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GP Week : Issue 197
MOTOGP >>> PrEViEW Long-time motorcycle racing fans will know the name Jack Middelburg. The privateer was part of a posse of Dutch racers to make a name for themselves in the late 1970s and early ’80s. The White Giant, Wil Hartog, set the ball rolling by winning at Assen in 1977; Boet van Dulmen followed with his win in Finland in ‘79; Middelburg won his home race in 1980, and followed it by winning at silverstone (ahead of Kenny Roberts, no less) in ’81. It all happened because Suzuki made a GP racer, the RG500, that was available to and affordable by privateers and which was fast enough, on its day, to allow them to challenge the might of the factories. It worked – but after Middelburg’s win in England, no privateer ever won another 500cc GP. Of course, there are no privateers now, as such. But there is a new category within MotoGP – in fact, there are two – and a bike from one of those sub-classes may just, on occasion, upset the world order. The Open class was designed to replace the CRT (Claiming Team Rules) classification, which in turn was instigated to encourage teams to build racing bikes at reasonable cost, based around modified road bike engines. It was not a huge success; numbers of CRT bikes remained low. The reason was that there was usually a gulf in speed between the works bikes and the CRTs. Nothing as consistently competitive as an RG500 appeared, but there was the odd glimmer of hope that the concept might just have had some merit. The brightest of those came at Indianapolis in 2012. While the headlines were largely dedicated to Casey Stoner’s massive crash (and how he raced on Sunday, to fifth place, remains a mystery to anyone but him) there was some devil in the detail in Qualifying. Randy de Puniet qualified his CRT bike 10th fastest, only 1.624s behind poleman Dani Pedrosa (and only 1.2s from a front-row start). One spot behind the Frenchman was Valentino Rossi. His Ducati tripped the speed gun on the main straight at 333.3kmh – more than 16 kays faster than de Puniet’s ART. Clearly, despite the gulf in power, the CRT bike must have been fairly good in the corners and someone was doing something right. CRT is no more, but the Open class has been embraced by both Honda and Yamaha. Honda has made a production version of its RCV213V MotoGP bike, designated the RCV1000R. Stoner and others privately tested it, and made positive noises about how it felt compared with the ‘real thing’. But actual testing has shown that the bikes are dog slow; even in the hands of Nicky Hayden, it has been as much as 17kmh slower than the prototype Hondas ridden by Marc Marquez, Stefan Bradl, Dani Pedrosa and Alvaro Bautista. HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto has admitted that its Open racer was designed with the ‘claiming’ part of the Claiming Rule in mind. It has none of the pneumatic valves, seamless transmissions or the exotic suspension tweaks that the factory Hondas feature. Honda Gresini, Cardion AB and Aspar Team will race bikes that are beautifully engineered and somewhat swift but which, barring extraordinary circumstances, have no more hope of beating the factory bikes than the old CRT bikes had. But the big difference is, for selling those teams an Open bike, Honda charges €1.2 million. On paper, Yamaha has taken a different slant on the Open class. Its Open bikes are run by For ward Racing, and in theory, they have a British-built FTR frame fitted with a Yamaha M1 in-line four and a similar swing arm to the works bikes. But the reality is different; the bikes that, at the very least, Aleix Espargaro (pictured above) threw his leg over in testing was virtually an 2013 M1 with some FTR details (fairing, bodywork, bars, and pegs – and a 24-litre tank). It is little wonder than Aleix showed speed virtually identical to that of his brother Pol, whose Tech 3 bike is an actual M1 in the Open class. While the outright pace of the bike was impressive, so too was the Open bike’s race pace. Over a run of 20 laps, Aleix was within a tenth of a second of Lorenzós best 20 race laps from Qatar last year (a race he won). At least in the early rounds of the season, a shock result could well be on the cards. You don’t have to be Einstein to work out that the world order is not what it used to be. Works teams have done all the winning in the last seven seasons – in fact, you have to go back to Toni Elias’s win in Portugal in 2006 for the last victory by a satellite team. In recent times, even the works supported teams have had to make do with whatever dribbled down from the works teams. Remember that as recently as 2012, Andrea Dovizioso dipped into his own wallet to pay for the brakes on his Tech 3 M1 to be upgraded to the same spec as those on Yamaha’s Factory bikes. An Open bike could upset the applecart in 2014. One might even win a race. You can rest assured that the works teams will not like that but should it happen, there would be many fans around the world cheering a true underdog win. And you might even hear a ‘yahoo’ or two from the corridors of power at Dorna and the FIM. 'Open' for business 25 GPWEEK.com // 25 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: