Written by By Dasha Afanasieva, CNN
For most sports, launching a new prototype race car comes along at the quarter-mile mark. But for MotoGP organizers, a long wait is as good as a win.
The most recent race in Qatar three weeks ago culminated with the announcement of a new generation of MotoGP cars — the most significant changes to the sport’s rules since 2007.
On Saturday, that red-and-black prototype race car makes its racing debut in Spain as two riders prepare to ride in the MotoGP World Endurance Championship race at Jerez from which MotoGP’s World Endurance Champion (WEC) will be selected.
That’s not all for the new generation — it’ll be two years until they take to the track, on a lap in under a minute, as part of the world’s best motorcycling championship series.
But the WEC motorcycles have much more in common with MotoGP cars, except for one unique characteristic: They’re ‘probably only men’
With the WEC the new challenge that MotoGP long has been attempting to solve, the wait for MotoGP to come out of retirement.
‘Strangers at a dinner party’
Yamaha’s Ben Spies has won three MotoGP races so far this season. Credit: Laurent Cipriani/Bike Rider/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
Those that have started competing in FIM’s World Endurance Championship say that it offers a strikingly similar feel to the race track in North America, but on a much grander scale.
“It’s so cool,” Yamaha’s Jor-El “Yamaha Eagle” Jerez said. “You meet so many people from all around the world. It’s not like you come from Indianapolis, but you do feel like you are at a dinner party.”
“I’m actually living out my dreams,” he added. “At one point in the past I probably thought the reality would be different from what I see now.”
Greg LeMond was among the first to try the FIM World Endurance Championship’s modified lightweight bikes. Credit: Ross Kinnaird/Red Bull
Mike Checketts, captain of the BMW Team MGB, has already experienced one of the advantages of such a change in conditions, as the warm weather has allowed the WEC bikes to ride faster than the North American ones — like he did in Argentina.
“The first time I rode them (the FIM bikes) at MotoGP’s 12th race in Colombia we got out in a race in sixth. I did my very first laps of MotoGP, when I had a major problem in the third corner,” he recalled.
“I’m hoping in the next two years the new FIM bikes will be more competitive than the Yamaha bikes we’re competing with. For the Yamaha, we’re almost the same bikes, but they’ve become very, very different. And I mean very, very different.”
Stéphane Sarrazin, who races a Ducati in the MotoGP World Endurance Championship, rides as a spectator during one of his races. Credit: Laurent Cipriani/Bike Rider/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
At first glance, the bikes in the World Endurance Championship are really all MotoGP bikes. They were specially modified to handle a different topography, improved aerodynamics and a bigger power boost, as motorsport experienced a surge in popularity in the past few years.
“You notice a difference right away. You know that it’s definitely different, and that no matter how you measure it, it is different,” Dominique Vergne, a Ducati factory pilot in the WEC, said of the difference in conditions between the open wheel MotoGP cars and the customized modified FIM bikes.
“The main difference is the design. Before, every bike was designed using the planos (a hybrid of a front and back engine that is used to produce a complete bike). The new FIM bikes have a completely different design, where you know what you have. Every bike is like the biggest super car you ever drove.”
As for the future of the WEC, the battle for the new entry-level title — which will culminate at the third MotoGP event of the season, in Malaysia — will be fierce.
Yamaha’s Jerez was among the first to come across Ducati’s post-race anthem, “Slow the Train Down.” Credit: Laurent Cipriani/Bike Rider/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
“The WEC is the best in the world right now,” Jerez said. “From what I’ve seen over the last three years, this new champion will definitely be a worthy champion.”