HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto told British media that Honda's RCV1000R "customer" MotoGP bike could threaten the top six places on certain tracks in 2014 because of its larger fuel capacity provided by new rules.
Fuel-gulping tracks such as Qatar, Silverstone and Motegi could be playgrounds for the customer bikes from Honda and Yamaha next year, as they will carry 24-liter fuel tanks compared to the 20-liter tanks of factory prototypes, which can use proprietary software.
But even that prospect hasn't created a long line of customers for either Japanese manufacturer's customer bikes for next season. The customer concept was supposed to banish the unsavory Claiming Rules Team machines to the trash dumpster of history when announced last year, but the tepid response to the customer bikes probably will keep a handful of CRT machines on the gird in 2014. Those machines will be lumped into a "non-factory" category with the customer bikes.
Forward Racing is believed to be the only confirmed team on the Yamaha customer list, with team boss Giovanni Cuzari reportedly paying an escape fee of 400,000 euros to free Aleix Espargaro from his contract with Aspar to ride one of Forward's two customer bikes next year.
Honda also is believed to have only two customer RCV1000R bikes confirmed for 2014, with one going to Gresini for Moto2 standout Scott Redding and probably another to the family-owned team of Czech field-filler Karel Abraham.
Aprilia also will field two bikes that are similar to customer machines for Aspar, and its bikes also are rumored to include seamless transmission and pneumatic valves. Nick Hayden and World Superbike race winner Eugene Laverty remain the top candidates for those machines, which probably will use the Dorna-spec software in the Magneti Marelli black box so it can carry the larger, 24-liter fuel tank.
But the rest of the existing CRT teams are believed to be sticking with their production-based rigs.
Why the tepid response?
One, the price tag of 1.2 million euros is steep. Sure, it's less expensive than some of the 2 and 3 million-euro fees paid annually by satellite teams for trickle-down works equipment. But customer bikes still cost a chunk more than CRT machines, and it's a leap of hubris-fueled blind faith by Dorna and the Japanese manufacturers to think smaller teams can find sponsors in this stumbling global economy to cover the difference.
The second reason for teams sticking with CRT-style bikes next season is the increasing competitiveness of that equipment, at least on some tracks and with well-funded teams. CRT teams are starting to understand their electronics better, and the softer tires Bridgestone has produced only for the production-based bikes this season has pulled them closer to the front of the grid.
Espargaro has qualified in the top seven in three of the last seven races and has seven top-10 finishes this season on his Aspar Aprilia, the most refined of the CRT machines.
Why don't the manufacturers just sell works (aka "factory") MotoGP bikes? Because there is still a great deal of proprietary technology inside a MotoGP bike in 2013 and no factory wants their top level bike or technology in the hands of a competitor. This was evidenced when Ducati auctioned off MotoGP bikes as ridden by Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi in April 2012. Stoner's Ducati was several years old at that point, obviously, and Rossi's Ducati--not really a race-winning weapon was it? However, both were sold with lengthy purchase contracts and sealed engines that Ducati "could inspect at any time". They take proprietary information very seriously at the manufacturer level, even on bikes that don't really matter in the present day.
|... and it's known that Honda Japan were not amused when they saw that Freddie Spencer had offered for sale his NSR500 and NSR250s from 1983 and 1985. |
After the bikes that Mr. Honda gave Mike Hailwood were auctioned off after "the Bike's" death, there was an awareness at Honda that promises that factory bikes would "never leave the family" can't always be kept, and "gift bikes" that truly are factory GP bikes became a subject of much debate. And it continues today. Valentino Rossi wrote in his book that he left Honda in part because they would not give him an NSR500, and it's known that Honda Japan were not amused when they saw that Freddie Spencer had offered for sale his NSR500 and NSR250s from 1983 and 1985.
The idea of Scott Redding on a Casey Stoner and HRC-developed RC213V or "RCV1000R " excites us very much, and somehow we think that the first time one of these "production" MotoGP bikes lands on the podium the purchase price won't seem so steep to prospective buyers.