Aren't motorcycles wonderful? The people in charge of the MotoGP decided the 990cc's were too fast, so they cut the capacity to 800cc, reduced the fuel limit, but left the minimum weight the same. 148Kg for a four-cylinder.
And they go faster. There's no mystery, really. All these big four-strokes have too much power, but the last season MotoGP bikes (990cc) had way too much torque as well. They were the ultimate in point-and-squirt. Muscle bikes, really.
The 2008 MotoGP season bikes (800cc) are both noisier and in some ways more exciting, but mainly much more refined. Where the last season 990cc MotoGP bikes fishtailed into the bends then laid big blackies out of them, the new bikes let riders arc in fast and smooth, using all the paint, as well as incredible angles of lean. Valentino Rossi's crew chief Jerry Burgess confirmed they are faster through a set of corners. It seems there has been some increase at the slowest point of the corners too, but possibly not as much as the eight or twelve km/h claimed by some, including Rossi, as well as Bridgestone tire engineers. Team Roberts technical guru Warren Willing, like Burgess, believes any increase has been small, and down to better tires and better general handling rather then any magic from a smaller engine.
All the same, through a set of corners, the speed is sufficiently higher to make up for the loss of top end. At pre-season tests this was almost exactly 10 km/h, with Ducati still the fastest, Casey Stoner trapping at 277.3 km/h.
Valentino Rossi explains: "the bike is better balanced. With the old bike it was a problem to put the power on the ground, although the sliding was enjoyable. But you couldn't use the best line. Now we use all the track and one line, or another line" Hayden adds: "in certain areas, it's more of a rider's bike. I'm enjoying it more than the last season 990cc MotoGP bike."
Technically, the designers have also been able to shift the weight around, because the engines are significantly lighter, as much as six kilos in the case of the Kawasaki ZX-RR and about the same for the Honda. In many cases, says Jerry Burgess the last year 990c MotoGP bikes were overweight, and can now get closer to the minimum.
The biggest change ha come in tires. Bridgestone chief Hiroshi Yamada explains how with less torque the tire design brief has been skewed in favor of edge-grip, allowing higher lean angles. Michelin have even more ammunition, a new 16-inch front, was before 16.5 inch. With a smaller rolling diameter and a bigger contact patch this exploits the new-found agility, allowing later braking and faster corner entry.
Just one problem. As the engines shrunk by 20 percent, so also did maximum fuel tank size, from 22 to 21 liters. But the new 800cc MotoGP bikes are greedier than the old 990cc bikes. Riders open the throttle sooner and rev higher. Fuel consumption is a serious concern, hence a heavy emphasis on full race simulations in testing so far
Kawsaki cheif Ichiro Yoda said: 'if we stick to 18,000rpm, we are alright, but if we want to increase, it will be difficult'.
With leads to a final surprise. With less torque to mange, the 2008 season 800cc MotoGP bikes actually have less electronics than before, reversing the trend of the past few years and returning more control to the riders.