WORLD SUPERBIKE fans, look out, new owners Dorna have announced WSBK cost cutting rules which will take effect in 2014.
Dorna bought the rights to the World Superbikes series from Infront at the tail-end of 2012 and since that time they have been in heated discussion with the FIM and Motorsport Manufacturer's Association (MSMA), the body who represent the manufacturer's taking part in the series.
Dorna claim the new rules are designed to cut the running costs for teams. Cost-cutting measures will include a strict maximum cost for all motorcycles competing in the championship, a limit on the number of engines a team can use in a season and a possibly a limit on the amount of components that can be changed. Last year it is rumoured that Max Biaggi had a fresh engine in his Aprilia RSV4 28 times throughout the season, going on to win the championship. MotoGP teams are restricted to 5 engines for the whole season.
In the last few years, MotoGP, also owned by Dorna, has seen its premier status threatened by World Superbikes. Grid numbers in MotoGP were down until the introduction of CRT while WSBK grid numbers remained larger. The laptimes of WSBK bikes are also faster than some of the bikes on the MotoGP grid, which, if you believe the rumours, could have irked members of the MotoGP paddock. Well it was enough for Dorna to enter into negotiations with and eventually buy the WSBK rights from Infront. With MotoGP billed as the pinnacle of motorcycle racing while WSBK is sold as a production-based series, the lines were more than blurred, they had jagged edges too.
Dorna has now stated that their new Superbike rules will be applied in three stages, over the course of three seasons. Teams within the WSBK paddock were particularly unhappy at the idea of a sudden change, afterall they've invested serious time and money in getting their bikes to where they are now and an overnight change would see luke-warm Superbikes on the grid, not capable of getting anywhere near the lap times the current WSBK bikes are capable of. Also, an overnight change could completely ruin the successful formula of World Superbikes and then Dorna would be left with an even bigger mess to sort out.
Dorna are also hedging their bets with a new EVO class, which is very similar to that adopted by the British Superbike series in 2010 and like BSB, will run with the WSBK class. The EVO class in WSBK will essentially be a stock engine but with other components similar to those on the full-blown WSBK machines. Whether the EVO class will run a stock ECU or traction control remains to be decided by Dorna.
The last line of Dorna's press release states: 'The constructors present in the FIM Superbike World Championship agreed to have a minimum number of motorcycles with the same state of tuning, available for sale or through lease.' This could mean privateer teams running bikes very similar to the factory teams or lots of tricked-up special edition versions of existing superbikes, similar to BMW's HP4, available for road riders to buy in dealerships.
With all this talk of cost saving, it's worth noting that the single largest expense for any team competing in the WSBK championship is the logistics costs of freighting the team and bikes around the world. the engine and tyre bills don't even come close. In an interview with Crash.net, Jeremy McWilliams who is running a World Supersport team this season said: "If you get rid of electronics altogether, it's only 15 grand saving. The flyaways are ridiculously expensive."
One thing's for certain: Dorna are capping the full potential of a World Superbike under the banner of 'cost saving'. These new changes may save money but they'll ensure that World Superbikes won't be able to threaten MotoGP laptimes and that should keep the MotoGP paddock happy. For now.