fully aware of the fact that any increase in costs would play into their hands. After all, the more expensive the series, the less likely that smaller manufacturers would enter it, thereby limiting the competition and preventing them from being caught out by a bright spark with a big idea.

This purposeful increase of the costs of racing is a consequence of our third concept, the idea of gaming the system. Because the manufacturers were involved in drawing up the rules, they ensured that the rules would play out in their favor, and give them the best chance of winning. But this, too, creates a vicious circle, for as the costs of MotoGP increase, the stakes rise, and the cost of losing increases as well. When taking part is already seriously expensive, manufacturers can no longer afford just to take part, they have to win to justify the massive investment they are making in the series.

So the bike makers start gaming the system again, spending yet more money, in an attempt to outflank their rivals, and make it too expensive for them to be competitive. The more expensive racing becomes, the less likely they are to face serious competition.

For anyone who thinks this is a rather far-fetched idea, it is worth pointing out that, whether deliberate or not, this strategy has already paid dividends. The first casualty was the brave WCM project, the last of the true home brew machines. With limited resources, the team put together an entire machine to compete in MotoGP based very loosely on a 1000cc Yamaha R1 engine. But the Grand Prix Commission ruled it was ineligible to compete, as it violated the rules stating that the bikes must be prototypes.

Then there was Team KR's Proton V5 project, which never made the power required to be competitive. The Proton lump was replaced by a V4 power plant from KTM, but the Austrian manufacturer also pulled out of racing very quickly, intimidated by the sheer amount of money required to develop the engines. Back at WCM, the Blata V6 never even appeared, as the Czech minibike maker saw its profits wiped out by sales of Chinese replicas of their machines.

The final chapter came with the ill-fated Ilmor project, the last serious project from outside of the Big Five to attempt an assault on MotoGP. But that only lasted two races, after Mario Illien couldn't find a sponsor prepared to bear the astronomical costs of MotoGP while the X3 was still in development and at the back of the field. Only Team KR remained, with a Honda engine in their own chassis, and even that project failed after bitter disputes at the end of the season between Honda and Team KR over the level of support provided to the team.

And so, ruthlessly and efficiently, the manufacturers have eliminated the competition in MotoGP by making it prohibitively expensive to enter. They have used the rules, and their deep pockets, to improve their own chances of winning, and at the same time, discouraged new entries into the class. While the world economy was booming and the manufacturers had money to spare, this was a highly successful strategy. Now now that sales of motorcycles are slumping, its weaknesses are terrifyingly obvious.

Given the deeply discouraging summary of the problems facing MotoGP in its current incarnation laid about above, is there anything that can be done about rising costs in MotoGP? The answer, I believe, is yes, but it will take some brave and counterintuitive decisions to get there. Tomorrow, we will examine some of the many proposals which have been made over the past few weeks, and explain why they are more likely to make things worse rather than better.

Yesterday, we examined why MotoGP turned into the bottomless pit which swallows money, and looked at the mistakes which made this result inevitable. Today, we'll be examining the suggestions being put forward to fix the situation, and get spending in MotoGP back under control, and picking them apart looking for flaws in their logic.

The proposals being put forward come from all around the motorcycle racing world, from seasoned veterans and respected thinkers in major media outlets, to the purest of noobs in every racing corner of every motorcycle discussion board around the internet. The ideas vary from the brilliant to the absurd, with all shades in between. But there are a few common themes which keep reoccurring, and which need to be looked at more closely.

The most common proposal for reducing costs is to limit the role of electronics. There may be a lot of good reasons for wanting to do this - to give more control back to the rider, for a start - but the one thing this suggestion will not do is reduce costs.

For the reason that it won't cut costs, look no further than the lessons of reducing engine capacity to 800cc. Beyond the practical difficulties of limiting electronics, the teams would simply spend more time looking for ways to circumvent the spirit of the law, while balancing on a razor's edge on the right side of the letter of the law.


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post #3 of 7 (permalink) Old 07-05-2009, 09:07 AM Thread Starter
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continued again

Originally Posted by Kropotkin
The Workaround

The most well-known example of this is the attempt by the AMA to ban traction control. The Yoshimura Suzuki team found a way to get around the restrictions - imposed by banning the use of front wheel speed sensors - by doing some clever calculations using comparisons of throttle opening, rear wheel speed and engine speed. This way, the team was able to build a traction control system that passed every single technical inspection it was subjected to.

Likewise, attempts to reduce the role of electronics - by banning GPS, traction control, launch control, etc - will simply spur teams on to find a way around them. If GPS is banned to stop the teams using separate engine maps for different parts of the track, then the engineers will simply use braking marker points (clearly identifiable on data traces) to do the same job. If traction control is banned, then development time will be spent developing a "passive" traction control system based on comparing gear selection, rear wheel speed, engine speed and throttle opening. Add in braking data, and you have a decent basis to start building a rudimentary but refinable traction control system.

For anyone still unconvinced, take a look at Formula 1. That series hoped to stamp out traction and launch control by introducing a single ECU, built to the specifications supplied by the FIA. But from early in the season it was clear that the teams were violating the spirit of the law, and using engine maps to get around the launch control ban. If you don't believe that is possible, watch the video below of the start of the Formula 1 race at the Hungaroring. The cars leave the line in full control, with little or no wheelspin, and without leaving clouds of smoke behind. Nobody stalls off the line, and they're all quick off the line. That is all thanks to launch control, despite being officially banned.

What's worse is that banning the easy route - the option to purchase off-the-shelf systems from Magneti Marelli, for example - merely means that teams have to pour more time and development into doing traction control the hard way. Instead of working on refining the existing systems, they have to spend hours and hours of dyno time working out engine maps and strategies for creating a de facto traction control system that will pass the technical inspection. More engineers are needed, and once again, it's the factory teams which come out ahead, as they have the budgets to throw manpower at a problem.

The only way to effectively ban traction control and limit the electronics is by removing the electronics from the bikes altogether. That means a return to mechanical points and cable-operated carburettors. But if the FIM imposed that kind of restriction, there's no incentive for the manufacturers to take part at all, as the R&D justification for motorcycle racing is dead and buried.

If The Cap Fits

Another common idea is a budget cap: placing a limit on the amount any one team is allowed to spend in a year. It's an idea that has been tried in many sports, as a way to try and keep costs within the bounds of the reasonable. But while it may work in sports which revolve around athletes, in motorcycle racing - where the machinery is an important component of the costs - it has a significant weak spot.

For motorcycle racing requires motorcycles to race. And motorcycles come from manufacturers. And manufacturers have a huge manufacturing base outside of racing in which to bury costs. For example, if you were a manufacturer running a factory team, and had a budget cap imposed by the racing authorities, then the first thing you would do is start looking for ways to get around that. You might use your distributor network to transport the parts needed by your factory race team, for example, charged at well below market rates. You could outsource the engine development to your in-house R&D department, again charging only a nominal fee.

Without the FIM having full access to the complete accounts of the motorcycle manufacturers - and employing an army of accountants to go through them with a fine tooth comb - the factory teams will remain well under the budget cap, while the manufacturers continue to spend the same amount of money on racing that they ever did. But instead of doing it openly, they will build giant Enron-type financial constructions in which they can bury the costs. It took a knowledgeable insider to finally blow the whistle on Enron, as audits by accountants never found any problems with the energy giant's accounts. The limited resources of the FIM are unlikely to do much better than the massed powers of the SEC.

And once again, it would be the satellite teams and privateers that would suffer under a budget cap. With the exception of Pramac, they don't have huge distributor and manufacturing networks around the world in which to build giant financial constructions which they can hide their costs in. The satellite teams would be forced to respect the budget cap, while the factories continue to spend.

Superbike Spending

There's an interesting parallel with World Superbikes here. Many commentators have pointed out that Superbike racing is vastly cheaper than MotoGP, and have pointed to WSBK as a model for MotoGP to follow. And it's true that Superbike development budgets are just a fraction of what they are in MotoGP, with figures in the very low millions of dollars, rather than the tens of millions which MotoGP swallows.

But there's a very good reason for this, and one that is easily overlooked. To build a World Superbike machine - even a factory bike, such as a Xerox Ducati - first, you need a production machine to start work on. And the budget for the design and development of that production machine does not come out of the budget of the race team, it comes out of the budget for the manufacturer's sports bike department. The teams are presented with a machine which is maybe 75% of the way to being a full-fat race machine, and are left with a lot less development to do.

But there's plenty of evidence that those are built with racing in mind, at the very least. Indeed, a number of journalists have remarked on the harsh nature of Ducati's championship-winning 1098R machine, and described it as very tiring to ride, despite it being very fast. It was clearly designed with racing in mind, with a lot of input from Ducati Corse, but because it's a roadgoing machine and designed to be sold to the general public, the basic development costs of the bike are borne, eventually, by every Ducati lover who is willing to hand over the substantial amount of cash which secures for them an extremely desirable object.

MotoGP bikes don't have that luxury. MotoGP bikes are prototypes, by force of the very regulations that govern the series. That means that all of the costs, right down to the bolts holding the engine in the chassis, come out of the MotoGP racing budget. Every decision, from rake and trail to valve angle and frame wall thickness, is taken by the MotoGP racing department, and is paid for out of the MotoGP racing budget.

Diamonds Are Forever

Yet another proposal often put forward to reduce those budgets is to extend engine life. The theory is that if the engines can be made to last much longer than the 300 or so kilometers they are currently good for before requiring a rebuild back at the factory in Japan, then that would save large amounts of money in air freight and maintenance costs.

That seems like a fairly logical conclusion, and there is no arguing with the fact that not sending the engines back to Japan as often would save a lot of money. The problem is, how do you go about ensuring that engines last longer than a single race weekend?

The simple answer is that you detune the engines, accepting a loss of horsepower in exchange for longer engine life. That would definitely be a lot cheaper, but it also opens up opportunities for more devious manufacturers. If everyone else is detuning their engines, then obviously you stand a greater chance of winning if, instead of detuning your engine for longer life, you pour even more money into making your engine last in its current state of tune, or perhaps with even more power.

By spending more time and money on design, stress analysis, exotic or unusual materials, and thousands upon thousands of hours of dyno time, you can beat any rivals who were stupid enough to try and obey the spirit of the rules, rather than the letter of the rules. And by trying to reduce the costs of MotoGP, the rule makers actually end up making it more expensive.

Instead of just spending a fortune building an engine which is tuned to the edge of self-destructing, the manufacturers will spend two fortunes: One to build an engine tuned to the edge of self destruction, and another getting that engine to last for 3 or 5 race weekends. Any savings made in shipping engines back and forth to Japan is lost in yet more development, and costs will continue to rise.

They tried this in Formula 1, and costs just keep on rising in Formula 1, despite engine freezes, spec ECUs, minimum engine life of two race weekends, and many, many other ideas. If you're looking for ideas to cut costs, Formula 1 isn't it.

So if budget caps and limits on electronics aren't the answer, what is? Tomorrow, in the final part of our series, we'll examine a few proposals which could help to make racing cheap again, and might just help save MotoGP.

Over the past two days, we have examined the causes for MotoGP's current financial difficulties, and seen why most of the suggestions doing the rounds for fixing the situation are likely to do more harm than good. Today, in the final part of our examination of the state of MotoGP, we submit our own proposals which could form the basis for making the sport a great deal cheaper, and getting private teams back into the sport.

As explained in part one of this series, the biggest problem facing the sport is that horsepower, and with it, top speed, has become incredibly expensive. The best way to cut costs, then, is to make horsepower cheap again.

The easiest way of making horsepower cheap is the old-fashioned way, by raising engine capacity. There is no replacement for displacement, the old saying goes, and for years the quick way to more power has been to bore out the cylinders and add the cubic inches. But while an increase of engine capacity to, say, 1200cc would be a big improvement on the current situation, a braver step is necessary.

For under the current rules, the bikes are limited in two different ways: by engine capacity (800cc) and by fuel allowance (21 liters). Both of these factors can be regarded as having the same goal: to limit the energy output of the machinery. But if both factors perform the same function, why not simply drop one of those limits?

Removing the fuel limit might help make the racing more exciting, but it wouldn't help make the bikes any cheaper. Engine design would still chase the limits of what a given capacity is capable of, and with unlimited fuel to play with, that would make the engines even more high-revving and therefore fragile.


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post #4 of 7 (permalink) Old 07-05-2009, 09:09 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Kropotkin
Bigger Is Better. Probably.

On the other hand, keeping the fuel limits while abandoning the capacity limits would offer many solutions to the problem of going fast. You could build a small capacity, high revving multi-cylinder engine with lots of peaky horsepower, and filled with expensive parts. Or you could build a huge V-twin with buckets of torque and mid-range, which will leave the high-revving bikes for dead out of the corners.

The danger of an unlimited capacity class is of course that top speeds can quickly get out of hand. But with a fuel limit in place, the cost of aiming at out-and-out top speed is that you risk burning through your fuel allowance before the end of the race. So the balancing act that is necessary between horsepower and fuel efficiency acts as a natural brake on top speed. And of course, the straights used at MotoGP tracks are rarely longer than three quarters of a mile, and so the faster you go, the sooner you have to start braking.

Naturally, there's no guarantee that tight fuel limits won't also fall foul of the law of unintended consequences, and still end up pushing costs higher, but at least with unlimited engine capacity, there are multiple ways of solving the problem, some of which are likely to be cheap enough to allow privateer teams to be competitive.

If top speed turns out to be a problem, then there is always a possibility to limit it artificially. It would be relatively simple for the organizers to fit a GPS speed sensor which could limit top speed to, say, 200 miles per hour. That kind of speed is achievable from most engine formats without pushing them beyond their limits. After all, it is easily within the reach of a World Superbike, costing upwards of 200,000 euros, and so factories - and more importantly, privateers - would be free to explore other ways of decreasing lap times.

The danger of limiting top speed electronically is that we force the engineers into the law of diminishing returns again. If the bikes are forced to top out at 320 km/h, or 340, or 360, then the trick becomes getting there as quickly as possible. The big guns can concentrate all their fire - in the form of huge budgets - on a single trick, acceleration, and attempt to dominate once again.

In an unlimited class, the first avenue that any team - whether manufacturing giant or privateer tinkerer - is likely to explore is increased engine capacity. But bigger engines mean heavier bikes. And heavier bikes are harder to stop, turn, and get off the corner. And so all the money saved on engine development would probably not be saved, but would be poured straight into weight saving, as the engineers examined every single nut and bolt for ways to get down to the minimum weight limit.

He Ain't Heavy ... Enough

And the current weight limit of 148 kg is pretty low for a multi-cylinder four stroke. Even during the 990 era, the factories had trouble getting their bikes down to the minimum weight limit, and consequently the factories spent a lot of money on exotic weight-saving materials. If cost-cutting is the goal, clearly the weight limits have to be examined carefully.

So in addition to making horsepower cheap, we should also make weight cheap, and raise the minimum weight limits by at least 10kg. That would leave the bikes below the World Superbike limits of 165kg, but be heavy enough to obviate the need for lots of expensive materials.

These two changes are likely to have another beneficial effect, and an unintended, if fortuitous, consequence. By raising weights you extend the braking zone needed to stop the bike for the corner, and give riders more room to start passing one another again on the brakes. And with an unlimited capacity, there is room for teams to build bikes with lots of mid-range, allowing more options on corner exit, and making it possible to make up for mistakes with throttle control again.

One of the few sensible measures to be proposed so far is the banning of carbon brakes. Despite the fact that MotoGP should be a prototype series exploring the best technological solutions to problems, carbon brakes contribute nothing to production motorcycles whatsoever. While fans may complain about the role traction control and electronics have played in ruining the racing, they have certainly made a big difference to road bikes, contributing hugely to the smoothness and throttle response of fuel injected bikes. So MotoGP should have at least some relevance to road bikes.

Indeed, a ban on carbon brakes might not even be necessary. It may be sufficient to demand that only a single type of brake rotors be used in both wet and dry conditions. Carbon disks are mostly ineffective in the rain, never getting hot enough to work properly, and giving a huge advantage to bikes with steel disks. And so teams could gamble on the whole season staying dry, or risk losing big during the three or four wet races which they are likely to face during the season. They may even encourage exploring ceramic disks, which are a good deal cheaper than carbon disks, but offer more performance than steel.

Dropping the restrictions on engine capacity, and limiting only the amount of fuel to be used for a race may open up options for teams to explore different ways of reducing lap times, but if the restriction on engine type - allowing only four-stroke engines to compete - is maintained, then MotoGP may still not be offering manufacturers a place to develop ideas and new technology.

The four-stroke gasoline engine is not the most efficient means of transforming fuel into horsepower. Diesel engines are 5-10% more efficient, while two strokes are pretty efficient too. When the capacity limit was stuck at 500cc, four strokes just couldn't compete, but without a capacity limit, both engine types would have a chance of competing. And if strict emissions limits were enforced, the playing field between all forms of engines could be kept level, without driving up costs. If someone can make a clean two-stroke, one which doesn't emit clouds of unburned hydrocarbons, why shouldn't it be allowed to compete? Similarly with diesel engines, if the particulate emissions can be kept to a minimum, why not allow diesels too?

New Energy

All this talk of various types of combustion engines is fine, but in reality, what is the gasoline that combustion engines burn? All gasoline represents, when you get down to it, is stored energy. And why should we choose one form of stored energy over another? Gasoline is currently the favored form of stored energy for vehicles, because it packs an awful lot of energy into small space, the so-called energy density. If we exchange the fuel limit for an energy limit, using the amount of chemical energy stored in 21 liters of gasoline (around 700,000 kJ) as a limit instead, we reward efficiency, and open up more opportunities for smart people in workshops to find ways of powering a racing motorcycle.

At some point in time, gasoline is going to stop being the way that vehicles - and that includes racing motorcycles - are powered. MotoGP has to take this development into account, and provide a platform for the manufacturers to work on these technologies for their future road machines. It would take a quantum leap in battery technology to create a battery which can store 700,000kJ in a space and weight small enough on a racing motorcycle. But once that quantum leap happens - and there are a lot of people spending a lot of time on battery technology - then electric motorcycles are going to wipe the floor with combustion engines.

The first signs of this change are already visible, with the non-carbon fuel TTXGP race due to be run at the Isle of Man this summer. And more and more manufacturers are presenting electric motorcycles at bike shows around the world - some just as design studies, some as actual prototypes. But electric motorcycles are coming, and probably sooner than we think.

Leave It Alone For Five Minutes

Of course, the biggest problem with MotoGP has been the continuous changing of regulations itself. The MotoGP bikes only lasted 5 years, before being replaced with an entirely new formula, requiring vast investment to design and build new bikes, and then make them competitive. Added to this is the imposition of a single tire, taking one factor out of the designers' hands, and forcing them to reevaluate their designs once more. For 2009, the bikes will have to be redesigned to make them suit the tires provided, where previously, it was the tire manufacturers designing tires to suit bikes and riders. What's certain is that it's a lot simpler and cheaper to produce a tire than to produce a chassis, and a swing arm, and suspension parts.

So even if the proposals made above were to be introduced, the short-term effect would be to raise costs once again, as the teams analyze the best way to exploit the new regulations, and find a way to go fast. But they would not necessarily have to throw their old bikes away: indeed, they could even offer those bikes for sale to privateers to run, while they get on with designing a new twin / triple / V8.

The best thing to do right now is, paradoxically, nothing. If Dorna, the FIM, IRTA and the MSMA can all just resist the temptation to keep meddling, then the teams will have a chance to catch up with each other. The law of diminishing returns is starting to kick in, and the bikes are getting closer in performance. Not due to the genius of the engineers, but because all of the easy power has been found, and the extra horsepower is getting harder and harder to find.

Suzuki and Kawasaki are a long way behind, but Ducati and Yamaha are no longer putting more and more distance in every year. Honda went from an awful machine to being as good as the Ducati and the Yamaha, and the 2009 version of the RC212V is looking like it could be the best bike on the grid. Encouragingly, it won't just be the factory Hondas which will be good, the satellite RC212Vs are looking like they could be competitive, meaning more bikes could be in with a chance of running at the front of the field.

But despite it not being a good time to change the rules, it is a good time to announce the intention to change the rules in, say, 3 years' time. That would give manufacturers thinking of pulling out a window, a period in which they can consider their position, and allow them to stay in the series instead of going immediately. It would also give potential new recruits to the series an opportunity to explore the best way of exploiting the new rules, and try to build a competitive bike. As long as there's a chance of going fast at an affordable cost, the new entrants should come.

The point of all the suggestions made above is get around the three factors which have forced the costs of racing into the stratosphere. The combination of the law of unintended consequences and the law of diminishing returns has had a devastating effect the cost of racing, and given the factories too many opportunities to use the system in their favor. The above proposals have been thought out with precisely the aim of not falling into the same trap.

How To Prevent Cheating

For if we are to draw up new regulations, we must not fall into the same old trap again. The problem with most of the proposals made over the past couple of weeks is that they all assume that the participants in MotoGP want a level playing field on which to compete. Though outwardly, the manufacturers all profess to wanting a fair fight, given the opportunity, they would all fix the races to ensure that their bikes won.

So we have to assume that the first thing that the factories will do when presented with a set of rules is try to find a way to get around them, to cheat while still staying within the letter of the rules. When drawing up the rules, it is imperative that we bear this in mind, and think like lawyers, not like motorcycle racers. When reading a new set of rules the first thing anyone should do is to imagine ways of getting around them. We should be jamming sharp edges into every nook and cranny of the edifice of rules, and seeing if any of the bricks start to come loose. This way, we can try to ensure that the rules have been put together in such a way that the factories cannot simply spend their way to victory.

That means that for any problem, there should be more than one solution. The weakness of the current rules is demonstrated by the fact that all of the bikes on the grid use a four-cylinder engine. A combination of power delivery and maximum weights have forced the designers to accept the four as the best compromise, and this has seen all of the factories chasing each other up the same, increasingly expensive blind alley.

But as the factories all helped draw up the rules, they have no one to blame but themselves. Their perceived short term interest was to chase out the small fry, so they could concentrate on each other. Now, those decisions are coming home to roost, and the costs are rising beyond what even giant corporations like Kawasaki are prepared to bear. As long as the manufacturers are drawing up the rules with their own interests in mind, this will continue to be the case.

The proposals I have made above are all just that, proposals, and I do not presume that anyone at the FIM, or Dorna, or the manufacturers will be listening. But sometime soon, the Grand Prix Commission is going to present their solution to the problem of rising costs, in the form of more regulations. What I would like to see is a set of rules in which it is not immediately obvious how the factories are going to bend the rules in their favor. What I fear is that this is exactly what we are going to get. The fiddling continues, and Rome is starting to burn quite cheerfully now.
I'm pretty sure this is what I've been saying for awhile now. I think he's right tho, the only way to give the little guy a chance, is to allow him to make better decisions than the corporate giant that just might pay off. Limiting it to a single formula takes away the little guys ability to make a gamble that might work.

Sight unseen I'll tell you exactly what I as a racer will spend, and I'm sure this holds for all the others too.

All of it, every penny I can beg borrow, steal or milk out of a sponsor. All I ask is the ability to be able to make a radical shift within the rules that might pay off so that my "all of it" just might payoff, even tho it's 1/100th of the big factories "all of it."


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post #5 of 7 (permalink) Old 07-07-2009, 03:47 PM
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The problem is that the manufacturers have to much input through MSMA. KTM and Aprilia have been furious at several things decided by the japs under HRC guidance...

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post #6 of 7 (permalink) Old 07-07-2009, 03:55 PM
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Good read. If they were to address cheaper hp by going up in cc, wouldn't it cost more $$ to engineer / manufacture tires that can hold up to the added weight and torque?
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post #7 of 7 (permalink) Old 07-07-2009, 05:34 PM Thread Starter
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way cheaper to develope tires than it is to develope a small cc engine that makes power.

Besides, which is more fun to watch, racing 1 line bikes? or racing bikes where the engines are the limiting factor


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