BMW eyeing up MotoGP entry

BMW in secret meetings with Dorna

THE idea of BMW entering MotoGP under the new regulations have surfaced again, with the German manufacturer linked to secret meetings with Dorna.

BMW's General Director, Hendrik von Kuenheim supposedly met with the MotoGP-rights holder behind closed doors to discuss the potential of them entering the premier motorcycle Grand Prix series in 2012, when the regulations change. Originally the manufacturer has been linked with the Suter chassis builder - who current supply the majority of the Moto2 field - about fitting out their premier class entry with S1000RR derived engines, but Dorna are targeting a full factory effort from BMW - with factory rumblings suggesting that BMW are courting the idea.

BMW started developing a GP bike back in the early 2000s, as soon as the series went four-stroke. They actually made and tested at least three different bikes, all designed to GP regulations, between 2003 and around 2006 (the first two were 990cc, the third was an 800). They released one picture – probably the second iteration of the 990cc bike - but there were also spy shots out there of the 800cc machine, with Jeremy McWilliams and Luca Cadalora tasked with testing the bikes. All had three-cylinder engines designed by Mauro Forgieri, who was Ferrari’s F1 engine designer from the 70s until the 90s and an absolute legend in engine design. His firm, Oral Engineering, was largely responsible for the BMW prototypes.

Rumours were that the first generation 990 was simply too heavy and too slow to be competitive, and just as they started to get the second iteration of the 990 sorted, the rule change to 800cc was announced. There was never any indication to how competitive the 800 was on track. The machine disappeared but in the end it was the 800cc version of the engine, along with much of the chassis, that eventually went to FB Corse in their effort to make a MotoGP bike – although it’s useless now because the regulations for next year mean triples will be of no use (the 81mm maximum bore means it will be impossible to be competitive with anything other than a four cylinder).

But at the same time as the 800 was testing, BMW did a huge research project into the efficiency of both WSB and MotoGP in terms of marketing. There was a web-based survey of customers and potential customers, not specifically referring to BMW’s plans but very much trying to work out which of the two series would be a better route to improving BMW’s profile and sales. At the time, the result of the survey showed there was little to choose between the two series in terms of publicity. At this stage (around 2006), BMW plumped for WSB because by they it had already decided it needed a sports bike in its range, and figured that it had more to gain by developing a road-going, production-based racer. In simple terms, BMW decided there was no point going mainstream racing unless it had a production bike that could directly benefit from it – the S1000RR – and if it was going to make a road-going superbike, it made more sense to do WSB than MotoGP.

There’s also the fact that since 2006, the fortunes and regulations in both MotoGP and WSB have changed.

Beyond that, BMW has now established itself as a sports bike maker, so the S1000RR and its WSB exploits have done the trick in terms of altering the firm’s image. Now it faces another scenario – should it keep making new superbikes every couple of years just to be sure it remains competitive in WSB, or could it move to MotoGP and take the pressure to perform on-track off the S1000RR’s shoulders? In that light, MotoGP seems to make more sense.

Several people are already suggesting that the BMW S1000RR engine is probably the best basis for a claiming rules team in 2012 with Suter leading the way for a prototype chassis surrounding the engine. As a manufacturer BMW would have to field a pure prototype if it wanted to have an official involvement with the series. As one of the world’s leading engine manufacturers, that wouldn’t be a big problem – it’s already got its ex-F1 engine facilities lying unused…

With experience gained in WSB when it comes to chassis set-up and now good experience with four-cylinder motorcycle engines, BMW shouldn’t have the weight and performance problems it suffered with its initial 990cc GP prototype. And since it’s now a direct rival to Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Ducati in the showrooms it could be tempting to face them in MotoGP too.

BMW may possibly be looking towards 2013, seeing how the 2012 GP regulations play out and probably doing some private prototype testing, just as they did last time around to see if they can turn out a competitive GP bike. If they can, then an entry makes sense. If they can’t, you’ll probably never hear anything official about it (as you can see on the attached picture’s notes, when they released the shot of the 990 they claimed it was just a study in “vehicle dynamics” – they never called it a GP bike).