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Top 15 Stories of 2013, Number 9: Dorna Creates "Factory," "Open" Classification
by stafftastic
Thursday, January 02, 2014

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

"Customer" prototypes accelerated from idea to reality in 2013 in MotoGP, hopefully heralding the dawn of a new era featuring a grid filled with proper prototype machinery in the premier class.

The customer concept - in which Honda and Yamaha are selling, not leasing, prototype-spec equipment - promises to limit and eventually end the two-year scourge of production-based Claiming Rules Team bikes in what is supposed to be the most elite motorcycle racing series in the world. CRT machines fattened the grid and brought new teams to MotoGP, but is Grand Prix racing really about seeing CRT riders lap anywhere from 1.5 to 3 seconds slower per lap than race leaders?

It's going to take time for customer bikes to bridge the gap to factory and satellite machines, and some teams still will be content - or too strapped for cash in the still-tepid global economy - to trundle around the back on CRT bikes.

So Dorna wisely created two categories for 1000cc MotoGP bikes starting in 2014, Factory and Open.

The classes are more than just names or gearhead castes. Rules for each designation were designed to try to achieve the tricky balance of equaling competition while still serving the differing aims of works teams, satellite teams and customer teams.

Factory teams must use the Dorna-spec Magneti Marelli electronic control unit in 2014, but the manufacturers will be allowed to write their software for those black boxes. That's a key chit to please Honda, which has stated clearly it is in MotoGP for two reasons - to win races and develop technology and young engineers.

But there is a tradeoff for works teams. They must use a fuel tank with a capacity of 20 liters, 1 liter less than in 2013. They also can use just five engines per season per bike.

Open class teams must use the Dorna-spec Magneti Marelli black boxes and software on their machines starting next season. But they are allowed fuel tanks up to 24 liters and can use up to 12 engines per season per machine.

Bridgestone also indicated it will continue to produce a softer-compound rear tire for Open bikes in 2014, just as it did for CRT machines in 2013. That more pliable rear rubber was a big assist in helping bikes such as the ART of Aleix Espargaro qualify and finish in the top 10 on a semi-regular basis.

These rules should help to equalize competition in 2014 while providing a desired engineering challenge for Honda, Yamaha and Ducati factory teams and cost savings and competitive advantage for Open teams, which are paying approximately 1.2 million euros for their bikes next year.

But storm clouds roil on the horizon. Many think the Factory and Open classifications are a mechanical holding tank before Dorna forces all teams to use spec electronic hardware and software in either 2015 or 2016.

This could cause a large fissure in the sport.

HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto has said many times Honda would withdraw from MotoGP if it couldn't teach young engineers and create trickle-down technology for its street bikes through development of its electronics. Yamaha has been more ambivalent on its stance regarding in-house electronic development, but it's believed the Crossed Tuning Forks would prefer to work on its software.

Meanwhile, new Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna recently said he supports and expects a move to spec black boxes and software for all teams. The Boys from Bologna probably favor that level grading of the playing field, as the electronics used in the Desmosedici still lag far behind the technology of rivals Honda and Yamaha.

Suzuki is returning to MotoGP as a works team in 2015, and it appears to be siding with Ducati in the Great ECU Debate. Suzuki was developing a bespoke Mitsubishi electronics unit, but test team boss Davide Brivio said this summer one of the reasons the team delayed its re-entry into the MotoGP atmosphere from the expected 2014 until 2015 was to adapt the spec Magneti Marelli system to its bike.

Aprilia is rumored to be considering a return as a factory team in MotoGP by 2016, and it presumably also will want to continue its tight-fisted financial ways by using spec electronic software.

So while there will be technical peace at the start of the 2014 season, it will only be a matter of time before Honda throws punches at Dorna in an offensive to allow continued electronics development in Grand Prix racing. Ducati and presumably Suzuki and Aprilia are in Dorna's corner.

Yamaha remains the wild card that could sway Dorna in one direction or another. But Dorna holds most of the leverage because World Superbikes will start using spec ECU software in 2014, so Honda and Yamaha lack another prominent global stage on which to write software and win motorcycle races.

ENDS

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