Carmelo Ezpeleta: "MotoGP And WSBK Will Remain Separate Series"

One of the greatest fears which World Superbike fans expressed when it was announced last year that control of WSBK would fall under the responsibility of Dorna was that WSBK would either be killed off as a series, or absorbed into MotoGP as a glorified support class. The continued existence of two motorcycle road racing world championship seemed in serious doubt; in dire economic times, one of the two must give. And with Dorna having invested so much in making MotoGP the dominant championship, WSBK fans feared, it would be World Superbikes that suffers.

That fear, at least, is groundless. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta told German-language publication Speedweek that he could not conceive of the two series being run at the same events. There would always be come circuits and some countries that would prefer one series to the other, Ezpeleta explained to Speedweek. "We will be keeping the two series separate, and supporting them both," Ezpeleta said.

The advantages of having two series is clear. World Superbikes, for example, has always had a huge following in Britain, while being largely ignored in Spain, even when Carlos Checa was in the process of securing his first WSBK title. Maintaining both WSBK and MotoGP allows Dorna to exploit the two series in their strongest markets, while coordinating to expand motorcycle racing as a whole and reach a broader audience.

Though Ezpeleta's expression of support for WSBK may go some way to calming the worst of World Superbike fans' fears, major concerns remain. WSBK fans fear Dorna will destroy the heart of the series, by imposing massive technology restrictions and reducing the series to a glorified Superstock spec. Recent reports intimated that Dorna was considering scrapping the Superstock 1000 and Superstock 600 support classes, and replacing them with a junior series to be raced using 250cc four-stroke machines based on production bikes. Though it is still unclear exactly what effect the scrapping of Superstock will have, and whether it really means that both WSBK and WSS will be reduced to glorified Superstock machinery, WSBK fans fear that any further reduction in technology will see the series lose what makes it so attractive.

Those worries were heightened when a number of high-profile names, such as WSBK Director Paolo Ciabatti, series press chief Julian Thomas and Infront CEO Paolo Flammini, revealed that they would be leaving WSBK. The people being drafted in to take their place have served to calm the nerves a little. Gregorio Lavilla is a former rider who has raced in both Grand Prix, World Superbikes and national superbike series, and could form a bridge between the two paddocks. The name of Javier Alonso will be less comforting: Alonso is widely regarded in the MotoGP paddock as Carmelo Ezpeleta's right-hand man, and is a member of MotoGP's Race Direction and a key executive inside Dorna. On the one hand, Alonso is a Dorna man through-and-through; on the other hand, having such a high-profile figure inside World Superbikes is at least a sign of how seriously Dorna is taking the series.

Ezpeleta himself will not be involving himself too closely with the World Superbike series. When asked by Speedweek whether he would be attending a WSBK round this year, he replied that it was unlikely, given his current commitments. Aragon was one possibility, Ezpeleta told Speedweek, another being the Indian round, if they were forced to postpone it to later in the year, due to the current difficulties facing the race planned for the Buddh International Circuit near New Delhi.

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I understand that a unified series was a concern for fans and journalists alike, but the unified series never much sense. Traditionally, companies are bought out and absorbed into another institution if they have significant revenues and intellectual property to offer. WSBK has neither. The business case for unification is not present, and neither the FIM nor the manufacturers are motivated to unify WSBK and GP. WSBK is most valuable as a stand-alone series that promotes mass-market vehicles or mass-market racing specials (WSBK 750cc era).

Superstock does not have a viable business model, either. Yes, Superstock is significantly cheaper than Superbike, but it also has much lower revenue potential. Mike Edwards explained the problems on his blog, which was featured as a guest column on MM. Superstock creates a horsepower imbalance between the competitors. In Edwards' case, this made is impossible for MIST Suzuki to maintain its brand allegiance to Suzuki motorcycles. Horsepower imbalance is bad for the show as fewer manufacturers are competitive, and the manufacturers have more difficulty achieving competitiveness b/c they must equip the stock machine with racing technology and design.

Edwards asked MSVR and MCRCB to allow basic engine modifications that would allow all teams to compete on a level playing field. In 2012, BSB created a tuning package that allowed free compression, liberal port/polish regulations, free cams, and aftermarket connecting rods for reliability. All four Japanese manufacturers scored victories so the rules seem to work quite well.

The chassis is also an issue b/c the teams are required to run prototype swingarms to make full use of the high-performance Pirelli slick racing tires. Reducing the tire profile and creating new tire war regulations could reduce the need for proprietary chassis modifications without harming the 'Superbike' concept.

The x-factor for Superstock is manufacturer-specific regulations. The performance imbalance and the need for stock racing parts can be averted if the teams are allowed to make some bare-minimum chassis and engine mods, then the sanctioning body tunes the engines to make all bikes equal. This is the new sanctioning method in AMA DSB (SS basically). Though, it is theoretically possible to have close racing with Superstock-like regulations (as DSB proves), the class is very unpopular with the manufacturers b/c the sanctioning body can tune or detune their bike based upon the closeness of the racing. Furthermore, manufacturer-specific regulations make it much easier for manufacturers to compete, rather than setting a performance threshold and making the manufacturers tune to the regulations on their own.

For all of these reasons, I believe Superstock-esque rules are probably not a realistic rulebook for WSBK. Both the AMA and BSB recently rebooted their SBK regulations. Neither series believed Superstock was the way forward.

that the manufacturers themselves see a WSBK series reduced to a Superstock series as unattractive. There is an article in the latest issue of Motorcycle Racer which discusses some of the technical issues that make it illogical to adopt the cheaper approach of Superstock. Their view is that German IDM rules make a good basis whilst keeping costs ‘reasonable’ and also keeps some clear water between SBK and CRT. They suggest that this might be a good basis for National/International superbike series to run the same standards under the FIM and make migration/wild card entries easier for riders and teams alike. Some local variance seems inevitable (e.g. tyres), but if the base rules on engines and chassis’ are similar that seems a sensible plan.
That seems a good thing to me – it means that WSBK can continue to run the same type of format, which is a proven success, Superstock provides a ‘stepping stone’ for riders and teams, and Supersport/Superstock 600 survives too.
Honda and BMW seem unlikely allies in this – Honda not wanting MGP altered too much and BMW having the same issues with the potential WSBK rules.
If Dorna want them both in both series in the longer term then some such compromises may be necessary and it might be for the good of the sport too.