Michael Scott Column - Jul 03

MotoGP's main man on the issue of when is a prototype not a prototype?

Posted: 1 July 2003
by Michael Scott

The furore around the disqualified WCM MotoGP entry - based rather too closely on a Yamaha R1 for the FIM technical committee's liking - raises old questions in a new light, and has caused a major split in racing with Flammini and Superbike racing on one side, MotoGP on the other side and the FIM in the middle, with WCM as the victims.

Are they really victims? Or they taking the piss with their so-called GP prototype? The build-up shows how they got to this point.

WCM had big-time Red Bull sponsorship, factory Yamahas, and a few wins then they lost the money, the bikes and their riders. Team owner Bob MacLean, American millionaire had nothing left but his franchise. They had few options (run with obsolete two-strokes or sell the franchise). MacLean and team boss Peter Clifford instead chose to build their own GP bike.

Now comes the tricky part. They chose the R1 Yamaha as the starting point for an ambitious plan. With the entire engine reworked for racing (including a four, not fivevalve cylinder head, a different crank and barrel with a different bore and stroke, and a racing-style cassette gearbox), housed in a purpose-build Harris full race chassis, it complied with the letter of the new rules, if not the spirit. (Look to Kenny Roberts and his new Proton V5 to understand what that means.)

Unhappily, those rules are rather vaguely worded, specifying that cylinder head and crankcases must not come from "industrial production", and must be of "original design".

A legal mind will find many hours of well-paid argument in the interpretation of these phrases. For example, does the word "design" refer to the blue-print stage, or to the overall concept? If the latter, then not even Honda's unique V5 is original, Triumph had one on the drawing board in the early Seventies. And surely any casting is made using the techniques of "industrial production".

The disqualification was because the WCM bikes in South Africa were fitted with some production parts (crankcase and cylinder head), but this was only because they had used up their own Mk1 parts, and were awaiting the second-generation cases. Strictly speaking, however, the bikes were illegal.

But these arguments are red and smell of herring. The real question is whether his hand-made small-batch machinery (made in smaller numbers than for example Honda's V5) can ever be a genuine racing prototype, or is it just heavily modified Superbike.

Let's face it. If you have an axe, and the handle breaks and you replace it, then three years later the axe-head wears out and you replace that, is it the same axe?

The person deciding the case will need the wisdom of Solomon. The FIM don't have that. They don't have much respectable precedent to fall back on either.

In the last decade there have been several cases of severely stretched rules, all of them have been in favour of Superbikes. The Bimota was homologated on a promise rather than any actual production; the Benelli likewise. The Benelli hardly mattered, but the Bimota even won a race.

Then there's the Foggy Petronas FP1. Here the FIM insisted the rules be observed. Everyone is now waiting for the other shoe to drop - there need to be 150 bikes by the end of July. And MotoGP management are going to watching closely to be absolutely sure that this is the case.

Let's be straight. WCM shouldn't have been allowed to race until their full-race parts arrived. Instead, Dorna decided to turn a blind eye, and (the way Clifford tells it) led WCM to believe that the FIM would do the same. This turned out to be rather different, especially when SBK started to exert some influence.

WCM are the ones suffering, but it's the FIM who are squirming. And it's going to go on for a while yet.

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