Tuesday, 10 April 2012

MotoGP: Qatar

 Today is the day after the first round of the MotoGP World Championship [article written 09/04/12 - Ed.]. This season sees another engine size change and the arrival of the CRT (Claiming Rule Teams) bikes, which are an expansion of the Moto2 concept: an engine derived from a street-legal 1000cc sportsbike placed in a bespoke chassis. These CRT bikes have been heralded as a means of bringing more bikes and, it is to be supposed, more excitement to the racing. The combination of the CRT bikes and the change to 1000cc capacity for the full-on MotoGP machines is aimed at making the category more interesting and less of a snooze-fest. So what does it give in practice?

After all the hype about this new MotoGP season I decided that it was my duty to watch the race and see for myself. The CRT bikes do indeed look like slightly bigger versions of the Moto2 machines, with styling that looks rather bland compared to that of the “pukka” MotoGP bikes; like the Moto2 machines, they look as if they were pencilled by small-time designers or design students who aren’t’ familiar enough with motorcycles to be able to draw a bike that looks like it means business. If a manufacturer unveiled designs like that for its next litre superbike, most punters would laugh it back to its drawing boards. The engines are heavily-modified powerplants taken from the latest bevy of road-going litre sportsbikes – for example, Colin Edwards’ bike has the lump from a BMW S1000RR – and have power outputs and top speed figures that are pretty much in the same league as World Superbike Championship machines. [...]

And that is where the snag lies. At Losail, top speeds for the MotoGP bikes were of the order of 210mph. Into a headwind, in some cases. Whereas the CRT guys were just around the 200mph mark. Now, whilst on paper a difference of 10mph might not look like much, out on a track it makes a massive amount of difference. We’re basically talking of two different categories on track at the same time.

So, how did all of this pan out in a race situation? Before I go any further, bear in mind that I’m going to be speaking from the viewpoint of a punter watching the race on television, sitting comfortably in the sofa with beer and nibbles to hand. Well, the first thing to spring to view is that the grid hardly looks any beefier than last season. On these contemporary track layouts that are wide and clear, the 21-bike grid looked pitifully meagre. And anyway, it was still made up mainly of MotoGP bikes. An interesting figure: six seconds separated pole position and the last man on the grid, Britain’s James Ellison. That is huge! So it will come as no surprise that, before a quarter of the race had elapsed, the usual trio (Stoner, Lorenzo and Pedrosa) had all scarpered off into the next time zone. And when that occurred, the spectacle was over and the race became a Formula One-like snooze-o-rama. Personally, I started fidgeting around, checking my Facebook and Twitter accounts, with a rather distracted eye on the action taking place on my television screen.

Television coverage concentrated on the top three bikes, cutting to the battle for 4th between Tech-3 teammates Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow and to other battles further down the order but hardly far enough to show what was going on with the CRT bikes. It’s lucky that the first of the CRT bikes across the line – the NGM Forward Racing machine ridden by Colin Edwards – was allowed into the winners’ parc fermé, otherwise I doubt that many television viewers would have had the slightest idea about what had gone on amongst the CRTs.

My final verdict is that, although I think that the CRT bikes are a good idea, there should be more of them, because it’s pretty obvious that with them on the grid there will always be a “race within the race” situation. Right now, as it stands, there are too few CRTs out there to encourage the directors of the TV feed to give them much airtime during the race, which is a pity, because some of these bikes are ridden by very good riders, and of course, all of them are backed by sponsors who want their corporate image to get airtime (let’s not forget that at this level, motorsport is just as much – if not more – about business than about racing.

The next round is in Jerez, Spain, on April 29th.

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