IT WILL take a while for the world to get used to the brands of the Moto2. Browsing through a Grand Prix program, you won't find big manufacturers such as Honda and Yamaha, KTM and Aprilia. Instead, you'll see strange names like Sutar and Moriwaki, FTR and RSV, Kalex and BQR in the line-up. MZ from Germany and Bimota from Italy are probably the best-known motorcycle producers, and they are the only ones out of the lot to produce street bikes besides their racing activities. All the others are just known to insiders. And, looking at 14 different brand entries, even people from the paddock ask themselves who might be behind some of the abbreviations and what the hell qualifies them to take part in the world championship. Memories come flashing back from the days when highly talented do-it-all-yourself enthusiasts like the young Jeremy Burgess took unrideable Japanese bikes apart, re-built them and rode to glory. Days when small engineering enterprises like the one of Spaniard Antonio Cobas used to implant Rotax engines into their own chassis and scored victories and word titles under the name of JJ Cobas. Days when Yamaha supplied French chassis manufacturer ROC and British manufacturer Harris with four-cylinder two-stroke engines, and anybody who had sufficient interest and sufficient funds of $200,000 could try his luck in the 500cc blue ribbon class.
Now, these wild times have returned. From A for ADV to Z like in "Motorenwerke Zschopau", the new Moto2 class is buzzing like a bee hive, and when the 40-strong field of these buzzers takes the same flight direction at the start of the race, a show unfolds unlike anything the motorcycle world championship has seen in recent times. "It is like 15 years ago, when I started Grand Prix racing. A crazy bunch of evenly strong riders who all aim for the same point when braking into a corner and nobody knows who will manage to thread through and crack the throttle the earliest. A thriller from start to finish", says Valentino Rossi with a sparkle in his eyes. "The start of the new series was a success. The races are great, and we achieved our main goal of lowering the cost. Instead of 1.5 million Euro per season like in the old 250cc category, a Moto2 bike will only cost 450,000", says Caremlo Ezpeleta, CEO of GP organiser Dorna, with satisfaction in his voice. The trade-off for these cost-saving measures were a certain sacrifice in prestige and in technical competition. Critics of the new class still complain about the same thing, about the single engine rule with Honda-made 600cc four-stroke four-cylinders, a derivative of the mass-produced CBR 600 engine instead of pure prototype machinery. They also complain about details like the standard gearbox that rules out any gear changes. The only way to adjust the gearing to each individual circuit is with the front and rear sprocket. Another point of criticism is the fact that the engines are supplied only at the start of the race weekend and are re-collected almost immediately after the race finish. In case of a technical problems, the teams usually have no idea where to start looking for the source of the problem, let alone how to fix it. The bike of Swiss rider Tom Luthi, for instance, spread a fine mist of engine oil during the first practice for the
season-opening race at Qatar. It took the mechanics ages to find out that the threads for the screws holding the clutch cover were just a fraction too short for the titanium screws that they inserted instead of the standard screws the engine had come with.
German manufacturer MZ, a late Moto2 entry, suffered from a mysterious lack of top-speed at the same time, and the team was at a complete loss whether this had to do with the mapping of the engine electronics, the exhaust system, the cooling system or the aerodynamics of the bike. But how can anybody fix such problems without having an engine on a permanent basis, for bench and riding tests? The behaviour of the bikes on the track is not as trouble-free as it looks during the race, either. There is no single team in the field without its own battle against chattering, an irritating vibration of the chassis well-known and feared in motorcycle racing. One of the reasons for this is the enormous amount of grip offered by the new Dunlop rear tyres. With a rim width of 195, they are a full 30 milllimetres wider in comparison to the old 250cc category. "Dunlop only insisted on this format in order to upset us. They wanted to make a Moto2 bike look like a MotoGP machine," says German
Bridgestone manager Thomas Scholz. "When you consider the low power output of a Moto2 engine, there is no technical reason for such a rear tyre dimension. Front and rear wheels are running out of line in the corners and upset the behaviour of the bike - the tyres are simply too wide," he says. Just 130hp from the Honda-engine and the extra-wide Dunlop tyres are a mismatch, which is one reason why the Moto2 class so far has failed to reach the lap times of the old 250cc class.
Maybe the rear wheel pumping going into the turns would also be less with narrower tyres. A Moto2 bike almost matches MotoGP's wide spectrum of opportunity in terms of engine management and data recording (through the units of German single manufacturer 2D), but there is one thing a Moto2 bike doesn't have: Traction control. "When I brake hard for a corner and let the clutch go on a MotoGP machine, the electronics do all the work and guarantee a smooth transition. If I do the same on a Moto2 bike, the bike jumps so much that I think I'm in an earthquake," grins Toni Elias. With his experience on different MotoGP bikes, the Spaniard is considered one of the favourites for the new category. But then, during pre-season testing, he crashed because of a slower 125 rider on the track, and sufferd bone fractures in his left hand and his right foot. "If you don't want the horizon to start jumping up and down in front of you, you have to be very, very careful with the clutch. It's the only way to get a controlled corner entry." Smoothness seems to be the key not only with the clutch, but with riding a Moto2 bike in general. Unlike former Supersport times, when the riders used to drift sideways into the turns in spectacular manner, the Moto2 bikes want to be ridden softly, with a lot of momentum going into the corners and with high corner speeds in order to make up for the relative lack of engine power, and to save tyre grip. 19-year-old Shoya Tomizawa has this soft and precise riding style, and wrote racing history with the first ever Moto2 win aboard the Suter MMX of Swiss former GP racer Eskil Suter.
And again, memories came back from another time in the past. The Suter MMX bike still resembles the chassis of Kawasaki's Ninja ZX-RR MotoGP machine, a project in which Eskil Suter was heavily involved. The MMX is slim, small and light-weight like the Ninja ZX-RR, and so is Tomizawa -just like former Kawasaki rider Shinya Nakano, who developed the Ninja back in 2005.
Both Nakano and Tomozawa seem to direct their bikes with the tips of their fingers. But deep down, the Moto2 riders are dreaming of a completely different riding style - squaring a corner off, crack the throttle open very early and smoking the rear wheel
- a riding style that we don't see in MotoGP any more due to the traction control systems. "No, no, the rear tyre isn't too wide at all. Instead, we are lacking engine power. We could use 20 or 30 hp more, then the show would be even better, and the better riders also would shine through easily," says Toni Elias. "For our private tests, we had an engine with sufficient power. It was tuned to the max - and riding was great fun!"
- Freidemann Kirn
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