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GP Week : Issue 71
GPWEEK OPINION >> It's not what anyone really expected, and it's not why the regulations were framed. But the raft of 2009 new rules intended to cut costs have restored some respectability to MotoGP, by restoring some real relevance to street motorcycles. The rules in question are those concerning engine endurance ... and along with the earlier fuel limitations, they have forced the engineers formerly concerned with blue-sky prototypes to think also about the realities of life with an internal combustion engine. And the relevance was confirmed at Yamaha's annual technical briefing, when team director Masahiko Nakajima spoke about the modifications already made in the light of this year's restriction of five engines for the last six races, and only six engines for the whole of next year. Prior to that, engines would run up to 1,000km without problems, but "after 600km they would lose some performance," he said. When the new durability regs kicked in at Brno, changes included not only reduced crankshaft friction using new surface treatment, but more particularly a new piston design that reduced piston temperature by 30 degrees. The changes doubled engine life, at the cost of what he said was only a one-percent power drop, although the riders said it felt more than that ("tired" was the word Rossi used). "Now, 2,200 km is possible without problems," he said. And next year the restriction will need life to be extended to 2,400. So what? Simply this. The methods forced on engineers by the regs are of direct relevance to and benefit to motorcyclists in the street. The situation was, said Nakajima, "technically quite interesting. More performance with more reliability is good for the total Yamaha engineering -- it is good feedback for production bikes." It has been years since anybody has been able to say that about racing bikes, with a straight face. I've always been a fan of prototypes -- and old-school purist. But like many in the paddock my thinking has been inverted by the new situation of the credit-crunch year. Now I even find myself in favour of the new proposal to dump the prototypes and switch MotoGP to 1000cc production- based engines ... as long as there will still be enough freedom to experiment with such pure racing technology as pneumatic valve springs and variable-length intake trumpets. That it is possible even to think about GP racing on engines with serial numbers is a massive tribute to the technology of existing street bikes. GP machines have nearly always had close relatives on the road, although this went away for a spell in the last of the two-stroke years, when big- capacity two-strokes were dropped from the sales catalogues. Maybe it is now time, given the state of current technology, to do it the other way around ... to make the racers closer to street bikes. It's all upside down. Breeding improves the race. Well yes, in all honesty that could still be a possibility. But is it a huge problem? No, I don't think it is. Fans have been crying out for many years that they want to see a return to those halcyon days of yore, when it was all about the 'garagistes' beating the 'grandees'. And who were those grandees? Well there was Ferrari, there was Mercedes (until the Le Mans incident), and then there were a few varying interested parties -- Maserati, Alfa... but never anyone with the weight of Ferrari. No, the rest of the field was made up from those who bought a chassis and an engine, or who built their own chassis and threw in a Cossie. Et voila, here we are staring at a season to bring in a new decade with a small number of manufacturers and the rest of the teams building their own cars and dropping in, for the most part, Cossies. Nice! So the fans can't really complain. After all, this is what they wanted, right? Ferrari for one certainly seems to think that this last decade has been rather Machiavellian; that the rule makers invited the manufacturers in, built up the sport off their backs, and then completely shafted them. It's an arguable point, and one not without merit. But there is also the question of the economy and, especially on the part of the Japanese, a complete failure to perform. Toyota's withdrawal from F1 is a sad loss for the sport as it was a team filled with good people. But it has also sorted out the grand 14th team dilemma and should allow the BMW boys back in. Toyota's F1 story was always one of throwing money at a problem, rather than logical thinking and working around an issue. It was a tactic that never worked, and one which is not in keeping with the new era of F1. This new era will be one in which cost saving and initiative will be the buzzwords. The traditional basis of the sport in which independent teams fought to compete with a few top line auto manufacturers, will return. The days of spending too much to achieve too little are over, Toyota's ultimate failure the perfect symbol that the days of old, both in financial and competitive terms, are well and truly over. MICHAEL SCOTT MotoGP Editor opinion Bye bye blue sky Ferrari versus the 'garagistes' -- 1975-style 23