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.
Feels like a long time since we had any real racing, I am sure you will agree? We would have been well past the first round of any recent WorldSBK season by now but I am sure you don’t need me to remind you we do not live in normal times.
Being first out of the global gate compared to MotoGP, or almost any other major two wheel (or even four-wheel) hydrocarbon-based competition, was one of the attractions of modern day WorldSBK.
In most other years the majority of the Superbike paddock would have already recovered from post-Phillip Island jet lag back in Europe by now, just as MotoGP and F1 were getting ready to set their sights on round one. But, here we are in mid-March and still mired in the 2021 phoney war no-man’s land.
Particularly frustrating for all given that we have had enough pre-season rider reshuffles and new bikes on the blue horizon for us to feel the need to row out hard and fast to meet the latest WorldSBK dawn at full ramming speed. As it stands, WorldSBK will kick off in the high plateau of the Aragon region in Spain, between 21-23 May. I mean, we have to wait until very nearly the end of May to even get started…
This winter break is going to be a very long one right enough; so long it will bypass spring altogether and drop us straight into summer. As if Covid (plus Brexit for some) were not weird enough, WorldSBK has this extra-long new delay - albeit unavoidably - muffling it all out before it even gets noisy for real.
Just to pour some more electric Kool-Aid down the rabbit hole of this peculiar championship build-up we have new rules to deal with regarding the only thing WorldSBK is doing with any certainty at all now - testing. Or at least, real testing on a track, not just a dyno bench. It does mean that winter and subsequent testing will be even more important than normal.
Riders only get ten days of proper testing each now, on their own WorldSBK bikes and with their own team, that is. Hence you have seen all sorts of social media posts about training bike outings and track day participation from some ‘names’. The story is that they are riding not their full WorldSBK machines but not using up any days of their official test allocation.
Even more weirdly, if the weather is so bad that testing is deemed not worth it at a scheduled test for any team, as long as the riders don’t go out on track then they will not have that test ‘day’ counted against them.
Even weirder still, you can now count your days in half days. So if it is wet in the morning, but dries up in the afternoon, you can go out after lunch and only lose half a day from your total of ten. Or if you have a strong first day, and just want to reconfirm a few things on the second day of a test, you can just ride in the morning and save yourself a half day.
Rules get weird
Even if you have enough days left, it doesn’t mean that even the best-resourced teams can reliably get to test, even if they arrive at the track as planned. Not in the climatically challenged 2020s, at least.
Even if they have enough days left it does not mean they get to use them on schedule. Even if they have the logistical power to overcome Covid or other travel restrictions right now. Even if they are standing trackside inside their own socially-distanced bubbles, all suited, booted and Covid tested - for the third time that week).
What absolutely none of the hopeful teams in WorldSBK can control, even the class leaders like Kawasaki or Ducati, is the winter weather. Not even in very south of Europe.
Here is another curve ball for WorldSBK to flap at, just another challenge to overcome for a championship that is always swinging between the polar opposites of evolving and de-evolving. Winter weather in Spain is not what it used to be folks. And it has been that way for some time now. The signs have been coming for a long time.
Hard rain is gonna fall
The first ever Iberian winter test I remember going to was in the mid-1990s, a full IRTA test at Jerez. Flying into Gibraltar with some old hands at the game, the drive from airport to racetrack - long before the new motorway-style road was completed - was memorable to newbie me for two main things.
One - a bloke selling hand-wrapped bunches of asparagus at the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, with no vehicle of his own in sight. I hope he got home OK. And two - the hollows and fields at the side of the road were completely full of water, halfway up the tree trunks in several places. It was like Noah and family had just left.
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