Now that it has the World Superbike series under its control, Dorna is turning its attention to the question of costs. It was an issue that, WSBK insiders claim, the Flammini brothers and Infront spent too little time on, preferring to focus on trying to compete with MotoGP instead. The series’s critics charge that this obsession allowed bikes into the series that were more like MotoGP prototypes than production road bikes.
The Aprilia RSV4 is one of the bikes most often named in this regard, though perhaps the most extreme example was the Foggy Petronas FP3 machine, of which the entire homologation run is rumored to be stored in a warehouse owned by the Malaysian oil company in Kuala Lumpur. As a result, grids have shrunk from around thirty starters in 2009 to just twenty in 2013.
Dorna’s solution is a mixture of methods gleaned from their recent experience in MotoGP: price caps and pressure on the manufacturers to reduce costs of their own accord. In an interview with the German-language website Speedweek, Carmelo Ezpeleta said that his aim is to have all manufacturers supply teams with bikes at a cost of €250,000 per rider.
Included in that amount would be two bikes per rider, and full support to complete an entire season. Only crash damage would be excluded from the quarter of a million per season, that being a cost that is outside the control of the factories. In addition, Ezpeleta said each manufacturer had to be prepared to supply up to six riders with equipment, should there be sufficient interest, a measure currently being enforced in Moto3.
How such substantial price reductions – according to the Speedweek article, a competitive WSBK machine currently costs around €300,000 per bike – are to be achieved is entirely up to the manufacturers. Ezpeleta has told the MSMA that he expects to receive proposals from them in the next three or four months. If they cannot come up with a set of technical regulations which would reduce costs to the required level, Ezpeleta will impose his own rules, bringing the machines pretty close to Superstock level.
This is very similar to the tactic which Ezpeleta used against the factories in MotoGP. Since 2009, Dorna had been pressing the MSMA to provide affordable machinery, either by building production racers or allowing engines to be leased at a much lower cost than entire satellite machines. The MSMA members consistently refused, saying that they had no interest in making a production racer, and putting the minimum price for leasing an engine at around 70% of an entire satellite machine.
But with the introduction of the CRT machines, and the threat of a rev limit and spec-ECU software, the manufacturers finally succumbed, realizing that Ezpeleta was prepared to race in MotoGP without any factory involvement. A compromise was reached, whereby Honda promised to start building a production version of its RC213V for sale to MotoGP teams, and Yamaha agreed to lease engines to teams at a much reduced price.
Ezpeleta’s hope in World Superbikes is that the factories will find a way to cut costs of their own accord. The Japanese factories especially fear a Superstock-based series, as Ducati and BMW have dominated Superstock for many years now, with Kawasaki the only Japanese manufacturer to get close.
Threatened with a series which would put them at a disadvantage – or make them invest heavily in a manufacturing segment where it is very difficult to recoup the investment, without leveraging the premium commanded by luxury brands such as BMW and Ducati – Dorna’s hope is that the MSMA can come up with a set of technical rules which would cut costs back to affordable levels again.
Cheaper bikes should also see a return to fuller grids once again, and the requirement for each factory to supply six riders, if they have the requests, should mean that there is more parity between the officially-backed teams and the privateer WSBK squads.
Though the manufacturers will want to avoid a completely Superstock set of regulations for World Superbike, it is unlikely that the bikes will continue at their current spec. Dorna also wants to make the distinction between the MotoGP and World Superbike machines much more clear, and reducing the performance of WSBK is part of that goal.
Bringing WSBK closer to Superstock spec will also make it easier for national wildcards to compete in WSBK rounds, as most national series now have their Superbike classes running in near-Superstock trim.