Infront, Dorna, & Bridgepoint: Where The Coup Came From, And What Next For World Superbikes?

10/07/2012 @ 10:33 pm, by David Emmett19 COMMENTS

Infront, Dorna, & Bridgepoint: Where The Coup Came From, And What Next For World Superbikes? Hokusai Katsushika wave 635x357

Sunday was a big day for World Superbikes at Magny-Cours. Not just because the 2012 title was settled in what was a fascinating showdown, helped in no small part by the weather, but perhaps most of all because on Sunday morning at 9am local time, Infront Motor Sports CEO spoke to the media for the first time since the announcement that Bridgepoint, the private equity firm which owns both Infront and MotoGP rights owners Dorna, has decided to bring both series under a single umbrella, and that umbrella is to be Dorna.

That news has sent a shockwave through the motorcycle racing world. The World Superbike paddock is hardest hit of all: the mood there is somber, with everyone from Infront staff to team mechanics fearing the outcome of what amounts to a coup by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta. Optimists are few, especially as Ezpeleta is one of the most reviled characters among denizens of the WSBK paddock, because of what he represents: the perceived arrogance of the Grand Prix paddock, and a culture which is anathema to everything which World Superbikes stand for. MotoGP is truly the Beatles to WSBK’s Rolling Stones.

There is some justification to their fears. WSBK, in the person of Paolo Flammini, has been holding out on requests from MotoGP’s organizers to impose further restrictions on development of the WSBK machines, bringing them much more in line with the Superstock-style regulations proposed by FIM to harmonize regulations at the national level. He does so with good reason: the manufacturers currently racing in World Superbikes have made it very clear that they have no desire to see any further restrictions on tuning and bike modification put into place.

Given WSBK’s increasing reliance on manufacturer teams – though blessed with six different manufacturers, teams without some form of manufacturer backing are finding it increasingly hard to survive, leading to shrinking grids and gaps opening between the factory-backed and privateer squads – keeping the factories happy is becoming ever more important. WSBK does at least have the freedom to change the rules without factory interference, something which was until recently unthinkable in MotoGP.

But Flammini has a list of further crimes to his name, at least seen from the perspective of Dorna. Selling the rights to organize a race at the Buddh International circuit in India at a bargain basement price, right in the slot where Dorna had hoped to set a MotoGP race, was not well received in Dorna. India is a crucial motorcycle market – millions of new units are sold there every year, and offering a marketing opportunity to the factories still in MotoGP is one thing Dorna is trying to do to placate the factories as Dorna imposes a spec ECU and a rev limit on the class in 2014.

In response to those changes, Honda is threatening to leave MotoGP and concentrate on World Superbikes once the spec ECU – Honda’s biggest bugbear – is introduced. The first signs of a shift are already visible: HRC will be providing engines, chassis updates, and most especially, electronics systems for the Ten Kate Honda team from 2013 onwards, signs that Honda is preparing a full factory effort in the near future. That is most likely to come when Honda introduces its new V4 sportsbike based on its current RC213V MotoGP machine. Those close to that project consistently use one phrase to describe that bike: game changer. That effort represents a massive shift in the balance of power between the two series.

And so Dorna – or rather, Carmelo Ezpeleta – has seen fit to act. Though sources report that this move has been several months in the making, the timing of the announcement is at the very least remarkable. Normally, a major announcement such as this would be made in December, when Dorna, InFront and the FIM have enough distance between themselves and the media to handle enquiries in their own time. Instead, it came a few days before the finale to the World Superbike season, and ahead of the annual season-ending dinner, a special affair this year celebrating 25 years of the championship.

Was the timing of the announcement a direct insult, an attempt at getting the Flamminis and Paolo Ciabatti, Director of the WSBK championship, to hand in their notices in a fit of rage? Possibly. A clear-out of the top management level would make it easier for Dorna to seize control of the series. However, losing senior management would also leave Dorna with a problem: they do not have the staff ready to step into the Flamminis’ shoes, and any move which looks like a coup would see an immediate end to any hopes of cooperation with Dorna from the rest of the paddock.

This weekend’s WSBK meeting is not the only event of significance in the coming days. Next week, upon his arrival in Japan for the upcoming MotoGP round at Motegi, Carmelo Ezpeleta is scheduled to have meetings with senior staff from all three Japanese factories looking at competing in the 2014 championship about the technical regulations to be introduced from that season onwards. It is believed that Ezpeleta will explain to the factories that a rev limit set at 15,500 RPM and a heavily controlled standard electronics package are to be introduced, whether the factories like the idea or not.

This move is necessary both to close the massive performance gap between the factories and the private teams – both satellite and CRT – and reducing the costs in the championship which have spiraled to unsustainable levels. Ezpeleta’s message is simple: you are welcome to compete, but you will compete under our regulations, as the regulations which you drew up drove costs completely out of control.

From the outside, the announcement by Bridgepoint that Dorna would be in charge of both the MotoGP and World Superbike series looks like it has its roots in a conflict which has little or nothing to do with WSBK itself. WSBK is caught in the crossfire between Honda and Dorna, over their battle for the soul of the MotoGP series. Is it a technological arms race, as HRC would like to see it, or is it entertainment for the masses, as Dorna is trying to position it, in an attempt to boost the revenues from MotoGP and prepare itself for the day when Valentino Rossi finally hangs up his helmet.

That does not mean that the Flamminis and their confidantes will not take umbrage at their treatment, or even that their treatment was intended as a gross insult. How Paolo Flammini sees the situation, and whether he intends to stay on to run the World Superbike series, as the Bridgepoint press release implied he would, we will find out soon. Much will surely depend on exactly how Dorna intends to change the series.

Quite honestly, there is little about World Superbikes that even needs changing. In contrast to MotoGP, where Bridgestone are supplying tires that are detrimental to the spectacle, Pirelli provide rubber to the teams that allows the riders to put on a real show. The Superpole format works well, especially the twist of only giving riders two sets of qualifiers for three Superpole sessions, and the two-race format on Sunday is a massive hit with motorcycle racing fans.

WSBK’s only real weakness is an inability to market the series as it could be, and to sell itself short when it comes to TV rights. Several parties have tried to secure rights to supply internet streaming for the World Superbike races, but the current TV contracts make that almost impossible to secure. With better TV coverage and some form of internet streaming of the races, allowing audiences to follow the series in territories where the races are not shown live on TV, these gaping holes could be quickly fixed.

What World Superbikes does not need is a MotoGP makeover: the accessibility of the paddock and riders – paddock access tickets are sold at a very reasonable price, and WSBK riders will stop and chat freely with fans – is one of the series’ most endearing features, and the WSBK paddock feels like a small Italian village, where everyone knows each other and rivalries are relatively petty. MotoGP may generate a lot more money, but that money serves mainly to create distance between the riders and the fans, and the paddock is a good deal more business-like and, yes, just plain cold.

The risk of a Dorna intervention is that they kill the soul of World Superbikes, sending it over the edge into a terminal decline. That is a massive risk to take, and could be a very expensive one indeed, if circuits and TV companies were to start suing Dorna should the WSBK series die. The smartest move Dorna could make is to leave WSBK well alone, seeking only ways of extracting more sponsorship and money from the series.

That, however, requires the management team to stay in place. We shall soon find out whether Paolo Flammini is inclined to lend a helping hand to the organization which he set WSBK up against ever since MotoGP was taken over by Dorna back in 1992. There will be plenty of gazing at tea leaves in that time.

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

Comment:

  1. me says:

    I really hope WSBK can find a way to make internet streaming available.

  2. pooch says:

    Already is. Checkout firstrowsports and stream anything. Its the only way i can get wsbk.

    Carmelo is poison to bike racing. I truly think he has no idea.

  3. smiler says:

    Think the article is very well laid out. It make clear the issues facing MotoGP. For Hinda it is clear to see why they and likely the others do not want to be involved in a series that has such stringent technical restrictions.
    The whole CRT idea is just a rubbish one. They are just superbikes at a high level of tune.
    Unless the prototypes are dumbed down then there is just no reason to have them. It is a 2 tier series.
    There must be other ways to reduce cost but keep the factories developing at a level that satisfies their development needs. Reduce the number of countires the races go to. Let the tyre companies sponsor teams instead of the bridgestone monopoly.
    WSB has always been great and now that Ducati are less likely to win every year it is great racing, as is superstocks. Hopefully MotoGP will not infect WSBK with its issues.

  4. kev says:

    it does feel like dornas way of beating honda, wsbk with honda back in it boosts the series. add to this the high possibility of a certain italian seeing out his career on an r1 (new model 2o14) and add the failure of the spectacle that gp has become and i truly believed we were about to get some of the best years of racing ever. One positive is that the spec ecu in bsb has worked well and not damaged the spectacle at all and pirelli have a lot of data from the teams. that would mean wildcards again.
    gp should be set at tuned production engines (like the crt) prototype frames and the spec ecu. fix the rules like that for about 5 years and by then youd have some cracking racing, where advances are made in chassis technology not programming,
    heres hoping he dont fuck wsbk, cant see it tho :-(

  5. TexusTim says:

    WSBK streaming would be awsome…ever since I dropped cable and satalite I can no longer keep up with wsbk…I mean i know whats up over there but since I no longer can watch it I just lost intrest.
    PRODUCTION vs PROTOTYPE……WASNT THIS THE FORMULA THAT HAS GOT US AT LEAST TELIVISED ROAD RACING IN AMERICA ?..they say they want us but only invite three ameican kids to red bull rookie camp……….look how many italians and spainards that got in…..direct tv and time warner should stop messing around and let WSBK blossom on the world stage. they wont loose many cutsomers if they would…but should the series fail they certanly would……INDIA..ok they buy scooters..take that number away and all the other type of bikes sold there and they make up a very small amount of sportbikes……they may come to watch but to them it’s not about the sport as much as the specticul and the poosability of big crashes…have you ever watched there version of tv or movies ? so here in america..HUNGRY FOR A NEW SPORT NOT FILLED WITH DRUG HEADS,WIFE ABUSERS AND ADULT NITE CLUB AFETR PARTY CLOSET SHOTGUN SHOOTERS (did I leave anyone out ?) they throw a moto gp hero under the bus and make it about revenue, sure it’s about money but it shouldnt apear that way if we want a loyoal fan base here in the states.

    I guess I undertsand in some way why Stoner has become disalusioned but this annoucmentt will probably mean no stoner in WSBK, even though I get it I just think he hasnt helped with the attitude developing in moto gp, we see spies and a few others complain and condem there very own childhood dream and ambition after finally getting there….HOW DOES THIS HELP GROW THE SPORT ? or maybe they think we all act like the soap operas on american tv.because this is what is happening to motorycycle road racing..who would have dreamed to hear them speak about moto gp, factories and series owners they way they do…it sounds like there spoiled rich and ready to bail and go home……but like spies fiqured out there’s not really anywere else to go but retirment.
    Dont we have production racing in moto gp ? and I dont mean the crt but the moto 2 series.except for frames these are all sealed honda 600 engines which makes me wonder about the comment of the battle between honda and dorna, why did honda get the deal ? this whole thing in moto gp started with spec tires, (i get that one) then spec engine then crt now spec ecu’s with a rev limit, only crt teams ( awfully close to WSBK) like all this but here are my thoughts.
    WSBK days are numbered what I see is a weekend with a moto 1, moto 2(semi production), motosbk big bike or crt production race and a full moto gp race, the latter two will be ran toegther but scored seperatly and field there own series champion this will eventully lead to moto 2 being the production class and moto gp the prototype and moto 1 to stay they same 250 class. With the economy in such sad shape this announcment and the same ” INVESTMENT” company owning both I see this as the future to come ….this would be how to get all the stars in one place when they loose rossi and his star power, sadly we lost the next “rossi” late last season that was a big game changer we are still dealing with…RIP Marco.

  6. robin says:

    rip wsbk

  7. irksome says:

    Honda dislikes the notion of rpm-limits and spec-ECU so, to block their packing up and moving to WSBK, Dorna takes over WSBK and will now impose a spec-ECU on that series as well.

    It’s all about money and keeping MotoGP viable, kids.

  8. Cpt.Slow says:

    :( love live WSBK…

  9. tonestar says:

    interesting article, although i must admit alot of the political shit left me scratching my head…

    biggest difference in wsbk vs motogp as i see it isn’t in the racing, altough there are huge differences there as we all know, but it’s in the culture. the fact that you can walk around the pits and paddock of a wsbk race and have a handshake w/ checa or sykes (maybe not biaggi hey!) is amazing and wonderfully endearing. the fuckin mess that is motogp is reflected in the whole austin debacle.

    as an aside, i watched the ama 600 class race from nola by chance yesterday and was stunned by the level of racing excitement. names like zemke, disalvo, hayden, etc, not to mention massive tankslappers and those lil 600’s sliding all over the shop, not to mention the lap final w/3 or 4 passes between the 2 leaders. amazing stuff!

    maybe the more $ in the sport ruins it? maybe we shouldn’t be concerned with this “grow the sport” idea. maybe we should stay outlaws? would anyone argue that simoncelli or mccoy was more exciting than pedrosa?

  10. David says:

    Hell, all this ICE development crap is over and done with. The bikes in both series have reached their technological peak.

    The future is in developing electric scooters and race bikes (and cars for that matter).

    The CEO of Honda even said so in his direction of the company speech. Honda has little interest in ICE design and is putting their engineering might behind the future of low emission transportation. He even announced a fuel cell car for 2015. Not to far off. That could be a huge game changer if they get it right.

    It would be no sweat off Honda’s balls to just get out of either series all together. Look at the lackluster motorcycle products they have come out with the last few years.

    Even the LeMans racing series has seen diesel technology reign supreme and now hybrid race cars are making inroads into being competitive.

    F1 has KERS and who knows what’s being developed next from the teams.

    Their has to be a motorcycle racing series that advances the sport in a technological way or else it just evolves into a boring spec racing series with outdated equipment.

    Do you think Audi bought Ducati just to race a spec bike?

    I would think the engineering forces of Audi would like the challenge of coming up with something completely new and innovative. Not be spoon fed a spec ECU. Dorna needs to just unleash the hounds and let the big guys play.

    Do you really think F1 and LeMans (and MotoGp and WSBK) racing would be better if the rules made it affordable for Billy Bob racing to build a car for the grid?

    Oh well, maybe Dorna is just paving the way for Harley Davidson to get into the series.

  11. Mark Lancaster says:

    If you knew nothing about motorcycle roadracing and had a chance to watch MotoGP and WSBk, how would you rate them? Which series would you pick as the most exciting?
    WSBk had six manufacturers represented in 2012. Nine riders won races, on five brands. Non-factory, customer bikes won races… as well as factory supported bikes.
    MotoGP features 3 manufactures, 6 factory bikes, 6 factory customer bikes and 9 CRT bikes. The series is ridiculously expensive, has lost its most exciting star, Marco Simoncelli, and the Aussie, who rides a 250 horsepower missile like it was a 90 horsepower dirt tracker is retiring. The most recent MotoGP round at Aragon, Spain had 44,746 spectators; attendance at the 2012 Salt Lake City WSBk round was 49,000.
    A merger of MotoGP and WSBk could destroy WSBk. The only thing worth saving in MotoGP, in my opinion, is the riders. After spending millions of dollars on handmade bikes, Ducati, Honda and Yamaha factory riders aren’t allowed enough testing time to work out glitches. The factories have dedicated test riders, but they aren’t good enough to find the problems that plague World Champions.
    A leased MotoGP factory bike costs a satellite team in excess of 3 million dollars, but the 3 mil still won’t buy the technology of the factory machines. Why would anyone spend millions to compete with no chance of winning… and why would one factory spend tens of millions, hire two world champions to earn a few podiums over 2 seasons? Meanwhile, the same factory’s 6 year old design, production superbikes are still winning races in WSBk for a fraction of the cost.
    But, the biggest question is; why would Speed pre-empt the pinnacle of motorcycle roadracing to show an hour of miscellaneous commentator ramblings at a rain delayed NASCAR race? Wait a minute, aren’t those NASCAR Cars and Trucks basically CRT 4 wheelers?
    Sluggo

  12. MikeD says:

    I think Honda should pull a Suzuki or Kawasaki on Ezpeleta…SEE HOW HE LIKES THAT SHIT.
    I see he’s point on staying profitable and all that crap BUT what really put’s the sugar on my coffee is a motorcycle arm’s race ( i SPECIALLY love ICE engines, not to mention ones making 250hp per liter and all the crazy shit and UN-OBTANIUM related to it)…call it what u will, i could care less, i don’t want to hear anything about LIMITING, I already have enough of that with all the BS the goverment shoves up my arse.
    I don’t even watch the damn series. If i feel like getting in the know all i have to do is search around and presto, free results and footage.

    If he wants to limit something he should concentrate on limiting his massive hair loss.

    Honda’s huge…it’ll be a drop on their bucket…not to mention the savings will be astronomical and wouldn’t hurt, specially with the economy on the toilet.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    David says:
    October 8, 2012 at 12:46 PM

    “Hell, all this ICE development crap is over and done with. The bikes in both series have reached their technological peak.

    The future is in developing electric scooters and race bikes (and cars for that matter).”

    @David: Go hug a tree or make love to a fuel cell, the world will be a better place.

  13. Gutterslob says:

    Honda could quite easily screw Dorna/Infront/Bridgepoint many times over if they wanted to, though.

    Pull out of MotoGP, send HRC to WSBK, throw enough money at the CBR to make it win non-stop and effectively kill competition in WSBK. Only other team that could even compete if Honda decided to get serious would be BMW, but only on a financial level though. BMW Motorrad still don’t have HRC’s years of race-craft on 2 wheels yet.

    Then you’d see 2 boring race series instead of one. Everybody loses.

    So yeah, we’re f*cked either way. Might as well watch a bunch of redneck dudes named “Junior” drive trucks and sedans round in circles.

  14. Gutterslob says:

    Of course, Yamaha could do the same as Honda, and so could Ducati (the Desmodesici road bike still qualifies for WSBK, right). Then you’d have 3 teams sending MotoGP resources to WSBK, hence turning MotoGP into a CRT fest (with nearly bankrupt teams) and turning WSBK into the current MotoGP, where 3 factoriees dominate while the others are effectively a CRT class.

  15. Tom says:

    smiler says….

    It make clear the issues facing MotoGP. For Honda it is clear to see why they and likely the others do not want to be involved in a series that has such stringent technical restrictions.

    I’ve said for some time now that no, racing does not improve the breed, at least in regards to motorcycles. Manufacturers are myopically focused on the the rules of the racing series rather than in making the best motorcycle possible. I used to look down on MV Agusta for not racing their bikes to validate their costs, but really, why should any bike manufacturer race when its all about conforming to rules not to physics.

  16. NICK says:

    Have to say this was not a surprise to us – we sensed things were moving in this direction and published that opinion in December 2011.

    This was not Dorna’s call. It has to do with Bridgepoint rationalising their portfolio since clearly resources can be pooled. Why would Bridgepoint seek to do anything other than maximise the autonomy of both series, and why would you not poole resources? Bridgepoint are far too smart to let Dorna ‘sieze control’ or ‘take over’ Infront, phrases which are being bandied about it in the media. Bridgepoint ‘representatives’ sit on both boards, with or without smoking gun….. For an obejctive, non hysterical response to these developments see http://www.bikerglory.com/?p=2413

  17. MikeD says:

    Tom said:

    Manufacturers are myopically focused on the the rules of the racing series rather than in making the best motorcycle possible.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    A little too black and white but i somewhat agree with you.

    I too think the motorcycle world would be a better one if there were no molds to fill (supersports, superbikes, etc).

    How about just building what u feel will make u money or what u think people would like ?

  18. NICK says:

    One other point… the massive irony here is that for years Honda dictat appeared to dominate Dorna thinking. It was Honda who wanted out of two strokes, on and off track. It was, surprise surprise, Honda who got the Moto 2 gig. There are numerous other examples. So the current impasse between Dorna and Honda re prototypes is quite refreshing.

    I’m convinced that WSBK will move closer to a Superstock ethos to maintain their ‘production’ identity, and that ultimately GPs will remain prototype territory, if anything with even less restriction (although the dream of big cc DI strokers and rotaries taking on the V4s etc sadly remains a fantasy). Why will this happen? Because it preserves the id of both series. And with pooled resources, that is the way to profit. Which is where Bridgepoint came in….

  19. alex says:

    America is ground zero for sport bikes so who cares about india and there need for scooters and the eu and it’s nanny state bs – it’s all about relatively cheap gas and endless backroads.

    So really I could care less about motogp. Top level status and all.

    I want to see all the manufacturers on prototype race bikes that are based on future models racing hawaii, new jersey, texas, laguna seca, anchorage, montana on some epic track that goes on for miles and has a cow farm in the middle.

    Basically I want America to become as important to motorcycle racing as it is to motorcycle sales and the AMA to do the job door knobs will never.

    Away races should be singapore at night, IOM TT and something through dt Moscow.