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

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.

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.

Some initiatives were forgettable anyway, but as it stands Dorna/FIM has now created about as level a playing field, for as much of a realistic overall cost, as genuine full-on World championship racing possibly can be. With a good backroom staff and decent electronics bods, you could score significant results in WorldSBK. If you had a Razgatlioglu, or a select few others, as your rider of course.

You could always do that kind of non-factory winning thing in the distant WorldSBK past too, but usually because you had different tyres from the World Champion (different brands worked at some tracks better than others) and of course you already had an expensive factory bike to ride in your domestic championship, built at WorldSBK spec.

Heyday

But what WorldSBK has not done in those recent Dorna years is come close to the status it was once held in the Foggy, Bayliss, and Edwards eras. ‘No-one puts baby in the corner,’ says one movie quasi-quote, but too many people have put WorldSBK on the sidelines of their affections since even before the big global financial crash.

So what is the next grand gesture, a real change in format from the organisers, intent on moving the whole WorldSBK scene away from the sidelines and right back into everybody’s must-see sight lines? Something radical, maybe?

According to the spookiest corners of the dark satanic rumour mill, we could well be going to Suzuka again.

No, not for an individual WorldSBK round, or anything that self-sufficient. Unless HRC wins the championship with Bautista or Haslam this season, at least. The return to Japan may come from the prospect of WorldSBK and EWC – the World Endurance championship – becoming one hybridised spectacle in the near future.

WorldSBKEWC?

For the sake of argument, let’s assume this to be true. Or completely fake. Either way, let’s examine the arguments.

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Comments

- Ban all aftermarket electronics, eliminating the most complex and expensive elements of the racing and improving the spectacle. WSBK shouldn't a development testbed for electronics anyway.

- Bring back Brands Hatch (and Sugo). Dorna or InFront shit the bed when they allowed Brands to drop off the calendar. It was the most Iconic round in the championship and created a buzz around the whole series. It was more than just another round.

- Introduce a supernaked class and scrap 600s. 600s are irrelevant and even sportbikes in general are less popular than they used to be, as they seem to get more expensive every year. A naked bike series would be awesome to watch and more interesting from a punter perspective as people actually ride them!

- Find some fast and charismatic American, Japanese and Australian riders. This is less easy to achieve as Noriyukis,  Troys, and Colins don't grow on trees. But making it easier for wildcards to compete would help. 

 

Do this and WSBK would thrive once again. As always the WSBK organisers are too slow to respond to changes in the market, in a market based series. 

There are bound to be continual tweaks to SBK. It has the riders, the potential, etc, but for a lot of us it's still not clicking. Bautista going over on a brand new Ducati last year helped, there was excitement and a newness that hadn't been felt in some time.  But history sort of repeated itself, and I began watching less, and then not really following anyway. 

For me, coming strictly from the MotoGP world, when the decision was made to add the superpole race and shift the first race to Saturday in SBK, I just feel that was a 180deg wrong turn.  I feel if anything, they should have just cut the races and replicated the lightweight/middleweight/heavyweight single race schedule that MotoGP has.  I understand to the purist that this would be taboo, but there is too much content in the world already, and when races become processional, well people don't have the time for 2 or 3 more races.  One shot, one race, anything can happen, I feel that places the additional emphasis on the importance of the race that would get me and others to follow more closely throughout the season, even if it is Rea that wins another 2-3 crowns.  

 

One last thing, the only mill that I want my rumours coming from is of the Dark Satanic variety.  

Woohoo slicks for the 600 supersports! Oh wait they have a compulsory pit stop. No more than 10 laps on a new rear tyre! I'm not impressed.

It could be good for the racing. Hope the pit stops don't cause any dramas at pitlane exit.

How many bikes will we see dragging a rear stand down pitlane?

I won't be buying Pirelli tyres any time soon.

The WSBK race weekend format is too long (causing too many clashes with other events), as a result, tv coverage is often interupeted by other sporting events and the rules are too contrived.

For a little while now, we have been in Golden Age of motorcycle racing and tv coverage too, with MotoGP and (in the case of the UK) BSB providing fans with great coverage and the very best racing, including the support classes.

In addition, tin top racing also has an appeal for some of us and (in the UK) BTCC has been enjoying a remarkable resurgence over the past 4 or 5 years with strong competitive grids, especially good and varied support races and equally impressive coverage.

We are spoilt for choice and the best formats, with the clearest rules, big characters, strong 'level playing field' competition and good tv coverage will win my viewing time, every time.

Dorna is an expansionist entity?

Not from what I see. Not that I want to spend more, but why aren't all the FP shown on their subscription site?

And the single bike, cost containment rule- really? Tell me that there isn't a mostly built bike in the transporter if the primary one is destroyed. Do the rules prohibit that?

Both of those reduce the importance of the series when compared to MotoGP, making SBK seem like minor league. That seems odd since SBK is much closer to anything we ride.

It is a bit of boosting one as the premier series at the cost of downgrading the other.

I have no idea what's missing from wsbk, what magic ingredient would elevate it to an equal, alternative to MotoGP. I don't think it's the format, I actually always liked the 2 race weekend back in the foggy era, multi-race made for a good storyline over the weekend. The current 3 race format is just an expansion of that, in principle. Maybe it's just that MotoGP is so strong now that everything else is overshadowed, a reversal of the situation in the mid-90's, when it was really quite dull. Shifting 2 or 3 really big name MotoGP riders into wsbk might kick start the renaissance but they would have to be seriously big - no disrespect to Bautista (or others in the paddock who've had a good go over there) but I'm talking Rossi, Dovi, Lorenzo, that kind of calibre. But that would be a very brave move on their part, to risk tarnished reputations if it didn't go so well.

"The calendar for the following 2021 season is supposed to be back to a more global and status-building level after so many contracts came to a conclusion for 2020 (and as a result we have only three long hauls right now)."

Please expand on this--Gordon, what do you think next year's schedule will look like?

David, Steve, Motomatters commentators, what do you know that I don't? Would like to know where WSBK is headed next year, thanks.