Open Backlash: Honda Not Happy
by staff
Tuesday, March 04, 2014
Like sands through the hour glass, so go the politics of MotoGP ...
image by udo kegel

As soon as Ducati's factory team optioned for the "Open" set of MotoGP rules, you knew there was going to be political backlash from the other factories.

"Open" was designed as a way to get the manufacturers to make production MotoGP bikes (prototype-spec equipment) that they would sell--not lease--to teams in the MotoGP championship. It was designed to cut costs and allow for a "sloppier" approach to racing--fuel use doesn't need to be on the knife-edge, a softer rear tire can be used, and the electronic brain of the "open" bike is run by Dorna--it uses the basic Magneti Marelli ECU and software.

While factory protoypes were never specifically banned from the "Open" class within a class, it was always assumed that the factory teams of Honda, Yamaha and Ducati would remain in the "factory" category.

Politically, Ducati played the situation like a veteran poker player. Initially, they had their spokesperson generally deny that they would enter their factory prototypes in the "open" class, but offered little hard info after that, and delayed making their "Open" announcement until the very day that the decision had to be officially declared to Dorna. This, even though second year Ducati factory MotoGP rider told Italian news sites well over a month ago that Ducati's factory bikes were going "Open" in 2014.

Ducati's move and the resulting changes have, not surprisingly, angered Honda. Honda argues that the "open" classification was never intended for true factory bikes, and while they understand why Ducati chose to go "Open", they have less understanding of why Dorna and Magneti Marelli introduced a new version of the basic "Open" software just days before Ducati made their decision. The new software is reported to be much more vast and capable than the earlier version used by the "Open" teams at the first Sepang test.

So, the question Honda seems to be asking is when is a factory bike an open bike and really, how is having a factory bike racing by "open" rules making MotoGP any cheaper?

The battle-lines of this skirmish were drawn some time ago, with Dorna on one side and HRC/Honda on the other, with the other parties dancing about from one side of line to the other. Suzuki has already suggested that their 2015 return to MotoGP will be under "factory" rules--believe it when we see it--and Yamaha is stuck between both sides, trying to maintain their factory effort while supplying open-level equipment to the Forward team, one of which lapped faster than the "factory" Tech 3 bikes at Sepang.

When this all began, Dorna asked Honda to build a cheaper version of their RC213V MotoGP bike, and to sell it for a reasonable price to former "CRT" teams. While one might assume it's no problem for an enormous global entity like Honda to build ten--or fifty--or one hundred--of anything, that's not the case. From the beginning, the RCV1000R was a high level project at Honda and had the support of HRC President Tetsuo Suzuki (who is the Managing Director of Honda R&D). It was built as a budget MotoGP racer for the "open" class.

Dorna is playing an undoubtedly dangerous game of high level politics, one that has now drawn in the highest level of executives at Honda, and HRC. Moreover, students of history don't see the big three Japanese factories splitting from one another on large policy decisions and it's nearly always Honda that is the dominant party in those situations.

This should be interesting.


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