Bridgepoint announced earlier this week that Dorna Sports and Infront Sports & Media, rights-holders for the FIM Road Racing World Championship and eni FIM World Superbike Championship, respectively, will henceforth “bring both their motorcycle interests under a single umbrella organization.
“As a consequence, MotoGP and World SBK will be integrated within the Dorna Sports group but managed as separate events with a view to enhancing the two distinct championships.”
What a difference a day makes! Only last spring, SBK Director Paolo Ciabatti had explained to me that Dorna and Infront belong to separate funds, subscribed by separate investors but operated overall by Bridgepoint, a multi-billion-Euro holding group. With each series being responsible for maximizing profit to its separate group of investors, each would manage as it deemed best. There was no question of unifying the management of the two groups or of subordinating one to the other in any sense.
I also learned that some kind of Dorna/Infront meetings had taken place two weeks earlier at England’s Donington Park, in which Infront made it clear that its race technical rules were being set for five years and that it was unwilling to change these to suit other parties. SBK did agree to two simple measures intended to distinguish its production-based equipment from the purpose-built prototype racing machines in MotoGP. These included “headlights” in stick-on decal form and the use of 17-inch wheels. That suggests pressure from MotoGP.
Why pressure? At the time, and perhaps still today, Dorna’s plan seemed to be to switch MotoGP from a series for pure prototypes (as it has been since 1949) to one powered by some level of less-expensive production-based engine in prototype chassis. These are the CRT machines now running (at the back, 2 to 6 seconds per lap slower) with the prototypes in MotoGP events. As this raised the spectre of Superbikes one day being faster than such notionally toned-down MotoGP machines, it appeared there could be pressure from MotoGP to slow Superbikes to maintain MotoGP prestige.
This week’s news makes just such an outcome possible by placing SBK under Dorna management (i.e., that of Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta). The press release noted, almost parenthetically, that, “Alongside this reorganization, Infront has been appointed as marketing partner and global advisor to both championships.”
This takes account of Infront’s considerable success in managing and promoting its series across the globe. While manufacturers have fallen away from MotoGP, leaving only two makes capable of winning, World Superbike has six brands in its paddock, five of which have won races this season. In contrast with the widely discussed unease in the MotoGP paddock over the direction of that series, SBK teams seem pleased with their situation and optimistic about the future.
Will MotoGP’s dark cloud of unknowns and rules instability potentially rain on World Superbike, as well? Or will this be progress?