WorldSBK Looks to Rev Limits to Balance the 2018 Season

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The World Superbike championship has moved to address the performance disparities that have seen Kawasaki and Ducati dominate in recent seasons.

The Superbike Commission, the rule-making body for the WorldSBK series, today announced a series of measures to ensure greater parity among teams and factories.

The measures, which will enter into force in 2018, see rev limits replacing weight penalties and air restrictors as a performance balancing mechanism, and a performance-based concession point system for allowing engine updates during the season.

The changes fall into three main categories: the performance balancing system, a system of concession points, and the price capping of a range of suspension, chassis, and engine parts related to performance.

The performance balancing system and the concession points system are aimed at creating more parity between different manufacturers, while the price capping of certain parts is aimed at both limiting costs, and of ensuring that all teams have access to the same parts.

Performance Balancing via Rev Limits

The biggest change – and probably the most effective – is the adoption of rev limits as a performance balancing mechanism. The current system uses air restrictors placed in the throttle bodies as a way of restricting performance.

That was originally a measure aimed at slowing down the Ducatis, especially once the maximum capacity for twins was increased to 1200cc.

There were two problem with using air restrictors. The first was that the effects were rather limited: factories grew more adept at squeezing more performance out of the engine despite restrictors, and there was a limit to how large or small the restrictors could be.

A bigger issue is that it only addressed the performance disparity between twins and four cylinders, leaving the disparity between the different manufacturers of four-cylinder bikes untouched. It was aimed at containing Ducati.

The problem is that Kawasaki has surpassed Ducati in performance, and there is no way of helping Honda, Aprilia, Yamaha, BMW, or Suzuki catch up.

Hence the switch to rev limits. Rev limits give the FIM and Dorna more direct control of the performance of different manufacturers. By allowing some manufacturers more revs and others fewer revs, they can impact peak power and torque of each individual brand.

This will allow them, for example, to reduce revs for Kawasaki if Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes keep winning everything, leave the revs untouched for Yamaha, as Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark have been close to being competitive as the only other bikes on the podium other than the Kawasakis and Ducatis, while increasing revs for Aprilia and Honda to help make them more competitive.

The system will use an algorithm to calculate relative performance. That algorithm has yet to be completely defined, but it will combine a number of factors, including lap times, top speeds, number of riders on a particular bike, results, laps led, etc. to generate a relative performance ranking.

Should a particular manufacturer come out high, then the series organizers will be able to reduce the maximum rev limit for that manufacturer by 250 rpm. If the performance ranking comes out low, they can raise the rev limit by 250 rpm.

The calculations will be made every three rounds, and may also be done at the end of the season for the following year. The proposed rev limits are shown below:

WSBK Initial Rev-Limit
Brand Proposed
Aprilia 14,700
BMW 14,700
Ducati 12,400
Honda 14,300
Kawasaki 14,100
MV Agusta 14,700
Suzuki 14,700
Yamaha 14,700

Rev limits will be imposed via the ECU for each bike, and monitored by the compulsory FIM-approved datalogger on each bike. Overrevving is allowed for downshifts, as the performance benefits of such are negligible.

There are of course limitations to what can be done with rev limits. Though theoretically, Dorna and the FIM could raise rev limits as high as they wanted, that doesn’t mean that the bikes in question are actually capable of revving at those speeds.

Yamaha, for example, limit their engine to lower than the proposed rev limit in the new regulations, to ensure reliability.

Of course, the real aim of the rev limits is not so much raising the limits for underperforming manufacturers, as lowering the limits for the manufacturers which are currently dominating.

It is unlikely that Yamaha’s rev limit will be raised, for example, but it is almost certain that the rev limits for Ducati and Kawasaki will be lowered if their stranglehold over the championship continues.

The lowering of Kawasaki and Ducati rev limits should also help privateer teams of the successful manufacturers. Currently, privateer Kawasakis don’t rev anywhere near as high as the factory-backed KRT bikes of Rea and Sykes.

Lowering Kawasaki rev limits will reduce the performance advantage of the factory team, but it won’t necessarily affect the privateer squads running the same bike.

Concession Points and Concession Parts

The other fork in this two-pronged attack on performance inequality is the introduction of concession points, which will be used to allow less successful manufacturers to catch up with the manufacturers which are already winning.

The system is similar to the one used in MotoGP, which has been proven to be successful. But instead of testing allowances, manufacturers with concessions will be allowed to provide upgraded engine parts.

The concession points system works along the same lines as MotoGP. Points are awarded for each podium finish, 3 points for a win, 2 points for second, 1 point for third.

At two points during the season, concession points will be tallied up for each manufacturer, and those who lag too far behind the manufacturer with the most concession points will be allowed to introduce new, upgraded parts.

The rules are ambiguous concerning the first point at which concession points are assessed. The rules currently state that the concession points will be evaluated after the first three “races”. Strictly speaking, that would be halfway through the second event.

The more logical explanation is that this is a mistake, and what is actually meant is that concession points will be evaluated after the first three events, or in other words, after six races.

At the first evaluation point, any manufacturer that trails the manufacturer with the most concession points by 9 points or more will be granted permission to introduce engine upgrades, though the list of parts which are allowed to be upgraded is limited.

Concession points will be evaluated at the end of the season as well. Any manufacturer which trails the leading manufacturer by 36 points or more will be allowed upgrades for the following season as well.

Manufacturers within 36 points will be forced to retain the same spec of certain parts for the following year.

What this would mean in practice is that, for example, if the system were in place for this year, Kawasaki and Ducati would have to race next year with a virtually unchanged engine. The other manufacturers would all be allowed updates.

If, theoretically, Yamaha had a strong 2018 and scored a lot of podiums alongside Kawasaki and Ducati, then Yamaha would then not be allowed upgrades for 2019, along with Kawasaki and Ducati, while Honda, MV Agusta, Aprilia, and BMW would once again be allowed new engine parts.

The list of parts which are allowed to be upgraded is limited. The full list is below, but the list basically comprises valve train components and flywheels.

Other engine internals will remain frozen for the full season, but modifications to the valve train can have a marked effect on performance.

Price Capping Parts

The concession parts are all part of a price-capping initiative, to both restrict the cost of development, and to ensure that privateer teams have the same access to updated parts as the factory-supported teams.

Engine parts which have been designated as concession parts must come from an approved supplier, appointed by the factory. They are all price capped, to keep the affordable for privateer teams.

In addition to concession parts, there is also a list of approved parts, including chassis and suspension parts, which are also price capped.

These include swingarms, triple clamps, and a Superbike Kit ECU. The list, with prices, is below:

In addition to these approved parts, polished and ported cylinder heads must also be made available through the approved parts system.

These, too, are price capped, at the retail price plus a premium which differs for each engine configuration: €3000 per cylinder head for an inline four, €1800 per cylinder head for a V4 (i.e. a total of €3600 plus the retail price), or €1200 per cylinder head for a V twin (i.e. a total of €2400 plus the retail price).

The approved parts and concession parts must be made available in time for the new season, to give all teams an equal chance to test the parts and integrate them into their own bikes.

In addition, the team leading the development for each manufacturer (the so-called reference team, in most cases the factory-backed team) must make certain information about their development available to all privateer teams using the same bike.

Changes to the frame, and the dimensions of inlet air funnels and exhausts, must also be passed on.

Why Do This?

All in all, the changes being proposed are a radical shake-up of the technical regulations. The reason for doing so: the current domination by Kawasaki and Ducati has made for a sterile spectator experience.

Of the 24 races held so far, 16 have been won by a Kawasaki, and 8 by a Ducati. Jonathan Rea has 14 wins, and Chaz Davies has 7 wins. Yamaha is the only other manufacturer to score podiums, with 4 shared between Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes.

The prime objective of these rules is to slow the Kawasakis and Ducatis down, especially the factory bikes of the KRT and Ducati teams.

The rev limit will be the biggest lever that Dorna and the FIM can pull to achieve this, by reducing the revs the two manufacturers can use. It is a lever with a very direct effect, limiting the horsepower available to the best riders and best teams.

At the other end of the spectrum, the concession parts and approved parts list are aimed at helping the manufacturers and teams who are lagging behind to catch up.

By ensuring that certain key performance parts are available to all teams at an affordable price, that makes it easier for privateer teams and slower manufacturers to compete.

What’s in It for the Factories?

What is interesting about these rules is that they have been adopted with the approval of the MSMA. Despite the fact that this will both hamstring their development and potentially restrict the advantage they have over each other and privateer teams, the factories must believe this is a step worth taking.

The reason they would be willing to accept this is that racing is still primarily a marketing exercise, rather than an exercise in R&D. It is imperative for the manufacturers that as many people as possible watch the racing, and the closer and more exciting the racing, the bigger the audience.

Kawasaki may be utterly dominating WorldSBK, but the promotional value of the series is greater if Jonathan Rea wins half the races but twice as many people watch him do that.

What these changes will not do, of course, is provide a magic bullet to suddenly allow riders for the Pedercini or Ioda Racing teams to win races. The best riders will always end up with the best teams on the best bikes.

These changes may make it much harder for Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies to win races, but it won’t stop them. However, if it means that at the end of 2018, Honda, MV Agusta, Aprilia, BMW have joined Kawasaki, Ducati, and Yamaha on the podium, it will all be worthwhile.

Unfortunately, the only way to find out if it has worked is to wait until the end of 2018.

The draft version of the new regulations can be found on the FIM website. The key rule changes are shown below, while the press release giving a brief recap of the new rules appears below that.

Photo: © 2016 Scott Jones / Photo.GP – All Rights Reserved

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

David Emmett

One of MotoGP's most respected journalists, David Emmett is the proprietor of the esteemed MotoMatters. We are very grateful to republish David's work here on A&R...though dread the day we ever again get in a car with him.