Critics of both the U.S. and Canadian national series have often complained about scattershot administration, unexpected rules changes, and indeed completely new rules coming out of nowhere with little time to adjust. But Dorna, the company running Moto GP and World Superbike, has just set the bar for screwing up even higher.
The biggest fight between Dorna and its “partners” – basically Honda, Yamaha, and Ducati – in recent years has been over cost containment, and specifically the ever-increasing sophistication and expense of the software in the ECU that runs the bike. Dorna wants to mandate a spec ECU and software, while the manufacturers, Honda by far the most vocal, say that if they can’t develop their own software there’s no point (from a corporate R&D point of view) to them being in the series.
A compromise was reached about 2014 and 2015, where everyone uses the spec Magneti Marelli ECU, but there’s an option to use the spec software or not. The so-called Factory class can write their own code, while the Open class entrants use the software provided with the ECU. Dorna is still pressing for the Open option to be the only one available in 2016, when current contracts expire.
Teams had to officially declare by February 28 whether they’d go Factory or Open. Honda and Ducati of course went Factory, all the satellite and private teams Open, with Ducati originally planning to run three bikes as Factory and one as Open. The Open class machines have advantages over Factory, in a larger fuel allotment (24 vs 20 litres), a greater selection of tires, a larger engine allotment (12 vs five), and freedom to develop engines during the season.
At the deadline, Ducati declared it was entering all its bikes in the Open class, prompting a scream of outrage from Honda, which was already incensed that one of the Open bikes (in the Forward team, ridden by Aleix Espargaro using basically standard Yamaha factory engines and chassis, but with their own suspension and the standard software) was nearly as fast as the factory bikes in initial tests.
Honda’s threats to withdraw from the series may or may not be serious, but Dorna has panicked and, two weeks before the first race, announced that (completely contrary to the idea of getting back to one “class” by 2016) they’d be adding a third category to the mix. Called Factory 2, early reports (this was just announced March 6) suggest that Open teams who do well – win a race, finish second twice or third three times – will be bumped into Factory 2, with fuel reduced from 24 to 22.5 litres, and engine allocation reduced from 12 to nine.
It’s a mess. Once again, it would seem that the inmates are running the asylum of a major racing organization – in this case, THE major racing organization.