Guest Blog: Mat Oxley: Pneumatic-valve Aprilia for MotoGP? is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We will be featuring sections of Oxley's blogs, posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website, over the coming months.

The race to arm MotoGP’s private teams with higher-performance CRT bikes is gathering pace. Last summer Honda announced that they will sell a lower-cost version of their RC213V and then two months ago Yamaha confirmed that they will lease YZR-M1 engines from 2014. At Le Mans the whisper going round the paddock was that Aprilia are working on a pneumatic-valve spring cylinder head for their RSV4 CRT engine, which could be ready by September.

If the rumours are true, Aprilia’s latest move should come as no great surprise. After all, the Italians were the first to use pneumatic-valve springs in MotoGP, with their RS Cube in 2002, the first year of the 990cc four-strokes. The Cube engine was developed by Cosworth, so it featured more Formula 1 tech than any other MotoGP bike: pneumatic valves, traction control, ride-by-wire and a mini carbon clutch. The Cube was crazy fast – it became the first MotoGP machine to top 200mph, at the 2002 Mugello GP – but the bike was a little too wild for race-winning lap times. Aprilia quit MotoGP at the end of 2004, returning last year with its superbike-powered CRT machine.

Pneumatic-valve springs have been used by Honda and Yamaha since the start of MotoGP’s 800cc era in 2007. The technology controls the valves more effectively than steel springs, allowing a higher rev ceiling. Pneumatic-valve springs should give the RSV4 CRT engine at least another thousand rpm, for a significant performance boost.

The new Aprilia engine, the production RCV and the M1 lease engines – which will all run under CRT rules (more fuel, more engines and Dorna ECU/software) – are designed to get private teams closer to the factory teams and create better racing. But which technical package would you choose if you were a private team struggling to find sponsorship in these difficult times?

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

Back to top


is that pneumatic springs don't break, and so you don't need to use up your engine allocation just to replace valve springs and collets. Let's hope it happens :)

It takes power to push valve springs open and cam profiles have to be compromised to avoid both valve bounce and harmonic issues.

It takes ENERGY to push valve springs open and cam profiles have to be compromised to avoid both valve bounce and harmonic issues.

Valve springs stiff enough to work at maximum RPM are too stiff for any other part of the rev range & energy losses through the valve-train are considerable. This becomes significant in a fuel economy formula like MotoGP with its limits on fuel capacity.

2007 was the first year of the 800cc fuel limited bikes in an attempt to slow the category down. The bike that won that year was painted red & had no valve springs, unlike all their opposition. Less fuel wasted at part throttle = more available at WOT. Simple.

I'm surprised Aprilia didn't consider the desmo driven valves of the Ducati which seems more straightforward than the pneum valve technology. Is this just an illusion or did they avoid desmo since Aprilia would consider their adoption as 'sleeping with the enemy?' Maybe I'm mistaken that the desmo tech is easier since I recall how much time it seemed to take the Yam to get the pneum valve stuff going in MotoGP. Maybe Ducati had similar problems with the desmo system, but since they've used it for so long I guess it's hard to quantify in the same way.

>demso system is patented

Citations? Desmodromic actuation has been around for 100 years and used by a number of manufactures. While there might be some aspects of ducati's current scheme that are protected by patent, the technique certainly isn't.

I didn't say it was, I said maybe, I was just putting the thought out. You're obviously more knowledgeable about it. Thanks. :)

So next year you can use an YZR-M1 engine and even a complete RC213V-replica under CRT rules? Why? Or more to the point: why is there a separate set of CRT rules anyway, why did they not simply allow production engines and chassis from the very start in 2002? If people can make them fast enough to qualify, great. I have never understood why they banned production-based bikes to begin with. As if the GP racers needed to be protected from them. MotoGP should be the most technically free class in motorcycle racing, not the most restricted.

And has there until now ever been an engine claimed from one of the teams? The letters CRT are being used all the time (he's riding a CRT bike', 'he is the first of the CRT's' and so on, no actual brands or anything however), but is it really happening? I haven't read about any such case yet.

I wonder how the rule makers will respond to Aprilia modifying their RSV4 engine with pneumatic valve springs. Tampering with engines seems to be considered as unfair racing these days...

Production engines were outlawed in 2003 after a ruling by a Swiss court regarding the participation of the WCM team. The ruling was allegedly influenced by a contract, issued by the previous FIM president, Zerbi, that granted exclusivity of production equipment to SBK. The contract was a feeble attempt to stop 4-stroke MotoGP and SBK from overlapping.

In CRT competition, teams can run whatever they want, but at present the MSMA are allowed to claim engines. No one is going to drop 6-figures into a prototype engine to have it claimed for a few thousand euros. The claiming rule is also supposed to prevent machine leases b/c the teams cannot legally agree to sell to the MSMA technology the CRTs don't actually own. Naturally, the claiming concept has never really made anyone happy. In 2014, the difference between CRT and factory teams will be the ECU. All teams will use the same specification hardware, but CRT teams will be limited to preset software strategies while the manufacturers will have free rein to create whatever software strategies they can manage within the computational limits and sensors limits.

Why do we have two tiers? Basically b/c the MSMA refuse to accept any race-performance regulations other than fuel capacity and displacement. Since fuel limitation doesn't work in practice and qualifying sessions, bore has been limited to 81mm to loosely control horsepower and the rev ceiling. In a fuel-limited displacement-limited formula, competitiveness is cost-prohibitive, which makes Honda happy b/c they don't want to be trading paint with untouchables. The GPC created a second tier to serve privateers, who do not manipulate the rulebook to meet the arcane marketing and R&D objectives of Global 500 corporations.

Hardware and software. And relatively inexpensive to purchase too. Not sure about availability though. It will be interesting to see if the other CRTs that use the MM unit can get closer to the Aspar machines by the end of the year. And very interesting what times the leading ART teams are doing next year when they have to use the MM ECU.

If there are any ART bikes next year.

With the current teams participating and the expected production numbers from Honda (4+5), Yamaha (4+4), Ducati (4), and Suzuki (2) there is not much room for many production engine-based bike orders unless the grid expands or the production racers are not sold out. Or RdP prefers his ART to the Suzuki!


Thanks. Mat's column had me confused.

I think we will see ART's on the grid - I think they're basically filling the same niche as the 'customer-spec' factory-built bikes, and at about the same cost.

Which is, of course, what they've been doing since they first hit the grids.

You are correct, btw; the price of electro-gizmos is coming down.

We will sell you the bike for CRT, but not take full advantage because, "24 liters of fuel is to much" So this will be point two or three in how they keep the power less than the factory bikes. Can't wait till someone gets into the electronics and "opens up the taps".

One of the things that I TRUELY respect about NASCAR, Aussie V8 Supercars and NHRA Pro Stock Racing, is that if you buy an engine package from someone whom you race against, (Hendrick, Triple Eight Racing, Reher & Morrison) they sell you the full tilt boogie package. It looks better for them that they sell you the same stuff they race with and good for you if you can beet them with their own package, it validates them even further!

Maybe but Yamaha are limiting the number of engines it provides at basic cost. Despite CRT rules alowing more. They also will not provide much more than the engine. It's also not yours it's rented. They have control over what's done with it.

Is this not limiting competion with their factory supported teams just as much as Honda is with theirs?

Honda does have a lot to be bashed over but sometimes I feel it's just automatic or cool to do so these days. None of these manufacturers are angels.

it drives me crazy that anything non-factory will almost always be uncompetitive in MotoGP.

I don't see the appeal to a team owner in MotoGP to buy a bike or engine that you know will never have a shot of winning a race when there will be 4 full-tilt factory bikes (8 max if the Suzuki is good and if Ducati catches up) out there running away from the rest.

I don't see the appeal for a racer in wanting to ride anything but those factory bikes - unless you're just riding for a check and to say you're a MotoGP rider.

I see the appeal for the factories - they'll sell bikes and/or engines and parts without having to worry about those teams stealing the glory away from them.

The ART with Alexis is getting closer and regularly beating a few prototype bikes, but the rest are nowhere close.

"We will sell you the bike for CRT, but not take full advantage because, "24 liters of fuel is to much" So this will be point two or three in how they keep the power less than the factory bikes. Can't wait till someone gets into the electronics and "opens up the taps"."

Dead on bro. Nakamoto maintains their hierarchy by doing this.
I've long been tired of Nakamoto and HRC controlling this series. 5 engines, reducing fuel, gtfo! The engine and fuel allocation is not "pinnacle of racing technology". It's more "production" influenced than race. They continually state "a challenge for our engineers" when in reality it's just a a way to gain a competitive advantage. 5 engines for a season is ridiculous and doesn't take into account crashes, or a myriad of other possibilities. Between that and the fuel rules, it's just a way to keep other mfr's out, so Honda gets to be the big fish in a very small pond. Increasing the fuel back to 22-24 liters, allotting 10 engines or more per season would make them a slightly smaller fish in a larger pond and they absolutely do not want that.

These production racers whether Honda's full package or Yamaha's engines will not win a race in MotoGP unless it's a rain fest and there are a bunch of crashes. It's all smoke and mirrors. The teams might as well keep using CRT engines/packages as they cost much less. Neither is going to win anyway. The smarter thing to do would be to give back the fuel to any entrant (including Suzuki) such as 22-24 liters, state across the board no matter what type of bike, 12 engines per season, and get some kind of electronic control. Whether that be a spec ECU or not, ban Traction control. This would level the field, and by banning the nannies, the series would instantly become cheaper and you'd have new entrants as factories. Aprilia, perhaps BMW, and Suzuki. Unless the series is leveled in terms of rules (IE electronic development) Honda is always going to have deeper pockets and can outspend anyone else. Take that power away from them even if it means they take their ball and run home.

And Mat needs to be corrected in his article. Yamaha did not start the 800cc MotoGP era with pneumatics. They started the era with traditional spring valves.

I sort of like where the rules are going. It is allowing the MSMA manufacturers to investigate their fetishes and allows more fuel and engines to those willing to roll their own. If Honda, Yamaha, and Ducati want to play by those rules, fine. I do think that non-MSMA teams should be have the option to design their own electronics, hardware and software, or use the Dorna-provided ECU. I wonder how the ARTs will adapt having to switch systems.

The problem in my book is that Dorna controls the grid and the incentive for anyone to try to make a GP bike and qualify for the show is eliminated because it is no longer 'if you can qualify' but if you can convince Dorna to you let you in.


IIRC Honda also started the 800 era with steel springs, the 2007 Honda was an absolute slug. I've a vague memory that Suzuki might have been on pneumatics from the outset, but experienced reliability problems at first (the good old pre-engine limit days!).

Hahahaha - do you remember the footage of John Hopkins giving his Suzuki a kicking after a spate of broken engines. The image is sharp in my memory, but the location details dim - Mugello 2008 perhaps?

I've a vague recollection of Brno, or maybe that was one of his epic highsides?

With regards to the Honda fuel capacity, would it not be possible for any team that elect to run an RC213 replica next year to simply build a 24l tank? I imagine Honda wouldn't like it, however if the bike had been purchased outright, it surely would be hard to stop.

If so, surely this would negate a significant amount of the electronic expertise/advantage (and by default cost) that the factory(s) currently enjoy over CRT teams.

They'll probably package the bike so that there'll be little to no room to add a larger fuel tank. If they say 24 litres is too much, they'll make sure that 24 litres can't be put in the bike, they wouldn't want it to be able to threaten the 'proper' bikes, or just in case, satellite bikes who pay a nice premium to Honda to finish in the top 6...... as long as they don't fall off.

Dorna is a bunch of wusses that cave to the manufacturers. I know that is an over simplification but they should be setting rules that make for a fair racing sanction. Yes I realize that big manufacturers and business can mean that shit isn't fair, but that is bullshit to to me. This "well the factory teams have huge sponsors so they should be winning" mentality is what is killing Motogp.

In my opinion the manufacturers should be given a set of rules that are well thought out and based on past racing and rule changes, and they should go racing. One manufacturer CAN'T have more influence or else it all falls apart. If they want to sell second tier motorcycles that compete in the CRT area then those bikes should HAVE to be to the specs of the rules, none of this "Honda thinks 24l is too much" crap. Because that is again them saying "we have sponsors to protect here".

This is why I really enjoy WSBK so much.

Personally I cannot tell whether my non-sylph-like figure affects my bike's performance. However, Ducati (WSBK) and Honda have expressed their consternation at being asked to add 3 kg to their bikes , and it seemed to play a part in them failing to make the front of the pack during races.
The dichotomy any non-factory team face is that cornering is more of a factor at most circuits and being able to pile on the fuel at other times may not be the key to staying in front. If HRC moved to 90 degrees to keep the weight near-exactly where it needed to be shoving another 4kg up top may well prove to be the worst -possible thing to do.
The margin between success and failure seems to be so small nowadays that un-sophisticated solutions seem unlikely to be a race-long answer.
As with CRT it will be tyres that can break/reduce the factory stranglehold, as it was for Ducati when they went to work with Bridgestone. Until the current prescriptive rule book is thrown away and a more open framework introduced the only answer to cheaper competition is open tyre choice.
Then, a heavier bike/fuel load may have a chance with limited electronics and prototype tyres. IMO, that is.
They could try setting the grid in reverse order based upon previous race results, with the back 10 being able to improve their position by qualifying the non-factory teams more TV etc. exposure is probably at least as valuable to them as 4 litres of fuel.

If I remember correctly the CRTs aren't using the full 24L of fuel as is; I believe I remember this from a previous article on Motomatters. I could be wrong, though.

I'm sure Honda will build the bike in a way that the tank can't be enlarged much, if at all. After all, isn't the tank under the seat?

Lots of tin foil hats up in here. ;)

Honda offering an alternative that no one has to buy is not an evil plot to take over the world.

If I was in the market I'd likely be more interested in the performance of the Showa suspension than the fuel capacity (which could be 23.9l for all we know).

Audi (Ducati) and BMW can probably justify the presence for similar reasons where aspiring potential customers are a target.
David has said elsewhere on this site that the reason the factories are in MGP is largely the mass sales they make in emerging markets. If so, Piaggio should have a plan....
Even the most race-loving management board of a 'factory' is going to want to have a chance of winning a championship in 5 years though.
'Production racers', in HRC and Yamaha terms, are just CRT v2 - if current satellite bikes cannot get into the front row and CRT are further back, then how on earth are second-rate satellite-spec. bikes/engines going to be anything but a failure to produce better racing and numbers (CRT has helped in numbers, but not the main element of competition)? Dorna must realise that -and the fans would see the improvement, if rules created a more equal competition.
A major part of this seems to be that the HRC/MSMA stranglehold needs to be broken - at least that seems to be a common opinion. All teams should have a formal and equal presence. I have no idea what goes on behind the MSMA 'curtains', but it seems to be a manipulative relationship that enables HRC to control what goes on. I don't want to put Honda down, because they have provided tremendous support to racing in many areas but, as said above, they should be obliged to supply equal (not 'satellite') equipment to other teams. That should include software too – everyone should have open and free access to the software if they use the same engine – that way the factories should have no more than a one-race advantage (surely enough in these micro-improvement times).
If HRC and Yamaha cannot do more than supply second-rate packages in comparison to their best, then that needs to be part of the change - what can they supply in sufficient volume? (All teams get all upgrades together and if someone cannot afford it the rest will have to wait.) That should stop (apparently) meaningless technology that has no commercial value being developed. Keep the trick stuff for the test tracks.
Oh yes – let testing commence. Why hold back rookies or anyone/anything else? Let them ride where they want to. Some may not be able to afford a lavish test programme, but they will not be any worse off than now and yet be getting better/more equal equipment, which seems to be the main thing holding teams back.
Under such a scenario this may also be the only time a single-make tyre rule can work.
I suspect that until something along these lines happens then the 'others' will stay as they are - engine/component suppliers who will not put their name on a team until they have a fair chance of success, and sponsors who don’t see the point of throwing money at a list of ‘who came last’ as their main TV exposure.
I welcome Aprilia's efforts (and BMW/Suzuki) but I would really like them to be ‘Aprilia’, not some sponsor/race team running their engine etc.

I thought that CRT entries were created to make racing for private teams more affordable then it was.

If Aprilia and other CRT teams really want to compete against satellite teams who are running real MotoGP prototypes then they will have to spend much more money and in that case CRT will eventually lost it's purpose.

The Yamaha motor should be competitive enough, but whilst the likes of Suter, FTR and Kalex no doubt do an excellent job, can their R&D compete with the Japanese factories to make the bike work with the Yamaha engine? Kenny Roberts' people managed it back when he ran the 500cc V3 mind you (and I think that was an FTR). With 24 litres of fuel you could really turn the power up, although I doubt Yamaha would allow that if the sophisticated electronics package came with it, as that would allow for a very fast bike.

However, I wonder if rather than the V4, Aprilia has any RS3 motors at the back of the factory, and would be prepared to sell them. That motor had enormous power back in the day, although I understand for links to the production bikes Aprilia will want to run a V4. It was supposed to be making about 240 bhp even back in the 990 days.

I'm not convinced about running a full customer Honda, unless you manage to get someone really special on the bike, it won't be especially competitive. It'll be OK, in the same way the 500 twins were, but I doubt it'll be able to mix it with the factory bikes in the way the West Pons V4's did.

However, this will probably see the death of the bikes running Kawasaki and BMW streetbike engines which have always struggled.