Motorcycle road racing in the US looks set for a revival after its years in the wilderness. Today, the AMA announced that the rights to road racing in the US have been reacquired from the Daytona Motorsports Group, and handed to a consortium led by Wayne Rainey and Chuck Aksland. The KRAVE Group will run a new series of races in North America from 2015, under the joint auspices of the AMA and the FIM.
It has been a long and difficult few years for motorcycle road racing in the US. Since the DMG bought the rights to the AMA Superbike series, at the start of the 2008 season, the series has been in a steady decline.
Long-serving staff were replaced, circuits were dropped, classes were dropped, rejigged and renamed, and the manufacturers – or rather, the national distributors of the Japanese manufacturers – were either chased out of the series, or left over disagreements over the technical regulations.
The series reached a low point this year, when the AMA Pro Racing Superbike series held a grand total of just six races. Making things worse was the fact that just one of those rounds was in California, traditionally a very strong base for motorcycle racing in the US.
To alleviate the situation, Roadracing World’s John Ulrich stepped in to organize the Superbike Shootout, a three-race series held in California and Utah, to offer road racers something approaching a fuller season. However, DMG did not have a deal to televise the Superbike series, relying instead on live internet streaming of the events.
The decline of the series cannot be laid completely at the door of the DMG. They took over the AMA Superbike series at the start of 2008, a few months before the global financial crisis hit. That crisis had a massive impact on all forms of motorsports, and saw a great deal of sponsorship money evaporate.
The actions of the DMG certainly exacerbated the flight of capital from the series: the changes in classes and sporting regulations alienated a good part of the fan base; and the technical regulations and the way they were handled caused conflict with a number of key manufacturers.
The DMG continues to run the AMA Pro Racing Flat Track series, which has seen something of a revival under its tenure.
The plight of US racing caught the attention of both the FIM and Dorna, especially after Dorna took over the running of the World Superbike series. Without an influx of talent from the US, raising the popularity of both MotoGP and World Superbikes was hard, especially as the Americans in MotoGP have begun to retire through either injury or age.
Only two Americans remain at the World Championship level: Josh Herrin is struggling through a miserable year in Moto2, while PJ Jacobsen has been the only bright note for the US, the American having an excellent debut season in the World Supersport series, scoring a podium at Misano, and currently seventh in the championship.
If Dorna was to find any strong American riders, the US would need a strong road racing series.
There had been rumors that Dorna was working with Wayne Rainey on a new series for about a year, though the rumors only gained any real strength earlier this year. Those rumors came to a head at the Red Bull Indianapolis GP in August, at which a key series of meetings appear to have taken place.
The FIM and Dorna had agreed a new championship with the American Motorcyclist Association, the only stumbling block being the DMG. It was feared that the DMG would block any move to take way its rights to road racing, and use its financial power to thwart any attempt to circumvent those rights.
Fortunately for US race fans, common sense has prevailed. The DMG has given up its rights to organize road racing, and passed them back to the AMA. Though the wording of the statements from both the AMA and DMG suggest that the transfer involved some form of financial compensation, the value of the rights were already greatly diminished during the tenure of the DMG.
The rights have now been transferred to the KRAVE Group LLC, a partnership which includes former 500cc world champion Wayne Rainey, former Team KR principal Chuck Aksland, Terry Karges, a former team owner, and Richard Varner, an entrepreneur and custom motorcycle manufacturer.
The KRAVE Group will organize a North American championship under the auspices of the AMA and FIM North America. The series is to be called MotoAmerica, and appears that it may include races in both the US and Canada, as FIM North America represents the motorcycle associations of both those countries.
As to which classes will be raced and which tracks will be used, as yet, nothing is known. With the rights to organize a series now officially finalized, the hard work of building and promoting a series can begin. With less than six months to go before the US season’s traditional opener at the Daytona 200, there is no real time to make radical changes.
2015 will likely be a year of transition, with larger changes coming in the future. The involvement of the FIM and Dorna suggests that the technical rules will once again be brought into line with World Superbikes, to allow teams and riders to transfer more easily from the US to World Championships.
Whether the AMA goes to a Superbike-Supersport-Superstock format like World Superbikes, or a Superbike, Moto2 and Moto3 series, like the Spanish CEV championships remains to be seen. There were credible rumors from Indianapolis that Dorna favored the CEV model, but that would require a radical rejigging of the racing landscape in the US.
Although the task facing the KRAVE Group is momentous, they start off with one big thing in their favor: after six years of misery for the AMA under the DMG, the KRAVE Group is assured of the goodwill of US fans and everyone involved in the sport.
They carry the hopes and dreams of US fans, teams and riders. Perhaps more significantly, they carry the financial support and interests of Dorna and the FIM, who have a vested interest in the MotoAmerica series succeeding. Things are looking up.