World Superbike vs. MotoGP Editorial

February 11, 2010
Steve Atlas
Steve Atlas
Contributing Editor |Articles |Articles RSS

Professional-grade speed and an attitude to match, Steve Atlas is the new blood at MotoUSA. Atlas has AMA racing creds that are even more extensive than his driving record.

Number 46 gets up to speed at Sepang.
Rossi has been quite outspoken in his dislike of 800cc MotoGP engines and too much electronic intervention.

Editorial: World Superbike or MotoGP?

Ahh, the subject all we racing nuts love to debate until blue in the face. Which series is supreme: World Superbike or MotoGP? Talk about a loaded question, right? Not an easy subject to tackle, but with MotoGP moving back to 1000cc machines and the use of possible semi-production-based engines for 2012 to attract more teams, the two series are slowly becoming closer and closer. Thus, the debate arises: Will there be room for both? Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of each and see where the chips fall.

Starting with MotoGP, which is still considered by most as the ‘premiere’ series in the world – it does have the top riders on the most expensive and technologically-advanced machines. But with the grid at a lowly 17 riders for 2010 and electronics taking much of the wild, sideways antics out of the sport, how much viewer excitement is left? It seems to be that once the order of the race is set, by lap five or so, little overtaking takes place. Furthermore, with the immense grip available from these bikes today the riders must remain on line to achieve this, thus using a different line to pass becomes almost impossible. Even the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) Valentino Rossi has commented that he would like to see traction control and 800cc engines gone, and soon. It seems he may be getting at least part of his wish.

Jerez Test - Colin Edwards
“Everybody has got it. Traction control, anti-wheelie control, frickin’ scratch-your-ass-while-you’re-racing control; whatever control it is, there’s always some new thing they’re coming out with. Our cornering speeds right now are so just astronomical that if you didn’t have traction control, man, you would be in orbit every other frickin’ race.” -Edwards

These comments come directly from the mouth of the most dominate modern road racer on the planet, saying he’d both abolish TC and go back to 1K machines at the drop of the hat. Hard to discredit a man with credentials like that. It also raises a good point at the same time: Is it even possible to limit electronics, be it through a spec ECU or full wiring harness, or would teams just find clever ways around it? Like they say, in racing it isn’t cheating if you don’t get caught.

Colin Edwards had a great quote about traction control awhile back, really putting things into perspective, be it a brash Texas one: “Everybody has got it. Traction control, anti-wheelie control, frickin’ scratch-your-ass-while-you’re-racing control; whatever control it is, there’s always some new thing they’re coming out with. Our cornering speeds right now are so just astronomical that if you didn’t have traction control, man, you would be in orbit every other frickin’ race.”

This then spawns the question, how much safer is traction control? Yeah, without it less highsides will take place, but as is they still happen – Jorge Lorenzo during Laguna Seca qualifying instantly comes to mind. And with all the

Melandri back with Gresini Honda - Sepang Test
Melandri moves back to the Gresini Honda team for 2010, but was slotted to ride for the ill-fated Kawasaki team last year. With Kawi totally pulling out it reduces the GP grid by another two riders and reduces the manufacturer count to four.

electronics, the corner speeds are so high that when riders lose the front, which inevitably will happen trying to find that “astronomical” limit, they will be going much faster and thus slide further and tumble harder when hitting gravel traps.

Not to mention, racing is about excitement. Every rider on the grid knows exactly what they are signing up for and have for years to get to that point. This isn’t BINGO people, it’s ‘frickin’ motorcycle racing. But MotoGP has seemingly become the Formula 1 of yesteryear – awesome machines and amazing riders but limited on-track action. 

Despite the somewhat unentertaining racing as of recent, from a rider’s perspective MotoGP is still top dog. Take our own Ben Spies for example. He did the unthinkable and won the World Superbike title in his rookie season and while he was slated to stay and defend it, he used some pull at Yamaha to immediately jump up to MotoGP for this year. That shows quite a lot about what the top riders in the world think of each series.

The level of talent in MotoGP is also undisputable. The so-called “four aliens” (Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa) are considered by most to be the best riders on the plant. And when one series has them all, it’s hard to argue against it. Even Spies, who was instantly winning World Superbike races, says his goal is merely to be in the top-10 to start the season in MotoGP, pronouncing that finishing anywhere within that group would be equivalent to a win in WSBK. Yet another solid point in the defense of Grand Prix racing’s superiority.

Dani Pedrosa tests the new RC212V - Sepang Test
Dani Pedrosa: One of the “four aliens” as they are now called.

And while GP is F-1 on two wheels, F-1 has actually done a lot recently to improve racing. And with far more teams involved in 2010, it will be the series’ largest grid in several years. They have done this by limiting testing and leveling the playing field for support teams, among a load of other rule changes. Can MotoGP do the same? That’s the aim with going back to 1000cc displacement for ’12 and the rumored allowance for of semi-production-based engines for factory-backed and privateer teams, which WSBK has outwardly expressed serious discontent with. Be interesting to see if this rejuvenates the grid, as a total of 17 riders is on the small side.

To summarize GPs: Amazing talent, awesome machines, but small grids and sometimes lackluster on-track action.

On to World Superbike: With a very solid 24-confirmed-rider grid this year – not including wildcards at various rounds – and evenly matched machines among the top factory teams, there’s no question the racing in Superbike is more exciting to watch. The bigger and heavier bikes are less electronically controlled, thus the machines are more rear-end unstable and exciting to watch, as well as taking far more muscle to ride. They also punish the spec Pirellis quite extensively, making tire management an exciting feature throughout the race.

Ben Spies took the Race 2 win  pulling away from Haga in the final laps - Phillip Island
World Superbike: No question the racing is top notch!

Do they have the best riders in the world? Maybe not the best, but it’s no slouch of a field. With several ex-GP men like Max Biaggi and Carlos Checa filling the grid, as well as past WSBK champions and a host of fast up-and-coming young talent, there’s no disputing that – MotoGP aside – it’s the top series in the world. And while it may not produce the same level of speed from the top four “aliens”, the depth of field is far deeper, with the grids typically separated by less than a second in qualifying all the way down, and sometime outside the top-20. Not to mention the first 14 or so riders are on factory or factory-backed bikes.

Speaking of factory or factory-backed bikes, where MotoGP has four manufacturers taking place (Honda, SuzukiYamaha and Ducati), World Superbike has a whopping seven, which could soon be eight if KTM joins in 2011 like they say. Now that’s saying something. With the likes of BMW, Aprilia and Ducati mixed in with all four Japanese brands, it really is amazing what they have been able to achieve. Especially considering just about every factory team, sans Ducati, pulled out in 2004

Jonathan Rea ended the season strong and hopes to make a title running play for 2010 with the Hannspree Ten Kate Honda.
Johnny Rea is one of the young guns to look out for as a WSBK title contender in 2010. But he’ll have some serious competition to get the crown.

when WSBK announced they were going to a Pirelli spec tire, becoming the first major motorcycle series to do so. While controversial at the time, today just about every big organization has followed suit (MotoGP, BSB, AMA, etc), as it goes a long way to level the playing field and increase close racing. Once again they were ahead of their time and as such paving the way for all others to follow.

I had a chance to ride all the World Superbike machines in Portugal following the final race of the season recently and came away extremely impressed, as the rules allow modifications that not only keep the playing field even but make for some seriously trick motorcycles. That said, instead of technology being the forefront, Infront Sports (company in change of running WSBK) has aimed to produce the best racing on the planet, and judging by the varying levels of tune on some bikes, we wouldn’t be surprised if some rule bending was allowed to even things up. But is this really a bad thing?

Just take a quick glance at the rules: 1200cc and 370-lb minimum for twins, plus 50mm air restrictors, while the four-cylinder machines get a reduced weight of 356-lbs but a max of only 1000cc with no air restriction. The rules also state that “…the weight limit and the intake-restrictor size of twin machines would be updated, if needed, during the Championship, by a system analyzing the race points obtained…” thus giving Infront Sports the ability to tailor the rules as needed to keep competition close. Did someone say air restrictors? Think of it as the NASCAR of bike racing.

Will 2010 be the year Ducati Xeroxs Noriyuki Haga takes the top spot in the overall standings
Haga has been the World Superbike Championship’s bride’s maid for more times than most can remember, though he’s aiming to change that in 2010. He’s without a doubt a title favorite going into the season.

Motorcycle racing is entertainment, first and foremost. Win on Sunday, sell on Monday. It’s still the reason manufacturers pump millions of dollars into our beloved sport. And without multi-bike battles throughout the pack, especially at the front, people aren’t going to watch or attend the races. Just look at the release NASCAR recently put out about changes it’s making to the series to up the excitement level for 2010. The cars will now get bigger restrictor-plates for faster Super Speedway racing, plus the removal of the big rear wing that fans didn’t like the look of, while NASCAR also eliminated regulations on bump drafting (where one car hits another from behind) and reduced fines for verbal and physical bouts as well as directly encouraging drivers to speak their minds freely. This will surely bring back some of that good ol’ redneck excitement! 

NASCAR may not have the world’s best drivers, but cars bouncing off each other at 180mph and 10-deep pileups sure keep people tuning in week after week. A lot more so in America than the precession that was F-1. And much like NASCAR, putting fans in the seats and turning on the TV is priority No. 1 for WSBK. This is where the true strength of WSBK lays, with its edge-of-the-seat excitement and great commentators, both a direct result of the incredibly close competition. Not to mention its connection to everyday riders, as the machines are fully production based and look like racing versions of what any consumer can buy off the showroom floor. Just don’t look under the bodywork…

Noriyuki Haga  a resident of nearby Milan  Italy  was a fan favorite coming into the weekend races in Monza  especially now that he rides for the Italian marque Ducati.
World Superbike has a massive fan following, proven by Haga shown here signing autographs. The same can be said for MotoGP. Both series are huge in Europe, with live TV and spectator numbers well over 100,000 at some rounds.

As for the final verdict, it breaks down like this: Deeper fields and better racing in World Superbike but the world’s best riders and the trickest machines on the planet in MotoGP, albeit only 17 of them. So which is king of the racing world? Like Rossi said, “As for the level of spectacle of the two disciplines, I leave it to the people who watch the races to comment.” Well put Doctor.

No matter how you look at it, motorcycle racing is an amazing sport. Period. And I’ll be tuned into each and every race of both series, just for very different reasons – one to see bar-bashing action and the other to witness the greatest riders in the world on the pinnacle of prototype machinery. But getting back to the original point, as long as MotoGP holds on to its unobtainium-equipped machines and top-tier riders while World Superbike produces close racing every week, I’d say there is ample room for both series’ to strive. As long as the economy allows it, that is.

To quote Ernest Hemingway: “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.” And one can never have enough motor racing…

Motorcycle USA racing fans, don’t forget to sign up for the 2010 Fantasy Racing season. It’s free, fun and online now! To sign up for our Fantasy GP and Fantasy Superbike games visit our Fantasy Racing homepage.

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