MotoGP Orchestral Music

“Factory 2” gives Ducati what it needs while preserving the compromises that keep the three factories in the series.

Andrea Dovizioso action shot

Big MotoGP news of the moment is Dorna's creation of a new "Factory 2" category as a direct response to Ducati's decision to switch from Factory (open software, 20 liters of fuel, five engines, engine design frozen) to Open (spec ECU and software, 24 liters of fuel, 12 engines, no design freeze, special soft rear tire).

Under the new rule, as soon as an Open team achieves one of the following:

1. A win in dry conditions

2. Two second-place finishes

3. Three third-place finishes

It will automatically be switched to “Factory 2” status, in which the following new limits apply:

1. 22.5 liters of fuel

2. Nine engines

The press is treating this as if it punishes Ducati for its Open-class switch, but as I learned this morning, not only does this give Ducati what it needs, it also preserves the compromises that keep the three factories in the series. As we shall see, this move does not hurt Ducati or the Open factory Yamahas of Forward Racing's Aleix Espargaro and Colin Edwards, but it does calm the outrage of Honda's MotoGP boss, Shuhei Nakamoto, and it brings most of the paddock toward acceptance of upcoming rules that will require all teams to use the spec software.

At Bridgestone’s recent three-day Phillip Island test, Andrea Dovizioso’s Ducati consistently showed the highest top speeds, reaching 212.5 mph. This is just what we would expect when a former Mobil Economy Run engine is given all the fuel it wants. Out the window go most of the situations in which throttle response is dulled by fuel skimping, and in its place returns full responsive acceleration. And there is no lack of top speed.

Cal Crutchlow action shot

One of the most effective ways to conserve fuel is to raise compression ratio but doing so tightens up the combustion chambers, slowing the burn. This limits top-end power and top speed. But with 22.5 liters of fuel, compression ratio can again be chosen for performance and not for fuel saving. Cam choice is opened up in the same way. For an engine, this is like returning to robust health after long illness.

As for nine engines instead of 12, this will be easy for Ducati, which already knows how to run a season on fewer. Certain critical parts, such as the desmo valve-closing levers, may limit valve accelerations if five engines must do 18 races, but with nine races, those levers don’t have to last as long and so can be worked harder.

In effect, we are seeing Dorna’s CEO, Carmelo Ezpeleta, keeping his “orchestra” on the beat. By creating Factory 2 at the last minute, he appears to “do something” to soothe Nakamoto, while keeping that less-open package still attractive enough to encourage both Ducati and Yamaha, the latter through its own “Open” experiment with Espargaro and Edwards on two-year-old full-factory bikes.

If this seems to imply that mighty Honda might fear tiny Ducati, think of the history: Ducati swashbuckled into MotoGP in its second year, 2003, with truly stunning horsepower, and it was on the podium very quickly (never mind that the next year, Ducati put itself out of competition by moving its engine to the rear). And the super insult came in 2007, when Honda had the formula dropped from 990cc to 800. Ducati’s new super-powerful missile, with a guidance system named Casey Stoner, made Honda and Yamaha look irrelevant. So you can bet that Honda’s higher leadership make very clear to Nakamoto that it will not tolerate more such surprises.

This is politics, and the Holy Grail is to get the factories to accept Ezpeleta’s plans bit by bit—yes, they change from moment to moment; remember Ezpeleta saying, “I will never accept a spec tire in my series”?—as they are embodied in rules to be introduced in 2016. Or is that 2015?

Good guys? Bad guys? The closer I look, the more I see just players.

Andrea Dovizioso

Cal Crutchlow

Aleix Espargaro

Colin Edwards