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STM: Will WSBK EVO Be Any Good?

Thursday, November 28, 2013
Eugene Laverty  58  was able to keep a slight advantage over Tom Sykes  66  in Race 2 at Assen for the win.
First, last and middle World Superbike is doomed as a standalone series because no one wants to watch it.
How Good Could Superstock World Superbike Be?

Riding the HM Plant Superstock Honda Fireblade was not only a wonderful experience on the track but in the paddock it stimulated my synaptic forks in a quite serious way. And the reason for the vastly heightened neuron activity? I was thinking about the future of the World Superbike Championship.

Let’s start with the absolute certainties and then work back from there. First, last and middle WSBK is doomed as a standalone series because no one wants to watch it. I am all too well aware that some readers get very cross with me for saying this but nevertheless it is fact. A good crowd for a WSBK round is 10,000 and you can’t promote and organize an international event with a take on the gate of $800,000 – less the 20% sales tax all European governments take.

Even the two British rounds, with Brits dominating the racing, attracted tiny attendances and in the rest of the world the situation is far worse than this.

Dorna needs the crowds not because anyone at the organization likes race fans. In fact, Dorna couldn’t be less interested in the ordinary customer if they tried. No, the key reason for Dorna’s interest in customers on the ground is the franchise fee they can charge circuit owners.

The situation is potentially even more serious than merely reduced franchise fees. The received wisdom is that circuit owners should be deeply, almost penitently, grateful for hosting any World Championship round. There is a strong element of truth in this idea. Very often it’s a case of the boys’ changing room syndrome at High School. “Hey guys, if you think you’ve got a big event just look at the size of my world championship…”

This is fine as far massaging, or destroying, teenage egos goes but it’s a fundamentally bad business model if the circuit doesn’t make money. Even Che Guevara would have found this particular situation a hard sell because it’s not a question of foul and evil capitalist circuit owners exploiting the underclasses, but rather one of sinking ships struggling to stay afloat. Believe me, if your favorite Aunt has just left a relatively small sum of money to you – say $50 million – you could be the proud owner of half a dozen major circuits within a week.

Nitro Nori Haga  41  gets the holeshot on his Renegade-Koji Ducati 999 - Brands Hatch
Though not as large a draw as in the mid-90s, fans still packed Brands Hatch to watch World Superbike in 2004.
The problem for Dorna will be when the circuit owners turn round and not only refuse to purchase a franchise for World Superbike but then send a $400,000 invoice to Barcelona for the use of the track.

Well, clearly this could never happen - except that it already has. The biggest attendance of any World Superbike round, anywhere in the world, was at Brands Hatch in the mid-1990s. The actual, hardcore accurate attendances during the golden days of Carl Fogarty will never be known but stick a pin in somewhere between 125,000 and 150,000 paying customers – about the same number of fans as currently watches the whole World Superbike series worldwide during the season.

Brands Hatch is owned by Motor Sport Vision and is controlled by Jonathan Palmer. I have met Mr. Palmer on several occasions and he comes across as what he is: a tough businessman. He is accused of being abrasive and ruthless but he was polite enough to me. Regardless of how he is viewed, there is no question that Palmer has done a vast amount for motorcycle sport because MSV owns three of Britain’s biggest circuits and they are managed well, and profitably.

When it came to running a WSBK round Palmer simply said no and explained, very briefly and without any acrimony, that the business case didn’t make sense. Instead, MSV owns, through their subsidiary MSVR, the British Superbike Championship and this series does make money and it does bring in the paying customers.

One day soon, other circuit owners will take the same stance regardless of how important are the bragging rights to hosting a world championship event.

Inevitably, Dorna has mis-understood the problem and instead of addressing the root problem have tinkered, albeit extensively, with the technical regulations in an attempt to make the series more attractive.

Dorna’s view of MotoGP is terrifyingly simplistic but its understanding of Word Superbike will take naivety to new levels next year. The raft of new regulations is vast – too detailed and too complicated even for Single Track Mind to offer for your delectation. However, from the morass does appear the tiny green shoot of what could be a quite wonderful idea. For 2014, there will be a new class within World Superbikes called EVO. It will, to quote Dorna “…be the CRT of World Superbike.” Arrrrghhh. Melling falls on the floor and begins foaming at the mouth.

The idea, predictably, is to cut costs. Hmmmm…. Never heard that one before.

The Kawasaki Racing Team took part in a four-day test at the Sepang circuit to test out the new 2011 Ninja ZX-10R.
There will be heavy restrictions in the EVO class, but you will get spectacular racing from motors in this state of tune.
The core of the concept is that the EVO engines will be heavily restricted in terms of tuning and the number available to a team for the whole season will be restricted to six. Since the Honda technician I was chatting to, about the HM Plant bike I rode, was confident that a Superstock engine would go all season with one refresh this isn’t the problem that it might seem.

There are also restrictions on the number of gear sets and the ECU. The ECU software, and the associated data logging, are also tightly controlled. 

EVO will become the standard in 2015 because you can get spectacular racing from motors in this state of tune.

However, the idea is doomed from the outset – utterly guaranteed to fail. The reasons will be identical to those which killed the CRT experiment: no one wants to pay a huge amount of money to see their bike finish in 15th position. Truly, marketing babies are not made in failure land.

The EVO bikes will not be far behind in terms of power – nor were the CRT machines in MotoGP – but they will lack the ultra trick suspension, and accompanying technicians, which play such a part in allowing the top WSBK riders to go very fast.

For example, a set of top rate World Superbike front forks are surprisingly affordable – something in the region of $30,000 will buy you the best kit. However, the clever techie who will make the fork work during the season, and without which it is little more than a piece of expensive modern art, will cost you a further $150,000 or so.

So, what is the answer Dorna, asks Single Track Mind respectfully?

The EVO engine is definitely a major step forward but it needs an EVO chassis for the whole concept to work. Superstock bikes use stock forks but with tweaked internals and these work fine. No, I am not arguing the case that they are as good as full on Ohlin World Superbike suspension but if a pair of forks costs $2000, and your own team can re-use the internals from the wreck, this has to be better than $30,000 a crash and the cost of renting an expensive suspension technician for the trick fork manufacturer.

As for the racing, it will be brilliant. The best racing I have seen all year was World Superbike at Silverstone – far better than either British Superbike or MotoGP.

If times increase by five, or even ten, seconds a lap so what? No one will notice. If a Superstock bike can tramp round the Isle of Man, and on treaded tires, at over 131 mph there is nothing wrong with these motorcycles in terms of race spectacle.

The really major change to reduce costs would be so simple to do that it is incredible. Rather than have the immense costs of each team having individual hospitality units Dorna should provide a centralized center either for free – I really am one of life’s optimists – or at a fixed cost. A rich team can have a deluxe area and a poor team, and that’s an oxymoron when it comes to any World Championship race, a smaller space. Each area would be divided off for privacy and exclusivity. Now this would reduce costs in one dramatic swoop.

Will EVO, centralized hospitality or ladies in spangly outfits riding on white horses while juggling fiery torches save World Superbike as an independent series? Absolutely not. For that matter, once the excitement of the Marquez vs. Lorenzo clash of the titans has abated – then MotoGP will be in the same sad state as ever.

The way forward is a unified series with true international appeal and flavor. In particular, the stranglehold the Spanish have on GP racing needs to be broken so that many nations are represented. The achingly dull Moto3 series would be replaced with World Supersport which in itself would be the perfect feeder class for World Superbike. WSBK, with 200-hp engines, would be the perfect preparation for MotoGP, which would rid itself of the stupid restrictions on the number of engines and fuel and instead be the no-holds barred Premier class of motorcycle racing.

With three brilliant, nail biting classes to watch, the crowds would flock in and Dorna would have circuit owners fighting for franchises. Just watch this space.

2013 World Superbike Photo Gallery
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counterintuitive   December 5, 2013 07:17 AM
I think you're missing the fundamental point which is that racing costs money and the point of WSBK is to make money, ultimately. The more complex the rules, bikes, etc. the more it costs just to run the races which cuts into the bottom-line for the tracks, the teams and DORNA. You can say that you are keeping the bikes simple by requiring bikes off the showroom flor, now you've got to spen dmore money trying to make the bike faster while keeping it "stock" (there are ways...many ways) and hen you've got to inspect each and every part, now, against the factory standard for each bike. The bikes still cost more than stock and you're now spending a ton of money on inspections and enforcement. The poitn it so get more money INTO the series and not blow so much RUNNING the series. I sispect that one major problem is that in the old days when racing was simpler, Joe Fan used to come to the races becasue they were the main source of info, tuning-info, bike news, etc whereas now they get that info off the net, chatrooms, and of course mfg websites and motorcycle sites like this one. There just isn't as much incentive to actually go to the races and spend money. Fans go to events for the experience. Clearly the event is no longer a solid draw and cost adjustments (and income-stream adjustments) need to be made to make it profitable in the face of declining gate-revenue and broadcast revenue. It's really that simple. Maybe you increase the team fees as well. Instead of putting more financial pressure on the track owners, make the teams cough-up more money just to race.
mog   December 3, 2013 07:28 PM
1. Expert Rider & Teams would select the company for which they ride 2. Vouchers are issued by bike manufacturers for 4 bikes and parts stock, per team for the first 4 races 3. All bikes would be purchased from random dealerships by a set of purchase teams (accounting firms) 4. All bikes would be in the box and unopened 5. Absolutely no exchanges of any parts could be made, totally stock from the box 6. All power requirements would be based on a 'pumping air' basis similar to the DMG Daytona bike class 7. Weight and size would have no limits 8. Stock tires might be allowed to change to the best tire within the whole entry line up 8. If Ducati, KTM and EBR win all races, then the rest are as good as their finish order All of the sudden the real street bikes would stand out. If there are those who want 'fairness', have a trophy for the motorcycle manufacturer that places the highest on their MSRP versus race finish position. This would definitely change what is offered in the show room (for the better) and a whole new set of basic street bikes would evolve for the consumer, at specific price points. In a few years I am sure that most manufacturers would be competitive with the higher end priced bikes. Fans could more easily (monetarily) identify with their favorite marque. My fear is that racing of motorcycles will become even more exotic and thus lack a more direct improvement of the daily ride. WSB and GP has lost its glow for me while CCS and WERA type racing is much more fun to watch and in which to be involved. Here in the USA the AMA and DMG folks have, for the most part, made a mess. I fear that Dorna is headed in the same direction........ away from the daily rider and his/her interest in racing or watching racing.
brianw99   December 3, 2013 07:12 PM
How about a true box-stock class? Run right off the show room floor, slicks only. No other modifications allowed. The bikes would have to be factory bikes for sale to the general public with high production numbers (no limited runs). That should keep the costs way down. The factories should love it. What is on the track is what is in the show room. True win on Sunday, sell on Monday. There would be no need to fly bikes all over the world. Just have the local dealer deliver three or four to the track. Just bring your spare parts (or have the dealer provide them if that's cheaper). At that cost the factories could field a fairly large squad of riders. Run either three sets of races or longer races with pit stops to give the fans their $$ worth. Make it a full day's show and keep the ticket price reasonable. Motorcycle racing is NOT F1.
cggunnersmate   December 2, 2013 08:22 AM
Low attendance is an issue for WSBK, I've noticed it at every race I've watched this year. Noticeably fewer people compared to most GP rounds. Though GP's numbers at tracks, especially outside of Spain are probably down on average as well. I think GP's attendance problems probably start at the ticket booth. I imagine they are far from cheap. Laguna lost their GP contract because DORNA felt they weren't getting their full cut of the pie.

WSBK is not lacking in good racing. Far from it. By and large, SBK racing has been better week in and week out than any of the GP classes. IDK about ticket prices but I can't see them being more than GP. Maybe its the prestige of GP or WSBK hasn't had enough advertising to draw crowds (AMA seems to be in a similar situation with dwindling attendance and they're having fewer and fewer race weekends each year it seems).

The money just hasn't come back yet. Vendor turnouts are down again I think due to high cost from the organizers to get in the door. But when you're paying upmteen million a year to the top riders on the factory bikes and the riders on satellite and privateer teams are having to PAY for their rides, it shows there are issues all across the board and I think it starts with DORNA. I'm curious as to what Ezplezeta and the execs at DORNA are making.

Cut some of these paychecks and the sanctioning fees to draw more tracks, draw more people to these tracks and it would help. Advertise some to get people there as well (though yes, this costs money).

There's not enough rooms in the paddocks for SBK and WSS to merge completely with all 3 GP classes. The only way to integrate them is to keep Moto3 if possible, combine WSS and Moto2, then WSBK and MotoGP separate. Again if possible but then I think the paddock may be overfull. Would hate to see Moto3 go. But regardless, if they do merge the series'. there will be a lot of riders and teams left out in the wind as they just won't be room for everybody. Even if you pad the grids in each class I still don't think everyone will fit.

I'd like them to keep WSBK and WSS separate from GP and just lower the sanctioning fees to draw more tracks and advertise the races to draw people to the tracks. Lower ticket prices would help there too.

I think the tracks have to spend SOO much to get the series that it leaves them little for advertising and then they have to charge through the nose for attendance by spectators and vendors then people don't even bother when they can watch it at home.
counterintuitive   November 29, 2013 12:46 PM
I'm not sure that stm even has a clue here. He says the problem is low attendance. So how can the answer be cheaper racing? is the ticket price or ticket desirability connected to the price of running a bike? No. The tickets are simply too expensive for the experience of watching motorcycles run around a racetrack. You might have closer racing that makes for a better show but in a field of 25 bikes someone is going to come in 15th regardless. There will always be racers who are willing to spend obscene amounts of money for a midpack finish as long as they have a lot of money to waste. So the problem is the battle between the prototype concept vs having each place essentially bough due to its cost. but if you restrict the bikes too much you end up with moto2 at best. Great riders but on the same machinery it becomes chaos. I think the answer is to focus more on the fan experience and less on the bikes. there are just so many more options for spending your time and money these days and it is really a simple issue.
DanPan   November 28, 2013 12:37 PM
To have a great weekend of motorcycle racing in my view would be easy :

Just like ALMS, MotoGP & WSBK. lets just mixt some of the groupe together.
Entry Classe : A single engine-chassis bike for everyone.
Then WSS, open competition between manufacture 600cc 4cylinder, 675 Triple, 750 V-Twin.
And for the grand series : A mixt of MotoGP prototype and WSBK production bike, battleling it out on the track together, for their respective CUP. Instead of having 20-24 bike on the track, we could have 40-50 bike, managing traffic.