2013 Donington World Superbike Weekend: Shrinking Grids Help Nobody
The reduced grid in World Superbike really shows up when one or two riders are injured and cannot race. Losing both Leon Haslam and Carlos Checa from the competition today hammered home the reasoning behind Dorna's proposed financial limiting, especially after the predictable departure of Effenbert Liberty Racing. Seventeen riders competed for points in the second race, meaning only two of them wouldn't score points. With the good weather, there were luckily very few DNFs, which would have made it look even worse. When MotoGP was in this position, defibrillators were charged, flags were run up poles, mourners wailed and changes were forced through for the good of the sport. World Superbike is getting close to this stage and something needs to be done.
With no British wildcards able to compete due to an incompatibility between the British Superbike and World Superbike specifications, the usual British invasion (including the occasional Japanese and Australian riders) that the weekend used to attract from the British series couldn't even be counted on to bolster the numbers and they were sorely missed.
What wasn't missed by the local crowds was the British National Anthem. The podium CD player may as well have been taped closed before the event as both Tom Sykes and Sam Lowes put on performances that teams, riders and trackside fans love, even if TV audiences prefer a little more ambiguity and unpredictability at the front of a race. Tom Sykes didn't make a mistake all day, apart from maybe not getting the perfect start in race one that he did in the second race, and if losing the hole shot to Sylvain Guintoli and having to take it back at turn one is the worst you'll do all race, then you're having a good weekend. Even with what could almost be considered a boring handful of races, there was plenty of action further back in the pack to keep our attention. Loris Baz's charge through the field, Marco Melandri's wonderfully terrible starts that give us the entertainment of his aggressively making up for lost time, all-Aprilia fisticuffs, Jonathan Rea's hard-fought miss of the podium, the stories behind the winner were compelling enough to keep us glued to the action.
World Supersport shows no such danger of not filling the grid, and the sight of more than double the number of World Superbike entries swooping through the undulating curves of Donington demonstrated that if more people could afford to race in World Superbikes, there would be a queue of hungry riders knocking on the doors of those who could put a team together. While Kenan Sofuoglu may prefer to remain in World Supersport, after a few failed attempts on more expensive machinery, most of the younger riders would stop at nothing for a chance on a Superbike. Sam Lowes, for instance, leading the championship, winning in an utterly dominant manner today, may well be on a Yamaha in World Superbike next year, instead of the originally planned year after next, and his twin brother Alex Lowes has openly stated that he wants to end up in World Superbike next year.
A per-rider budget limit, like the one proposed, could open the doors to a lot of talent, but something else that would help would be allowing the Panigale 1199R to breathe a little more freely. The Italian marque has long been the touchstone of production bike racing, with many World Champions straddling red V-Twin bikes. While a return to single bike dominance wouldn't be good for the sport, castrating the big boomers is hurting the image of the series. When Carlos Checa is pootling around for a fistful of points at best each week, there's only so much blaming of the rider one can do before looking at the bike.
World Superbike has always been the home of close racing, with every manufacturer able to compete for wins. In that respect, if a price cap is what's required to bring that back, so be it. The alternative is too scary a prospect to consider, especially as Dorna now owns both MotoGP and Superbike.