The World Superbike championship is to undergo a radical shake up. Today, the Superbike Commission, WSBK’s rule-making body, announced two major changes aimed at improving the health of the series.
The first change is the most noticeable. As predicted when the 2016 WSBK Calendar was published, World Superbike races are to be held on both Saturdays and Sundays, with Race 1 being held on Saturday, Race 2 on Sunday. This means that Superpole has now been moved to Saturday morning, rather than the afternoon.
The move, the Superbike Commission says, is to provide a fuller experience for fans at a WSBK weekend. The move has been made after consultation with the teams, TV broadcasters, and with circuit owners, which produced positive feedback.
How fans will react remains to be seen: the AMA ran races on Saturday and Sunday during the DMG era, which met with a mixed reception, but that era in the US was so tainted by the DMG it is hard to know whether the issue was with the format or much wider.
New for the schedule is a change to World Supersport qualifying. No longer will the support class use a single session of qualifying, but WSS will now also adopt the two-stage Superpole format used by World Superbikes, and taken over from MotoGP.
Places in Superpole will now be decided on times set during Free Practice on Friday, for both World Supersport and World Superbike.
Much less visible, but potentially with a much bigger impact, are the changes being made to the homologation procedures. After a period during which homologation numbers were increased, causing problems for smaller manufacturers, the numbers are to be reduced again.
From 2016, the minimum quantity of homologated units to be sold is now 500, down from 1000 for 2015.
This change is possibly designed to reflect the changing market conditions for sportsbikes. Sales have been consistently falling, though a thriving market for more expensive, highly specialized machines continues to exist.
Yamaha have produced a special racing version of their R1, the R1M, and Honda are said to be working on two different bikes for 2017, an uprated CBR1000RR for road use, and a more extreme V4 bike for racing purposes.
Production runs of 500 make much more sense in that context, rather than factories having to gamble on selling enough of a homologated machine.
This will also help factories such as Ducati and Aprilia, which have struggled to be competitive on their bikes for mass production. Now, Ducati and Aprilia can produce more highly tuned versions of their Superbikes, and still expect to sell enough to make the homologation numbers.
To ensure that costs do not spiral out of control once again, engine modifications remain limited, and the price cap for the bikes remains in place. The maximum retail price for a bike homologated for World Superbikes remains €40,000.
A further concession has been made to manufacturers, allowing them to stagger their production schedules. It will now be possible to homologate new motorcycles mid-season, instead of having to wait until the end of one season and the beginning of the next.
Though no one will be racing Suzukis in the World Superbike class next year, the bike could be homologated and developed in the Superstock 1000 class during 2016, ready for Suzuki’s expected return to WSBK in 2017.
This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.