Sunday, February 12, 2012

Suppo: CRT was the only choice

Undoubtably the hot topic of the 2011/2012 off-season has been the inclusion of "CRT" or Claiming Rule Teams to the MotoGP class. Production-based 1000cc engines stuffed into aftermarket chassis are what rights holder Dorna feels will sustain MotoGP in the future.

How does Honda Motor and HRC feel about CRT bikes and the concept? To get an answer to the question we asked Repsol Honda MotoGP Marketing Director Livio Suppo for his opinions on that subject. Suppo, who helped bring Casey Stoner back to Honda and win the 2011 MotoGP title, stated several times that the opinions expressed below are his and his only.

Q Many people are wondering about Honda, HRC and CRT. Generally, what is your sense of the reaction of Honda and HRC to the CRT concept?

A Well, I think we have to face the reality, and the reality of the moment is that it is quite difficult to find resources to put 20 full prototypes on the grid. So this the reality. You can like it or not, but that's the reality, and the economic situation is going ... what a few years ago seems impossible, is becoming more serious. Instead of solving the problem, it looks like we are increasing the problem, at least in Europe. Hopefully in the US it's getting a little bit better, as far as I understand, but in Europe, still quite difficult, in Italy now, and since couple of month we are kind of under attack of the big investors. Is not an easy situation, so for sure, being MotoGP [is] basically a European-based sport, of course this has a big influence on the situation. So like it or not, the sport needed something to increase the number of bikes. The CRT is an option. Of course this season will be the first year, and I guess it won't be at its maximum. But I think the concept is there. Is reasonable to think that a kind of super-Superbike, let's say, could be reasonably competitive with the full prototype.

Q Do you really think that's going to be the case, Livio, that the bikes will be eventually competitive with a true MotoGP prototype bike?

A You know, Dean, it depends on what we mean when we speak about competitiveness. Recently, a good example of riders that, even if they were riding a full prototype, they were far away from the top guys, correct? And it has been always like this, because like it or not, in our sport, the riders make the biggest difference. So probably there will be always somebody that doesn't deserve a full prototype. With all respect, you know. Some riders, even if he has a full prototype, a full factory machine, cannot win races. So, at the end of the day, we need - in the past, we used to have the two-cylinder. You remember the Honda two-cylinder? It was a cheap bike. Of course, you cannot win races, but with good riders like I remember the first season of that team with Barros, they finish on the podium in Donington. It means also, even if you have a bike that on paper cannot win races, if you have a good team and a good rider, in some circumstances you can do a good job. And like it or not, is impossible to have 20 riders and bikes that fight for the victory. This is impossible, historically. Not [only] now, it has been always like that. But before, it was a little bit easier to find resources to go racing, even if you were not a top gun. Now, is more and more difficult. Not only for the top guys, but also for—especially for the others.

Q Do you think this is possibly the end of prototypes in MotoGP?

A I don't think so, because like it or not, for manufacturers ... I mean, manufacturers need MotoGP to promote their technology, and MotoGP need manufacturers to have more credibility, let's say. So is a world where both actors need each other, and I don't think it will be the end of full prototypes. The problem is that we need to find a way to have a little bit cheaper prototypes, and anyway, something to fill the grid in a reasonable way.

Q I think generally people have been waiting for the other shoe to drop, to use an American phrase, in that they're waiting for Honda to say, "Forget it. We are not in favor of this, and we're not going to move forward," and possibly pull out of the MotoGP series over this. You're telling me that's probably not realistic, that Honda's a lot more agreeable to CRT than maybe people perceive.

A Well, we have nothing against it. Of course there is not a great deal of interest of Honda in the CRT. That's not a rule for the manufacturers, so we are not directly involved, but we totally understand the situation. We understand that, as I said before, we need to fill the grid a little bit more. So that was a way to do it, and let's wait and see if it works. And again, I guess a rider like Colin or de Puniet, on a good CRT, they will be reasonably competitive since the first season. That's my feeling. I don't think that they will be slower than was, for example, Toni Elias last year. I think they will be faster than him.

Q Was there a big dilemma within Honda, do you think, regarding the Gresini CRT entry? That caught a lot of people by surprise?

A I don't know. As far as it was on a Honda engine, we were happy. It should have been a little bit strange, due to the relationship we have with Gresini, due to the fact that he usually has a kind of factory machine in his team, to have him with a Honda full prototype and a CRT with a different engine, that, I think, in terms of image as well, would have been a little bit strange. He has a strong relationship with Honda Italy. In my opinion, it should have been a little bit strange. Now he has a Honda engine and there's no problem at all.

Q The Aprilia CRT bikes are a huge issue for some people. How does Honda view it?

A Again, if you look at the CRT rule, at the end of the day, as I said before, is a kind of super-Superbike, at the end of the day. It's something that you have the same engine as a base, and then you can develop it and tune it more than a Superbike, but basically you start from a production engine. So what's the difference? You are more free to develop a prototype. But this has been always like this in MotoGP, eh? Not in MotoGP, in the top class. In the history of motorcycle racing. Agostini time, Giacomo had a full prototype MV Agusta, and the privateer was racing with a single cylinder engine Norton Manx or stuff like that. So it has been always that factory were with factory machine, with full prototypes, and the privateer were with different kind of bikes. That's been the history of this world. I don't see any big drama. I can understand maybe somebody maybe is worried to see CRT Aprilia too fast. But again, because the riders are so important, it will be a lot up [to] the guys that ride it.

Q Your old friend Claudio Domenicali seems to have an issue with this, in that Ducati and Honda have made enormous investments in MotoGP to have factory prototypes there, and I sense he sees this as Aprilia sliding in on the CRT rules and re-joining as a quasi-factory effort.

A Okay, but still, I don't think they'll be able to be competitive for the wins. So I don't see why we should be worried about it.

Q With Carmelo, it's sort of a rolling rulebook in regard to the CRTs. It seems like they're going to do anything they can to make these things as competitive as possible.

A That's totally understandable, because they need cheaper bike to fill the grid. As organizer, he has been investing a lot of money to try to fill the grid in the last few years. With economic consideration around, is impossible to go around like that. This is understandable. Is not only the team that are suffering the lack of sponsorship and money, sure also the organizer. And so, it's understandable that everybody has to do his own business. I can understand why Carmelo wants to push the CRT. Because if we remain with the 800, he was kind of a slave of the manufacturers, no? Because only manufacturers were able to produce - were producing an 800cc full prototypes. So if all the - there are not so many motorcycle company, that racing in the 800 were only four. So if three or two said "Ciao," like Suzuki this year, how do you go ahead? And MotoGP is a business itself. There's investors behind it. There's a lot of money involved. There's a lot of people working on it. So I can understand that if you are the owner of this business, you try to build up something that allow you to go ahead, even if the company, for the economic situation, must stop. I don't think this is the case in this moment, in the short term, but who knows what happen in the next years.

Q I've known you a long time, and I think this is a different statement coming from you. Previously, when suggestions were made about cost control in MotoGP, you were of the opinion that more needed to be done to increase the pie, increase the sponsorship budgets. I suppose it's the reality of the world we live in right now that is forcing this.

A I still believe this could be, this is something we have to work on. But if you face the reality, the economic situation, I'm honestly speaking, Dean, four years ago, nobody of us could have thought that should have been so long to get out of this. So we must try to increase the sponsorship, to do that, as we always said, there's a lot of things to do, there's a lot of things related to the nationality of the riders, because we have mainly Italian and Spanish riders. Difficult to grow up as an international sport. So is a very complicated issue, but still, in the short term, we had to do something. So I think at the end of the day, the CRT rule is something to move on. And don't forget, the first season when Moto2 arrived, everybody was criticizing Moto2, do you remember? Because, ah, the old, good 250, much better, blah, blah, blah. At the end of the day, after two season - this has been the second season of Moto2, if I'm not wrong - I personally think is a big success. Usually the races are very exciting. The world champion this year is a German guy that maybe with a 250 class would [not] have been able to win the title, because at that time, you need to have a lot of money to buy, or to lease, a competitive machine. At the moment, the price is more affordable, and especially the bikes are more similar, because the engine is always the same. With the 250, if you don't have a good Aprilia engine, you had no chance to win. At least now the engine is all the same, and the chassis, I don't think there is a huge difference between one chassis and the other. So in terms of giving opportunity to different riders to show their potential, Moto2 is a big, big help for us, and for the championship, I guess. So just to say that even Moto2, at the beginning everybody was criticizing it. CRT, at the moment, I am seeing more criticize than people happy to see it. But I would suggest to wait and see what happen.

Q You and I both came from World Superbike. How CRT will impact World Superbike. Any opinion?

A I don't think this will impact. I think, again, also Superbike has to do something to decrease the cost, because as well as in MotoGP also in Superbike, the money are not there any more like it was before. So I think both championship need to reduce the technical cost, and probably, in my opinion, Superbikes should go a little bit backward, to something more close to production.

Q Next on the list of rational or irrational fears is the possibility of a unified series, in which World Superbike and MotoGP are merged.

A Honestly, this is not a question for me. Should be a question for Carmelo. But I think there's space for both championships, as far as they are more, how can I say ... The risk is if we have two championships that are more or less from a technical point of view the same, there is no meaning to do two championships. This is in my opinion let's make that clear. And so to justify, and to have a business in both of them, you need, in my opinion, you need to have more clear separation of the two things. So something that is more related to the production, and something that is more related to the prototypes, or anyway to something that is not - something different.

At the end of the day, my mom, if she watch a MotoGP race or Superbike race, she doesn't understand the difference. If she see a picture of a Superbike or a prototype, she doesn't understand the difference. And this is not correct. A Formula 1 is a Formula 1. Of course in motorcycle is more difficult to do it.

Q Moving on. It's going to be a little bit like old home week for you in MotoGP, now that Corrado Cecchinelli, who was the ex-technical director of MotoGP when you were both there, now he is the technical director for Dorna.

A I'm very happy. I'm sure he can give a big help to Dorna to deal with this kind of technical issue.

Q There's a phrase that we use in America: it's "knowing where all the bodies are buried." This applies to our friend Corrado. He knows how these MotoGP projects work, so it's going to be interesting to have that kind of source of information on the side of the sanctioning body.

A Absolutely. I think ... I'm very, very happy for him, and honestly he can be a big plus for all of us, because sometimes is so difficult to - the MSMA is basically managed, usually, for at least for technical things, by engineers, with a very technical approach. I think is a good link. We missed somebody like Corrado that worked for the organizer, but that can speak the same language of the engineers of the manufacturers. Otherwise, it's easier to create a wall between the two approach. Of course the technical approach is usually different from the business approach, and I guess Corrado could be a good compromise in the middle, because he knows very well the needs of the manufacturers, and now also working with Dorna, will learn also what the needs of Dorna will be. Are. So he is a very clever guy, I'm sure he will be a plus for all of us, not only for Dorna.

Q I think also MotoGP commercial chief Carmelo Ezpeleta has in his sights factory lease bikes, in that he wants to see the end of factory prototype lease bikes. How is this going to work?

A This is really more difficult, in my opinion, at least with the full prototypes. It's impossible to do what it was possible to do in the past with the 500, I mean, as kind of the small series of prototypes, like it was, for example, the Honda twin cylinder, or before when Yamaha were selling engines and ROC or Harris were doing the frames. Basically because the technology of a four-stroke bike is higher, on top of this, especially because the number cannot justify a small series, because at that time, there was the national championship 500. So if you start doing a bike or a frame, you can think to sell a reasonable number. Now, is impossible. So if we have to build up something special and the numbers are not there, it could be even more expensive than to lease a full prototype. So I think if we think about bikes to sell, we must think about CRT, not full prototype. That's my feeling. But the problem is not, in my opinion of course, is sell or leasing, but basically the price. In my opinion. Because if the leasing of a full prototype was Euro 300,000, there's no issue, I guess. But the problem is that the leasing of a full prototype, you must add one zero at the end. That's the real problem.

Q The conventional wisdom out there seems to be that the CRT concept and project is not going to go over well with Honda at all, but you're suggesting to me that people are afraid they will not see a Honda MotoGP prototype on the grid some time in the future, that they will all be CRT bikes.

A Honestly, I don't think so. I believe, as manufacturers, we - not only as Honda, working for Ducati for a long time, and I also know that for Ducati, MotoGP has been very important to grow up and to learn technical issues, technical stuff. So the fact of MotoGP, full prototypes, can be a kind of an exclusive R&D field. I think this is very important. This will remain for a long time. Then the issue now is how to build up a championship where clearly we need to have full prototypes and this so-called CRT. In my personal opinion - this is my personal opinion - there is two ways to do it. You must try to close the gap, technical gap, between a CRT and a full prototype. Or you can try to have a clearly different machine that races in the same race, but with two different categories, like it happens in, for example, in the British Superbike, or the 24 Hours of LeMans, for example. If you want to race with a full prototype like Peugeot does, or Audi, you can do it; but if you want to race with a production designed car, you can do it with, for example, with a Porsche 911. At the end of the day, the Porsche 911 team can sell they go to the big show, they sell to their sponsor they are racing in the 24 Hours of LeMans, that is the big show, and they can win their class. So I think this is an easier way to have two different bikes racing together, because in my opinion - but in again, this is just my personal opinion, because as you know I am not a technician - to have a full prototype and CRT with a small - as close as possible - is almost impossible. Basically because the riders make the real difference, so how will we know if a CRT bike is one second or two seconds slower than a full prototype, as far as you don't put Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi, on a CRT bike, you don't know. On top of this, a full prototype is made by a company, so with all the expertise and technology of the company behind it. A CRT at the moment is made by a smaller company. So to see the real technical gap between a full prototype and a CRT, we should have Honda, Yamaha or Ducati do a full prototype and, with the same effort, a CRT. Then let these two bikes be driven by the same rider. Then we can see the difference. But this is impossible, of course. That's why I'm a little bit worried about trying to close the technical gap between full prototypes and CRT. Because if you are manufacturers, you will be always worried to see a CRT too much competitive. Our friend Claudio already is. And if you are a CRT company, or a CRT team, you will be always worried to have not enough to be close to the prototypes. On top of this, you have the riders, most probably so. In my opinion, if we do two different classes racing together, with two different podiums and two different championships, could be easier. And then you can try to keep the CRT as cheap as possible, with single ECU and whatever you want, because you don't need to have these bikes competitive with the full prototypes. And if the bad days goes ahead and the number of prototypes will reduce again, okay. For some in the bad season you will have more CRT than full prototypes, and in the good season, if the economy grow up again, you can have more prototypes and less CRT. But this could be flexible, you know? But this is my personal opinion, and I know it's something that - it's a little bit different from what people are used to seeing. That's why probably, as always in this world, the new things are a little bit like, "Ah." People don't like. The more I think, the more I believe this could be the best compromise. Honestly speaking, I don't see any big alternatives. I think if you try to close too much the technical gap between CRT and full prototypes, it's very difficult and it's very risky, because probably some manufacturer could be not interested any more.

Q The Italian press has focused on the safety aspects of CRT.

A Again, honestly I don't think ... on the bike, I think we need to be sure that the level of the team that would join the championship will be good enough to guarantee the reliability of the engine, because could be dangerous to have some broken engine during the practice or the race. And this is from a technical point of view, because I don't think that the two or three seconds a lap slower machine could be dangerous. The second issue is the riders. The riders must be with experience enough. That's a very important issue. I think we have to keep an eye on it, because if we see some rider is reasonably having too much slower than the top guys, or with no experience enough so when you are on - if a super fast guy is trying to overtake you, you must know what to do. So this is another issue, but hopefully will be under control. Is difficult to say now.

Q Casey Stoner has said he has no interest in CRT, doesn't see the point, and would quit racing if he were ever forced to ride one. Do you see that as just his initial response, and that it will change over time?

A What is clear is that Casey is Casey. He is the fastest man on earth, and he deserves to ride the fastest bike on earth. So that I don't think is an issue, for him to be involved in a CRT bike at the moment. So is not a problem, I don't think is an issue. I think if there's a rider who deserves to ride the full prototype, it's Casey.

source: superbikeplanet,com

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