MotoMatters.com 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 are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Rubber and robbery
Many of you probably already know something about bike racing’s greatest story of industrial espionage, when East German Ernst Degner defected through the Iron Curtain at the height of the Cold War, carrying with him MZ’s hard-won two-stroke secrets. Degner sold MZ’s knowhow to the struggling Suzuki factory, which went on to win its first GP victories and first World Championship the very next year.
For all we know, stuff like this happens all the time; we just don’t get to hear about it. But we did get to hear about something that happened 10 years ago in Ireland.
It occurred in May 2005 on the eve of the BSB round at Mondello Park in County Kildare. While riders slept in their motorhomes and caravans, a thief crept through the paddock with a set of bolt-cutters, sneaked round the back of the Michelin truck, broke in, located the specific rear slick he was after and escaped unnoticed into the night.
Understandably, Michelin bosses were apoplectic. The French company was the dominant force in motorcycle racing at the time, with an unbroken run of 13 500/MotoGP titles, so its technology was the envy of the world. It had also dominated in World Superbikes until WSB switched to a single tyre supplier in 2004, with Pirelli. Michelin was heavily involved with HRC and needed somewhere to develop tyres for the hugely prestigious Suzuka Eight Hours race, run to Superbike spec. Hence its involvement in BSB.
There was never any doubt that the Mondello robbery was anything but a professional job and therefore an act of industrial espionage by a rival tyre company. But which one? No-one was ever caught and to this day no-one except the perpetrators knows what followed. Presumably the tyre was dissected and had its compound and construction intimately examined. Someone would have learned things they otherwise might never have learned, just like the Suzuki/MZ skulduggery.
Both these stories have always fascinated me. It’s the murky underbelly of racing, where companies resort to seriously dodgy tactics in their desperation to win on the track.
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.