Photography by Gold & Goose, Jaime Olivares
Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna, commercial rights holder for MotoGP, doesn’t have a model motorcycle on his desk. He has a model boat. It’s not just any boat, either. It’s a small, sturdy Galician fishing vessel, crafted from wood and with a reputation for being virtually unsinkable. It’s a boat called a “dorna.”
That boat not only inspired the name of the company founded 24 years ago, it also speaks volumes about Ezpeleta and his plans to make MotoGP, the world’s highest level of motorcycle roadracing, as unsinkable as a dorna even in turbulent economic times. The Spaniard’s proposal to allow production-derived engines in the premier class under the guise of “Claiming Rules Teams” (CRT) has been greeted by a mixture of enthusiasm from fans tired of processional and predictable races produced by a short 16-17 rider grid, and by team owners and riders anxious to find a way into the “show” without crippling costs. This acceptance is offset by outraged “purists,” who believe MotoGP should continue to be a sky-is-the-limit technological war exclusively for “true” prototypes powered by high-revving factory prototype engines.
This interview, conducted in Spanish at Dorna HQ in Madrid, reveals Ezpeleta’s vision of the future of the troubled MotoGP World Championship.
Why did you change MotoGP engine displacement from 800cc to 1000cc?
The reason for the change is to make possible the use of 1000cc production-derived engines that are capable of high performance but for much lower costs.
The original change from 990cc to 800cc in MotoGP was requested by the manufacturers. After the death of Daijiro Kato [at the Japanese GP in 2003], they felt that it was necessary to reduce performance. A consensus was reached to lower displacement to 900cc. But at the last minute, there was a change, driven by Honda from within the MSMA [Motorcycle Sports Manufacturers’ Association], to reduce displacement to 800cc.
What started as an initiative by the factories to limit speed and power became a technological battle to equal and then to top the lap and race times from the 990cc engines. The manufacturers developed electronic aids for an engine of a size and type that none of them built for the market.
Did you consider funding an engine project so that private teams would not have to depend on the factories?
Only the manufacturers are capable of building engines for the series. Attempts to find private alternatives to factory engines failed. So, the teams were forced to pay whatever price the manufacturers set, and the factories kept increasing costs by developing their technology. When an established IRTA team with a sponsor could no longer pay the lease price for an 800, their only course was to withdraw.
We had to find a way for teams to stay in the series. So, we looked to this wealth of 1000cc production engines that have the potential to be developed without great cost. None of the engines had a bore larger than 81mm. This 81mm bore and a stroke of 48.5mm for a 1000cc Four were good parameters to prevent teams from using ultra-short-stroke engines as they did under the original 990cc rules.
The 81mm piston size works to some extent as a rev limit in itself. Controlling revs this way means that it is not absolutely necessary to use pneumatic valves, and lower revs give the rider a less-peaky engine and reduce the importance of electronic aids. This rule was approved last March for 2012 and applies to all engines—factory and CRT. But it is only a first step.
If this is only a first step, why not make it a bigger step for 2012?
We make our rules a year in advance. The 81mm maximum bore was approved in March, along with the 3-liter [fuel capacity] advantage for CRTs and six extra engines. If I had known then what I know now, I would have proposed a fixed rev limit and a generic ECU. But I had been led to believe that the factories were taking my request to lower leasing costs seriously and four manufacturers would be putting two-bike teams on the track in addition to at least the same number of satellite teams.
When I saw mid-summer that this was not the case, that Suzuki was probably withdrawing and that there would be fewer satellite teams, I realized that, unless I acted decisively, there would be only 12 bikes on track in 2012 and maybe as few as six factory bikes in 2013. I decided that I would no longer help any team to pay leasing costs and that I would help all teams that wanted to run CRT bikes.
With a fixed rev limit—my idea is 14,500 to 15,000 rpm—and a standard ECU in 2013, the gap between factory and private teams will be reduced.
How has the MSMA reacted to the idea of a rev limit and a standard ECU?
At first, they raised their hands to their heads and went ahh! But now, they have seen what we are doing and begun to accept the solution. They had to accept the fact that their rules made the problem in the first place. There are many factories, but now there are only three MSMA members: Ducati, Honda and Yamaha. I can’t limit myself to working exclusively with just these factories. They have a place at the table, but they no longer make the rules.
In the Grand Prix Commission, we all have a voice. MSMA is the expert of technical matters. IRTA represents the teams. The FIM is concerned primarily with management of the events and safety. Dorna has commercial rights and, therefore, an interest in all aspects of the series. When I told the MSMA that I intend to impose a single ECU in 2013, they were opposed and are still against it. But they no longer have the power to simply reject a rule or impose new rules.
I’ve read the rules, and they are vague—more like general guidelines than specific rules. Will the difference between a CRT bike and a factory bike be decided by a majority of the GP Commission members?
There is an expression in Spanish, I don’t know if it exists in English: Quién hizo la ley hizo la trampa. ‘He who made the rules made the tricks,’ more or less. I have been running this series for 20 years and have been in racing all my life. I have seen how the language of rules leaves loopholes and unintended consequences that can subvert the true intention of the rules, the spirit of the rules.
I will not let the series become a prisoner of specific language. I have defined our problem and set out to solve it. We all know what we mean by a CRT team and by a factory team, and the GP Commission has the technical understanding and authority to interpret the guidelines and make this kind of decision. What we say goes.
What do you say to those who believe MotoGP should only be prototypes and that CRTs are invading Superbike territory?
The rules do not stipulate that CRT engines have to be production-derived. What the rules do stipulate is that the CRT engine can be claimed by a factory team for 20,000 Euros. Engines don’t determine whether a bike is a prototype. The best way to understand that the important element in GP prototype racing is the chassis is to look at Moto2. At the tracks we share with World Supersport, the less-powerful Moto2s are faster in lap time and race time. Why? Because they are true racing bikes—prototypes—with the right rigidity, weight balance and adjustability to allow them to be adapted to different circuits and riding styles.
Do you see the CRT bikes being competitive in the near future?
Yes. In 2012, the difference will be large at first, but competition between the CRT teams themselves will push development. In 2013, with a rev limit, the factory teams will still have the technical advantage, and they will have the budget to hire the best riders. But, as in the days when there were private 500cc teams capable of winning an occasional race and of running near the front, the CRT-type bikes will close the gap on the factory teams under the new rules.
This will be good for everyone because professional racing is primarily entertainment. That is why grandstands are built, tickets are sold and why TV rights have the value they do. We want the factories to participate, but in the very worst-case scenario, I have to accept that they might leave someday.
After testing the 1000cc Yamaha YZR-M1, Jorge Lorenzo told me, “Power will no longer be a problem with these big engines.” But even though the engines are bigger, the gas tanks aren’t. What happens if the MSMA comes to you and says we need more fuel or more engines to remain competitive?
I won’t give any increases to the factories in fuel or number of engines unless the private teams are compensated for these additional advantages. Regarding fuel, Dorna’s Technical Director, Corrado Cecchinelli, assures me that the CRT bikes do not need any more than 24 liters, so I would not increase the factory bikes from 21 liters. That is the limit they set for themselves. They’ll have to live with it.
Dennis Noyes worked with and for Carmelo Ezpeleta during the hectic first years of the Dorna/FIM contract more than 20 years ago before returning to the media center and TV commentary booth as a journalist. Noyes’ son, Kenny, finished fifth at the final round of the 2011 Moto2 World Championship and 28th overall. This is Noyes’ first story for Cycle World.