New WorldSBK Rules For 2018 - Will Rev Limits Transform World Superbikes?

The World Superbike championship has moved to address the performance disparities which have seen Kawasaki and Ducati dominate in recent seasons. The Superbike Commission, the rule-making body for the WorldSBK series, today announced a series of measures to ensure greater parity among teams and factories. The measures, which will enter into force in 2018, see rev limits replacing weight penalties and air restrictors as a performance balancing mechanism, and a performance-based concession point system for allowing engine updates during the season.

The changes fall into three main categories: the performance balancing system, a system of concession points, and the price capping of a range of suspension, chassis, and engine parts related to performance. The performance balancing system and the concession points system are aimed at creating more parity between different manufacturers, while the price capping of certain parts is aimed at both limiting costs, and of ensuring that all teams have access to the same parts.

Performance balancing via rev limits

The biggest change – and probably the most effective - is the adoption of rev limits as a performance balancing mechanism. The current system uses air restrictors placed in the throttle bodies as a way of restricting performance. That was originally a measure aimed at slowing down the Ducatis, especially once the maximum capacity for twins was increased to 1200cc.

There were two problem with using air restrictors. The first was that the effects were rather limited: factories grew more adept at squeezing more performance out of the engine despite restrictors, and there was a limit to how large or small the restrictors could be. A bigger issue is that it only addressed the performance disparity between twins and four cylinders, leaving the disparity between the different manufacturers of four-cylinder bikes untouched. It was aimed at containing Ducati. The problem is that Kawasaki has surpassed Ducati in performance, and there is no way of helping Honda, Aprilia, Yamaha, BMW, or Suzuki catch up.

Hence the switch to rev limits. Rev limits give the FIM and Dorna more direct control of the performance of different manufacturers. By allowing some manufacturers more revs and others fewer revs, they can impact peak power and torque of each individual brand. This will allow them, for example, to reduce revs for Kawasaki if Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes keep winning everything, leave the revs untouched for Yamaha, as Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark have been close to being competitive as the only other bikes on the podium other than the Kawasakis and Ducatis, while increasing revs for Aprilia and Honda to help make them more competitive.

The system will use an algorithm to calculate relative performance. That algorithm has yet to be completely defined, but it will combine a number of factors, including lap times, top speeds, number of riders on a particular bike, results, laps led, etc. to generate a relative performance ranking. Should a particular manufacturer come out high, then the series organizers will be able to reduce the maximum rev limit for that manufacturer by 250rpm. If the performance ranking comes out low, they can raise the rev limit by 250rpm.

The calculations will be made every three rounds, and may also be done at the end of the season for the following year. The proposed rev limits are shown below:

WSBK Initial rev-limit
Brand Proposed
Aprilia 14700
BMW 14700
Ducati 12400
Honda 14300
Kawasaki 14100
MV Agusta 14700
Suzuki 14700
Yamaha 14700

Rev limits will be imposed via the ECU for each bike, and monitored by the compulsory FIM-approved datalogger on each bike. Overrevving is allowed for downshifts, as the performance benefits of such are negligible.

There are of course limitations to what can be done with rev limits. Though theoretically, Dorna and the FIM could raise rev limits as high as they wanted, that doesn't mean that the bikes in question are actually capable of revving at those speeds. Yamaha, for example, limit their engine to lower than the proposed rev limit in the new regulations, to ensure reliability.

Of course, the real aim of the rev limits is not so much raising the limits for underperforming manufacturers, as lowering the limits for the manufacturers which are currently dominating. It is unlikely that Yamaha's rev limit will be raised, for example, but it is almost certain that the rev limits for Ducati and Kawasaki will be lowered if their stranglehold over the championship continues.

The lowering of Kawasaki and Ducati rev limits should also help privateer teams of the successful manufacturers. Currently, privateer Kawasakis don't rev anywhere near as high as the factory-backed KRT bikes of Rea and Sykes. Lowering Kawasaki rev limits will reduce the performance advantage of the factory team, but it won't necessarily affect the privateer squads running the same bike.

Concession points and concession parts

The other fork in this two-pronged attack on performance inequality is the introduction of concession points, which will be used to allow less successful manufacturers to catch up with the manufacturers which are already winning. The system is similar to the one used in MotoGP, which has been proven to be successful. But instead of testing allowances, manufacturers with concessions will be allowed to provide upgraded engine parts.

The concession points system works along the same lines as MotoGP. Points are awarded for each podium finish, 3 points for a win, 2 points for second, 1 point for third. At two points during the season, concession points will be tallied up for each manufacturer, and those who lag too far behind the manufacturer with the most concession points will be allowed to introduce new, upgraded parts.

The rules are ambiguous concerning the first point at which concession points are assessed. The rules currently state that the concession points will be evaluated after the first three "races". Strictly speaking, that would be halfway through the second event. The more logical explanation is that this is a mistake, and what is actually meant is that concession points will be evaluated after the first three events, or in other words, after six races.

At the first evaluation point, any manufacturer which trails the manufacturer with the most concession points by 9 points or more will be granted permission to introduce engine upgrades, though the list of parts which are allowed to be upgraded is limited.

Concession points will be evaluated at the end of the season as well. Any manufacturer which trails the leading manufacturer by 36 points or more will be allowed upgrades for the following season as well. Manufacturers within 36 points will be forced to retain the same spec of certain parts for the following year.

What this would mean in practice is that, for example, if the system were in place for this year, Kawasaki and Ducati would have to race next year with a virtually unchanged engine. The other manufacturers would all be allowed updates. If, theoretically, Yamaha had a strong 2018 and scored a lot of podiums alongside Kawasaki and Ducati, then Yamaha would then not be allowed upgrades for 2019, along with Kawasaki and Ducati, while Honda, MV Agusta, Aprilia, and BMW would once again be allowed new engine parts.

The list of parts which are allowed to be upgraded is limited. The full list is below, but the list basically comprises valve train components and flywheels. Other engine internals will remain frozen for the full season, but modifications to the valve train can have a marked effect on performance.

Price capping parts

The concession parts are all part of a price-capping initiative, to both restrict the cost of development, and to ensure that privateer teams have the same access to updated parts as the factory-supported teams. Engine parts which have been designated as concession parts must come from an approved supplier, appointed by the factory. They are all price capped, to keep the affordable for privateer teams.

In addition to concession parts, there is also a list of approved parts, including chassis and suspension parts, which are also price capped. These include swingarms, triple clamps, and a Superbike Kit ECU. The list, with prices, is below:

In addition to these approved parts, polished and ported cylinder heads must also be made available through the approved parts system. These, too, are price capped, at the retail price plus a premium which differs for each engine configuration: €3000 per cylinder head for an inline four, €1800 per cylinder head for a V4 (i.e. a total of €3600 plus the retail price), or €1200 per cylinder head for a V twin (i.e. a total of €2400 plus the retail price).

The approved parts and concession parts must be made available in time for the new season, to give all teams an equal chance to test the parts and integrate them into their own bikes. In addition, the team leading the development for each manufacturer (the so-called reference team, in most cases the factory-backed team) must make certain information about their development available to all privateer teams using the same bike. Changes to the frame, and the dimensions of inlet air funnels and exhausts, must also be passed on.

Why do this?

All in all, the changes being proposed are a radical shake-up of the technical regulations. The reason for doing so: the current domination by Kawasaki and Ducati has made for a sterile spectator experience. Of the 24 races held so far, 16 have been won by a Kawasaki, and 8 by a Ducati. Jonathan Rea has 14 wins, and Chaz Davies has 7 wins. Yamaha is the only other manufacturer to score podiums, with 5 shared between Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes.

The prime objective of these rules is to slow the Kawasakis and Ducatis down, especially the factory bikes of the KRT and Aruba.it Ducati teams. The rev limit will be the biggest lever which Dorna and the FIM can pull to achieve this, by reducing the revs the two manufacturers can use. It is a lever with a very direct effect, limiting the horsepower available to the best riders and best teams.

At the other end of the spectrum, the concession parts and approved parts list are aimed at helping the manufacturers and teams who are lagging behind to catch up. By ensuring that certain key performance parts are available to all teams at an affordable price, that makes it easier for privateer teams and slower manufacturers to compete.

What's in it for the factories?

What is interesting about these rules is that they have been adopted with the approval of the MSMA. Despite the fact that this will both hamstring their development and potentially restrict the advantage they have over each other and privateer teams, the factories must believe this is a step worth taking.

The reason they would be willing to accept this is that racing is still primarily a marketing exercise, rather than an exercise in R&D. It is imperative for the manufacturers that as many people as possible watch the racing, and the closer and more exciting the racing, the bigger the audience. Kawasaki may be utterly dominating WorldSBK, but the promotional value of the series is greater if Jonathan Rea wins half the races but twice as many people watch him do that.

What these changes will not do, of course, is provide a magic bullet to suddenly allow riders for the Pedercini or Ioda Racing teams to win races. The best riders will always end up with the best teams on the best bikes. These changes may make it much harder for Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies to win races, but it won't stop them. However, if it means that at the end of 2018, Honda, MV Agusta, Aprilia, BMW have joined Kawasaki, Ducati, and Yamaha on the podium, it will all be worthwhile. Unfortunately, the only way to find out if it has worked is to wait until the end of 2018.

The draft version of the new regulations can be found on the FIM website. The key rule changes are shown below, while the press release giving a brief recap of the new rules appears below that.


MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship

Changes to the Regulations for 2018

The Superbike Commission composed of Messrs Gregorio Lavilla (WorldSBK Sporting Director), Rezsö Bulcsu (FIM CCR Director), Takanao Tsubouchi (MSMA Representative) in the presence of Messrs Daniel Carrera (WorldSBK Executive Director), Paul Duparc (FIM CCR Coordinator), Charles Hennekam (International Technical Commission Coordinator) and Scott Smart (FIM Technical Director) have announced the changes for the 2018 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship from an electronic meeting held on Tuesday 24 October 2017.

The 2018 regulations have been agreed following the consideration of multiple aspects of the Series. A detailed analysis was carried out in collaboration with teams, riders, and manufacturers, with particular focus to parity, affordability and competition.

As a result, the main changes of this analysis are detailed in the points below.

Technical Regulations

REV LIMIT

The balancing system using air restrictors has been replaced with a rev limiting system. The rev limit can be altered at various points throughout the season and applies to each individual manufacturer.

CONCESSIONS

A concession points system will be introduced to restrict engine development of the fastest machines. At certain stages in the season teams that have achieved fewer concession points will be allowed to introduce updated concession parts.

As a secondary benefit, the private teams will get access to cost capped engine parts to help them reach performance levels similar to the factory supported teams.

FRONT AND REAR SUSPENSIONS AND APPROVED ENGINE PARTS

Price caps and approval process have been applied to several key frame, suspension and engine parts. These are called approved parts. This process ensures access and availability to all parts for all teams along with controlled pricing.

The version of the Motul FIM Superbike World Championship regulations, which contain the detailed text changes are available on the FIM website HERE


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Comments

I thought there was talk in months past of requiring a spec ECU, which MotoGP seems to have done with some success (unless that's what a "Superbike Kit ECU" is). Do you know why they've gone this direction instead? Just simpler to implement/tweak? And/or do electronics play a smaller role in WSBK to begin with?

Total votes: 99

One thing I left out of the article is the fact that they are discussing a spec ECU for 2019. Talks will happen through next season on it. But the idea is meeting with more resistance than in MotoGP.

Total votes: 98

It will be fun to see what can happen with these rules. I am surprised it has subjective enhancements, rather than just restrictions, which is what interests me. This makes for teams' being parts parity-ish, for that brand of machine. Understand a factory team can still tune better, hoping to see some races where the professional teams have a chance at better than 5th cause of the factory line up.

Total votes: 113

Turn WSBK into superstock, we already have GP for prototypes.  Make them use the homologated engine, chassis, brakes, suspension, and ECU.  Left them change the consumables (filters, pads, clutch discs, etc) and let them change the suspension springs and valves - but keep the rest.  Let them use race fairings and remove all the external road gear.  Let them change the full exhaust system.  These are all the sort of mods which are common place and accessible for owners.  Then we'll get to see what manufacturers' bikes are actually capable of.

Total votes: 108

Perhaps they should adopt the same technical rules as BSB. The grid switching which seems much like Bernie’s douple points fiasco has proven pointless and the switch to Sunday races proven inconclusive.

These new rules to restrict competition but enhance racing, seem draconian. They increased the cc on twins and then restricted Ducati who obviously took advantage of them. After years in the wilderness, Kawasaki are doing well and need to be stopped, apparently, rather than to find other methods to encourage competition. Like reducing costs, having one level of manufacturer bike available, etc. 

The best thing Dorna could do is sell both WSBK and MotoGP to a group who will promote them as international series and not as a method to find rides for Spanish riders. Or a method to bolster the Spanish economy by providing races in Spain and sponsorship opportunities in Spain and their ex colonies. 

Total votes: 94

Feel like bringing in RPM limits is going too far - the engines should be allowed to rev to whatever limit the manufacturer deems safe/durable. I LOVE the price capping of parts - I think MotoGP should be doing something like this, making sure upgrades are available affordably to satellite/privateer teams. Also think manufacturers should have to provide factory-equivalent bikes to satellite teams, at a capped price - possibly backed up with a "claiming rule" where, say, Crutchlow could claim Marquez's bike or engine (perhaps by paying an additional fee) if he thought he had been lumbered with a dud Honda. 

Total votes: 94

... the disparity between the twins & the fours needs constant assessment as we're comparing apples to oranges there but the fours to fours I'm not so sure. I'd be very disappointed if these rules were extended to the likes of the TT & proper road racing as many riders look to these to see what bikes are the best rather than WSBK... & it ups the profile of the Superstock racing which I've always found more relevant to real world comparisons of bike & rider.

Bums on seats is great, but if customers start thinking "yeah, but if his bike wasn't restricted he'd have won that" then it'll devalue the series & you'll lose your bums. We want to see close racing but it's got to be fair. If you want all the bikes to put out the same performance turn it into a 1-make series... & see where that gets you.

Total votes: 97

On the face of it, these changes sound sensible, and getting the factories to all agree on them must have required a Herculean effort.

My only real regret is that they didn't take the opportunity to force parity with BSB and other domestic series, therefore missing out on the chance to see increased wildcard participation.

Total votes: 89

The scourge of Balance of Performance has made it to the motorcycle racing world. I've been watching less WSBK than ever and I'll probably stop completely now. BoP is a thing from the car racing world that governing bodies like because it gives them power and factories like because it gives the illusion that everyone has a fair chance (which helps manufacturers sell cars to customers).

But it never works. It will end up like all these systems with large bulletins of changes published before every race up until the point the Kawasakis have to start at the back of the grid by regulation.

Total votes: 109

With Kawasaki appearing to be going forced induction, they probably don't give a second little poop about higher revs for the street.

Total votes: 93

Does anything work though? The reverse grids actually helped Rea. Concern must be that KRT will use their resources to work around these changes. Not sure why Honda have been limited either their bike has hardly been spectacular.

Total votes: 96

If the rev limiter is introduced and set low enough Ducati might consider going back from a 4 cylinder to a 2 cylinder configuration again for 2019 :-)

Good voor lowering resales values of Ducati's, since 1098 owners where fcked by the rapid introduction of a 1198 model, 1199 owners by the rapid introduction of a 1299 model and all Panigale owners by the fast introduction of a hotter 4 cylinder motogp style bike. And ofcourse the desmocedisci owners.... they just might lose 35K in two years ownership

Total votes: 95

I think it would make things a lot easier if they put just one  extra rule in place above the existing ruses: just 3 engines for the whole season and seal them.

This would also be good for technical development and there would be no need for extra costs in rebuilding engines etc etc. I think it is quite strange to cut costs on all differents parts, while the real costs for the teams are not the parts but the human resources.

 

Total votes: 89

Availability and price control on parts is probably a good step. I'm not a fan of rev limiters. Aren't you essentially saying to Rea, "you've won too much, we want you to go slower in the next race"? I think motogp got more leveling out of spec electronics - take out some the advantage that factory teams have in engineering expense. 

None of this changes the fact that Kawasaki does not have any investment in motogp, and therefore can throw their top resources at this project, as opposed to Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, Aprilia. 

Also, this doesn't change the more fundamental flaw IMO that there are too many WSBK races. As Apple has demonstrated, scarcity increases value. In addition, Dorna should think about WSBK package pricing for motogp subscribers (and vice versa).

Total votes: 95

Pata Yamaha boss Paul Denning has just pointed something out to be about rev limits. He wrote the following in a Tweet to me:

Important added point: Initial enforced max RPM is std bike limit + same % for all - ie max RPM limit is based on std bike engine design/character rather than "factory" spec.
So the starting point is the standard rev limit for each bike, plus a fixed percentage increase.
Total votes: 99

David, I may have missed it in the article, but why on Earth is Honda's REV limit set lower than the other underperforming manufacturer's limits after their abysmal performance in 2017 with the new CBR??

Total votes: 108

Ok they are trying to do something to make SBK better. That is fine. Punishing Kawasaki for being successful not so good.

Why is Dorna dumbing down SBK? Carmelo & co don't want SBK to be a threat to the MotoGp circus.

As a sci fi fan I was reminded of the Kurt Vonnegut story "Harrison Bergeron" this short story suggests true equality is impossible to achieve. also that total equality is not an ideal worth striving for, as many people believe, but a mistaken goal that is dangerous in both execution and outcome. Personally I think differences are good. Life would be boring if everyone was the same.

Being rulemakers they like changing the rules & coming up with new rules, I agree SBK could be better. but is this the best way to improve the show?

If it improves the racing & makes the superbike championship more sustainable, good.

I hope this is not too "political"

Total votes: 106

I never thought I'd say this, but WSBK is getting dull, and the attendances back that up. BSB at Donington consistently beats WSBK by a long way, why is that when they have the best superbike riders in the world? Jonathan Rea is clearly the best rider on the best bike, but pretty much every race we know he's going to win and Kaw / Duc will be top for places, barring DNF.

MotoGP took the right turn a few years back and we now have an excellent spectacle.

Total votes: 85

Ducati gets beat on even if they come close to winning title. Kawaski has won all for last 3 years but hasnt been buying advertizing like honda or Yamaha . And lets not forget Aprilia the little company that kept beating the japanese over and over again so they got punished.

LEAVE THE RULES AS SMALL AS POSSIBLE AND STILL HAVE STOCK BASE. SMALL HOMOLOGATION AMOUNTS.  lET THE BEST BIKE/TEAM/MANUFACTURER WIN. tHEN KEEP THE SAME RULES SO NOT HAVE TO SPEND ENGINEERING DOLLARS EVERY YEAR

Total votes: 79

Make sure the manufacturer isnt making a one off prototype, but let the race engineers run free and do there best. Dump Fuel rationing as its a very costly engineering venture. In a year or 2 all manufactures will end up being competitive. Stop punishing manufactures for winning or having exceptionay good race engineering department. The Panagale has NEVER won a WSBK title yet the FIM is looking to restrict the just for IMPROVING or Developing competitive machine. Have you ever heard such bias.

Total votes: 135