Mike Scott Column - Jun 2005

Rules are wrecking racing

Posted: 1 June 2005
by Mike Scott

Mike Scott - MotoGP - Rules are wrecking racing
990s are being scrapped for 'safer' 800s
but who says the 800s will be safer?

Bike racing's great, isn't it? Bunch of hooligans on the track trying to go ever more ridiculously fast; teams of engineering boffins pushing the boundaries of technology to help them. Humanity and science going happily mad together, with speed and lap times the only things that matter. Until, of course, somebody tries to apply rules and regulations. Nowhere is this more apparent than in MotoGP, not only the pinnacle of the sport, but also laying claim to the high ground of daft rule-making (an area hotly contested by Flammini's Superbikes).

2005 has brought out some proper doozies. One is the long-running madness of trying to deal with rain-hit races without destroying TV-schedules by stoppages to change tyres. There have been years of last-minute changes and re-changes to rules, and it's still going on now. We'll doubtless return to the topic. But the biggest problem with MotoGP bikes (apparently) is that they're just too fast. Somehow, this has come to be seen as against the spirit of racing.

To a large extent, this is an over-reaction to Daijiro Kato's fatal accident in 2003. A more reasoned response was to increase circuit safety, which is of course a jolly good idea. Trying to slow the bikes down, however, is a knee-jerk that has become increasingly absurd. Not least because of the weird system in which the manufacturers write their own technical rules (via the Motorcycle Sports Manufacturers' Association, the MSMA) - surely unique in major motor sport. In this way, the engineers have to devise ways to slow the bikes down, then devise other ways in which to make them faster again.

This year's reduced fuel capacity was more about efficiency than speed, but speed was a factor. This year's bikes are perforce more economical, but no slower... Lap records and top speeds have been smashed everywhere. The only real difference is that the bikes now run much leaner mixtures, and as a result have become much twitchier in throttle response, and generally less rider-friendly. "They are more like the old two-strokes now," said Gibernau at Jerez (a characteristic he personally enjoyed), while Rossi added: "They tried to make the bikes safer, but in fact they are less safe."

In 2007, a step further is planned. Originally this was a capacity cut from 990cc to 900cc - a mere token. As I write this, the MSMA is trying to re-write the re-written rule before it comes into effect, cutting size to 800cc. An announcement is expected momentarily - but as HRC boss Suguru Kanazawa said, this would reduce power at first, but within a year or two levels would be back where they are now.The difference is that a smaller engine will necessarily be tuned much higher, and will be much less rider-friendly. So the bikes will be just as fast, but much more of a handful. Safer? Rather the reverse.

There seems just one way out. Forget trying to slow the bikes down; just continue working on technology to make that performance easier to use and less of a menace to life and limb. And while we're about it, why not cancel the whole idea of limiting engine capacity? You need some formula, clearly, but why not just limit the amount of fuel available. Then individual manufacturers can decide the most effective engine size for themselves, and the riders can decide how fast they want to go. And with a minimum of rules, all these embarrassing last-minute changes of mind simply wouldn't be necessary.

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