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GP Week : Issue 197
18 GPWEEK.com // 18 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Racing the rule book is as old as ... well, as old as the rule book. They say you should always read it twice: the first time to understand the restrictions, and the second to work out how to get round them. Anyone competing in or even trying to understand MotoGP in 2014 had better master the art of speed-reading. Other wise the rules are liable to change long before you get to the end. Dorna’s Carmelo Ezpeleta has been fond of making new rules for as long as anyone can remember. And at ever-accelerating pace. The latest change came less than two weeks before the start of the season. The new-for-2014 Factory/ Open rules were changed again even before a wheel had been turned in anger. MotoGP’s management structure had already been fiddled with during the Australian GP, where drastic tyre failures required on-the-spot rule changes to allow the races to take place. This new facility to make it up while going along was now demonstrated again. After the last factory test, Dorna proposed and then promptly adopted a third category – 'Factory 2' – to take account of a loophole in the clearly too hastily drafted original rules. The 'Open' category, replacing CRT, was supposedly a cheap class for independent teams, enjoying much more technical freedom. Ducati, with an urgent need to improve their bike, had been happy to take advantage, switching all four entries from 'Factory' to 'Open'. This allows mid-season engine development ('Factory' engines are 'frozen'), plus many more engines (12:5), much more fuel (24:20 litres), softer tyres and free testing. The pay-off for the other wise hog-tied 'Factory' bikes is electronic: they are allowed to develop their own control software, although using the new control Magneti Marelli ECU and sensors. 'Open' bikes must use control software supplied by Dorna. By a somewhat suspicious coincidence, just as Ducati revealed their downgrade, their fellow- Italians at Magneti Marelli arrived with a major upgrade for the control electronics. This was closely based on that developed for the factory Ducatis hitherto, and though it will (said Dorna) work for all bikes, only Ducati were actually up to speed with using it. The others will need extensive trial-and-error and plenty of expensive electronic expertise to catch up. And, blow me down, on top of it the Ducatis had already improved since last year. Yamaha had intended to provide engines only for 'Open' bikes, but had been wrong-footed into supplying last year’s factory bike instead. At least it could match the Ducatis. Honda, meantime, had interpreted the 'Open' sanction rather differently: building a down-spec for-sale production-racer version of their RC213V factory bike. At the tests, it was seriously outclassed. This left factory team chief Shuhei Nakamoto muttering darkly about “the spirit of the rules (perhaps he hadn’t read them twice), and livid. So too the other 'Open' team riders, also instantly turned into also-rans. Under pressure from both sides, Ezpeleta’s hand was swift. Should any 'Open' bike claim three third places in the dry, two seconds, or one win ... they would be reclassified as 'Factory 2'. Fuel would be cut by 2.5 litres, and engine allocation dropped to nine. All a bit notional, and laced with dark humour. And some even darker things too. Dorna wants all bikes to be 'Open' from 2016, and they’re ready to fiddle with the rules as much as they need to achieve it. How much more of this will Honda put with? If Honda opts out, will the other Japanese factories follow suit? And finally, why would any factory want to build an 'Open' bike anyway? Control engines, anyone? THE RULES ARE FLEXIBLE, THE FUTURE IS 'OPEN' OPINION OPINION MICHAEL SCOTT