It's been a busy couple of days at FIM headquarters, as they have been putting the finishing touch to new rules for both the World Superbike and MotoGP series. The biggest news was the release of the detailed technical regulations for the World Superbike series for 2014 and beyond. The new rules had been announced in early August, but the precise details had to wait until now. The one thing missing from the announced rules is any mention of an overall price cap. That, presumably, will come at a later date.
Though the changes outlined in the new reuglations are extremely detailed, they can be boiled down to a few major points: the introduction, of the EVO class, which allows Superstock engines in Superbike chassis; the introduction of price caps on suspension and brakes; restrictions on gear ratios; and the introduction of an engine allocation system similar to that in MotoGP, and also in Superstock.
The engine allocation system had long been expected, after Carmelo Ezpeleta made a series of barbed (and misleading) attacks on the number of engines supposedly used by Aprilia in WSBK in 2011 and 2012. The limit on the number of engines is relatively low: each rider will have 8 engines to last a season with. Though that seems reasonable for some 13 or 14 race weekends, that requires the engines to last for 26 or more races. As in MotoGP, the engines are sealed to prevent maintenance on crankshaft, bottom and top ends and the valve train, other than camchain tension adjustment. The crankcases, cylinders, cylinder heads and valve and cam covers are sealed. Seals may be broken to allow gearbox ratios to be changed - see below - but also as in MotoGP, that can only be done in the presence of a technical official from the series.
The aim of imposing restrictions on engine maintenance is to reduce cost, though the savings will be different in WSBK compared to MotoGP. The savings in MotoGP were largely in transport: previously, engines from some Japanese factories were flown back to Japan to be stripped, checked and rebuilt, before being flown back for the next race. For World Superbikes, engines are all maintained by the teams in their own workshops, and so shipping is not an issue. However, restricting the number of engines each team can use will reduce the amount of tuning which can be done. Reliability will become a bigger factor, and as WSBK allows limited modification of engine internals, reducing the state of tune of the engines is the most obvious way of pursuing it. This is likely to punish some manufacturers more than others: in its stock state, the Aprilia RSV4 produces 177hp at the crank. BMW's S1000RR pumps out 193hp, and Kawasaki's ZX-10R kicks out a smidgeon over 200hp.
Another change aimed at reducing cost is the restriction on gearbox ratios. Teams will be allowed two options: they can either have the choice of two sets of gearbox ratios, plus the choice of two primary drive ratios, or they can have the choice of three gearbox ratios. Though alternative ratios can be selected individually for each gear, they can only be changed as a predefined set of gears. In other words, the teams have a choice of two or three gearboxes with set ratios they can use; they can't mix and match individual gear ratios. Gear ratios will have to be selected at the beginning of each season, and declared to the series organizers.
The idea behind restricting gear ratios is to reduce spending in three areas. Firstly, the teams don't have to carry as many physical gears around with them, as their choices are so restricted. Secondly, they don't have to spend so much time either exchanging gears and building gearboxes, or running computer simulations to figure out the best possible combination of gear ratios. Finally, as is the case with the restriction of engines, the hope is that the amount of engine tuning will be less, as the engines will have to be slightly more flexible in their power delivery. Fewer possible gear choices mean a broader spread of torque is required. Of course, for some of the factory teams, the savings in time spent on gearing will just go into electronics to manage power delivery, so it remains to be seen how effective this will be.
Perhaps the biggest saving will come in the imposition of price caps on suspension and braking parts. Though the items themselves were not that expensive, the real cost was in the service contract which teams were forced to sign for the maintenance and set up of forks and shocks. A team might pay, say, 40,000 euros for a couple of sets of forks, but then over 100,000 euros for the technician to maintain them and advise and manage spring rates, damping, etc.
Under the new rules, suspension manufacturers will have to supply a list of available suspension parts, complete with the cost of spares. They must be prepared to supply any team which asks them, at the prices stated in the official lists. More importantly, the manufacturers must be willing to supply them without imposing a service contract on them. The teams are free to sign up to such a service contract if they wish - something the top teams will all almost certainly do - but it is no longer a compulsory part of purchase.
A similar set of rules has also been imposed on brakes and brake parts. Each brake manufacturer will have to supply a list of parts for approval, at a fixed price, and free of a service contract.
There were further minor tweaks to the technical regulations, including restrictions on the method of crankshaft balancing, the use of variable intake tract systems, and the use of the homologated air box. These changes were all refinements, however, not major shake ups.
The biggest change was the introduction of the EVO sub-class of WSBK machines. EVO bikes will race in the World Superbike series, much as the CRT bikes have raced in MotoGP for the past eighteen months. The EVO bikes are basically a hybrid of Superstock engines in full-blown Superbike chassis, with a few minor variations.
EVO bikes will be allowed to use 6 engines a season, rather than the 8 allowed for the full WSBK rules, but twice as many as the 3 allowed in the Superstock 1000 rules. Though engine modifications are as limited as they are in Superstock, the exhaust systems can be full Superbike systems, rather than the more restricted Superstock homologated systems. Clutches are similarly unregulated, with the same ability to replace the stock unit with modified or specialist racing clutches.
Gearbox rules are in the middle of the new WSBK and existing Superstock rules. A team running an EVO bike are free to select their own gear ratios, but they are only allowed a single set of ratios, which they must use all year. Primary drive ratios must remain as standard. The advantage is that EVO bikes are not stuck with the standard gear ratios, but once they have selected a set of gear ratios, they are stuck with them, and can only modify gearing by changing the final drive sprockets and chains.
The electronics remain as they are in Superstock, limited to either the standard ECU with modified software, or a manufacturer-approved kit ECU with a price cap. The price cap is slightly more generous than the Superstock rules. Data logging is also less restricted than Superstock, with 10 channels allowed rather than 7, but not as free as in WSBK, where there are no restrictions on how many channels can be logged. As with so many other items, the data logging system is price capped, in this case to 1000 euros.
The point of the EVO class is to offer a cheap entry point for teams wishing to enter the class, and to help flesh out the grid. WSBK was down to 19 full time entries at the start of the 2013 season, but since the announcement of the EVO class, two teams have indicated their interest in moving up to the World Superbike class. It seems unlikely that EVO is the desired end point of the WSBK technical regulations; due to the disparity in power of the various production bikes, performance is hard to balance without allowing engine modification. The dominance of the BMW S1000RR, Ducati 1199 Panigale, and most especially the Kawasaki ZX-10R in Superstock 1000 show up the difficulty of restricting engine modification too much. World Superbikes cannot afford to lose any more manufacturers. But given the severely anemic state of the grid, it cannot continue as it is, either.