Steve English Blog: BSB vs WorldSBK - What's The Difference Between You And Me?

When people talk about the differences between BSB and WorldSBK the biggest talking point is the relative competitiveness of both. What are the biggest factors?

I’m a self confessed addict. There’s nothing better than sitting down on a Sunday to watch racing. It doesn’t matter what it is. Cars or bikes I’ll be sitting down to watch it. My earliest memories are of sitting down and watching Formula 1 and from when I started to watch World Superbikes and 500GP in the 90’s I was fully hooked.

Missing school on a Friday and watching practice sessions wasn’t a regular occurrence but it did happen on far too many occasions to be purely coincidental. I can still remember being a schoolboy and seeing British and American Superbike stars wild card, take pole positions and race wins. It was a magical time for Superbike racing when it was the biggest game in town in the UK and Ireland.

Domestic superiority

A lot has changed over the last number of years. The biggest change has been the divergence of rules and regulations in Superbike racing. By and large domestic championships and the world championship have started to gravitate towards the same regulations once again but there’s one outlier: British Superbikes.

The strongest domestic championship in the world is an absolute masterclass for any domestic series. In my view the DTM is the only national series that comes close to BSB in terms of popularity and stature. For a long time the DTM was bigger than the World Touring Car championship. It was a marvel of German ingenuity. It had fire-breathing cars that left you in shock and awe. It had some of the biggest names in car racing with a host of former Formula 1 drivers. It was big business.

The British championship has been the same over the last 15 years. British Superbikes has an incredible profile. Stuart Higgs and his team at MSV are rightly proud of what they’ve achieved. BSB is big business worldwide with a diverse fan base. It provides great racing on your doorstop in the UK with 13 rounds and from when you arrive until you leave there’s action all the way. It’s a credit to everyone involved and one that I’ve always enjoyed being involved in.

Parity?

There’s also a misconception about BSB. The popular belief is that regulations are set up to ensure parity. That anyone can win on any given weekend. That the lack of electronics and other regulations ensure a competitive grid from top to bottom. If you hire the right rider you can win in BSB.

At Silverstone this shown to once again be the case. Josh Elliot was able to win his first ever BSB race for the OMG Suzuki squad. They hired a talented rider, Elliot is a former Superstock 1000 champion, and he rode magnificently at the weekend. We saw Yamaha, Suzuki and Ducati all competitive at Silverstone for Round 1. The formula clearly works.

However, that formula has a lot of hidden variables. There’s a lot of hidden away by different factors in both BSB and WorldSBK. The biggest factor is that the circuits are completely different. The bikes might be the same, by and large, but the demands placed on them are polar opposite at times.

Power or delivery?

There are two circuits that both series race at: Assen and Donington Park. With no electronics the BSB spec machines, with the same Pirelli tyres, are around a second a lap slower in qualifying or race trim.

Why is that? Do the electronics make that big of a difference? In BSB there is a standard electronics package provided by Motec. It’s a very good system that allows for some great racing and showcases the talents of the riders. When we see TV footage or photos from BSB there’s no denying that they are utterly spectacular.

There’s also a reason why in BSB you can have those electronic packages. A modern Superbike produces somewhere in the region of 240 BHP. Do you need that amount of power a race track? Of course you do! The more power the better! That is until you think about useable power. Have a look at a video of Oulton Park, or Cadwell Park, or Knockhill. What’s the common denominator at those tracks? You’re not spending very much time on the straights. You don’t need 240 BHP. You need useable power because there are so few times that you’re full gas and trying to deliver as much power to the ground as possible.

Now think about WorldSBK and the tracks used. Qatar, Aragon or Magny-Cours are Grand Prix-style circuits that demand power and top speed. It’s crucial to have your electronics dialled in to make sure you can always deliver that to the ground. The demands on a Superbike in Britain are vastly different to those required in WorldSBK.

A fairer fight

On the world stage if you have a Honda Fireblade the chances are that you’re going to be thinking long and hard about how you can fight your way out of a paper bag. In the British championship you can come out swinging. The Honda doesn’t need to have close to maximum power in BSB. It needs to have a bike that can deliver power through the chassis and tyres and give a rider confidence. It can do that to a much greater degree on British circuits with limited electronics than it can with WorldSBK.

There’s a more level playing field because you don’t need to have your bike absolutely tuned to the maximum. Honda has had the chance to win races or have riders on the podium in recent years in BSB. The tracks play as much of a role in that as the regulations. Speaking to Leon Haslam, the reigning BSB champion immediately after his first test with Kawasaki in WorldSBK was quite revealing:

“With the WorldSBK bike the electronics figure it out for you so that’s strange and you need to change your style to adapt to the bike,” said Haslam. “Being on the edge of the tyre isn’t an advantage with this bike; you need to get it upright. You need to do the laps to make it natural but it’s also a lot easier to ride the GP tracks, they are bigger, wider and more flowing. There are straights! You’ve got anti-wheelie, TC so you’re not fighting the bike on jumps or crests, so it’s much easier physically. I did over 100 laps in one day and was fine.”

Physical exertion

The electronics change the riding style needed, but because you’re not trying to fight and scrap with the bike across tight and twisty tracks, the rider is able to focus on those finer points. The tracks in WorldSBK force riders to maximise everything in their package. The tracks in Britain leave a margin for a rider to make that difference.

We could also see this with the Ducati Panigale V4R throughout this season. Alvaro Bautista has stepped from MotoGP to WorldSBK and is taking on all comers. Regardless of anything it’s quite clear that the Ducati has an advantage in WorldSBK trim. Bautista is riding magnificently, but even a cursory look at some of the battles through this season has shown the differences between the Ducati and the rest of the field. Scott Redding has made the step from MotoGP to BSB and with five years experience in the premier class it’s clear that he’s learned a lot of how to ride a MotoGP machine and that he has plenty of talent.

The BSB machine will come from Ducati Corse in the same specification for Paul Bird Motorsport as it does for customer teams in WorldSBK. The BSB team then makes their relevant changes. The bike will have the same power, more or less, although they have different exhausts due to noise restrictions, but in BSB because that sheer top speed and power isn’t as important the bike will be quite different.

We saw that at the weekend with Redding, and his teammate Josh Brookes, looking stronger in practice than in the races. This was down to a lot of factors, but a big factor was clearly that in practice you can pick your lines and ride the bike as you want. In races you’re fighting all the time and reacting to others around you. You might have someone in front of you or be forced to defend. The BSB riders weren’t able to take advantage of the power of the bike because of the tracks and normal effects of racing with someone. Their advantage was nullified by circumstances and circuit layouts. That won’t always be the case, but it was last weekend.

Different strokes

Which is better? Neither is better or worse. They are simply two different ways to skin a cat. The British championship should be a talent pool for WorldSBK. It was before and hopefully it will be once again. If you can succeed in Britain there’s nothing that should stop a young rider stepping up and proving themselves on the world stage. We’ve seen dozens of riders make that transition and have tremendous success.

WorldSBK is about maximising the package available to a rider. It’s about learning to work with a team and your crew. It’s about getting every last ounce of performance from you and the bike. If you want to win in WorldSBK you need the stars to align with the team, bike and rider. In Britain the rider can make a big difference. Hire wisely and your team has a chance.

Riders count

If you’re a rider that’s music to your ears. If you’re a former champion - Troy Bayliss, Neil Hodgson, Leon Camier or Alex Lowes for instance - you take the lessons you learned in Britain and apply them when you’re racing on the world stage. If you’re good enough you can make the transition to international success - like Jonathan Rea or Cal Crutchlow - but think about those riders. All six of them are tremendously talented, like any other top tier BSB rider, but all six are also incredibly hard working.

Who are the riders that forge the closest bonds with their teams and spend the most time sifting through data looking for any advantage? You’d find a clear correlation amongst those names. There are lessons to be learned in BSB but there are also lessons to be learned from history. If you’re a young aspiring talent in BSB, a Bradley Ray or Tarran Mackenzie for instance, you’ll face a very telling season in 2019. With Haslam and Shane Byrne no longer on the grid this is a transition year. Is winning the title going to be enough or are you going to make the big step and prove you deserve your spot on the world stage in WorldSBK or the MotoGP paddock? Only time will tell but the clock is ticking on them all.

What’s the difference between me and you? Nothing...and everything.


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Total votes: 38
Total votes: 27

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Comments

Mackenzie sure looks promising. He could go places (WSBK?). Enjoyed the races, albeit at a big flowing track. The bikes were spinning the rear nicely, driving through corners with a steady drifting power.

Re "no electronics," several of these bikes come with quite an electronics package. The Yamaha, Ducati and (barely getting here for the first round, basic engine, no spares) new BMW have heaps. They are in use in BSB, yes? Just not additional ones? What is the Kawi electronics package from the factory looking like now? How the heck was the Honda doing so well at Silverstone?

The zero electronics Suzuki riders that are competitive in BSB deserve much praise, keeping an eye out for Elliot, Ray and Stapleford. Ray was making progress during the weekend, but didn't fare so well. Guess he excels on the tight noodly tracks?

Lots of good racing to enjoy.

Total votes: 10

The electronics in BSB come from a spec Motec system that is the same for everyone. It does however take a lot of tinkering to make it work with all the different bikes. I think that Bridewell's team spent the first day of testing just trying to make the bike work with the unit. Basically you still have a lot of electronic strategies and systems available (these bikes couldn't run without them) but they're not the exotic kits that we see in WorldSBK. In terms of the newer bikes I know that the Ducati really struggled to get ready for the BSB season because the Motec system is very different but like all teams/bikes the deadline of needing it to work means that teams will always find a way! There's a lot more to come from that package in BSB once they're fully up to speed.

For TazMac he's clearly a talent but the question is going to remain for a while in Britain...can any of these leave BSB and be successful? It's been five years since Alex Lowes left BSB for Worlds and for Taz, Ray or a handful of others they need to prove they can make that step. Obviously Taz had (almost) a full season of Moto2 that was  a disaster but there's a lot of circumstances behind that. He's got the talent but it's not just about speed at that level. You need to be the complete package and be able to work with teams to get the most from the bike.

That work ethic is what seperates the best from the good. Rea, Crutchlow and Sykes showed they had it ten years ago and then Camier a few years later with Lowes showing it too. It takes a lot and I've had numerous people say, off the record, that too many BSB riders are "happy to be making money, winning races and being a big star in BSB." Having the hunger to make the next step is a big step. We all thought Ray would kick on from last year's opening round success but he hasn't done that yet so the pressure will be building on him. This is a year for any of the younger riders to seperate themselves from the pack and put themselves in a position to get a ride in the world championship

Total votes: 11

Thanks Steve. Appreciating your work over the years, have been cheering you on. Interesting to have Spec electronics for a SBK. Minimalist electronics packages are REALLY appealing. Following in earnest this season, and looks a good time to do so. Haslam and Lowes look admirably strong in green and blue now, highlighting BSB talent. (Not going to knock a racer for making a good living at it near home on such amazing tracks btw. Great lifestyle. Late in the season it would be interesting to check in with Haslam and just note if he is subjectively enjoying it more or less than last year. I think I know what Camier would say, but then with MV and Honda...).

Lots of thoughts. Noting that the Suzuki is designed for NO electronics, and goes quite well w the Motec added. Contrast Yamaha, which does as well. The Ducati puts quite a question mark out there, and bet the twin of last year was a much easier beast to tame. Having their V4 beast on narrow short twisty technical tracks? Might not be so pleasant for Redding and Co, making BSB an outlier for Bologna. Speaking of pleasant, did you see that Duc exhaust? Ewe!
Interesting formula.

Noticing that if a great rider is English, they worked hard. Spanish, talented. Italian, touched by God? Northern Irish, now that's a real feisty bugger. Love the cultural truisms. Hah!
;)

"Real" motorcycle racing (2018 Cadwell Onboard highlights).

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cTIlI80tGJY&t=334s

Total votes: 7

an interesting and perceptive article drew only one comment. is it that a reflection of the fact that most readers / subscribers care only about MotoGP? to me, the article is not really about WorldSBK and/or BSB, but about insight into motorcycling racing in general and i would have thought that this would be interesting whichever series you are into.....

Total votes: 11

Steve,
Like the others really enjoy your insights here, great read.
Thumbs up if you're able to get these out on some sort of regular (after X rounds) cadience.

 

Total votes: 7

a real good insight into how BSB is transitioning and the differences. However, having been around the scenes for longer than I dare remember in my course of employment, I really don’t know of many riders in BSB that stay around ‘for the money’ as there isn’t much of it around, unless they’re generously supported by personal sponsors that is. Maybe in different times it was the case, now the only big money maker is MSV-R (who really should start paying prize money, just like the old days..). 

Total votes: 5

I really enjoyed this article because it gave us a perspective to compare the two competitions.

It became even more interesting last night when I viewed Honda mounted and reigning Aust SBK champion Troy Herfoss take a double at little Wakefield Park. That is more than coming out swinging!

Is it correct that ASBK does not have control ECU but allows the original equipment or rather the approved race oriented versions of it?

Can anyone advise what are the other differences in the regulations between ASBK and BSB?

Total votes: 4

My guess is that there's no control ECU in ASBK simply because the series doesn't have the money to implement such measures. And that's largely because we have had - for far too long - two competing national series.

Total votes: 4

I've been a huge fan of BSB since the 1999 series, I was given a season review video and it blew my mind how hard they raced. I reckon it's the premier domestic series on the planet. One of the things that make it special is the tracks - as Steve says, 240hp is meaningless at most of the tracks the series visits.

I wish we could see each race weekend here in Australia...

Total votes: 7