Honda and Yamaha will now be supplying customer machinery from next season, how significant is that? Does it prove that the CRT concept has served its purpose?
I saw the headline in an article recently and it made me think. The ‘how significant is that’ question is fairly straightforward, it’s massively significant and gives huge credibility to what can be considered the non-factory classes in MotoGP. For more factories to join the fray by supplying bikes and/or engines is a massive step forward and only increases the credibility of the class.
The latter is a much more complicated question, not least because the introduction of the CRT class was intended to achieve multiple goals. On one hand it was an opportunity to provide a cheaper route for teams to get on the grid but it was also a negotiating tactic by Dorna to persuade Honda & Yamaha to supply bikes, or engines, at a cost considerably less than they were charging to lease factory or near factory spec. machines.
After the class was first announced Suter was first to build a bike, designing a chassis around the already powerful BMW S1000RR engine. Those in the know suggested that the engine mounting points were compromised for building an optimum chassis and, although the introduction of a revised S1000RR model improved things somewhat, a number of issues remained, not least with the electronics on the bike.
Aprilia were the first of the traditional manufacturers to take up the challenge, starting with a WSB bike they tested it with carbon brakes and Bridgestone tyres to get a feel for what was required before building a bespoke frame and swing arm to comply with the class regulations and detuning the engine to make it reliable within the required service intervals.
Compared to the rumoured three million Euros to lease a factory Yamaha M1 the one million Euros Aprilia charged for a brace of their CRT bikes seemed like something of a bargain, especially as the team gets to keep the bike at the end of the season rather than having to hand it back.
Although it is widely claimed that the Aprilia WSB engine makes close to 240 hp at the crank the best estimates are that it is a fair bit less than that despite it being tuned to the point where the factory race team got through something like thirty-six engines, or at least engine refreshes, over the course of the 2012 season.
Having been limited to just twelve engines over the eighteen round season the original Aprilia CRT engine was detuned for reliability and, according to those that have seen the WSB engine up close, made an estimated 190 – 195 hp. In the second half of the season various upgrades were made available to those that could afford them, including a revised swing arm and an upgraded engine.
The new engine introduced the gear driven cams, a feature of the original WSB engine, allowing the bike to pull another thousand revs thus providing more power. Even so, an estimated 200 – 205 hp is still a fair bit down on the full factory machines as could be seen week in, week out from the television coverage. After a season racing in the CRT class James Ellison commented that his BSB spec. Yamaha R1 felt faster so there is clearly room for improvement.
It would be fair to look back at the inaugural season of the CRT championship as a great success, especially given how quickly the first bikes were produced although it can most probably be seen as something of a missed opportunity. For a million Euros surely the teams deserved a bespoke chassis coupled with a much more powerful engine.
It did help the dwindling MotoGP grids and provided a great deal of entertainment watching these underpowered bikes taking the fight to some of the factory machined. By the end of 2012 there were ten CRT bikes on the grid, increasing to twelve full time bikes in 2013 with a couple more wildcards for the US rounds.
In 2013 the FTR Kawasaki and the PBM Aprilia are the first of what could be seen as proper CRT bikes featuring a bespoke chassis rather than something originally based on a street bike, albeit one with significantly development as a top level race bike. As the teams get to grips with the, optional for 2013, electronics from Magneti Marelli the performance should improve significantly although the missing link is still the power necessary to compete more closely
With the demise of the original CRT (Claiming Rule Team) rule for 2014 it is no longer possible for other manufacturers to claim the engine that should encourage a much greater level of investment in the engines and, for the first time, permit factory input further down the grid.
With one private company already working on a short stroke, big bore, pneumatic valve Aprilia engine the rumour mill is now suggesting that Aprilia themselves are working on a revised cylinder head with a similar spec. to help close that gap.
For the first time both Yamaha and Honda are getting involved, probably as a result of pressure and rule negotiations from Dorna. That fact alone probably proves that ‘the CRT concept has served it’s purpose’ although that also suggests that the CRT class as it was is now dead and there is something much more positive coming for the future. The claiming rule is certainly dead but the class is only now reaching the heights that were promised when it was first suggested back in 2011.
For 2014 things should get much more exciting. Although the likes of Aleix Espargaro, Hector Barbara and Randy De Puniet have regularly worried the slower of the factory machines next year should see a little less of the ‘them’ and ‘us’ scenarios between the factory supported teams and the CRT class. Instead it will be factory bikes and the return of the genuine privateers.
With the factory bikes featuring advancements in electronics and a seamless gearbox they should still be a front but there is no reason a privateer couldn’t take the fight to the semi-factory supported teams in a way that was much more challenging before now.
The choice for teams is to now try to try to work out the most competitive option, and the best value for money, and hope the various suppliers are willing to work with them to make it happen.
In 2014 Yamaha will lease three engines per rider to up to four riders for the season will at a cost of eight hundred thousand Euros. The engines should be close to the spec. used by Cal Crutchlow and Bradley Smith in the Tech3 team in 2013. The cost will also include refreshes for two of the engines giving a total of five engines for the season.
Although already underpowered compared with the Yamaha factory bikes these leased engines will feature a similarly high specification to those Tech3 are currently using, including pneumatic valves, etc. Unlike Honda, Yamaha don’t currently have a seamless shift gearbox, despite clearly having one under development, so it seems likely the 2014 CRT engines will be much closer to the 2013 Tech3 specification motors. Sadly the teams will have to pay extra for any ongoing development, additional engines for testing, etc.
Honda have taken a different approach, their plans are to supply complete bikes albeit with a much lower spec. engine, i.e. lacking the seamless gearbox, pneumatic valves, etc., compared to their factory bikes. For one million Euros it is possible to purchase two bikes for one rider and ‘enough supplies to complete a season’, including engine refreshes, etc. although they have yet to state just how many engines they may need to supply. For the following year Honda will sell you the necessary engine upgrades and further engine refreshes, etc. for a further five hundred thousand Euros.
For a team with a million or so Euros burning a hole in their pocket which option makes the most sense for 2014? A million Euros for a pair of Hondas, featuring something close to a factory chassis but with a lower specification engine, eight hundred thousand Euros to lease Yamaha engines plus the cost of a bespoke chassis, or a million Euros for an Aprilia with a new pneumatic valve head. Only the Aprilia has a proven chassis at this time although the Honda is undergoing testing and the Yamaha engine is clearly a known quantity but whichever chassis it ends up in will clearly have a lot of work to do.
It’s not even that clear cut, with the Honda you own the bikes and have something to show for it for the second year. The Yamaha deal gives you enough engines for two bikes so you could probably have a couple of FTR rolling chassis, or similar, for another quarter of a million Euros or so. Come year two and you are back to square one and need to lease Yamaha engines once again. The Aprilia deal includes two bikes and engine refreshes for a million Euros although their asking price could well go up for 2014 if they have a new pneumatic valve head to up the performance.
Lining up on the grid for the first race of 2014 you would probably have saved the most money with the Honda or the Aprilia options but, whilst they may provide the most rounded packages, would the extra power of the Yamaha engine make it worth the additional investment?
* Thanks to David Emmett of motomatters.com for clarifying elements of the Honda production bike deal that even the mainstream press appear to have missed in their haste to publish the news.