The introduction of the Claiming Rule Teams has caused a massive wave of confusion among MotoGP fans, and left then with a host of questions. Below, we attempt to answer most of the questions that race fans have about this new category of bikes, as well as addressing how it came to be created in the first place.
What on earth is a CRT?
CRT stands for Claiming Rule Team, and is a new category of entry in the MotoGP class. They will run alongside the normal factory and satellite MotoGP bikes (now officially classified as "factory prototypes" regardless of whether they are being run in a factory team or a satellite team), and be subject to slightly different rules.
What are the rule differences between the CRTs and the factory prototypes?
The CRT entries will be allowed more fuel and more engines: while factory prototypes will have 21 liters of fuel and be allowed to use 6 engines in 2012 (just as in 2011), the CRT entries will be given 24 liters of fuel to last a race, and have 12 engines for the 2012 season. Because of these advantages, existing manufacturers (Honda, Yamaha or Ducati) will be allowed to claim engines from CRT entries.
What does "claiming an engine" mean and how does it work?
If a manufacturer wants to get hold an engine from a CRT entry, they can pay 20,000 euros (engine + gearbox, or 15,000 for an engine without a gearbox) to have the bike rolled into the MotoGP technical inspection garage after a race, where the CRT entry's mechanics will strip the engine from the bike and hand it over to the factory. To avoid engines being claimed too often, each manufacturer may only claim 1 engine from Claiming Rule Team, and no more than 4 engines may be claimed from each Claiming Rule Team during the season. A Claiming Rule Team who have forfeited an engine to a claim will be given an extra engine on their allowance of 12 for the season.
There are still a few details under discussion about the claiming rule. The teams are unhappy that they may be forced to hand over an engine which may have cost them over 100,000 euros for a fraction of the price, but the season will start with the rules as they stand.
In reality, it is vanishingly unlikely that a factory will claim an engine. The loss of face and prestige involved for the Japanese factories especially means they will never claim an engine. It would mean that they were afraid of being beaten by a bike costing a fraction of their own. The rule has been put in place merely as an ultimate threat, to deter other factories from fielding fully factory-backed engines under the guise of a CRT entry.
Who decides which teams are CRT entries and which teams are running factory prototypes?
The teams have to apply to enter as a Claiming Rule Team to IRTA, who evaluate entries to the Grand Prix grid in all classes on their experience and suitability. An application as a CRT has to be judged by the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rule-making body which consists of the MSMA (representing the manufacturers), IRTA (representing the teams), Dorna (representing the series organizer) and the FIM (representing the sanctioning body and international federation). All four members of the GPC have to agree unanimously to accept a team as a CRT entry, with no dissent.
How does the GPC decide whether an entry is a CRT or not?
This is probably both the hardest and the easiest question to answer. The answer is probably best summed up by US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, when called upon to judge whether the French film "Les Amants" was pornography or not. Hard-core pornography was impossible to define, Stewart said, "but I know it when I see it."
Thus it is with Claiming Rule Teams. The GPC will assess whether they believe a team has backing from a factory, and will be racing on machinery developed, managed and supplied by a manufacturer, rather than machinery managed by the private team itself. The decision will be based not so much on the bikes being raced, as the support and financing of the bikes.
The decision-making process is best illustrated by examples. The Aspar team has been accepted as a CRT entry, and looks likely to field race bikes based on the Aprilia RSV4 it will lease from Aprilia. Aspar is still a CRT entry, because he will be managing the bikes independently, only returning engines to Aprilia when it is time for maintenance. A satellite team, on the other hand, can do nothing to the bikes other than strip and prepare them for racing. Each bike comes with two factory engineers who run the engines and the electronics. The teams are forbidden to manage their own electronics, but have to do so through the factory engineers.
However, if a new team run by Aprilia technical director Gigi Dall'Igna is entered to race the same bikes, funded by Aprilia and racing in Aprilia colors, they will not be accepted as a CRT entry, but as a factory prototype. The presence of Dall'Igna on the team is sufficient to prove that such a team is being run by Aprilia, not a private team.
On the other hand, if a private team were to purchase a Honda RC213V from HRC - an impossibility, as the bikes are not for sale to anyone, but still - and could prove that it intended to run the RC213Vs with no interference or involvement from Honda, then they could be accepted as a CRT.
The simple matter is that status as a Claiming Rule Team has nothing to do with the equipment, and everything to do with the team and its intentions. It is the team that is being evaluated, and it is on the basis of the team's personnel and background that CRT status will be awarded.
Do CRT machines have to use production engines?
There is nothing in the rules about what kind of engines have to be used by the Claiming Rule Teams. Indeed, there is no nothing in the rules explicitly differentiating a CRT racing motorcycle from a factory prototype, other than the larger fuel allowance of 24 liters rather than 21. The rules merely state that MotoGP machines must be "prototypes".
But if the rules say that MotoGP bikes have to be prototypes, doesn't that mean that using production engines is illegal?
Aye, there's the rub. Here is the exact wording in the MotoGP rules:
Four stroke motorcycles participating in the MotoGP class must be prototypes.
The problem is, that nowhere in the rules is the word "prototype" defined. The nearest the rules get is in listing the requirements for a Moto2 chassis:
In the Moto2 class, the chassis must be a prototype, the design and construction of which is free within the constraints of the FIM Grand Prix Technical Regulations. The main frame, swingarm, fuel tank, seat and fairing/bodywork from a non-prototype (ie. series production road-homologated) motorcycle may not be used.
The failure to define what constitutes a prototype is a gaping hole in the rules. Basically, it leaves the term open to interpretation, and the way the sentence defining MotoGP machines is currently being interpreted is with emphasis on the word "motorcycle" rather than "prototype". It is the motorcycle as a whole that will be judged, rather than the parts that it is composed of. After all, the wheels, suspension and brakes (or at least, the steel brakes used in the rain) are all off-the-shelf items. They may be expensive and exclusive off-the-shelf items, but they are produced by a third party and offered for sale to anyone prepared to pay.
Engines will be judged in a similar way. The Kawasaki engine used in the BQR machine, the BMW engine used on the Suters, and the Aprilia engines currently being offered to the Claiming Rule Teams all have their roots in production engines, but the motorcycle consists of more than just the engine alone.
The chassis is the only exception here. The rules state explicitly that the chassis must be a prototype, though again, what constitutes a prototype is open to interpretation. Any team turning up with an Aprilia RSV4 engine in an Aprilia RSV4 chassis will be turned away, but a team running the RSV4 engine in a prototype chassis built by Aprilia is likely to be accepted.
In reality, the use of production chassis is almost certainly a moot point, though. A chassis designed either for use on public roads, or for use with the softer Pirelli tires used by World Superbike will not work with the higher loads generated and required by the rock-solid Bridgestone spec tires used in MotoGP. Such a chassis just won't work sufficiently, and a different design will be needed.
What engine modifications are allowed for the CRT bikes?
As we said before, there is nothing in the rulebook about the engines, other than that they can have a maximum of 4 cylinders and a maximum bore of 81mm. There are a few stipulations about the materials which may be used in any MotoGP engine, but what it basically comes down to is that there are no limits on what can be done to the engines. It is perfectly legal to take, say, a Yamaha YZF-R1 engine, modify the bore and stroke to be 81mm x 48.5mm, remove the chain cam drive and fit a gear cam drive and replace the steel spring valves with pneumatic valves or desmodromic valves (they may be a core Ducati technology, but Bologna does not own the technology). It is legal to change valve diameters, and use different valve materials. It is legal to change the throttle bodies, the fuel pumps, and add variable inlet tracts. Claiming Rule Teams are free to do whatever they like to their engines.
Would WCM qualify as a Claiming Rule Team with their bike based on the Yamaha R1? Would Team KR qualify as a Claiming Rule Team with their KR211V and KR212V?
Peter Clifford is now widely regarded as both a visionary and the godfather of the Claiming Rule Teams - a label he himself strongly rejects. The WCM was in effect a CRT bike before the term had even been invented, and no doubt inspired and directed at least some of the thinking that brought us the CRT rules. The WCM was a custom chassis, built by Harris, containing an engine based very loosely on a Yamaha R1. The internals were completely modified - in an interview, Clifford told MotoMatters.com that the only parts that remained of the original engine were the holes for the engine mounting bolts - and only the dimensions of the engine were used as a basis for Harris to build a frame. There is no doubt at all that the WCM, if it were to be entered for 2012, would be accepted as a CRT machine.
The KR bike is a little more complicated. Setting to one side the fact that a V5 is illegal for MotoGP from 2012, ruling out the KR211V on the basis of its engine, the KR212V - the bike produced by Team KR in 2007, using the Honda 800cc V4 engine - would qualify for submission, but whether it would be accepted as a CRT entry is open for debate. Kenny Roberts and his team leased the RC212V engine from Honda, and the engine was managed and maintained by HRC personnel. Team KR were merely given the dimensions of the engine to build a chassis around, as well as some pointers to help make the chassis more competitive. Clearly, the intent of the team was to run independently of Honda, to race a bike built and developed themselves. However, leasing a factory prototype engine, complete with HRC engineer - a condition imposed by Honda for the lease of the engine - seems to point more in the direction of factory involvement than privateer development. Until such time as it happens, it will be hard to judge.
Won't the organizers of World Superbikes complain about the CRT rules, and try to prevent any CRT bikes from making it onto the grid?
Will Infront Motor Sports, the commercial rights holders and organizers of the World Superbike series, complain about the CRT rules? They already have. They have even hinted at taking action against the FIM over the perceived breach of contract awarding them a monopoly on racing production motorcycles.
But their complaints have fallen on deaf ears. This is in part because the contract between the FIM and Infront grants Infront a monopoly, not on racing production motorcycles, but on racing the production motorcycles homologated for that purpose by the FIM. If someone turns up with a WSBK-spec Yamaha YZF-R1 or a Honda CBR1000RR, then they cannot be be allowed to race in MotoGP. But if someone takes the WSBK-spec engine from a Yamaha R1 and stuffs it into a prototype frame, that bike is no longer homologated for racing in WSBK, and is therefore eligible again in MotoGP.
Even if Infront wanted to take the FIM to court to try to get the CRT project stopped, their hands are now tied, however. Earlier this year, Bridgepoint Capital acquired all of the shares in Infront Sports and Media, the parent company that owns Infront Motor Sports. Bridgepoint also owns Dorna, the commercial rights holder for MotoGP, and the last thing that the venture capital fund will allow is legal action between two of its subsidiaries. Bridgepoint should be aware of exactly what is in the contracts for both Dorna and Infront, and know whether the CRT concept is a clear breach of Infront's contract or not. Any disagreement between the two organizations would be ironed out as quickly and cheaply as possible; taking the case to the courts will not be an acceptable course of action.
A number of people have pointed to the fact that Bridgepoint owns the rights to both MotoGP and WSBK through its subsidiaries, and have suggested that the company might be looking to exert influence over the two series. This is to grossly overestimate the importance of motorcycle racing, of Dorna and Infront to Bridgepoint, and of the involvement that firms like Bridgepoint have in their investments. The only thing that Bridgepoint cares about is the bottom line: the combined investment in Dorna and Infront represents just a small percentage of the total capital Bridgepoint has invested. As long as both companies are making money, they don't really care what is happening. What they want is a return on the money they put into the purchases.
Will the CRT bikes ever be competitive against the factory prototypes?
There is a short answer and a long answer to this question. The short answer is that yes, at some point towards the end of this year, once the bikes have some development under their belt, the CRT machines should be capable of running with the slower satellite bikes, especially when the CRT bikes are in the hands of someone like Colin Edwards or Randy de Puniet. The factories are extremely concerned about the three extra liters of fuel with the CRT bikes have, which should allow the bikes to make more manageable power without such massively expensive electronics packages.
This does not mean that Casey Stoner need fear for his #1 plate from a CRT rider any time soon. The real factory bikes - the Repsol Hondas, the factory Yamahas and the Marlboro Ducatis - will always be out of reach for the CRT machines. Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi are all worth several tenths of a second a lap, and can outrace riders on faster bikes than them. Only the factories can afford the astronomical salaries that the four Aliens can command, and as a consequence, only the factory teams will ever stand a chance of winning a MotoGP world championship, whatever the rules.
But that is not the point of the CRT rules. The Claiming Rule Teams are meant to replace the satellite teams, and make it more affordable for teams to race in the MotoGP series. With CRT bikes expected to cost around 1 million euros per season, a Claiming Rule Team could field two bikes for the price of a single Yamaha, even if they could persuade Yamaha to lease them a bike, a privilege currently bestowed only on Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal. For the price of a factory-spec Honda RC213V - in the region of 4.5 million euros - a Claiming Rule Team could campaign two CRT machines and pay for riders, mechanics and a major chunk of their annual budget.
For this reason, Carmelo Ezpeleta has decided he will not subsidize any teams choosing to run satellite machinery in 2013, effectively forcing the private teams to switch to CRT status. Though there have been complaints at such heavy-handed tactics, Ezpeleta is not preventing the teams from leasing bikes from the factories. As organizer, he has funds to support teams at his own discretion, and as has become increasingly obvious during the 800cc era, the money which the series has generated in income has largely disappeared into the coffers of the factories. And as the cost of leasing factory prototypes has increased, so the grid has shrunk, meaning Ezpeleta has spent more money providing less and less value to his paying customers: the fans, both at the track and sitting at home watching on TV. He is free to stop funding teams which choose to run satellite bikes, just as the those teams are free to try to go out and raise the necessary sponsorship to pay for the full cost of leasing factory prototypes from the manufacturers.
Aren't the CRT rules a betrayal of the spirit of Grand Prix racing?
This is frankly the most bizarre objection, and one which has been raised by many people with a long history in the sport who you would have thought would have known better. Grand Prix racing started out with riders competing on specially prepared versions of bikes derived from road machines, and has a very long and varied history of both production race bikes and race bikes based on production machines. Though Yamaha's TZ series were true race bikes built in production quantities, privateers entered both Suzukis and Kawasakis based on production engines in the mid-1970s. The Manx Norton was a production racer which Norton had based on the Norton International, a machine which was available in both racing and roadgoing versions. Both Suzuki and Yamaha produced roadgoing replicas of their 500cc two-stroke fours, with much success. It is both impossible and pointless to separate the history of roadgoing motorcycles from that of thoroughbred racing machines.
As the CRT machines debuted at the post-race tests at Valencia demonstrated, these bikes are still very special and highly specialized racing machines. Though the engines being used may be based on production engines, the entire package - prototype chassis, top-flight suspension, carbon brakes, Bridgestone tires, carbon fiber bodywork designed from scratch with the aid of CFD modeling - is something very special indeed. A CRT bike is built for one thing, and one thing only: to go as fast as possible around a race track, with no concessions made to anything but speed. They may not cost as much as the factory prototypes, and they may not have the many years of development which the factory prototypes have already had, but they are just as much pure race machines as the Hondas, Yamahas and Ducatis on the track. Show 99.9% of race fans a CRT bike in plain carbon fiber and a factory prototype in plain carbon fiber, and they would be hard-pressed to tell which was which.
Why did we need the CRT rules in the first place?
The cost of racing factory prototypes has become unsustainable. The cost of leasing a satellite machine has risen explosively over the past few years, and the manufacturers have resisted all other attempts at cutting costs. Requests from Dorna, the FIM and IRTA to lease engines on their own met with resistance, and then were offered at a cost that was not a viable option, around 70% of the lease of a full bike.
And it is not just satellite teams which have been affected. The massive cost of racing 800cc prototypes with just 21 liters of fuel forced first Kawasaki and then Suzuki to pull out, leaving just three manufacturers in the series. Grids have been shrinking for years, and MotoGP could have ended up with just 12 bikes on the grid in 2012.
Will the CRT rules work?
That is the million dollar question, but all the signs are that they will. After years of a grid of less 20 riders, and 18 or less since 2008, the 2012 season already looks like having 23 entries for MotoGP, 12 factory prototypes and another 11 CRT entries. The Aspar team has doubled their entry, from a single Ducati Desmosedici to two Aprilia CRT machines; top Moto2 teams such as Forward, Speed Master and BQR have made the move up to MotoGP; and the very experienced former BSB and WSBK squad PBM have entered as a CRT.
The quality of some of the riders being brought in to race the bikes is a slight concern, but it also reflects the fear of the unknown and innate conservatism that is prevalent throughout the MotoGP paddock. Top-flight riders have preferred to take the known quantity of a satellite MotoGP or privateer World Superbike seat, rather than risk taking a CRT ride. Such caution is understandable: when the MotoGP grid assembles for the first time at Qatar, the CRT machines are going to be massively outclassed, in part because Qatar is one of the big horsepower tracks that will favor the factory prototypes, but even more importantly because they will still have just a few months of development under their wheels. The gap should close rapidly as the season progresses, with gaps bigger at tracks like Mugello, and much closer at a place like the Sachsenring, Laguna Seca, even Assen. By the time the bikes fly down under to race at Phillip Island, the gap should be cut significantly, and at a track which is all about getting a bike to carry speed and hold a line, the CRT machines should be able to worry the satellite bikes.
Once the CRT bikes start taking the fight to the satellite bikes, then they may be judged a success. If it turns out to be possible to take a 1 million euro race bike and give a bike costing over four times as much a hard time, then the CRT rules will be vindicated. The next step is to allow the CRT machines to race at the national level, grow the base of riders and teams who have experience of the bikes, and starting to see regular wild card entries at each of the MotoGP rounds once again.
In 2013, the rules will change again, with Dorna only supporting CRT teams financially, and a spec ECU and a rev limit likely to be introduced. With the playing field much more level, and the most costly part of the factory bikes' advantage taken out of the equation, the CRT machines will look both much more competitive and like a very smart move. The introduction of the Moto2 machines was met with massive complaints and objections, saying that it would dumb down the sport. Two years later, the Moto2 race is one of the most eagerly awaited of the weekend, and nobody doubts the caliber of Stefan Bradl, Marc Marquez, and Andrea Iannone. It will take time, but CRT is here to stay.
Last question: Claiming Rule Teams is a really stupid name. Can't we call it something else?
Yes we can, and by the time the bikes start racing in Qatar, there is a very good chance that the name will have changed. Current hot favorite is Constructor Racing Teams, as it expresses much more clearly what the point of the rules is supposed to be while retaining the TLA (Three-Letter Acronym) which is used throughout all of the material published by the FIM, Dorna and IRTA on the subject.
But Dorna and IRTA are open to suggestions, and proposals have also been made to call them "Privateer" entries. The name is pretty awful, but the concept is sound, and by this time next year, everyone will be asking what all the fuss was about.