Pre-Season Crash Course: MotoGP 2014
It’s going to be a wild, weird ride this season in MotoGP. Oh my, where to begin.
Open Class Unveiled
First off, the CRT (Claim Rule Team) class has been trashed, revamped, and renamed. Under the CRT rules, independent teams were allowed to continue development throughout the season, have larger fuel tanks, and use 12 engines instead of the 6 allowed for the Factory class teams. The goal of CRT was to bring more teams to the grid by enabling small race teams without major factory backing and financing to compete at a lower cost. The new ‘Open’ class replaces CRT this season, with the hope that the non-factory teams will be even more competitive than they have been in the past.
Like CRT, the Open bikes still have more fuel, can continue development through the race season, and now will be using either soft or medium compound tires, while Factory bikes use medium or hard. The big changes comes with the electronics, however, and Open teams will be limited to using only the new Dorna-developed (Dorna is the MotoGP management company) software package. During development last year it was rumored to be absolute trash, but when the software showed up at testing earlier this year it was looking pretty damn good.
The Open bikes looked fast in testing this year, most notably shown in the consistently and surprisingly fast lap times of Aleix Espargo on the NGM Forward Mobile Racing Team’s Yamaha. Ducati’s 2nd-year veteran rider Andrea Dovizioso posted some encouraging times, but nothing way out of character for Ducati, while Ducati’s new rider Cal Crutchlow hung back and got accustomed to his new ride.
Then the bomb dropped in the first week of March. Ducati decided that the Open class bikes were looking so good in testing that, hell, they might as well make the switch. Even though the purpose of the Open class is to make it possible for smaller teams with weaker financing to compete, there were no rules blocking Ducati’s move. A team with factory resources would be able to enjoy the benefits of softer tire choices, more fuel, more engines, and ongoing development throughout the season. Ducati’s move left five teams in the Factory class: the three Honda teams: Repsol, LCR, and GO&FUN Gresini; and the two Yamaha teams: Monster Tech3 and Movistar.
Return to the Drawing Board
Following Ducati’s move to the Open class just weeks before the season opener, the GP management was forced to rethink a few things. They agreed that something like a ‘Factory 2′ class would be necessary going forward, but such a third class wouldn’t be added, at least for now. Instead, Factory teams that haven’t won a dry weather win in the previous season will have the option to compete in the Factory class but with the Open advantages.* Currently and conveniently, Ducati is the only Factory team that meets these requirements. If and when these Factory hybrid teams start to win races, they will first lose the extra fuel; if they continue to win, they’ll lose the tires. Teams will start a season with the same set of allowances that they finished with in the prior season. Other big news: EVERY team will use the Dorna spec software and ECU beginning in 2016.
As we ready for the first race of the 2014 season, the big players remain the same: Lorenzo and Rossi on Movistar Yamahas, Pedrosa and Marquez on Repsol Hondas. Marquez missed testing due to a broken leg but will be ready to race, though admittedly not at 100%, by this Friday for round 1 at the Losail Circuit in Qatar. The reigning champ is predicted to return to top form quickly and be the lead contender for the championship. Testing results suggest the remaining three will continue to jostle for podium spots in 2014.
Though Cal Crutchlow is starting out in a whole new world after moving from Yamaha Tech3 to Ducati this year, hopes are high that the Brit who placed 5th overall last year will adjust quickly and, alongside Dovi, take advantage of the larger fuel allowance that Ducati will be riding with. After parting ways with Ducati at the end of last season, Nicky Hayden found a place on a Honda for the Drive M7 Aspar Open team. In testing he made significant strides, though the bike’s lack of power at present will make it difficult for Hayden and teammate Hiroshi Aoyama to be seriously competitive.
*We previously stated that a Factory entry with no wins in three seasons will be given the Open class advantages. On March 23, 2014, the MotoGP Commission officially updated the rules and provided clarification on the changes. Under the new rules, teams without a dry win in the previous season will be eligible for Open advantages, as will new manufactures entering under the Factory option. These rules are only valid through 2016, when all teams will begin using the ‘Championship’ ECU and software.
If you want a fresh dose of all the details of last season before 2014 begins, pick up a copy of the “World Championship Official Review: 2013″ DVD at Road Rider. It shows all the twists, turns, and tumbles of MotoGP 2013 on the road to Marc Marquez’s stunning rookie season win.
You can watch Sunday’s race at Losail live on Fox Sports 1 at 11:30 AM PST on Sunday, or on Monday the 24th on Fox Sports 2 at 5:00 PM. The Moto2 race will be televised on Monday at 6:00 following the MotoGP race. And as always, complete coverage can be found at MotoGP.com, with live videos of every race available for members.