5 Ways to significantly Improve the WorldSBK Championship

Carl Fogarty says the WorldSBK Championship lacks 'prestige'... but we don't think it has to be this way. This is what we would change if we were in charge

WorldSBK Group Start 1200

The 2020 WorldSBK Championship season began with a bang as it often does in Phillip Island, but while his serves to whet our appetite for what is to come– whenever it restarts – in previous years it has struggled to maintain the momentum to the end of the year.

Recently Carl Fogarty complained WorldSBK lacks the ‘prestige’ of its perceived 1990s-early 2000s heyday for various reasons. This is reflected in the stagnating TV and attendance figures which go hand-in-hand with WorldSBK’s apparent decline.

While some may point to Jonathan Rea and Kawasaki’s dominance in recent years, you can’t expect them to go slower in order to improve the competition.

So here is our solution to what WorldSBK should be doing to not necessarily improve the racing, but vastly improve the fan experience…

Shake up the way grids are decided

WorldSBK has tinkered a lot with the qualifying format over the years and, in my mind, all have had their merits. The single-lap shootout was a great chance to see WorldSBK riders right on the edge for a whole lap, though it didn’t quite have the frantic quality we all enjoy in qualifying.

The two-stage knockout format also did its bit to shake up the grid but was let down by the fact pole position was often decided long before the clock wound down in the deciding session. The current free session goes back-to-basics but for every post-chequered flag flyer, there are those which stagnate early on.

Regardless, by deciding the grid for both races based on qualifying it has always run the risk of some predictably identical results following suit and there have been many occasions where those on the podium are the same in each.

WorldSBK has tried to alleviate this somewhat with the baffling Superpole Race format (see below) but we think there is an easier option as demonstrated with a lot of success by the British Superbike Championship.

Introduced in 2016, while qualifying decided the grid for race one, the second race grid is decided by fastest laps. This has worked a treat to keep things interesting and means those that haven’t had a strong Saturday aren’t about to write off the entire weekend.

There are caveats – such as no pitting for fresh rubber to get a quick time if you’re outside the points – but it’s a fairly simple solution well executed. Certainly more so than the needlessly over-thought Superpole Race.

Make the 'Superpole Race' format serve a purpose

I’m actually a fan of the idea behind the Superpole Race – a mad dash to the flag without having to worry about tyre life holds a lot of appeal. Plus, at 10 laps regardless of circuit length, it’s a proper breathless lights-to-flag sprint around some of the shorter circuits.

However, by offering a reduced number of points because it’s a shorter race means there is little incentive really to push on for a position that isn’t worth much more than you’ve already got. While other series’ correctly offer a different points’ structure because they use reverse grids, since the WorldSBK riders are all starting where they qualified, they should surely be rewarded with full points.

Moreover, by determining only some the grid for race two based on the top nine finishing positions, why push on if there is a risk of throwing it down the road and ruining your day?

Couple this to my preferred idea of fastest laps determining the grid for the following race, the Sunday sprint would see 10 frantic laps of getting a quick time in on fresh enough tyres while battling bar-to-bar. You can win it or bin it and still have a great shot at victory in the final race.

Also calling it the ‘Superpole Race’ doesn’t make sense since you’ve already completed one full length race with a grid determined by Superpole – if anything it would serve more purpose being held on a Saturday afternoon. 

Don’t get me started on the unnecessary confusion of referring to the third race of the weekend as Race 2…

Implementation of a unified ECU

This is probably the hardest one to implement but could have greatest positive impact from a competition perspective. WorldSBK factory teams have long resisted the call to adopt a single ECU, preferring instead to develop their own packages in an effort to get an edge over their competitors.

However, while the factory participation in WorldSBK right now is very strong, the increasing complexity and expense has had an effect on grid numbers over the years with several well-established privateer efforts falling by the wayside. 

Privateer entries have been the bedrock of WorldSBK’s success over the years and allowed for some thrilling upsets – remember when Carlos Checa won the 2011 WorldSBK title with Althea Ducati and Max Biaggi was right up there on the Sterilgarda Ducati?

Save for Toprak Razgatlioglu – who was very well supported by Kawasaki – it’s unlikely privateers will be able to get amongst the front-runners on a semi-regular basis.

Moreover, by following a different technical philosophy, there are very few national teams willing to throw in a wildcard entry when WorldSBK rolls into town. Back in the day, a number of BSB riders would take on the all-comers on home ground with impressive success, much to the chagrin of the permanent competitors, but the delight of the fans.

It’s also no coincidence that strong showings caught the attention of teams with Tom Sykes [pictured], Cal Crutchlow and Leon Haslam all earning WorldSBK rides on the back of their sporadic showings. 

While critics would argue stripping back WorldSBK would make it too much like Superstock, the fact there is no active 1000 series anymore means this shouldn’t really be a notable issue.

No more clashing of events with MotoGP

This is partly to do with venue timetables, but WorldSBK doesn’t benefit from having to compete with MotoGP for airtime. While one could argue this is Dorna’s not-so-subtle way to differentiate the two by placing them directly against each other, it’s a shame not to see the two series’ shine on their own merits.

Every year the Phillip Island season opener draws big numbers to our website. The combination of an appetite for racing after the winter period coupled with it standing alone with no other series’ to divert attention brings it a lot of exposure.

As other championships fire up again WorldSBK’s interest tends to wane as the year progresses unless there is a fierce title battle – something we haven’t seen for a while.

However, one solution that has been floated recently is turning WorldSBK into a winter series beginning in September and ending around April. Though there are inevitably a few kinks in this plan – such as where to go, riders it could attract – it would provide a significant amount of exposure by being the only active motorcycle series at that moment.

The idea holds a lot of appeal for privateer manufacturers that not only have to compete with their factory counterparts for TV exposure but get even less of the slice when WorldSBK finds itself on the same weekend as MotoGP.

As an example of the possibilities, Formula E currently uses a similar format and events that take place during the winter months gain far higher interest from the causal motorsport fan than when the final few rounds go up against Formula 1. In fact, one could even argue Formula E wouldn’t have flourished had it started as a summer series only.

Stop making the summer break almost two months long

This has been a perennial issue for WorldSBK and one which I’ve never been able to get my head around. Around mid-July the series takes its summer hiatus, just like a number of championships. However, whereas those are limited to two or three weeks off, WorldSBK has pushed theirs to eight weeks in recent years.

It completely destroys the momentum as the paddock shuts down for a long period and makes it difficult to get interest up again when the season does restart.

While I have often assumed there is a good reason for this, Gregorio Lavilla recently said the prospect of racing in the summer this year following the coronavirus-initiated round postponements will be a big benefit to the series.

“Across Europe, fans will be able to enjoy their time at the rounds, as the Championship will flow more naturally in accordance to the general holidays of many people globally.”

Solid reasoning but one that begs the question as to why they weren’t doing this already…