Photography by Mark Wernham
The 2011 MotoGP season is over with two races to go. Casey Stoner won the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island and the championship in spectacular style, literally smoking away from his Honda teammates, while Yamaha men Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies were having their injuries from practice attended to. Honda program director Shuhei Nakamoto, disappointed at Motegi because Lorenzo fought his way into second, destroying a Honda 1-2-3-4 finish, can now be happy because his “wrecking crew” did take the top four spots in Australia.
Those fans who are happy only when two or more bikes regularly take the lead by turns may call Phillip Island “a procession” if they like, but that ignores the mastery Stoner displayed in pulling out an incredible 11-second lead over the likes of Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa. Has skill now become boring to race fans? Has sharing the lead nicely become the be all and end all? Anybody notice or appreciate Stoner’s smoking tires?
What next? In 2012, MotoGP goes to 1000cc engines again, subject to an 81mm bore limit. It will also be the “Year of the CRT,” when Dorna hopes to repopulate shrinking start grids with bikes powered, not by prototypes like Honda’s RC212V or Yamaha’s YZR-M1, but by souped-up 1000cc production-based engines. “CRT” stands for “Claiming-Rule Team,” under a dreamy rule to cut the cost of racing (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) by allowing any MSMA (Motorcycle Sports Manufacturers Association) member to claim any such production-based engine for 20,000 euros. That’ll keep ’em honest!
Why dreamy? Hmm, start with a crankshaft forged of highest-quality VIM/VAR EN40B or 4340 steel, Pankl titanium rods, super-quality forged pistons, Del West titanium valves, valve springs made from Kobe Steel’s fabulously pure wire, wound-and-ground by whoever is hot at the moment. Add a proper slipper clutch, closer-ratio gearbox with the normal five alternate ratios for each of the six speeds. Getting the idea? Oh, you want to race for less? Sure, you can run a Walmart crank, stock steel rods and stock pistons and end up with about 200 hp at 13,800 rpm, just as in AMA Pro American SuperBike. But the race chassis? I understand the Swiss fellas have just what you need, competitive pricing, immediate delivery.
Right now, both Honda and Yamaha are quietly discouraging affiliated teams from trying to make MotoGP engines out of CBR1000RRs or YZF-R1s. What self-respecting factory wants to see its production stuff bringing up the rear when they already have a nice business leasing GP machines? Presently, it seems only two engines are getting serious attention: the BMW S1000RR with its 80mm bore and the Aprilia RSV4, 2mm smaller.
How about just leaving bore and stroke as is and, like, go for it? If we pick a peak piston acceleration of 9000g as high but survivable for pistons of painfully state-of-the-art quality, the 81mm engine reaches that speed at 16,250 rpm. The BMW with its 80mm stroke hits 9K at 16,050, and the 78mm Aprilia gets there at 15,600. The Honda, with its 76mm bore, gets to 9000g at 15,240 rpm, and the R1 is in the same boat with the Aprilia.
Okay, other clever rules push the scales the opposite way. The haughty prototypes get 21 liters of fuel, and each engine has to slog through three races. But the man-in-the-street CRT engines get 24 liters and only have to last two races. Could it be that Stoner, despite brain-breakingly sophisticated fuel conservation software, might sputter to a halt yards from the finish line while Colin Edwards on a Suter-BMW excitingly has several tablespoons of gas left in his tank and thus takes the win? Or, whoever the FTR-Aprilia rider may be ascends the center box because his 200-hp engine was only ⅔ as worn out as Lorenzo’s or Pedrosa’s or Simoncelli’s gas-guzzling 260-hp prototypes? In the old days, they called this kind of racing “handicapping.”
Candid crew chiefs think fuel will be a serious problem next year. One rider has said his 2012 prototype turns a lot of revs but makes no power. Others seem to think that everything is just fine. Okay, I sympathize; we all want to be employed.
I’ll just bet Dorna’s pens are poised over paper to write whatever rules turn out to be “needed” next.