It's no secret that motorcycle racing is in trouble in its traditional markets in Europe. With massive economic problems in the heartland of Spain and Italy, and declining attendances at both MotoGP and World Superbike races around Europe, both series are being forced to look further afield for fresh markets. Though Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta has expressed his intention to move into new markets, and has even made one or two moves, including announcing a deal to race in Argentina, WSBK is well ahead of MotoGP, with series organizer Infront Motor Sports getting ready to race in Moscow later this summer, and a deal already announced to race in Indonesia.
Now, Infront has got the jump on Dorna once again. On Saturday, the Italian company running WSBK announced a deal to race at India's Buddh International Circuit from 2013 onwards. The deal will see the World Superbike series race at the Indian circuit, close to the capital of the country, Delhi, for four years, until 2016, and is a major coup for Infront. Dorna is known to be negotiating with the circuit to stage a round of MotoGP at the Indian track, but Infront has stolen their thunder. What's more, the proposed date of the WSBK round - March 10th, 2013 - severely disrupts Dorna's plan of staging the season opener at the Buddh International Circuit in mid March, getting the season off to an earlier start than has so far been possible, as temperatures at the night race at Losail in Qatar make racing much earlier than the first week of April very difficult.
The fact that both WSBK and MotoGP are looking at India is part of a much larger and more important trend. Motorcycle racing is slowly moving away from the shrinking markets in Europe, and towards the fast-growing markets in Asia, especially the huge markets of Indonesia, Malaysia and India. The recent proliferation of Asian sponsors among MotoGP teams fits into this trend, with both the Honda and Yamaha MotoGP teams being backed by their respective Indonesian subsidiaries. For World Superbikes, their biggest problem is the collapse of the sports bike market in Europe. Even in the UK, traditionally the market in Europe where the sports bike is king, sales of both 1000cc and 600cc sports machines have declined steeply. Opening new markets in India and the far east is crucial for WSBK if the series is to maintain its economic base and expand its popularity.
The move of WSBK into India also represents a major threat to MotoGP. Where the two series are clearly differentiated in Europe by the fact that the spectators can go out and buy the bikes being raced in the World Superbike series, in India and the rest of Asia, this is far from the case. Asian markets are dominated by small capacity motorcycles mainly used as general transport, though also with a major leisure component. There, WSBK will be sold as an entertainment product far more than a series with relevance to the bikes the public ride themselves, the link between product and race machinery being almost as tenuous as the link between a MotoGP bike and the bikes being sold in Europe.
A WSBK race in India will also greatly strengthen the series' appeal to the manufacturers, or at least, the Japanese manufacturers, for whom Asia is a crucial market - where sales in Europe are counted in the tens and hundreds of thousands, sales in Asia are numbered in the millions and tens of millions. Reaching those customers is a key part of Honda's and Yamaha's strategy, and if the Japanese factories believe they can achieve their goals by supporting WSBK as it races in India and Indonesia, the necessity of investing many millions into MotoGP is greatly decreased. Dorna is currently handicapped by having an already full calendar and a lot of long-term contracts with existing European circuits. Adding extra rounds to an 18-race series is much more difficult than adding more rounds to a 14-event calendar. Adding extra rounds in key manufacturer markets is a very smart move financially for the World Superbike series, and MotoGP will have to follow suit as quickly as possible if they are to keep the interest of Honda and Yamaha, while pushing through a more affordable rule package against the will of the Japanese factories.
Below is the press release from Infront Motor Sports announcing the deal with the Buddh International Cicruit in India:
India’s Buddh International Circuit to join 2013 World Superbike calendar
Rome (Italy), June 9th, 2012 – Infront Motor Sports has signed an agreement with Jaypee Sports International Ltd (JPSI), a subsidiary of the private Indian engineering and construction conglomerate Jaypee Group, to host a round of the eni FIM Superbike World Championship calendar at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC).
The contract runs for four years, from 2013 to 2016. Next season, the Indian Round of the championship is scheduled to take place on March 10th.
World Superbike is set to open up a new frontier in India as it becomes the first international bike racing championship to be hosted at the Hermann Tilke-designed track at Greater Noida (Uttar Pradesh) near Delhi. Indian motorsport enthusiasts, who flocked to the Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix at BIC last year, now have a chance to enjoy some of the most exciting two-wheeled racing in the world.
Maurizio Flammini, Chairman of Infront Motor Sports, declared: “After meeting the promoters of Jaypee Group last year I got the feeling that I was dealing with a highly professional and powerful corporation which will guarantee the organization of a successful race in India, even though the Buddh Circuit was still under construction at the time. This impression was indeed confirmed by the outcome of the Formula 1 race held in October last year which turned out to be one of the best races of the 2011 season. We are sure that the FIM Superbike World Championship will bring added value to BIC as well as to India, and vice-versa. It will also deliver value to all the partners supporting and following our Championship and is a very important opportunity for them to expand their brands and business in Asia.”
Paolo Flammini, Infront Motor Sports CEO, added: “The inclusion of the Indian round in the 2013 FIM Superbike World Championship calendar represents a great achievement for our series and reflects our continuous target to further extend its international presence. India today is one of the most important motorcycle markets in the world, not only in terms of existing bike sales numbers but also growth and the upgrading of the range offered to the consumer. Undoubtedly the inclusion of this event will greatly benefit all the protagonists of our series and will create significant added value for the motorcycle manufacturers.”
After signing the agreement, JPSI Managing-Director and CEO Sameer Gaur said: “We are extremely happy to announce that besides holding the Formula One and FIA GT1 motor racing series, we will also hold a thrilling motorcycle race, the World Superbike Championship, at BIC early next year. There are many in India who are passionate about bikes. I am sure they will love to watch famed motorcycle riders compete against each other here at their own world class racing circuit.”
India will become the twenty-seventh country to host a round of the FIM Superbike World Championship, which in 2013 will celebrate the 26th year of its existence since it started in 1988. The Buddh International Circuit was inaugurated on October 11th, 2011.