Gordon Ritchie has covered World Superbikes for over a quarter of a century, and is widely regarded as the world's leading journalist on the series. MotoMatters.com is delighted to be hosting a monthly blog by Ritchie. The full blog will be available each month for MotoMatters.com subscribers. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.
Sorry to leave you on an old-fashioned matinee cliffhanger last time, but here is my answer to what the WorldSBK technical regulations should be from now on. In these days when homologation specials are set to take over all over again, WorldSBK is about to be dragged back into a less road bike-relevant arms race. Smells like more cost and complexity to me.
It is also a contrary vector to the desire to have more streetbike-derived World Superbikes. A desire that appeared to be universal, until recently.
Personally, I can handle as much roadgoing exotica as you can throw at me, but it is not what we were all led to believe was WorldSBK’s future tech, even very recently.
Having dealt with the realities of current WorldSBK tech and why free electronics is still a big deal for the manufacturers in the previous column, the solution of how to make sure everybody is competitive requires full-spectrum mathematics rather than simple arithmetic, under the current rules regime at least.
But the necessity to find competitiveness for all is still the same Holy Grail, even if one manufacturer builds a €40,000 hyper-special street bike or another builds a more regular multi-cylinder Superbike for half that amount. They all still need to arrive on the grid with a podium-capable bike, somehow or other. Or else what’s the point of racing at this level?
With some current homologated WorldSBK models needing scrutineers who are also amateur palaeontologists, and yet some other bikes needing ex-NASA rocket scientists to understand their digital and metal nuances, WorldSBK is not like racing apples versus apples. As a starting point at least.
Dorna/FIM have made great strides in evening out rules so that everybody can compete on a basically level footing, and for a fair cost, from the very top factory-supported teams to ambitious privateers.
But… even allowing for Alvaro Bautista’s unquestioned 2019 excellence - a brilliant showing in almost every race - the way the new Ducati V4R works on track has also been class leading. It seems no less than an upward paradigm-shift. From its winglets to its blurry wheel rims, you can see it take metres out of even the most recent race winning bikes in every corner exit.
When it is set up properly, of course.
Why Chaz Davies has not emulated Bautista yet, when he has a record of 29 career race wins on three different manufacturers’ machines, is a combined sports psychology/engineering degree thesis all its own. So it is not an easy bike, the new Ducati. Which usually means it is a pretty extreme bike. Like we hadn’t noticed...
Deep down, however much Bautista has provided the human delta in the final results, everybody knows that the factory Ducati is the new WorldSBK reference bike. A brilliant piece of work with MotoGP DNA, track smarts - and muscle. It seems the clear new golden horse, even if only one shining knight has fully tamed it so far.
On this evidence, right now might be a good moment to start to reel in WorldSBK’s understandable but self-harming desire for ever-faster race engines. The rules currently prevent each manufacturer building a bike which is too far over its ‘natural’ peak revs and power as a donor road bike. But currently everybody can go to 103% (or 1100rpm, if lower) of their own peak revs to start, including the Ducati V4R. That already has a rev-range in the clouds as a showroom bike and ends up further in the stratosphere as a race bike.
So the direction for manufacturers under these current rules is now clear - start with a psycho-revvy engine in the next road bike so you can go even higher to beat the Ducati for punch and speed. And by the way, that high tech direction will deliver more extreme engine character and require more sophisticated electronics to keep things relatively tame exiting and entering corners… Experts only need apply. Sounds doubly expensive now, does it not?
There is an impending game of engine one-upmanship that probably should be avoided, especially as Dorna and FIM have said they want greater tech space between the MotoGP and WorldSBK categories.
So what’s the big solution I have yet to suggest?
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