Gordon Ritchie Column - Oct 2005

Punters' progress

Posted: 1 October 2005
by Gordon Ritchie

Gordon Ritchie World Superbike WSB

Nowhere in the world except Holland can the general state of health of World Superbikes be gauged as well as it can be in the UK. Ever the outsider, the nation that loved SBK when Grands Prix got boring and the Brits had an SBK winner for the first time in Fogarty, Britain was as strong a litmus test of how well Superbike was doing then as it is now.

With the Donington GP only two weekends before Brands (similar to last year) how many spectators made it to Brands was going to be important again. Ignoring the official 108,000 weekend crowd figure as irrelevant (because it's not believed by most), the real test was how many were in the 'stadium' section on the main straight. Or, just as accurately, how many looked like they were in the stadium, compared to previous years. The evidence of the eyes was as follows.Like last year, a fair few people decided not to make a weekend of it in 2005, certainly on Friday at least. On the first day, it was not exactly busy, especially after the rains in the night. On Sunday the crowd was once more immeasurable by any other means than visual inspection. Yet the Sunday crowd was obviously busy, noisy and entertained by the antics up front.

No major problem there then, especially as half of Britain had obviously squeezed into Donington to see Rossi aquaplane his way to further greatness only a few days (and a single pay period) before.So what does this say to us all? Cod anthropological studies and opinionated bullshit aside, we Brits are still obviously more open minded than most other nations. And we just like a bit of top class motorbike racing, no matter what series it comes to us from. We also like a party, and at Brands, a fair few people come for that as much as the racing, especially with London being so close. So here's to those of you for whom big-time bike racing means so much that you spend considerable sums attending both of the biggest racedays of the year.

Rubber ears

You can tell when a rider is really happy with his tyres. He doesn't mention them, even to any inquisitive journo that sticks a microphone under their nose. Criticising tyres in any series is a risky manoeuvre but in a single-make tyre series like SBK, it is an even more difficult thing to do. Especially if what SBK deny (and the riders say is the case) is true - that there are potential fines for speaking out. In the last few meetings top riders, notably from Ducati and Honda, have launched into a relative tirade against Pirelli, providing meat for the scandal hungry members of the press corps. The complaint is not the speed, or outright grip of any one product. It is the claim that they can use a whole series of tyres, supposedly exactly the same, then one out of the sequence suddenly feels and grips like a different tyre, lasting only a few laps before it goes off. The ratio is not a measurable thing, as riders say it strikes at random, and you cannot predict it by any means other than when you're on the bike - by which time it's too late.It was the talk of the paddock during and after the Brno weekend, so much so that something had to give at Brands.

The remarkable thing there was that tyre performance, consistency and repeatability issues were most noticeable by their absence. Compared to the wails of Brno, it was silent rubber running. Indeed the keenness of race times, lap times and qualifying times were the closest to the previous Michelin and Dunlop records that they have been for two years. Charpentier even beat the WSS qualifying record in Supersport, and on soft race tyres, not even qualifiers. Instead of Brno's frowns, Pirelli bods were walking round Brands on Sunday night with a bounce after the top riders seemed to find solutions they were happy with - if not always their own personal choices in the races. Tyres, the original black art in racing, were hardly mentioned.

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