Top 10: 1988 WSB facts

Amaze your friends with your WSB knowledge as championship approaches 30th anniversary. 

Top 10: 1988 WSB facts

THIS year marks the 30th anniversary of the WSB championship, which kicked off with free practice at Donington Park on 2 April 1988.

So what better excuse to dive down the rabbit hole of statistics and facts and dig out some of the more important – and stranger – things that might have slipped your memory over the last three decades.

We’ll get a couple out of the way before we start. 1988’s champ was Fred Merkel, riding the legendary Honda RC30. But you all knew that, didn’t you? Let’s see whether these slightly more obscure facts from 1988 ring any bells…

10: First pole

You might recall the 1988 champion, but can you remember who sat on pole position when the lights went green on the first ever WSB race? It was none other than Roger Burnett, astride a Honda Britain-entered RC30. He retired in race one, but scored a podium (3rd) in race 2. Former GP rider Burnett remained a WSB regular for a couple more years.

9: First win

Remember who won that first ever WSB race? Of course, it was Davide Tardozzi, the man more familiar now as boss of Ducati’s MotoGP team. Back in 1988 he was an experienced 29-year-old racer, and he very nearly won the title, eventually finishing 3rd overall riding Bimota’s beautiful YB4 EI.

8: Odd bikes

Scan through the machines taking part in the inaugural WSB championship in 1988 and plenty are just the ones you’d expect. Honda’s RC30, Ducati’s 851, Yamaha’s FZR750 and Suzuki’s GSX-R750, for instance. But there were some less obvious machines lining up on the early WSB grids, too. Honda’s VFR750, for instance, was a regular entrant (not least for reining 1987 AMA superbike champ Bubba Shobert, who raced at that first Donington round in 1988.)

7: Mick Doohan: superbike star

Back at the start of 1988, believe it or not, most people hadn’t heard much about Mick Doohan. They had by the end of the year, though, not least due to his WSB appearances. He only raced as a wildcard – in Australia and Japan – giving him grand total of four WSB races. He won three of them – race 2 at Sugo and both Australian races at Oran Park. And while we’d later see him as synonymous with Honda, those appearances were on a Yamaha FZR750. He never raced in WSB again; Honda snapped him up to race in GPs in 1989. You might remember what happened after that…

6: Only one Ducati

No company has become more closely associated with WSB than Ducati. It leads the tables in terms of race and championship wins. Ducati has 17 WSB titles – the nearest challenger has four – and 337 race wins, nearly three times as many as its closest rival. But back at the start of the 1988 season there was just one Ducati on the grid. An 851, it was entered for Marco Lucchinelli, who took it to victory in the second Donington race.

5: Strange scoring system

Lucchinelli’s race two win at Donington in 1988 gave him the distinction of being that round’s ‘combined’ race winner. That’s right – at the start of the first ever WSB season, the race results were added together. So even if you won one race, a DNF in the other would scupper your hope of points. That’s exactly what befell Davide Tardozzi; winner of race one, he didn’t finish race two. What’s more, the Donington round counted for double points. The combined result idea was ditched for the second WSB round, later the same month in Hungary, with a conventional system replacing it.

4: Joey Dunlop (and Robert, too)

Joey Dunlop will forever be the greatest TT rider, but back in 1988 he made a pretty decent fist of WSB racing, too. He only appeared at three races – Donington, Hungaroring and Hockenheim – but scored strong finishes at each, with a best of third at Donington in race one. His brother Robert actually raced the full WSB season in 1988, although had less impressive results. Both rode RC30s.

3: Cheapest-ever WSB winner?

What would you expect to pay for a bona fide WSB race-winning motorcycle? It’s not going to be cheap, is it? Well, if you’d been at the Bonhams auction in Stafford in October 2013 you could have grabbed just such a bike for just £4255, including premium. That’s insane for a bike laden with WSB history. The bike in question was no RC30, admittedly, but the Kawasaki GPX750R of Adrien Morillas. He took it to victory in race two at the Hungaroring in 1988, the fourth-ever WSB race. Kawasaki wouldn’t win another until 1990, and given the firm’s current domination of the category, that cheap GPX750R is probably rather more valuable now then it was in 2013.

2: Foggy’s inauspicious start

Carl Fogarty will probably always be WSB’s most legendary rider, but he didn’t really get started properly until the early 1990s. However, he was included on the entry list for the first ever WSB round at Donington in 1988. Although he appeared that weekend in a support race, according to the wonderfully detailed his name was down to ride an RC30 in the main event. It’s not precisely clear why he didn’t, but he was recovering from injury at the time and that might have precluded him from taking part.

1: Bimota nearly won it

Honda is down in the record books as the manufacturers’ title winner in 1988, with Fred Merkel the rider’s champion. But had the points system not been different for the very first round at Donington, the record books would carry different names. Had the individual race points system been applied from the start, Tardozzi, not Merkel, would be classed as 1988 World Champion and Bimota, not Honda, would have been the 1988 manufacturers’ title winner. Bimota was the most successful manufacturer in terms of wins that year, taking the top step of the podium seven times. Tardozzi was responsible for five of them. Merkel and Honda, in contrast, took only two victories.

Bimota would win another three WSB races in 1989 and a further one at the crazy 2000 Philip Island round with Anthony Gobert aboard, but never again came close to a title.

Bonus fact:

Every manufacturer to enter WSB in 1988 won a race. Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Yamaha, Ducati and Bimota all took to the top of the podium at least once. No wonder they were all so keen to keep at it in years to come.