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GP Week : Issue 3
THE 250 class is living on borrowed time. The current deadline for replacement by 2012 is already a moving target, and likely to be cut back to 2010 this coming weekend. The two-strokes are out of time and out of date and, like the 500cc two- strokes before them, 250s need to be replaced by something more relevant to modern motorcycling. This much is agreed, albeit reluctantly in the case of Aprilia and KTM, who currently have the remnants of the 250 class all but to themselves, the Japanese factories having withdrawn anything but a token presence. What is not so easy is to find a motorcycle to replace these sweet and highly developed racers, to maintain a class that serves excellently as a stepping stone to MotoGP … just look at Stoner, Pedrosa and now Lorenzo and Dovizioso – all 250 graduates. Debate among the manufacturers and racing authorities has been vigorous for the past two years. The need to go four-stroke is acknowledged, with suggestions ranging from twin-cylinder (or even single- cylinder) engines of relatively simple design to a full prototype class of perhaps 400cc (half a MotoGP engine). Current thinking veers towards 600cc production- based engines, perhaps with limited revs … but there is still plenty of argument and a wide range of opinions. Unique in major motor sport, the manufacturers’ association, the MSMA, has control over the technical regulations. The Japanese-dominated MSMA was behind the original move to four-stroke MotoGP machines in 2002, and the cut from 990cc to 800cc engines. In the formal procedure, Dorna are due to come up with a proposal at the Jerez GP Commission meeting, for the MSMA to discuss before the next meeting, scheduled for Brno after the summer break. Continuing discussion between all parties means the suggestion is unlikely to be anything off the wall (like the one-tyre proposal of last year); they will be acting under advice from the MSMA, not to mention lobbying by its various members. Nor will it be final. Race director Paul Butler, a member of the GP Commission (along with Dorna, the MSMA, team association IRTA and the FIM), explains the difficulties: “The debate started with the need to look at four-strokes, and the issue has been kicked around, thinking about costs, the fact that GP racing is prototype (not a production based category) and so on.” The Japanese manufacturers have 450cc single-cylinder motocross engines (brought in to replace 250cc two- strokes) and also suitable twin-cylinder engines, but the performance would fall short of the standard set by the 250s. At the same time, full prototype engines have been costly: “It’s quite a dilemma,” says Butler. Two-stroke tuning guru and KTM race chief Harald Bartol, having finally accepted the inevitable demise of the traditional racing two-stroke, told GPWeek: “I have no problem with building a four-stroke, although the cost will be much higher than a two- stroke – almost the same as for MotoGP. But engines must not be based on production machines – that is a donkey, not a grand prix bike!” The 250s took over as the main junior class to 500s after the demise of the 350 class in the 1980s. At that time, most top-class champions skipped the class (apart from Freddie Spencer’s 250/500 double in 1985). More recently they have proved an effective training ground for champions including Rossi and Stoner. The decision, whatever it is, is a crucial one. Four-strokes replaced two-strokes in MotoGP in 2002. Now it’s 250s turn – but how? MICHAEL SCOTT explains Dilemma – how to replace the 250s 38