The future of the World Superbike series is about to undergo a radical change. The EVO class to be introduced from next year onwards is to be the standard for all World Superbike machines from the 2015 season onwards. As the WSBK grids have dwindled over the past four years, World Superbikes have been looking around at ways to stop the decline of the series.
Former owners Infront were unsuccessful at stopping the rot, and now that the series is in the hands of Dorna, the Spanish series organizer has sat down with the manufacturers – previously excluded – and tried to find a way to cut costs drastically and increase participation.
While we were busy getting sunburned in Austin, on the other side of the globe in Magny-Cours, men and women road motorcycles around a french track for 24-hours straight, in a little something called the Bol d’Or.
With SRC Kawasaki making a return to the pole-position, the French squad made it two years in a row at the winner’s circle, giving them a fantastic start to the World Endurance Championship. At the helm of their Kawasaki Ninja ZX-10R were Gregory Leblanc, Loris Baz, and Jérémy Guarnoni, who battled through rain and the cold night to put the Kawasaki on the top step.
After the bombshell announcement that Bridgepoint was putting Dorna in charge of both the MotoGP and World Superbike series, the media were keen to get a reaction from either of the Flammini brothers, the two men who had helped to grow the series into the success it is today, and who currently run WSBK. After an initial deafening silence, Paolo Flammini finally made an appearance at Magny-Cours on Sunday morning, to explain his, and Infront’s, point of view. Our friends at the Italian website InfoMotoGP.com were present to record the press conference on video.
Flammini did not say much – indeed, he started his speech with the words “I don’t have much to add to what is written in the press release,” – but what he did say helped clarify the situation a little. Starting off with an understatement – “This step represents a very big moment in the history of World Superbikes”, Flammini told the assembled media – the Italian was at pains to make clear that World Superbikes would face few changes for 2013. “Many people are worried for the 2013 season, but nothing special will happen,” he said, emphasizing that his aim was to keep stability in the series.
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.
We’re not sure who is behind the liveries for Honda Europe’s racing department, but they do a damn fine job of creating simple, understated, and gorgeous race graphics. Channeling some more of that Honda RC30 goodness, HRC is also the second team to adopt the faux-headlights that World Superbike will mandate for bikes in the 2013 season.
While the graphics might be different for 2013, the machine certainly isn’t. Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam will have their work cutout for them next season, especially since we hear that the WSBK-spec Honda CBR1000RR is a bit of handful, as Hiroshi Aoyama can attest to (his bike is pictured above).
With Rea said to have opted to stay in WSBK, instead of a move into MotoGP, the Ulsterman has really been the only rider that can decipher the CBR’s code, and after seeing his performance at Misano and Aragon, we think that’s more of testament to Rea’s skill, than a fluke match between man and machine.
Hopefully things will get better in 2014, when Honda’s V4-powered homologation special hits the streets.
Tomorrow, the Honda TT Legends World Endurance Championship team will take to Magny-Cours, and compete in the 24 hours Bol d’Or endurance race. The first stop on the FIM World Endurance Championship, John McGuinness, Cameron Donald, Gary Johnson, and Simon Andrews qualified 11th for the Bol d’Or, but hope their 2012 Honda CBR1000RR will be able to make up the distance to the front-runners over the course of the race.
Putting together a quick video about the team, and endurance racing in general, the Honda TT Legends squad knows that it has a challenge ahead of them. Acknowledging that last season was a “development year,” for 2012 the team hopes to be on the podium at every race. A race bike with lights, the Honda TT Legends mechanics have had to take the race-spec Honda CBR1000RR, and “tune it down to 200 [hp]” in order to meet the reliability requirements for such a long race.
We can’t imagine what it is like riding a bike that only makes 200 hp around a tiny French track for 24 hours must be like, but McGuinness et al seem quite pleased with the machine thus far. Featuring ABS brakes on the CBR, we especially like McGuinness’s thoughts about the technology, and attitude towards “the lads in the pub” and what they have to say about ABS on sport bikes. Better living through technology, the Honda TT Legends squad is going to be a menace in the rain with the ABS-equipped CBR1000RR.
With 33 years of history surrounding the Suzuki Endurance Racing Team (SERT), the Japanese manufacturer has one of the winningest legacies in the FIM World Endurance Championship (WEC). Set to start again with the 24-hour-long Bol d’Or race at Magny-Cours on April 14th-15th, WEC teams were out at the French track this week, with many debuting their 2012 squads. Winning nine of the last ten runnings of the Bol d’Or, SERT is of course this year’s favorite to win again.
A spectacle in its own right, the World Endurance Championship and its rounds like the Bol d’Or are more of a novelty for motorcyclists on this side of the pond, and provide often only the rare glimpse of race-trim bikes with headlights. As such, we get out first proper look at SERT’s Yoshimura-powered GSX-R1000, which will be ridden by Fabien Foret, Vincent Philippe, and Anthony Delhalle — three Frenchmen with no intention of losing at their home race.
Jonathan Rea (1:37.490) won pole for the 2011 World Superbike round at Magny-Cours, beating out fellow front-row starters Eugene Laverty, Carlos Checa, and Leon Camier to the position with a new lap record. Rea won his first pole in WSBK after his Race 1 win last weekend at Imola, holding off marginally struggling championship leader Checa. The Spaniard was fastest in both Friday sessions, but lost the provisional pole to title rival Marco Melandri (who starts eight) Saturday morning. Then, Checa struggled to get out of both Superpole 1 and Superpole 2 on Saturday, barely making the final session to fight for pole.
Only Melandri had a mathematical chance of beating Checa to the championship going into the Magny-Cours round, as reigning champion Max Biaggi’s season slumped. After focus issues at Donington, the Italian has been forced to sit out three races weekends in a row with a slowly healing injury sustained at the Nurburgring. Checa looked to wrap up the title last weekend, but a late race resurgence in Race 2 in Imola by Melandi kept that Italian in the hunt. With no wild card entries, Ruben Xaus out with a neck injury, and Chris Vermeulen still unable to race, the field is down to eighteen riders. Race 1 had plenty of action, leading in the crowning of a champion from the top step of the podium. In other news of the day, Melandri has signed to race with BMW Motorrad for 2012, alongside Haslam and without Corser.