The 2012 MotoGP season began on Tuesday with the first post-Valencia test sessions. Honda, Yamaha and Ducati were there with 1000cc prototypes, and Randy de Puniet and Stefan Bradl rode Suzuki and Honda 800s. Several of the new “CRT” bikes—prototype chassis powered by production-based 1000cc engines—also took part (CRT stands for “Claiming Rule Team,” a clumsy name we hope will soon be changed).
Next year won’t really be racing as we know it, because these 25-percent-bigger, 1000cc prototypes will be limited to the same 21 liters of fuel that compelled 800s to run lean in order to finish races. As has been the case the past two years, six prototype engines will be all that a rider gets for the 18-race series (this requires roughly a 1200-mile engine-life guarantee). CRTs are, by contrast, allowed 24 liters of fuel and 12 engines per rider.
Because fuel is so limited, don’t expect a return to sideways cowboy riding with smoky wheelspin. It will be business as usual with high corner speeds, extreme angles of lean and single-line racing with limited passing.
Even the prototype engines will no longer be the wide-open designs of the past. Instead, they are for 2012 limited to a maximum bore of 81mm. That requires a stroke of 48.5mm to give a four-cylinder engine 1000cc. A stroke that long will pretty much limit engines to a rev ceiling of 16,000. With the 24-liter fuel allowance of 2002-2004, 16,000 rpm could make as much as 245 horsepower; but on 21 liters, there will be little point to revving that high. One way to use those otherwise pointless revs would be to provide the rider with a “boost button” that allows extra performance limited to a few seconds—power to pass. Then back to droning on lower fuel flow and hoping there’s still something sloshing around in the tank.
One rider described the new engines as “Lots of revs but no power.” For the prototypes, at least, 2012 will be the Mobil Economy Run. Older readers will remember the super-lean carburetion of early U.S. emissions-controlled cars—the “sputter-and-die” engines of the late 1970s. The new 1000cc prototypes will share some of those qualities.
Dani Pedrosa was fastest on a Honda RC213V, with Casey Stoner second (also on Honda) and Ben Spies third on a Yamaha YZR-M1. Jorge Lorenzo is still out with an injury.
Special interest attended Valentino Rossi’s laps on a new twin-spar aluminum-chassis (made by FTR) Ducati, but it is clearly early days for that project. The team hopes that the reduced side-to-side stiffness of such a chassis may eventually cure the front-end vagueness of the ultra-stiff carbon-fiber front frame used by Ducati since 2009.
And the CRTs? Will grass-roots engine builders embarrass the big boys? Sadly, the CRTs present were many seconds a lap slower than the GP bikes—all but one were slower than the top 250s in 2009. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is undiscouraged by this prospect, having said essentially that “there can be two races in one.” It is Ezpeleta’s responsibility to somehow keep MotoGP financially successful. I wish him well.
Why does the 21-liter rule even exist? It was recommended by the MSMA—the Motor Sports Manufacturers’ Association—which many think is effectively the voice of Honda. Your guess is as good as mine here. Mr. Ezpeleta is happy to keep that rule in place because it gives him leverage in his efforts to make something of the CRTs.