Can 1000cc Engines and Claiming Rule Teams Save MotoGP?

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[Colin Edwards dropped more than 3.5 seconds during pre-season testing on his Suter-BMW CRT machine at Sepang—5 seconds off Casey Stoner's Honda RC213V.

WORDS: Ari Henning

PHOTOS: Gold & Goose, Ducati

You won’t see any epic tire-smoking drifts from the new 1000cc MotoGP bikes. Modern traction control and tires won’t allow it. Although Dorna and the FIM reverted to 1000s in an effort to improve race action, the move is also designed to reduce costs and put more teams in the show every weekend, not melt more rubber.

The 2012 rule change allows 1000cc engines with a limit of four cylinders and a maximum bore of 81mm. That should help keep development and production costs in check as well as effectively limiting rev ceilings and improving longevity, which is good for existing factory teams. But the rules also set the groundwork for the new Claiming Rule Teams, which should help fatten the grids. CRTs are allowed to run in the premier class using highly modified production-based engines in prototype chassis, similar to the recently devised Moto2 format. In an attempt at parity, the CRTs are allowed twice the factory teams’ allotment of six engines per rider per year as well as additional fuel, permitting a more radical state of tune. The subcategory’s graceless name is derived from the fact that any team can claim another’s engine for a flat fee of $26,000; a dictum intended to deter runaway spending on engine development and prevent backdoor factory assistance.

[Valentino Rossi says he likes his new 1000cc Ducati GP12, partly because the additional power lets him get sideways more, as evidenced by this unreal shot from Sepang. Just try taking it all in without muttering an expletive!

The part about improving racing-as-spectacle has apparently worked. While 2011 saw just 17 bikes competing regularly, the preliminary 2012 lineup includes 21 machines: 12 factory prototypes and 9 CRTs running engines from Aprilia, BMW, Honda and Kawasaki. Pilots include MotoGP veterans Colin Edwards, Randy De Puniet and Alex Espargaro. But more bikes don’t necessarily mean better racing: Less powerful, less sophisticated B-team bikes will create a huge disparity in lap times, with even the best CRT riders lapping several seconds behind the factory backmarkers. It’s not a question of whether actual championship contenders will lap CRT bikes, but how many times? For better or worse, this MotoGP season will either be one race fans all over the world will want to remember, or try very hard to forget.