Sunday, September 1

ANGLO-AMERICAN BATTLE OF THE ITALIAN VEES?

by MICHAEL ESDAILE


NEXT year's World MotoGP Championship holds out the prospect of an Anglo-American battle for supremacy of the Italian V4s.

There's a way to go before this is certain, but after being dropped from Ducati's MotoGP team for next year, 2006 MotoGP Champion Nicky Hayden has been in talks with numerous teams, both MotoGP and Superbike, regarding a ride for 2014.

At Laguna Seca he indicated to some close to his inner circle that Aprilia may be an option.  At the time that was taken as an indication be may be moving to the Superbike World Championship - but there was another possibility that was not considered.  That is: remaining in MotoGP and racing for Jorge 'Aspar' Martinez in the Power Electronics Aspar team.

So far this year the team's Aprilia V4s have been a thorn in the side of the factory Ducatis of Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso.

The Power Electronics Aspar team switched from pure-bred MotoGP bikes to run production-based Aprilia RSV4 engines with the introduction of what were called 'claiming rule' teams (or CRT) in 2012.  Prior to that the Spanish team was running pure-bred Ducati MotoGP bikes.

Last year Martinez elected to switch to an Aprilia package, with a chassis based on that of the current Aprilia RSV4 Superbike and an engine that was not quite Aprilia Superbike spec.

His riders are Randy dePuniet and Aleix Espargaro, the latter being the one rattling Ducati's factory bike cage.

NEW TECHNICAL REGULATIONS

With the adoption of new technical rules for 2014, Martinez was in a dilemma. Did he continue to run the Aprilia engines - in which case he had to chose between continuing with the Aprilia electronics package or switching to Magneti Marelli software.  It is the software teams chose that determines which set of technical regulations they operate under.

Those who run their own software will be limited to just five engines for the entire 2014 season.  They also have to make do with 20 litres of petrol per race.

On the other hand, the teams that opt for the Magneti-Marelli ('Dorna') software - which they are allowed to modify - get 12 engines for the season, and 24 litres of petrol per race.

Here's the quandry Martinez found himself in.  His Aprilia CRT bikes had developed very nicely with the Aprilia-sourced electronics software package and were the only CRT machines capable of running with the lower order factory bikes, as Ducati knows only too well.  Did he dump the Aprilia software and jump into the unknown of the Magneti-Marelli software, or did he stay with the Aprilia electronics?

The latter would mean Aprilia would have to be able to guarantee five engines would get the team through an 19 race MotoGP season, and be able to get through each race with just 20 litres of fuel.  Currently, the team is able to use 24 litres but it has reported it is burning 21.  So it has to be able to get the Aprilia engines to use one litre less per race, and be very reliable.

A big call.

Alternatively, going the Magneti-Marelli software route would give the team 24 litres per race, and 12 engines per year.  However, there are teams currently running Aprilia V4s in that configuration and they have not been any where near the level of competitiveness of the Power Electronic Aspar team.

When Honda announced it was building up to five V4 racers based on the current factory bikes, but with steel valve springs rather than pneumatic valve closing, and a normal dog-shift gearbox rather than the electronic one the factory Hondas run, Martinez was interested.

However, these bikes were being built to run with the Magneti-Marelli software and were potentially a step down from the team's current bikes. Still, Martinez investigated that alternative, even though the Honda's at 1.2 million Euros apiece cost twice what his Aprilia's cost.

To remain with Aprilia, the Piaggio-owned Italian factory had to convince the Spaniard it would be able to come up with a competitive package for 2014 - and it has done just that.

At Silverstone, Power Electronics Aspar team manager Gino Borsoi confirmed the team was sticking with Aprilia.

"We have had some good news from Aprilia, who have decided to more or less rebuild the bike,"  Borsoi said.
"From next season we will get a completely new package: new frame, new aerodynamics, new engine. We are happy and I think we will have a really good bike for next season. (Aprilia) is still thinking about whether to go with the Dorna (Magneti-Marelli) ECU software;  I think we will know the final decision in a few weeks."

It seems likely the revised Aprilia V4 motor will include pneumatic valve closure, and there is a possibility of a seamless, electronic transmission.

"We don’t know right now, they are starting to think about it.  They do have a seamless project and maybe in the future we can get it," Borsoi said.

"Right now we are still talking with a few riders," Borsoi acknowledged. 

"We have some ideas on the table and I hope during this weekend, or by Misano at the latest, we will know our riders for the future."

As well as  Espargaro and de Puniet, Nicky Hayden's name is in the mix.

And with Englishman Cal Crutchlow replacing Hayden in the Ducati factory team, Martinez may elect to replace de Puniet with Hayden.

The American has remained very loyal to Ducati and endured the failed efforts of Valentino Rossi to develop the Italian bike over 2011 and 2012.  Analysis of Hayden's race lap times and race times over the 2010-2013 period indicates he was doing much better on the carbon-fibre 'airbox frame' Ducati used prior to Rossi's arrival.

Recently, Hayden has said not developing the carbon-fibre chassis was a mistake on Ducati's part.

Hayden will be fired up if he gets the chance to race against the Ducatis in 2014, and may well get that opportunity, on the other Italian V4.