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GP Week : Issue 199
19 GPWEEK.com // 19 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: The opening round of 2014 at Qatar was significant for many reasons. Not least the battle between Rossi and Marquez. A greater landmark came during the preceding week ... the single most important aspect of a flurry of rule changes and revisions. But it was somewhat overlooked among the general confusion, and then overtaken by on-track events. It was agreement by the factories’ MSMA association to a condition long- sought by Dorna’s Ezpeleta, and just as long elusive: that from 2016 all MotoGP bikes will run Dorna’s control software, to go with the control hardware introduced for all this year. It’s a big victory for Ezpeleta and his urge towards standardisation, aka “dumbing down”. And a major loss of face for the factories, and for Honda, the leader of the pack. The announcement was softened with a sub-clauses explaining that this software would not only be mandatory for all, but actually the property of all. In a more than faintly unbelievable accord, the plan is for the rival factories to pool their electronic developments, to be shared equally among all the happy campers on the grid. As if. The importance of electronics goes much deeper than race results. It’s an important development tool for knowledge and equipment that will eventually find its way onto street bikes. And do Honda, Yamaha et al really want to share these secrets? It’s a bit like expecting rival armies to pool their resources to develop more effective weapons with which to kill each other. This being so, what it actually means is what Ezpeleta actually intended all along: the end of the ever more expensive electronic battle and platoons of high- maintenance geeks who have become a vital part of every factory team’s armoury. You can see his point. He wants closer racing on more equal bikes that more teams can afford. Close racing packs more bikes onto the TV screens, to the benefit of not only the all-important sponsors seeking exposure, but also those armchair fans to whom “sport” is the most important part of motor sport. One can imagine what it cost Honda to agree to this stifling condition. The next question is: why did they agree? HRC had already been battered. Supporting Ezpeleta’s drive for this year ’s new ‘Open’ bikes, already with control software, they had built the RCV1000R production racer for sale to independent teams (Hayden, pictured right), at Dorna’s target of 1-million Euros. Each bike represents a financial loss to HRC. Nobody could have anticipated that each would also represent an even less comfortable loss of face. The production racers lack pneumatic valve springs and the seamless-shift gearbox of the factory machines ... and also a chunk of horsepower. Top speeds at Qatar: Marquez’s RC213V factory bike topped the sheets at 348.3 km/h: the fastest RCV1000R (Aoyama’s) ran 338.1 km/h. The difference was even more obvious in corner exit speed. This new bastion of the Open category, according to HRC vice-president Shuhei Nakamoto, followed “the spirit of the rules”, where Yamaha’s ex-factory kit and Ducati’s ultimately short-lived switch to the junior category did not. Quite so, if you follow Honda’s version of the spirit of the rules: that factory bikes win, and production racers make up the numbers. Which, if you think of it, is pretty much the spirit of motorbike racing from time immemorial. That’s how it has always been. And, to many, how it should be. Back in 1967, in the face of an alarming technical explosion by the new Japanese rivals (Honda’s five-cylinder 125 was just one example), the FIM introduced swingeing new technical rules, limiting cylinder numbers and gears. Honda’s success, both technical and in the market-place, was founded on GP racing, but the company’s response was unequivocal. They pulled out. And didn’t come back for 15 years. There has just been regime change at HRC. Yoshishige Nomura has taken over as president, with Tetsuo Suzuki moving elsewhere after five years. There’s a new broom in the cupboard. Will he be prepared to make the sweeping decision? HOW lONG Will HONDA STAND iT? OPINION OPINION MotoGP MICHAEL SCOTT