Benelli to enter MotoGP
The depleted grids of the MotoGP class will receive a welcome boost in 2008, with the arrival of a two-rider team from Benelli. Alan investigates the importance of competition for the now Chinese-owned Italian marque.
Benelli has been absent from the Grand Prix paddock since 1973, when Walter Villa (later to win four world titles in the 250cc/350cc classes with Harley-Davidson} raced a solitary four-cylinder entry in the 350c and 500cc classes. Dissatisfied with the results, company owner - Argentinian entrepreneur and former car racer - Alejandro de Tomaso, pulled the Italian factory out of racing and since then, the Pesaro-based factory's only involvement with competition was in 2002-3, when Peter Goddard rode the prototype three-cylinder Benelli Tornado in the World Superbike Championship, without any significant success.
In a move likely to have long-term significance for the global motorcycle industry, Benelli was purchased last October by Qianjiang, China's largest motorcycle and scooter manufacturer. Thereafter, Benelli production restarted in January after being suspended since June 2005, while Qianjiang president Lin Hua Zhong publicly committed the new Benelli QJ company to producing 3000 bikes in 2006, increasing to 5000 in 2007 and 10,000 in 2008. Qianjiang's investment in the company will be targeted at establishing a full range of products bearing the historic Italian badge by 2010.
Five new models will enter production during 2006 alone, and Benelli has already reserved a massive 450sqm stand for Intermot 2006, at which it plans to present no fewer than 20 new models for 2007. No, that's not a misprint.... Winner of the 2003 China Exporter of the Year competition, and an official sponsor of the 2008 Peking Olympics, Qianjiang (pronounced Xhin-jung') began making motorcycles in 1985, and is now the market leader in China, producing more than 1.2-million powered two-wheeled vehicles and two-million engines every year. Around 80 per cent of which are motorcycles up to 250cc in capacity, and the rest scooters - Qianjiang exports 20 per cent of its production under the Keyway name, mainly to the USA, South America and Europe.
Of its 9000 employees, more than 2000 are engineers, and under the business plan unveiled by Lin Hua Zhong, the Chinese have big plans for Benelli, which extend some way beyond merely saving one of Italy's historic trophy marques from extinction.
As part of this process, Mr Lin has confirmed that his new Italian subsidiary will return to racing at the highest level in the near future. "Within the next two years, Benelli will enter MotoGP-either in 2007, or more likely in 2008," he reveals. "We already have an 5OOcc MotoGP engine under development for the new formula coming into existence next year, and are closely examining the best way to take part in this prestigious category, either with our own factory race team, or with an outside partner. Probably, we will work with an existing team to begin with, while we gain understanding of the challenge which (VIotoGP represents, and measure ourselves against our rivals. We believe competing in MotoGP is a good way of obtaining recognition of Benelli as an important manufacturer, and showing the excellence of our technology, as Benelli grows in size and expands its range of products."
And it doesn't end there: Benelli is also planning to compete once again in World Superbike, once the impending restructuring of the capacity limits and technical regulations sought by Ducati and other twin-cylinder manufacturers has been completed, with the expected raising also of the capacity limit from the present across-the-board 1OOOcc for three-cylinder bikes such as Benelli's new 1130 Tornado triple. "We will do one thing after another," asserts Mr Lin. "First MotoGP, then World Superbike, if they modify the rules to allow us to take part with the bikes we sell in the marketplace which, so I understand, is the purpose of the modified production Superbike class."
This article appeared in the 'Motorcycle Sport and Leisure' mag a few months ago and is reprinted from a forum member's submission.