This weekend, the world’s premier motorcycle world championship, the Red Bull Indianapolis GP, returns to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the sixth consecutive year, bringing with it the suspense of a tight battle for the points lead and the drama of new specifications, new rules and rumors of new teammates for the 2013 MotoGP season.
Much of the drama this year comes from the introduction of independent Claiming Rule Teams to the circuit, a new initiative designed to attract privateer entries (i.e. teams without the support of a manufacturer) to compete alongside factory-supported teams racing prototypes. They use a production-based 1000cc engine based on models for sale to the public and a prototype chassis for a fraction of the cost of factory-sponsored teams.
Each Claiming Rule Team must be approved by the Grand Prix Commission, but it is then granted concessions in terms of fuel tank capacity and engine changes in an attempt at parity. Like the wild card entries that provide aspiring riders with an opportunity to demonstrate their skills at an individual race, the CRT rule adds an element of excitement and drama to the top level of motorcycle racing. It is not, however, without some drawbacks due to the understandable disadvantages of competing without factory support.
One experienced rider is learning first-hand about the challenges of representing a Claiming Rule Team. Although he likes his NGM Mobile Forward Racing team, MotoGP rider Colin Edwards i frustrated with his Suter-BMW. “It would be nice to win again,” he says. “I’d like to line up on the grid near the front.”
The 38-year-old Edwards, known as the “Texas Tornado,” whose best finish at the IMS was fifth in 2009, doesn’t expect to be at the front of the grid at this week’s Red Bull Indianapolis GP. He believes the high front engine mount location of his BMW S1000RR is one of the problems, contributing to vibration and engine noise through the handlebars, but there are other issues as well. “My problems are from the starting line to the last corner, and everything in between,” he complains.
Getting a little more specific, he says, “We’ve struggled with the electronics. The engine needs more power, the chassis is rigid, there are traction control issues and the bike feels too small. It feels like I’m sitting on top of the bike.” Pulling off the seats and “crunching up” helps him feel more “in” the bike, but it comes at a price. “I’ll deal with my legs and knees later in life.”
The team’s ability to find a base set-up and work on their technical issues is hampered by a diminished development schedule that puts them farther behind the prototype teams as the season evolves. “The prototypes are developing,” Edwards points out. “They’re getting faster and farther away from us.” Once the most dominant amateur American rider and a two-time World Superbike champion, Edwards glumly concludes he’ll “make do with what we’ve got.”
Season of change
Edwards and his cohorts are facing other challenges. This year’s Moto GP bikes are 1000cc, as opposed to last year’s 800cc, and the increase in power has required some refinement of riding style through the turns. The change allows teams to use a production-based engine that provides high performance at a lower cost. But thanks to the GRAND-AM race at IMS, extra rubber should improve the grip level for the bikes, as will some new asphalt on the track.
Although Edwards has lowered his expectations for the Red Bull race, and even popular American rider Nicky Hayden, who considers IMS his home track, thinks he and Ducati teammate Valentino Rossi don’t have a realistic shot at the podium, others seem almost unstoppable.
One of those — Jorge Lorenzo, points leader and 2010 World Champion — will welcome seven-time Italian champion Rossi to the factory Yamaha team next year. Meanwhile, he’s dominating the field this year, having scored wins in half of the first 10 races.
Chasing Lorenzo — who, ironically, might replace him next year at Repsol Honda — is reigning Moto GP world champion Casey Stoner. This is the 27-year-old rider’s last chance to rack up a win here before he retires at the end of the season. After two early-season wins, Stoner, who has been critical of the increase in engine size that led to the departure of Kawasaki and Suzuki, announced that he lost his passion for the sport. A new baby and painful arm cramps are rumored to have contributed to his decision to leave.
“This sport has changed a lot and it has changed to the point where I am not enjoying it,” Stoner explains. “I don’t have the passion for it and so at this time it’s better if I retire.” His passion hasn’t completely evaporated yet, however. In assessing his prospects for another title, he adds, “I'm World Champion and I do not give up so easily.”
Stoner’s Repsol Honda teammate, Dani Pedrosa, is also contending for the championship. Issues with chatter and tires haven’t hampered his consistency this season, leaving him only 23 points back.
Indiana-based GPTech is eager to put four-time AMA National Champion Aaron Yates on the grid at IMS as one of the CRT wildcard entries. GPTech teamed up with MCJ Motorsports for engine development of the Suzuki GSX-R1000 and turned to BCL Motorsports to manufacture their custom-built chassis.
Practice for the Moto GP (1000cc), Moto2 (600cc) and Moto3 (250cc) classes begins Aug. 17. For the second consecutive year, the AMA Pro Vance & Hines XR1200 Series returns, featuring spec Harley-Davidson XR1200 machines with limited modifications. The formula is designed to highlight rider skill and provides competitive side-by-side racing.
Bike weekend in Indy
At the IMS: Practices kick off from 9:15 a.m; tickets $20.
Motorcycle Madness (in front of the Indiana War Memorial): Featuring bike shows, music and championship races in the XDL Series, a motorcycle stunt riding competition, begins at 5 p.m.; tickets $10-15, xdlshow.com.
Motorcycles on Meridian: Street party on Monument Circle for bikers and fellow travelers runs from 6 p.m.-3 a.m., free.
At the IMS: Practices start from 8:15 a.m.; qualifying begins at 1 p.m.; tickets $20.
Motorcycle Madness: From 4 p.m.; tickets $20-25.
Motorcycles on Meridian: 3 p.m.-3 a.m.; music starts at 7 p.m., featuring Ghost Beach, Hotfox, Natural Child; free.
Lucas Oil Indy Mile: flat track racing on Indiana State Fairgrounds track; from 2 p.m.; tickets $31-36 advance (familyevents.com), $21-26 door (plus $10 Fair admission); familyevents.com.
At the IMS: Warmup begins at 8:40 a.m.; races at 11 a.m. (Moto3), 12:20 p.m. (Moto2) and 2 p.m. (MotoGP); tickets $50-130.