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.
The sight of six top WorldSBK riders boycotting the Saturday race at the largely excellent Villicum circuit was alarming in so many ways. For the organisers, of both the race series and the track, it could have been more alarming had all the riders that the ‘Villicum6’ said were not going to ride - before being persuaded to - followed through with that plan. The verbal fallout was sometimes downright nasty, as battle lines were drawn and opinions hardened.'
How did things get so bad? How did people who would normally have been over the moon to ride at one of the best laid out contemporary circuits on the planet decide not to compete on the first raceday of the penultimate round?
They refused because nothing was normal about the racetrack surface, from the minute everybody arrived in Argentina. The track, too recently re-laid in some areas, was not bedded in and was still giving off grease and oil in some places. This happens with new tarmac, and happens a lot in high temperatures. And it was baking for the first few days. Add to the mix a hideously crusty and clagging layer of dirt on the whole track surface and it was shocking how bad the otherwise nice new track surface looked.
People who can get their elbow down with regularity could not get their knee down in the final corner section on Friday. On a racing motorcycle, and despite efforts to clean the surface and then eventually lots of work and laps in cars to try and clean it up some more, it was treacherous, and worse as the temperatures increased each afternoon. After the 2018 round, when bits of the track were lifting as the bikes took to the circuit, the organisers of the race (largely funded by the local government) simply had to resurface all the corners.
As the fast final Sunday race times showed, and most of the riders at the end of a both turbulent and terrific weekend said as well, the finally clean-ish racing line was fine. Off line it was still skating on rubber all weekend. Even the racing line was still slippery if the temperature got high. And did on Friday and Saturday.
Oh… Saturday… Saturday teatime was deemed to be all right for fighting, although not everybody got a little action in.
Unfortunately, whoever was truly responsible for the mess that was Friday and Saturday, the bottom line is that WorldSBK’s collective image took a hit again. Arriving at an otherwise magnificent venue to find problems with the track surface for the second year in succession is not and should never be acceptable. WorldSBK’s ‘frenemies’ need no more ammunition. Whatever systems of checking/forcing standards and timescales there are, they did not work at Villicum. Or don’t exist in the real world.
In a professional World Championship that is hardly acceptable. Still, there was only one international journalist on site last weekend (you are reading his ramblings right now) and nearly 30,000 fewer spectators than in 2018, so maybe nobody noticed? What about you, Mr Twitter sphere?
Now that the worst of the anger and disrespect is hopefully left behind in the swirling jet contrails of those heading back home before the final round in Qatar, the reasons why this situation happened have to be explained. And well beyond the Villicum bubble in a proper, non-partisan way.
Argentina, being a mix of Spain and Thailand, to these old eyes at least, is a fabulous country to go bike racing in. At San Juan especially, as it is home to the old Zonda circuit, as well as the new Villicum one. They really wanted to have WorldSBK, especially as MotoGP goes to their other circuit, in Termas.
Dorna really want a WorldSBK race in South America, and San Juan fits the bill perfectly. They also need all the long hauls they can get, and more of that later. A tough and not straightforward series of long and short flights gets the European based teams to Villicum, but once there everybody loves it. So it is a bit of a prize for all concerned.
That is another aspect of what made this weekend in particular, particularly difficult. The effort put in by all. This round feels like double a normal race in terms of personal and financial investment. It takes longer and costs more to get to San Juan than it does going to Australia.
So it was a particularly sharp punch in the solar plexus to find the track the way it was.
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