Moto GP grapples with problems of an interrupted season

Teams, riders and organisers are trying to work out how they can rearrange the 2020 calendar.

The end of the season could be pushed back two weeks, to 29 November.

Moto GP, like other sports and other businesses, is scrambling to deal with the problems posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

In the elite motorcycling championship, the 2020 season has yet to start. Teams, riders and organisers are trying to work out how they can rearrange the calendar, make up for financial losses and ensure a level track technically. While the Moto 2 and Moto 3 categories competed in the opening race in Qatar, the headline Moto GP event was cancelled.

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Dorna, the series promoter, has also postponed the next three events in Thailand, Texas and Argentina and hopes to run them in the second half of the season. The May races in Spain, France and Italy are in doubt.

Dorna has already said it will push back the end of the season two weeks to 29 November. It could also add races during the summer break (July 13-August 2) or extend the season further, within the limits imposed by logistics, time differences and weather. “Our aim,” said Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, “is to maintain the Championship with the maximum number of races.”

As things stand, the revised season will end with two gruelling blocks of three races in three weeks, with just one week off in between. “Physically we can manage everything,” said Suzuki rider Joan Mir from Spain. “Mentally, it will put us all to the test.”

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Financially, Moto GP teams need to race, Herve Poncharal, the boss of the French Tech3 team, KTM’s satellite in Moto GP and Moto3, told AFP. “If there are no more GPs, there is no more income linked to sponsors and prize money,” he said.

Racing on tracks without paying fans is not an attractive option. “Closed-door racing, economically speaking, is unplayable. We need income,” he said.

Johan Stigefelt, who manages team SRT, a satellite of Yamaha that races in all three classes, tried to find an upside if more races are lost. “Okay, in that scenario, we will also travel less so the cost for travelling will be less and so on,” he said.

‘Difficult scenario’

The cancellation of Qatar also created a technical problem. Bikes are inspected on the Thursday before the opening race, a process called homologation, and after that teams, with exception of relative newcomers KTM and Aprilia, cannot upgrade engines and can only change the bike’s “aero-body” once per rider.

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In a statement on Monday, Moto GP said: “For reasons of equality and fairness, the homologation must therefore be carried out remotely and digitally as soon as possible.”

Like Formula One, in Moto GP teams are traditionally required to shut down their workshops in August. The four-wheel organisation has opted to lengthen and move forward that break to March-April but Moto GP “never considered a mandatory shutdown period.”

The effects of the coronavirus will be felt in 2021 as well.

F1 has been forced, as a cost-saving measure, to postpone by a year its “big bang,” which was due to give birth to completely redesigned single-seaters in 2021. Moto GP has not yet said whether it will postpone development, but Poncharal said, “freezing the technical regulations to those of 2020 or organising fewer races” would reduce costs next year.

Stigefelt agrees. “We are going to be travelling and racing until very late this year, until late in December perhaps,” he said. “That means that the season next year will start early.”

“If you have one month only to prepare yourself for 2021, one month or something like that before you start testing, that could be a difficult scenario for manufacturers.”