2002 GP Gossip and Stuff From 2001 Dutch TT

Colin MacKellar
by Colin MacKellar
It seems strange that we could have already had the Dutch TT on it's traditional last Saturday in June and still not be halfway through the 2001 event calendar. The Dutch was usually the event at which the first talks for the next season would get underway. There would be a heavy delegation from Japan holding council as lines of team managers armed with business cases and sponsor pledges formed in the mobile offices of the big 3. Sometimes called the silly season, it started as always last weekend, despite the long road ahead to the championship title for 2001......

The 2002 season gossip

Since the modern Grand Prix races were first held in 1949, there have really only been two occasions when changes comparable to those for 2002 have occurred. At the end of the Sixties, the FIM infamously intervened to restrict the engine configurations and gearbox speeds for each of the 5 capacity classes then being run. It was a well-intentioned and partially successful attempt to reduce the costs of GP bike development and give riders other than the top factory jocks a shot at winning races. The down-side was the inevitable focus on the two-stroke engine and ultimately led to the design stagnation we have today. The next sea change came with the weeding out of the classes run at GPs, resulting in the loss of the 50/80cc class was well as the 250-lookalike, 350 class in the mid-80s. This was simply preparation for the world of TV rights and satellite timeslots, which would never extend to more than 3 races per day. Strangely enough, there are elements of both drives in the new regulations for 2002, with the prototype 4-strokes intended to spice up the technical interest and hunger for exotica and the focus on the 500 class (to be renamed GP1) at the expense of the 125 and 250. Within a couple of years, Dorna (the GP organization) will announce that only the GP1 race will be televised live and the other 2 classes will be marginalised into simple support races to keep the crowds happy before the Main Event. (Maybe they are this already)

The Roman Emperor and famous southpaw

Is this going to work out? Maybe, but certainly not in 2002. There will only be two of the Big 3 turning up with GP exotica when the season kicks off in Japan in April 2002 , Yamaha and Honda. Yamaha has taken the least challenging road to 4-stroke GPs by designing an R7 on steroids. Of course they'll claim it is totally different, but if you've seen and heard one in-line 4 large-capacity racer, you've seen them all. Kocinski broke his arm during a test session at Catalunya, when, it is claimed, a water hose split. Nobody likes to see Little John get hurt, but for Max Biaggi it vindicated his position of not testing the M1 if he can possibly avoid it. He rightly points out that if he had been on the bike when this happened, any chances for Yamaha of the 2001 world championship would have bit the dust. He must be banking on his high media profile and 2001 results to guarantee him a ride on the bike next year. The other Yamaha GP riders can hardly refuse to test the bikes, as, let's face it, they are not going to get the job based on their results so far this year (Nakano excluded). So the Yamaha GP experience next season will consist of 4 teams running Marlboro, Gaulois, Red Bull and mystery guest colors, with M1s going to Biaggi, Haga, Nakano and Abe, and the rest running good old YZRs.

Honda on the other hand has done Dorna proud by designing the first V5 racing bike engine. The engineering department would never resist and opportunity like this to develop something different, "something interesting". With roots that can easily be traced to arguably, the most exotica racing bike of all time, the 1979 oval-pistoned NR500, the guys at Honda could and can be relied on to choose something special. Probably the only alternative they would have seriously considered would have been a V-6, they've had all the others in 2-wheel racers some time in the last 40 years. There are now 3 complete machines in existence and there may be no more when the season starts next year. It seems that they are unwilling to create more machines until the concept has been proven to be a winner. This means that a single team will be running the bike in 2002, with 2 machines and a test bike in Japan. This is where it starts getting interesting.... Who's going to get the bike that will be the center of the racer universe? The ideal Honda scenario is that Rossi will take the 500 crown this year and Honda will have no moral obligation to give him a championship winning machine for 2002, meaning Rossi can ride the RCV. For there are so many factors that have to come together for the bikes to win a championship, it seems highly unlikely that the M1 or the RCV will be top of the heap next year.

One of only three, the Honda RCV211

But for some that is not so important. The attention lavished on the team running the RCV will be a sponsors dream, so the big Honda teams are angling for top notch status and therefore the RCV. It seems that Sito Pons, now running Barros and Capirossi on 2000 NSRs in the livery of tobacco company West, has threatened to transfer lock, stock and 4 smoking pipes to Yamaha, unless he is afforded full works status. His Spanish roots mean he will probably get heavy support from Dorna. Honda seem to be gearing up for a post-season tribal meeting at which all of the factory Honda riders will be brought together for a test session and the fastest will be allocated the RCV. If only it were that simple...

Kenny Roberts on an RGV Suzuki. For how much longer...

Over at Suzuki, it's nothing but dark clouds and long faces. The ecstasy of last season's world championship, has made way for the agony of nescience and frustration. Kenny Roberts can scarcely talk about it any more, his statements short and sharp, tinged with anger and frustration as his title disappears like the little white dot on the TV sets of our youth. Suzuki have announced that they will build a V4 rocket as their contribution to Formula GP1. How HRC must have enjoyed this piece of news, as Honda have always had the monopoly on V4 4-strokes with their wonderful RVF bikes of the '80s, culminating in the superb RC30 and the RC45 flawed masterpiece. Trouble is, the Honda-clone, won't be available until 2003, so Suzuki riders will be on the struggling RGV500 again next year. After his experiences so far this season, this idea doesn't appeal to Roberts and he is apparently shopping around for an alternative ride next year. Where's he to go though? Can't see much room at Yamaha or Honda, so it might be a prodigal son act with KR on the Proton again. It's certainly in Dorna's interest for an American rider to be in a top team, so they may smooth his way onto a bike to which he might otherwise have trouble staking a claim. Maybe Ducati can throw him a lifeline?

There is more politics at work in our sport than ever before. Politics seem to be a necessary evil for the evolution of any sport, so perhaps we have to accept the situation. As long as there is still room for the two best riders in the world to punch each other out on the way to the victory celebrations, the sport can be considered to be in pretty good health.

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Colin MacKellar
Colin MacKellar

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