Duncan Bishop

Honda’s production racer and the illusion of equality

Duncan Bishop

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Some of the best riders in the world are going to be heading into a tight space this week at Assen — and I don't mean the famous 'Cathedral' turn one entry.

Those in charge of putting bikes on the MotoGP grid will convene in the travelling Dorna office to talk rookie rules, spec ECUs and other pending topics on the grand prix agenda.

The game-changing speculation since Silverstone has surrounded the strong possibility of Honda making a new, more economically accessible bike for 2014 and beyond, based on the RC213V. The project is rapidly gathering pace, just as it looked as if the future was becoming more settled in the swiftly-evolving premier class.

Such a machine would involve some pretty standard factory-enforced cost-cutting measures (sticking with a standard valve engine, for example) combined with new rule adjustments like the spec ECU. What you'd be looking at is a series of 'production racers' that are sure to be keenly received by smaller teams looking to make a move to MotoGP.

At the moment, there is a middle ground created by the success of Moto2 and the on-track competitive failure of the CRT scheme. The prestige of MotoGP has been chipped away slightly and aspiring simply to get on the grid isn't worth the struggle —just as becoming a professional backmarker isn't. The ability of the top teams to find sponsors for a cheaper class - in which they can win and gain exposure for their clients' products - is becoming easier than putting together either an uncompetitive CRT project or an expensive satellite team. Look at how prospective MotoGP entries for Thomas Luthi and Stefan Bradl (before LCR Honda saved the day) fell apart when the sponsors baulked at the costs of 1000cc racing.

Honda's idea is an old-school one, with a base in the days of 500cc competition. Production racers then were the likes of Suzuki's RG, the Yamaha TZ and Honda's own effort, the RS. Big investment from factories, competitive satellite bikes and a downturn in results eventually put paid to the scheme, however, and we haven't seen anything similar since the NS500V two-stroke back in 1997. Honda themselves have dipped their toes into CRT with the CBR1000RR and FTR chassis, quickly seeing that this is not the way forward.

This 2014 machine could be the bike which sets everything in motion. Honda's position as innovators, trendsetters and driving force in the direction of the championship cannot be understated. They are the factory who pushed for the 800cc change, who used their pull to produce a complete turnaround in the intermediate class and gain complete control with the Moto2 tender (Hiro Aoyama's 250cc World Championship came on the only competitive Honda in the category, in a special effort that had been lacking as the factory left two-strokes behind), who still carry the most sway as the factory with the most competitive bikes on the grid and largest budget.

It's going to take Honda to make Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta's vision a reality: an end to the expensive satellite bike system. This season, following the move to 1000cc, these bikes are able to stick with their factory counterparts; next year, they probably won't. Regardless, the teams running a customer Ducati, Yamaha or Honda will have to pay upwards of one million euros for the privilege, on a leasing deal rather than having anything to show for their efforts after the Valencia finale.

Production racers, not entered as a CRT in order to avoid rival factories having the option to claim the engine, will be purchased. The results may even be the same as under the current satellite scheme, but it makes much sounder economic sense.

The dangers? In an ideal world, everyone would be on factory bikes; just different enough in characteristics to make things interesting, but without any obvious disparity. It's the biggest pipe dream in MotoGP and, in its absence, one can only hope that the seams don't show when possibly four different levels of competition are run in the same race. Without a truly level playing field, the illusion of competition has to be maintained. Is that going to be possible with the factory bikes way out in front, the satellite bikes struggling or gone, a production racer finding its way and the CRT-applicable machines an anachronism before they even get into gear?

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