Photos courtesy of BSB
Like any other business in a downturn, motorcycle racing must both try to boost revenues and cut costs. MotoGP struggles with grid shrinkage, and World Superbike seems stable. All eyes are currently on British Superbike, which is about to launch another round of measures intended to deliver “close, more affordable racing” as it works to remain the most extensively televised of national series.
In 2010, an “EVO” category was added to BSB, banning traction control, anti-wheelie systems and launch control. For 2012, after 24 months of study and conversations with teams, EVO rules become BSB rules and teams may provide only one bike per rider.
This rules package is hoped not only to cut costs for the 16 teams but also—by compelling riders to once more deal with wheelspin, wheelies and starts—to avoid the spectator criticism so often leveled at MotoGP: that it is a dull procession rather than an exciting spectacle.
What about the many statements of MotoGP riders that their bikes would be unrideable without their electronic systems? Absolutely true; but if the electronic systems were not there, very different bikes and engines would quickly be built. Every dirt-tracker knows that “too much cam” will make his bike too peaky to hook up, and lap times will suffer. The very same happens on pavement, and electronics are just another tool by which to smooth power delivery. Without electronics, engineers would go back to what dirt-trackers do and “back down” their engines enough to make them rideable.
Another concern is that tire durability could decrease without traction control. BSB and World Superbike spec tire supplier Pirelli will follow this relationship closely.
British Superbike permits plenty of modification, based upon “Whitelock’s Law”—that a pure stock class is always won by the brand that has most recently released a new model. Steve Whitelock has long been on the World Superbike tech staff. In BSB, cam lift and timing are free, but valve size and weight must remain stock. Aftermarket rods are allowed, but at stock weight or greater. Porting and combustion-chamber machining are permitted, but a stock crank must be used. One aftermarket gearbox (no alternate ratios) is permitted, but pistons are stock. Rpm is limited in the spec ECU to 750 over the stock redline; there is nothing going on here that is beyond the capability of metal valve springs.
How does this go over with the teams? The BSB grid is fully subscribed for 2012, with the planned 16 teams and 32 riders (6 of the riders, including Noriyuki Haga, are foreign) competing in 12 events, one of which will occur in Holland at Assen. There will be the same seven brands of motorcycle on the grid as in World Superbike: Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, BMW, Aprilia and Ducati.
This is an experiment in survival. Everyone is seeking a formula that will make racing popular and self-sustaining while keeping it within reach of those who want to participate. Much of MotoGP’s problem is the very high cost of lease bikes, which is said to be $3,000,000 apiece; yet if private teams turn to the new-for-2012 “CRTs” (basically Superbike engines in prototype chassis), it is feared they will be uncompetitive.
BSB has been strong, and if these new rules make it stronger and more exciting, it may offer a model for other series. Remember the days when U.S. AMA races were full of foreign riders and teams? One reason was that Formula 750 rules were the same everywhere, so riders could race wherever the payoff was greatest. Today, every series has different rules, so to race abroad, a team must make basic modifications or build new bikes.