The FIM and Dorna today announced that from 2019, the WorldSBK class will see action in three races at each event. A sprint race is to be added on Sunday morning, in addition to the two full-length races held on Saturday and Sunday.
The addition of a sprint race will mean a revised race schedule for each WorldSBK weekend, with races moved to different time slots to make room for the races. Race 1 will be held on Saturday, as it currently is, but the start has been moved back to 2pm European time, which is the more traditional time for racing, and the slot in which MotoGP also races. On Sunday, Race 2 will be a sprint race, starting at 11am, followed by Race 3, the normal length race, at 2pm.
The realignment of the race start times will help race organizers, who felt that the racing day was too short, with many fans leaving immediately after the WorldSBK class was finished. A longer race schedule is meant to give fans more value for their ticket money. The start time shift has been made possible by the changes to the F1 schedule, which now starts their races at 3:15pm European time, opening up that 2pm slot for both WorldSBK and MotoGP.
Though the schedule switch had been widely trailed, the FIM and Dorna press release raises more questions than answers. There is no mention of how the grid is to be set for the Sunday races, for example, and whether the current format with the grid for Race 2 being set in part by the results in Race 1 will be maintained, either for Race 2, or Race 3. There is no mention of whether Race 2 will have an impact on the grid.
More importantly - and more interestingly - there is no mention of either the duration nor the points distribution for the sprint race. We have no idea whether the current Grand Prix system - 25-20-16-13-11-10, then 1 point less for each position down to 15th place - will be maintained for the sprint race. If it is, then it would send points tallies for the season through the roof, but it would not necessarily mean that the title would decided earlier. The points differentials would be bigger, but there would still be a lot of points on the table at the end of the season, with 75 points on offer each weekend, if the system were to be maintained as it is.
There is also no word on how long a sprint race is supposed to be. At the moment, WorldSBK races are roughly 90-100km in length, so for example 21 laps of Assen. The WorldSSP300 class has races of between 50 and 60km, or 12 laps of Assen. We have no clue as to whether the WorldSBK sprint race would be longer or shorter than that. Make the race too short, and it leaves little time for riders to escape their grid positions. Make it too long and it is hard to see how the outcome would be any different to a normal race.
There is also the question of additional risk. The experience of races shortened due to red flags is that they tend to be far more hectic affairs, with riders taking more risks. Will riders take more risks, making them more likely to crash, if they know there is a second, full length race on Sunday afternoon? That question will most likely only become apparent when the racing starts.
The reason for adding a third race is simple. Dorna is trying to increase the popularity of the series, and raise interest by making it more exciting. Whether this is the correct path or not is not immediately obvious.
The FIM / Dorna press release appears below:
Three races set to be introduced into WorldSBK race format in 2019
New era for the premier class on the horizon
Looking ahead to 2019, FIM and Dorna WSBK Organization have announced some updates to the 2019 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship race day schedule, which will welcome three races held over one weekend for the first time in the series history.
Sticking with the now traditional Race One on Saturday at 14.00h, this will open the weekend and will be the same duration. For the first time ever, Sunday will see the dawn of a short sprint race format at 11.00h. The weekend will conclude for the WorldSBK class with Race Three at 14.00h with usual duration, for all rounds held inside Central European Time.
Preparing for what is set to be a sensational weekend full of pure WorldSBK action, Dorna WSBK Organization and the FIM are working alongside riders, teams, manufacturers, circuits, broadcasters and sponsors to ensure the best format is decided throughout the 2019 season. Nail-biting and enthralling races will be guaranteed as we welcome the WorldSBK weekend into a brand-new era with a whole new experience for fans and viewers the world over.
Daniel Carrera, WorldSBK Executive Director explains: “To bring in a third ‘sprint race’ into the WorldSBK format for 2019 is something we have been planning for a long time now, so we are delighted to see the plans coming together. We are committed to bringing exciting races to the fans year on year, and we think the addition of a sprint race will add to the WorldSBK experience. We are continuing to work on the final adjustments and hope to bring more details in the near future.”