In my article analyzing the Jerez private tests, which took an in-depth look at the times set by the WorldSBK bikes and the MotoGP bikes, I set out several reasons why I thought Jonathan Rea would not be moving to MotoGP, despite obviously being fast enough. Though Rea has good reasons of his own to prefer to stay in WorldSBK, a good portion of the blame lies with MotoGP team managers, I argued.
That argument was based in part on a press conference held during the last round of the season at Valencia. In that press conference, the heads of racing of the six manufacturers in MotoGP gave their view of the season. During that press conference, On Track Off Road's Adam Wheeler asked Yamaha's Lin Jarvis, Ducati's Paolo Ciabatti, and KTM's Pit Beirer whether they regarded WorldSBK as a viable talent pool, or whether they were looking more towards Moto2 and Moto3 as the place to find new riders.
All three men were very clear on what they viewed as their main talent pool. "I would say the primary place where you look for young talent is here in the paddock," Lin Jarvis said. "If you look at the Moto2 and the Moto3 riders, there’s a lot of young talent coming up. There’s a lot of rider development programs also financed and promoted by Dorna. For instance, the VR46 Academy which we are aligned with. So I would say that there’s no question that the primary focus is going to be still in this paddock."
Jarvis did not write off the WorldSBK series altogether, but he was hesitant. "Occasionally you find a rider that can transition from one class to another," the Yamaha Racing boss said. "I think that the Superbike class has validity in its objectives and targets, but I would say it would be exceptional if we took a young talent from there. Most of the young talent will probably switch earlier and will come over to this MotoGP class."
Experience of their own
Ducati Corse sporting director Paolo Ciabatti felt much the same way as Yamaha's Lin Jarvis. "I have to say I agree with Lin," he replied. "Obviously, Ducati is still committed to World Superbikes. There are riders who came from Superbike and have been successful in MotoGP. Cal Crutchlow, Danilo Petrucci are botth coming from that championship. But as he said, I think it’s more a question of exceptions than the rule."
For Ciabatti, the talent development projects set up by Dorna meant that talent was already in plentiful supply in the Grand Prix paddock. "With all the programs organized around this championship, it’s easier to look at the young talents coming from a class which is already part of this series," he said. "It’s also easier to follow closer the development of these riders. So, I must say that eventually it’s more coming from the Moto3, the Moto2 than from Superbike."
The question was a little different for KTM. The Austrian manufacturer has not been involved in the WorldSBK paddock since 2010, when they raced the RC8 in the Superstock 1000 championship. That made it difficult for KTM boss Pit Beirer to comment. "We have no involvement there so I cannot really judge or talk about it."
The Austrian talent factory
KTM does have an very extensive talent development program, however. KTM supplies bikes for the Red Bull Rookies Cup, and supports riders in the FIM CEV Moto3 championship, and in Moto3 and Moto2 at the Grand Prix level."About young riders, of course we have our own strategy," Beirer explained. "Since we are now involved in Moto2 and MotoGP, the whole story makes sense for us supporting the Rookies Cup since more than ten years now. This develops riders for the whole paddock. Sometimes we are jealous to grow up so nice talents and we had no chance to use some of them."
But the aim for KTM was to develop talent for their own MotoGP project, eventually. "Now with having a big Moto3 project with 15 bikes next season, and our own Moto2 project where we can have still contact with our riders, and hopefully using one of our rookies on a MotoGP bike. That’s a target of our own riders’ development program. That’s very clear. We are not looking to other disciplines to look for riders."
Precedents from the past
Are the MotoGP teams missing out on talent by ignoring World Superbikes? Certainly, riders like Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies are talented enough to compete in MotoGP. They have their age against them, of course, and would be expected to be competitive immediately, while younger riders would be given more time to adapt. But as Ducati boss Paolo Ciabatti pointed out, there is still a path between the two series.
Of the 24 riders lining up on the MotoGP grid in 2018, three will have passed through the WorldSBK paddock. Cal Crutchlow is perhaps the most obvious example, having gone from BSB to World Supersport, where he won the championship in his first full season. He moved to the Tech 3 Yamaha team in 2011, after a single season in World Superbikes, following in the footsteps of Ben Spies, who had come across a year earlier.
Danilo Petrucci had a tougher route into MotoGP, going from the European Superstock 600 championship to the Superstock 1000 Cup, where he finished as runner up to Davide Giugliano in 2011, his second year in the series. Petrucci was offered a chance aboard a BMW-powered CRT bike with the IODA team in 2012. After three seasons in MotoGP with the weakest team aboard sub par machinery, Petrucci was finally given a chance in the Pramac Ducati squad.
Franco Morbidelli followed a similar path to Petrucci. The Italian raced for three seasons in the Superstock 600 series, winning the title in 2013, before making the switch to Moto2 in 2014. He spent two years with the Italtrans team before making the switch to the Marc VDS squad. There, he took eight podiums in his first year, then followed it up with eight wins and the Moto2 title in 2017.
Talent will out
Morbidelli, Petrucci, and Crutchlow have all proven their worth in Grand Prix racing. Crutchlow has two victories and a total of thirteen podiums in MotoGP. He has had a factory contract with Ducati, and is now on a factory contract with HRC inside the LCR Honda team, where he is an invaluable part of the bike development process. Petrucci has five podiums with Ducati and has been instrumental in helping turn the Desmosedici GP17 into a competitive bike. Petrucci was often given setups to test for Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo during 2017, and still managed to grab four podiums. And Franco Morbidelli is a world champion.
The difference with Rea and Davies, perhaps, is the fact that Crutchlow, Petrucci, and Morbidelli all came across from the World Superbike paddock at a much younger age. Crutchlow was 25 years old when he joined Tech 3 in MotoGP. Danilo Petrucci was 21 when he joined IODA Racing to race their CRT bike. And Franco Morbidelli was just 19 when he moved to Moto2 with Italtrans. Perhaps there is not much hope for the older riders in World Superbikes. But who knows which surprise talents might emerge from World Supersport or Superstock 1000 at some point in the future?
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