GeeBee’s WorldSBK Blog: Manna from Heaven…
All the racing is done and by now the winter shutdown is well and truly underway. It was always planned that I would write a few words at the end of the year but our esteemed editor asked me to think about something different.
So there I was mulling over the choice of Christmas jumper for the annual family small-talk championships and really having difficulty thinking of something to write about when BOOM!!! Last Monday the Gods of Writer’s Block sent everyone with an interest in WorldSBK an early Christmas present. The Superbike Commission had met the previous Friday, enjoyed a sumptuous pre-Christmas lunch with party hats, crackers and a little bit of brandy butter for the pudding I like to imagine, and come up with some new regulations for 2017. Imagine the horror: the use of scooters are to banned for the purposes of track familiarisation!
Now, you thought I was going to mention the shake up of the grid places. Well, go on then…
By now you should all know what is going to happen. Good. Can you explain it to me please? To be fair the WorldSBK Press Office had clearly foresaw the potential confusion and have prepared a nice little explanatory video. At least someone knows how it is going to work. The big question was not how it would, however, but whether it should be happening at all. Chaz Davies was the first to stick his head above the parapet. Whilst the motorcycle media and the twitterati were busy twisting and then double knotting their knickers, Chaz asked on Twitter “Thoughts on the new grid peeps? Could be fun”. Inevitably there was mixed response but to be fair to Chaz he nailed his colours to the mast and said he saw merit in the idea. I spoke to him a couple of days later as I wondered if his comments were genuine or if he was just stoking the fire: “Nah GeeBee, not me style”. He understands that the fastest riders in race one will be penalised but he is also experienced enough to know that motorcycle racing is a business and to maintain the attraction to manufacturers, sponsors, TV companies etc it needs to be spiced up. He also acknowledged that this year it may have been boring for fans from other nations to see the same three Brits on the podium every other week and this is a chance to change things but not turn it completely on its head.
The general feeling amongst the riders I have spoken to is that there won’t be too much of a difference in the overall results. Michael Van Der Mark said that at the moment a couple of manufacturers are very strong and whilst you will see a lot more overtaking in the first half of the race, the results will more or less be the same. He seemed more interested in whether or not Tissot would be giving out another watch for pole position in race 2.
Stefan Bradl told me that he was a little bit confused by it but in general thought it would be interesting for race two. Being completely new to the series he wasn’t quite sure how it would work out but sounded philosophical in acknowledging that they will just have to manage the situation and deal with it.
I eventually spoke to Jonathan Rea after his championship party celebrations and he was less than complimentary. Then again he would be, he has the most to lose. He feels that since Dorna have taken over the running of the series and made a number of changes the ‘identity’ of Superbike is being eroded. Team-mate Sykes was equally as critical and responded to Davies on Twitter by asking “Do they all get pissed up in these WorldSBK meetings or what?” Both Kawasaki riders have a purist attitude that at this level a rider shouldn’t be penalized for being the fastest. But will the changes really make any difference to the podium places? Davies pointed out that in Phillip Island last year he started from ninth on the grid and came through to lead both races at one point. He was relishing the challenge next year. Rea on the other hand was a bit more bullish: “The last time I saw a crazy rule like that was when I was seven in schoolboy motorcross. The last race of the day was a handicap and I would start at the back. I always won those races as well!” The difference now is that he will have the likes of Melandri, Laverty, Bradl, VD Mark in front of him, riders that are never too shy at getting the elbows out and trading paint.
That in itself maybe something that Dorna are trying to manufacture. It has long been discussed that WorldSBK riders are all too nice to each other. Maybe with a bit more elbow to elbow racing in race two there will be a few fall-outs and the media can then stir up some handbags at dawn. If nothing more it has got people talking about Superbike throughout the winter break and there will be a high level of interest in the first race at Phillip Island in a few months time.
So now that that is done I can get back to choosing my sweater. I think I will also join Tom Sykes in finding out what was imbibed at the Superbike Commission. I think it might make my Christmas Day small talk a bit more interesting.
Have a wonderful Christmas and I will see you all in the New Year for another great season of racing.
Photo by GeeBee Images