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Top 15 Stories of 2013. No. 13: Customer Bikes Become Reality
by staff
Monday, December 23, 2013
Nick Hayden--back on a Honda and ready to hammer down. He'll ride a 'customer' version of the RC213 in 2014.
image by Marco Guidetti

Editor's Note: This is a series counting down the top 15 stories in MotoGP in 2013, as determined by the Soup staff.

The MotoGP community reacted with a mix of hope and skepticism in June 2012 when HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto announced Honda would sell a "customer" version of its RC213V prototype to teams for approximately 1 million euros starting in 2014.

Nakamoto's edict was a breath of cool air in a premier class that was deeply divided into a new caste system created by the new Claiming Rules Team formula.

CRT bikes were production-based machines that debuted in 2012. They lowered the cost of entry and helped boost grid numbers from the high teens to mid-20s. But the CRTs suffered from numerous teething problems, mainly with electronics, and were miles away from Dorna's hope the bikes might challenge satellite bikes for places on the results sheet. Even the best CRT, the Aprilia, was anywhere from 1.5 to two seconds slower than Honda or Yamaha factory prototypes.

So any news of a less expensive, legitimate prototype was symphonic music to orchestra patrons subjected to an assault from One Direction or Justin Bieber.

But that optimism also was clothed in a down vest of skepticism. Honda and Yamaha leased prototypes to satellite teams for around 3 million euros per season. Now they were going to sell only slightly dumbed-down prototypes to teams for one-third of that price?

Dream on.

Development of Honda's machine continued through 2012, and Yamaha announced it would sell the engine and electronics from its M1 prototype teams for around 1 million euros starting in 2014. A brave new world of more economical, more competitive prototype racing throughout the grid beckoned.

But with apologies to Jerry Garcia, the journey from announcement to reality of customer bikes was a long, strange trip.

The first problem was tepid demand, even by late summer 2013. Neither Honda nor Yamaha had customers bearing kerosene-sodden torches beating down their factory doors trying to get their mitts on the customer prototypes.

Honda's development of the bike shifted into neutral early in 2013, as Nakamoto admitted it was quite an engineering and financial challenge to produce a proper prototype for a price tag that had increased slightly to around 1.2 million euros.

Yamaha received fewer inquiries about its package perhaps because it miscalculated that teams weren't interested in just electronics and engines—for 1 million euros. They wanted the entire bike, especially since Yamaha's chassis is considered the most supple and smooth in MotoGP.

Yamaha relented, saying it would help teams build chassis to fit its engines and electronics as part of the package. Still, by late September, Yamaha only had two confirmed sales, both to Forward Racing.

Customer bikes became a reality in mid-November at the postseason test at Valencia.
The cash registers were chiming no louder for Honda at that time. HRC reportedly only had two customer bikes sold for 2014, to Gresini for Moto2 standout Scott Redding and to Cardion AB for Czech field-filler Karel Abraham.

Then the customer bike market began to loosen for Honda in October, for two reasons.

One, two-time World Champion Casey Stoner tested Honda's customer RCV1000R in early October at Motegi and gushed with praise about the machine, saying it exceeded his expectations. That had to be a strong selling point, as Stoner is not a man to glaze his words in confectionery sugar.

Then a major managerial move created more business for Honda.

Aprilia Racing boss Gigi Dall'Igna was about ready to seal a deal with Aspar for two ART bikes—believed to be hybrids between CRTs and customer prototypes—for 2014, with American Nick Hayden earmarked to ride one of them. Then Dall'Igna bolted Aprilia to take over Ducati Corse, and Aspar team owner Jorge "Aspar" Martinez got cold feet about running an ART without his buddy Dall'Igna leading the technical side of the project.

Dall'Igna tried to convince Martinez to race a customer version of the recalcitrant Ducati Desmosedici in 2014, but not even friendship could cause Aspar to pop that mechanical cyanide pill.

So HRC saw opportunity and courted Aspar fast and hard. Martinez agreed to buy two RCV1000R machines for Hayden and Honda favorite Hiroshi Aoyama. Honda immediately doubled its customer numbers, enough business to justify the cost-cutting needed to build a bike to sell at a low price.

Yamaha didn't add any customers besides Forward. But Forward is using an FTR chassis built with guidance from Yamaha to fit the M1 electronics and engine package, so the financial outlay was lower for Yamaha, requiring fewer buyers.

Customer bikes became a reality in mid-November at the postseason test at Valencia. The Honda RCV1000R and Yamaha customer machines both were on track, within a second or less of the Ducati factory bikes and some satellite bikes during their first time out of the box at an official test.

ENDS

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