MotoGP: The Premier Class of Motorcycle Road Racing

MotoGP is regarded by many as the premier class of motorcycle road racing in the world. Think of it as the Formula One of motorcycles; prototype motorcycles that will never be sold to the general public due to their excessively high-strung engines, extreme power output and radical handling characteristics. Sure, they are test-beds for some next-generation technologies such as traction control, but the series is largely put on for bragging rights and of course, sponsors play a big role in underwriting costs.

As in other classes of racing, the top teams with the top sponsors are regarded as the “Factory” teams since they get the most support from the motorcycle manufacturer to challenge for the World Championship. Satellite, or “privateer”, teams also run in the series, but typically with less support from the manufacturer. In past years this could mean that the satellite teams run with the previous year’s equipment, or at least receive later and less frequent updates to engines, aerodynamics, electronics, etc.

Current Teams and Riders

For the 2012 season, there are new rules in place that has increased the number of full-time riders in the series to 21 (there were 17 in 2011). Things are getting more complicated since the new rules allow prototype chassis manufacturers to field entries with production-based engines, called Claiming Rule Teams (CRT), alongside the so-called "factory prototypes" produced by Honda, Yamaha, and Ducati.

The 2012 entry list is:

Mfg.TeamRacing #/Rider/Nation
DucatiMarlboro Ducati Team*#46 Valentino Rossi (ITA)
#69 Nicky Hayden (USA)
Pramac Ducati Team#8 Hector Barbera (SPA)
Cardion AB Ducati#17 Karel Abraham (CZE)
HondaRepsol Honda*1 Casey Stoner (AUS)**
#26 Dani Pedrosa (SPA)
San Carlo Gresini Honda#9 Alvaro Bautista (SPA)
LCR Honda#6 Stefan Bradl
YamahaYamaha Factory Racing*#99 Jorge Lorenzo (SPA)
#11 Ben Spies (USA)
Monster Tech 3 Yamaha#4 Andrea Dovizioso (ITA)
#35 Cal Crutchlow (GBR)
Suter/BMW (CRT)NGM Mobile Forward Racing#5 Colin Edwards
Ioda (CRT)Came Ioda Racing Project#9 Danilo Petrucci
Aprilia ART (CRT)Power Electronics Aspar#14 Randy DePuniet (FRA)
#41 Aleix Espargaro (SPA)
Speed Master#54 Mattia Pasini (ITA)
Paul Bird Motorsport#77 James Ellison
BQR/Kawasaki (CRT)Avintia Blusens#22 Ivan Silva (SPA)
#68 Yonny Hernandez (COL)
FTR/Honda (CRT)San Carlo Gresini#51 Michele Pirro(ITA)

* Factory racing team
** Reigning 2011 MotoGP World Champion

Rules (or the Lack Thereof)

The current iteration of MotoGP bikes are 1000 cc 4-cylinder machines (4-stroke cycle), which was changed from the previous-generation of 800 cc bikes used through the 2011 season.

One of the genius things with MotoGP used to be that it had relatively few rules. The relative lack of rules was praised for fostering creativity on the part of the motorcycle manufacturers and this was exemplified by Honda’s 990 cc V5 engine, and Aprilia took a stab at an in-line three-cylinder. But, since the change to the 800cc limit in 2007, all engines have been four-cylinders.

Since the Great Recession hit, various additional rules changes have been put into effect in the name of controlling costs. The lowering of displacement from 990cc to 800cc is seen by many as being responsible for driving up the cost of racing in this prototype series and for the lack of close racing in recent years. The result of the so-called cost-cutting measures is dubious since there is at least a short-term spending hemmorrage in adapting to a limit of six engines per season when there was previously no limit to the number that could be used.

For 2012, engine displacement limit was raised to 1000 cc’s and are required to have four cylinders. This of course caused another round of spending on the part of the manufacturers to redesign their engines for the new rules.

MotoGP bikes are limited to 21 liters of fuel, so electronic engine management software is increasingly important part of development to make the fuel last the full-race distance.

Just from this section, you can see that things are now anything but simple.

New for 2012: Claiming Rule Teams (CRT)

The further complication (confusion?) of the MotoGP class is the inclusion of so-called "Claiming Rule Teams" or CRT starting in 2012. This new specification allows private chassis manufacturers to use production-based engines in their frames and race amongst the fire-breathing full prototypes. Predictably, their performance is significantly lower than the prototype MotoGP bikes, but it may be a bit early to pronounce the experiment as a failure. The CRT bikes will undoubtedly get faster with more development and estimates say the cost of purchasing a CRT bike is about 1/3 the amount of leasing a full prototype machine. It begs the question of how much money 2-3 seconds per lap is really worth.

Lower cc Classes

As of 2012, all three classes of the Grand Prix World Championship are four-stroke motorcycles. The premier class of 1000 cc MotoGP machines is supported by two underclasses: 250 cc four-stroke motorcycles in the Moto3 junior class and 600 cc four-strokes in the Moto2 intermediate class. The lower classes are the main avenue for riders to enter into the premier class, although increasingly, riders are making the leap from production motorcycle racing series such as the Superbike World Championship.

500cc History

Prior to 2002, the Grand Prix motorcycles were comprised of 125 cc, 250 cc underclasses with 500 cc being the premier class. All machines were different sizes of two-stroke engines and the 500 cc class made for some extremely exciting racing due to the extremely high-strung nature of the bikes.

990cc Era (2002-2006)

In 2002 a new era began in the world of MotoGP with the introduction of four-stroke machines. These new bikes were allowed to have a displacement advantage up to 990 cc’s over their 500 cc two-stroke counterparts. The new machines soon dominated the competition of their lighter-weight 500 cc cousins and all manufacturers migrated to the new four-stroke formula for the 2003 season.

800cc Era (2007 - 2011)

After the 2006 season, another rule change passed and the displacement was lowered to 800 cc’s for the premier class. This purportedly was done to slow the top speed of the motorcycles, which was seen to be too high and therefore, too dangerous. What resulted were bikes that were lighter and changed direction more easily despite being slightly less powerful (approx 220 bhp vs 250 bhp). Therefore, the cornering speeds of the bikes increased and the lap records set by the 990 cc monsters were quickly smashed by their smaller offspring. And since crashes tend to happen during the act of cornering rather than at full-speed on the straights, the move to 800 cc didn’t fulfill its alleged purpose.

A consequence of the leap to smaller displacement has been increased reliance on electronics to help the engines run better, conserve fuel, and control power output. This has increased the cost of these already extremely expensive prototype motorcycles.

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