Gordon Ritchie's blog

Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: The Past Is A Foreign Country…

Can you complete the second half of the famous quote that forms the headline? I confess I had to look it up to make sure of the correct wording. It was L.P. Hartley’s book ‘The Go-Between’ that delivered its much-quoted opening line “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” into the language.

With still no racing in WorldSBK since the opener in Australia in February/March, and no more absolutely guaranteed for some time yet, everybody and their media outlets are looking into the past for their WorldSBK source material now. We gotta watch and read something.

May as well join the nostalgia fest here, but with the past being a foreign country and all, it may need a degree of translation when comparing early WorldSBK feats to the 2020 versions. Everything and everybody has a past, even if WorldSBK - now in its 33rd year - is decades younger than GP racing.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Second; Best?

How much WorldSBK rights holders Dorna value their second division championship will only be fully known after the COVID-19 lockdown across most of the world has been lifted. Nobody seems to think that is about to happen anytime soon. And to state the obvious, you cannot hold a World Championship of any kind unless all the riders and teams, scattered across the entire globe, are allowed to first travel, then race and finally get back home again afterwards.

The WorldSBK calendar, as we have seen twice already, is being actively rescheduled, ‘back-weighted’ to the autumn months and will be heavily truncated unless a miracle happens between now and July. (On a personal note my 2020 wall planner is taking on the appearance of a Jackson Pollock action painting, with WorldSBK rounds having been inked in and scrubbed out already).

It was interesting therefore to note that Dorna made an official comment on the whole virus situation recently, and even managed a kind word or two about WorldSBK next to the gilded MotoGP lettering, which got its usual top billing.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: End Of Daze

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.

With the racing world in turmoil due to the coronavirus outbreak (just like the rest of the world) we decided to publish this blog in full for all readers, rather than just for subscribers.

Poor old WorldSBK, it just cannot seem to catch a break, can it? After one of the most remarkable opening rounds in its 30-plus years of history, laden with close racing, human drama and an entirely positive outlook from both within and without the paddock, the post-Phillip Island WorldSBK posse was looking forward to another triple-header of high velocity brawls two weekends later, at Losail in Qatar. The MotoGP guys would even sweep the dustbowl track clear for us one week before, so everybody would be primed, ready and able to show the same kind of close formation action at another fast circuit so very soon after the classic opener in Australia.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Hybridisation - Is A WorldSBK/EWC Link Up On The Cards?

In an effort to shoot WorldSBK back into the big time popularity it once inhabited, the long-time rights holders Dorna have not been shy in loading a variety of projectiles into the WorldSBK blunderbuss in an effort to hit a target that appears almost impossible to get the range of any more. WorldSBK is, after all, just too well camouflaged behind Dorna’s own impressively proportioned MotoGP force field.

So far we have had WorldSBK initiatives like partially reversed grids, races on both Saturday and Sunday, three race weekends, a ten-lap sprint race, different rev limits manufacturer-to-manufacturer, the culling of the entire Superstock 1000 and 600 development categories and the promotion of 300s to a full World Championship class. And now slick tyres in the 600 and 300 Supersport divisions for 2020. There will be other things too but there have been so many changes I have doubtless forgotten some of them, as I shake off the inevitable jetlag inherent in adjusting to Aussie time.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Making The Jump

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. This month's blog has been published for non-subscribers as well, as it addresses an important subject, and is in part a reply to an article by respected Spanish journalist Manuel Pecino. If you would like to read all of Gordo's columns in full, make sure you subscribe.

New season looming, same old story. Where are the indicators of new/young British talent coming from in the MotoGP entry list? Actually, in WorldSBK too, which is the point I would finally like to address.

Let me be clear that this column was going to be about something else entirely this month until a wander through the Twittersphere pointed my curiosity in the direction of old friends and colleagues, Mat Oxley and Manuel Pecino. Few racing journalists are as respected as these guys, each with decades of cutting-edge MotoGP scribing and insight behind them.

I was hooked even before I followed the link to read the pecinogp.com story asking – from a Spanish perspective and using Mat as their British conduit - where were the British riders going to come from now in the top MotoGP class?

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Calendar Grills

As one more championship in WorldSBK has now run its enormously unexpected final course, the off-season gives us time for both reflection and plotting a path forward.

OK, that’s the reflection over, what about 2020 and beyond?

The WorldSBK series does not quite restart its new season preparations just two days after the old season, as it does in MotoGP. In those terms it took a bit over two weeks to get WorldSBK bedded in again, but most teams are already getting into 2020 mode after two days of tests at Motorland Aragon.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Tyred And Commotional

As one more championship in WorldSBK has now run its enormously unexpected final course, the off-season gives us time for both reflection and plotting a path forward.

OK, that’s the reflection over, what about 2020 and beyond?

The WorldSBK series does not quite restart its new season preparations just two days after the old season, as it does in MotoGP. In those terms it took a bit over two weeks to get WorldSBK bedded in again, but most teams are already getting into 2020 mode after two days of tests at Motorland Aragon.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Tracks Of Our Years - Notes From Argentina

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?

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Super Subversions

Sometimes things are hard in WorldSBK.

The perennial difficulty, however, is defining, balancing and homologating exactly what a WorldSBK machine is. And consequentially, what the technical rules should be.

Now that every single WorldSBK machine is a 1000cc four-cylinder of some kind you would think that the old issues of balancing machines against one another would have been homogenised out of their long-lasting and controversial existence.

After all, Ducatis and eventually Hondas and Aprilias were all bigger on twin-cylinder engine displacement than their four and occasional three-cylinder competitors for almost every season in WorldSBK until this one.

And therefore, usually, they delivered better results. Look at the stats.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Stock Market Derivatives

The WorldSBK season has simply exploded with bizarre chapters since the last time this wee column was punched out.

The gleeful anoraks will remember it, at least, as a season of three roughly unequal parts. The early third when Alvaro Bautista came in from MotoGP like a tiny trophy typhoon and forced everybody else back onto the cold shelter of their tech basements to try and find something – anything – that could match the rev-ravishing Ducati. That whole red effort huffed, puffed and blew all their houses of hope down flat, right up until Imola.

Even at that serpentine circuit, which snakes uphill and down and has tricky entries ready to punish the reckless, Bautista took a deep breath, accepted he was not finding his way around it like 11-year Superbike man Rea (not on his first visit anyway) and took his medicine in the form of minor points losses. Second and third and then once cancelled wet race for everybody. Hardly the stuff of nightmares...

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Brainstorming New Rules

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.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Stock Market Derivatives

No sooner had the idea of a full World Championship for so-called production machinery been agreed in 1988 than half the manufacturers had already created homologation special road bikes which then dominated most of the early results. But that was only part of the story, then and now.

WorldSBK has never been a true production racing series, whether you started in year dot with a super-special 851 Ducati or a humble Kawasaki GPX750. Chassis or engine; you could legally muck about with them.

Really, quite a lot.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Questions And Answers

After one chilled and one deep-frozen WorldSBK outing since the last column we still have red-hot Bolognese as the only meal available in the WorldSBK race-winning restaurant.

It may have a liberal sprinkling of Manchego cheese on top, in the form of the super-fast and utterly faultless Alvaro Bautista, but so far the winning recipe in WorldSBK has been mostly about a game-changing machine and the people who make it sing at castrato engine frequencies all the way to 2019 perfection.

Proof that a well-set-up Ducati Panigale V4R is peerless right now came in two ways in Assen; an event so cold that even well-padded people known for their polo-shirts-with-everything-attire had to fiddle with zips on puffa jackets on their way out of the media centre.

Firstly, when the Aruba.it Ducati team decided to try to give Bautista more of a potential advantage for the future, their attempts to take his bike setting into a potentially more golden point on the compass met with disaster. In any direction of change, it seemed. Disaster was their rider’s word, not mine.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Are We Done Already?

We have never seen anything quite like the arrival of Alvaro Bautista and his big red rocket of a Ducati Panigale V4R in WorldSBK history. Well, we kinda have, in the form of Doug Polen on that year’s ballistic desmo missile back in 1991. Just not quite as dominantly in only two rounds, as Polen won five from six, after a retirement in race two at Donington.

Whatever the comparison, ex-GP runner Bautista has entered WorldSBK at Star Trek levels of spacetime continuums by winning the first six races of the 2019 season, his first ever races in WorldSBK. The fact that there are three races per meeting now, not two, only slightly detracts from the glorious arrival of the new class act - stage left, right and centre.

Really, can you pick holes in the fabric of Ducati’s Alvaro effort so far?

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Premature Participation

For many years now, WorldSBK bods of all kinds have asked themselves the same question as they wake up in strange beds in Australia, at a reliably horrible 3.30am for the first few days.

Jet lag does, at least, give you time to think of an answer to it.

That question is, ‘does WorldSBK start too early in the year?’

The answer is of course a firm yes, it does.

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