One of the hottest topics of debate among motorcycle racing fans around the world is the difference between the racing in MotoGP and World Superbikes. Where WSBK features regular fairing-bashing action and plenty of passing throughout the race, the racing in MotoGP has been entirely sterile, the focus more on being inch-perfect and preserving tires and fuel all the way to the line. One of the main factors explaining the difference in racing between the two series has always been the fuel allowance, with MotoGP restricted to just 21 liters for races of around 120 km, while World Superbike machines have a generous 24 liters of fuel to last them for between 10 and 20 km less, the average WSBK race being around 105 kilometers.
So it will deeply disturb WSBK fans to learn that the Superbike Commission - the WSBK series governing body - is serious considering the introduction of drastically lower fuel limits, according to the Italian magazine Motosprint. The proposal, put forward by Honda, Suzuki and Ducati, is aimed at reducing power and as a result, reducing the costs involved in the series. The main objection has come from BMW, who oppose the plan because their reliance on a proprietary electronics system means they would have to develop the fuel-saving algorithms completely from scratch. The rest of the field, using the ubiquitous Magneti Marelli electronics packages, will have a lot of existing data and programming to provide a starting point.
BMW's objections highlight exactly what the problem is with this suggestion. If there is one lesson to be drawn from MotoGP, it is that the introduction of tight fuel limits - along with the reduction in capacity - have increased the importance of electronics exponentially, thereby multiplying the costs involved. ECUs and engine management systems programmers have seen their stock rise, and more money is being focused on the electronics and the staff needed to program and manage them.
So important have electronic systems become that Honda has even taken to poaching staff away from other manufacturers. A strategy which has proved to be successful, as the fortunes of the Repsol Honda team have proved since the arrival of Andrea Zugna and Cristian Battaglia, and both Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso have praised the progress booked as a result.
Fortunately, an alternative proposal has also been made, according to Motosprint. The introduction of a hard rev limit is also under consideration, as an alternative method for controlling horsepower. This suggestions also follows MotoGP's lead, though the Grand Prix Commission did not go so far as to propose a fixed limit, instead choosing to limit bore size, using physics to impose a rev limit through a maximum mean piston velocity.
If radical fuel limits are introduced in World Superbikes, the series could ironically become a more suitable feeder series for MotoGP. With greater emphasis on corner speed and fuel conservation, and less on backing the bike up and using surplus fuel to fire the bike out of a corner, World Superbikes could become a lot more like MotoGP than it has ever been in its existence. But if it does, the WSBK series could lose the hardcore fan base it has earned over the years for the excitement of its racing.