Yesterday, we reported on the consequences of the credit crunch for the World Superbike paddock, but it seems they may not be quite as bad as expected. After we ran the story relaying reports of Gregorio Lavilla being forced to pull out of the World Superbike series, we were contacted by Marco Nicotari, owner and manager of the Pro Ride Superbike team which Lavilla rides for.
Nicotari denied that Pro Ride would be pulling out of the World Superbike series, and have every intention of competing in World Superbikes in 2009. However, Nicotari did say that they will not be racing at either the season opener at Phillip Island or the second round at Qatar. "Our position is to start the season in Valencia," he wrote.
Reports of Pro Ride's withdrawal were based on stories that the team would not have a title sponsor. Nicotari rejected this, pointing out that Mormaii Sunglasses has been their sponsor since November 2008, and had appeared on the fairing at the recent Portimao tests. However, the team had lost two smaller sponsors, and unfortunately, these were the sponsors paying for the first two rounds of the year, making it difficult to travel to the first two flyaway rounds.
"We have decided to skip the first two races due to a loss of 2 important sponsors. They have declared what everyone is declaring now: that this is a difficult economic moment. That was the reason for this hard decision that for sure upset a little bit all of us, including Gregorio, who is a very competeitive person, and who wants to be there racing against the best riders in the world," Nicotari told MotoGPMatters.com.
Though sponsorship wasn't the only reason for not going - problems with former partners had left the team in a difficult situation administratively - it definitely played a role. And more importantly, it is not just a matter of the amounts of sponsorship received, but when that money is received. With two flyaway rounds coming right at the start of the season, while some teams are still engaged in trying to finalize their budgets. Pro Ride's Nicotari said "In my opinion, these overseas races affect the overall cost of the season a lot, but this is not the main point, once most of the Teams are going there. This year is a very unusual situation on the economic side, and these overseas in the beginning of the season creates a big disburse of money right when the money is still to arrive, in most cases, like ours."
The team, along with Gregorio Lavilla, will be back for Valencia. "We are working normally and we will have everything ready to start at Valencia and go on during the season, and we expect that this moment will not create more damage in the paddock, neither for us or any other Team," Nicotari told us. "We know how hard is to afford a World Championship at a high level, and money has been always the point for everyone. Our Team is closed in a "one goal" target, and every member is giving their best to keep all the mentality positive.
Pro Ride are not the only team to take this step, however. Just as Sterilgarda will only be sending Shakey Byrne to the first two rounds of World Superbikes, so there are a number of other teams likely to skip the first races. Marco Nicotari pointed out to us that of the 34 riders entered in the World Superbike championship, only 24 or 25 have confirmed their entry for Australia and Qatar.
Though World Superbikes may be considerably cheaper than MotoGP (some estimates put it at between a tenth and a fifth of the cost of racing in the premier class), the global financial crisis hasn't passed the series by completely. Once again, the series is becoming more of a European championship, with teams unable to find the money to travel abroad.