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Why Is Racing So Expensive?

Published: 17 February 2009

Why Is Racing So Expensive? Teams and organisers often comment about how expensive racing is, but what makes it so expensive? There’s no written rule that says how much you have to spend to race, it’s all down to how competitive you want to be, and who you want to beat.

As an example let’s look at World Superbikes, a supposed less expensive formula. When this Championship started in 1988, no one had any idea of what the competition would really be like, and there weren’t the big sponsors like there are now.

The rules stated that the bikes had to start life as production road bikes, and various parts were allowed to be changed to increase the performance. To most riders, this was just a case of finding a suitable off the shelf bike for a suitable price, applying the manufacturer’s race kit, finding a friend to be the mechanic, get a van, and off they went. Wheels were changed for magnesium and the rear shock was changed for a race item. Not much was spent on race preparation, and much of the bikes were still original. There were a couple of works supported teams such as Ducati and Bimota, but even these were very small operations compared to today.

Some works supported riders were just given a bike and left to get on with it themselves, with no other support at all. Looking at old pictures from 1988, original bodywork in standard colours can even be seen. As everyone did the same, all the bikes were competitive with each other. As races went on, riders looked for more performance, and this would generally cost more money.

The first things on the list were the cheaper parts, like lightweight race bodywork, and junking more of the unessential road items. More money was spent on engine and suspension, using specialist companies to get the best results. Over time, the bikes became more specialised, more mechanics were needed to look after the technical side of things, and the teams grew in size from the original couple of mates and a van. This all got more expensive, and all in the quest to beat the opposition.

The whole operation and race paddock does look a lot more professional than it did a few years ago, and this is vital when trying to attract new sponsors, but a happy medium needs to be found between spending and image.

MotoGP has also expanded in much the same way, but it’s been expensive for so long now that no one can remember when it was less costly. Some teams do have an attitude of trying to look like they are spending more money than the opposition, like top racers themselves like to be fitter than their rivals. This is a good way of trying to out psyche the opposition, letting them think they are weaker or less well prepared before the race has even started.

All the top teams are now looking at ways to reduce costs, and some have already stopped the race personnel travelling business class. This is a very easy way to save money, but the question needs to be asked, did they really need to be travelling business class in the first place? Did all the team members travel business class, or just the senior members.

In reality, the teams are ultimately responsible for how much racing costs, as they are the ones who’ve driven the costs up to stratospheric regions. Any cost cutting measures enforced by the organisers will just result in the saved money being spent elsewhere to improve performance. If all the teams really want to reduce costs, they all need to talk honestly to each other and decide what they are going to do about it. Any team who is not honest during these conversations, could easily get themselves an advantage, knowing their rivals are going to be willing to slow down development...

Imagine the scene where a manufacturer backed MotoGP team finds that engine development is getting very difficult and costly. Their engine is very good so far, but pushing it up to the next level is damaging the reliability and fuel consumption. They’ve tried almost everything and are getting very frustrated. This same team has also noticed that there are some weak spots with the aerodynamics that could be quite easily fixed. Word gets around about cost cutting measures and a big meeting between all the teams and manufacturers is organised. This team goes to the meeting and manages to convince other teams to freeze engine development in the name of reducing costs. The ruling is put through and this team goes away happy, with a large cheque being spent on a wind tunnel. No more engine development headaches and using aerodynamics as an alternative way to beat the opposition.

Can the big teams really be honest with each other in ways to save money? If the money is there to spend, it’ll be used on something to gain an advantage. It’s the same with the sponsors. They’re putting money in to get good results and publicity. They don’t want to see the team finish midfield with some of the budget left at the end. Proposals have been put through to cut the amount of practice time at each race weekend, and possibly no practice on a Friday.

Single bike rules have also been suggested. Looking at the reduction in practice time, how much money will this really save? The fans will miss out with less practice to see, and without the fans, racing is nothing. Saving fifteen minutes here and there of the running time will save the teams a bit of fuel and tyre and engine life, but at the cost of setting up the bike for the race.

Tyre and engine life can quite easily be extended, so that’s not really a saving. With less time to set the bike up, more money could be spent on data logging, software and data engineers to set the bikes up quicker. The bikes have data logging already, and have done for many years now, but the logging can always be expanded upon with extra money.

Cutting Friday practice altogether will save the teams one day of hotel bills and at the same time reduce the circuit Friday practice revenue from fans. Reducing the riders to one bike only will put even more pressure on the engineers and technicians to try different bike set ups. The rider won’t be able to come in and swap bikes to try a different set up, but will have a bit of downtime while things are adjusted.

How will this affect the wet weather race rule where riders are allowed to swap to a bike with different tyres. What defines a second bike? If a team has spares of everything to build a second or third bike, at what point of assembly does it become an extra bike? The teams need spares of everything otherwise a practice crash could rule a rider out of the race due to lack of parts.

Could the team have a half assembled bike waiting in the garage in case of emergency? If a bike is needed to be repaired very quickly, more technicians might be needed to achieve this. Whatever rules are implemented to save costs, ways round them could prove even more expensive. Teams are always looking for ways around rules to get a technical advantage, and as long as they have the budget, they will spend it.

All the top teams like to win, and when the racing is getting too expensive with no decent results to show for it, they look at pulling out. When all the manufacturers get together, are open about their budgets, and what cutbacks they are really going to make, the racing could settle back down to what we want to see. With the way MotoGP is these days, the big manufacturers need to stay, because with out them there could be no bikes at all.

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