GeeBee’s WorldSBK Take: Ready with the handbags?

Graeme's thoughts on the temperature creeping up and the progress of the 300s

So there I was a few weeks ago feeling quite smug that I had accurately assessed the real nature of the rivalry between Jonathan Rea and Chaz Davies. Then it all kicked off. Very publicly. The pair clashed over an on track incident during Superpole which I am sure everyone has watched numerous times now and come up with their own conclusions. In the pressroom it had everyone, and I mean everyone, reporting, pontificating, gossiping, and to those of a certain generation, wondering if either had a blue bathrobe in their motorhome.

I was in pit lane making my way to parc ferme when I saw a little bit of something stirring on the big screen facing the Assen main stand but I wasn’t really sure what had happened. There was a bit of an atmosphere whilst the TV interviews took place but inevitably the pair approached each other and that’s when the ‘effin n jeffin’ started.

I am not going to comment either way: I like it up here on my fence. However, it would appear that everyone in paddock thought it was some form of manna from heaven. ‘This is what the championship needs…’ was the commonly used phrase. Dorna took a bit of flack for broadcasting the exchange and posting it, unedited, on social media. It wasn’t your usual mid-morning viewing but they clearly felt it was worth the criticism. Clicks-likes-shares are what we need in this modern age after all.

In the aftermath both took to the digital airwaves and made comment about the incident. JR, via a magazine blog, and Davies, who was clearly not curtailed by a sub-editors word count, gave a full and frank account via his Facebook page. That, as usual stirred up the fans who steamed in with their comments. The theme from the JR camp seems to be ‘it happened, he still won, move on’. On the other hand Chaz still seemed to feel pretty aggrieved. One comment that Davies made which did strike a chord with me was that if Rea did know what he was doing it was a bit of a strange thing to do given his dominance of the season so far.

In some of the social media posts it was suggested that Davies was just showing his insecurities but is it Rea who is preparing for an onslaught from his rivals over the next part of the season? If we look back to 2016 Davies, did the double in Imola; the next round. Sykes, the double at Donington, the fixture that will come after Imola this year. Rea did take a double win in Misano but then had to give the rest to Davies who closed the season with 7 wins from 10 races. Maybe JR is already on the defensive if he feels this year will be a replica of ‘16. One thing for sure in the run up to this weekend’s round in Imola the Championship as a whole will benefit from the furore as we head to Ducati’s back yard. I get the feeling, however, it is going to run all year and we may just get another last race show down to cap the campaign.

On the weekend at Assen, JR’s results were all about the stats – 200 starts, 45 race wins, 11 wins at Assen, 3rd double at Assen…another stat that I found intriguing was the attendance figure, 54,178 for the whole weekend. Not so bad I hear you mutter. However, it was quoted at the Paddock Show that the attendance was 24% up on last year. So that would have been 43,692 for 2016. But hang on a minute last year it was reported as 50,437. So in reality 4000 extra bums on seats this year. Obviously I had misheard.

What actually pricked my interest was the comparison with Thailand. In the last two years the attendance at Chang has been reported by Dorna as in excess of 80,000. Now to my untrained eye, the amount of people at Assen that stretched from the second to last corner, through the Geert Timmer Tribune and along the grandstand on the Start-Finish straight, which was pretty much full both Saturday and Sunday, looked a lot more than filled the grandstand in Thailand. Not to mention the healthy number of people scattered around the first corner and along the back straight at Assen. I smell something a little fishy. Nonetheless the attendance at Assen certainly did look to be substantially more than last year. Probably thanks to the rising popularity of local hero Michael Van Der Mark. It is the first time for a long time that I have had to wait in a queue of traffic to enter the circuit on a Sunday morning at 7:45am. Something is working then and long may it continue. The next race at Imola is always a popular one on the calendar. Maybe Saturday’s little fracas will rouse the Ducatisti to come out to back Davies and Melandri.

We are now two races in to the new support class, SSP300. So far ex-Red Bull rookie Scott Deroue has dominated on the Kawasaki Ninja 300 but the competition at the front of the field looks quite intense and the racing, albeit a little slow, in pretty close fought. SSP300 has immediately been promoted to World Championship status and the riders take part in the same format of Superpole as WorldSBK. That is all they do on a Saturday, however. As I stood and photographed the 12 bikes in Superpole 2, ambling their way around the track, I thought that this format doesn’t really work for a small capacity class like this. Especially when there are tight restrictions on tuning the machinery.

There is a track cycling series in the UK know as Revolution. Basically a glamourized Saturday evening of stage-managed professional track racing that visits the various Velodromes around the country in the winter months. In between the pro races they have a Future Stars series, designed for under 16 racers, who are on track for short sharp races in every gap in the professional programme – 6 lap dash, 12 lap points race (sprint lap every four and points awarded for top three), another 6 lap dash and so on for four or five races.

Wouldn’t it be an idea to adopt a similar format for SSP300? One 30 minute practice session on Friday morning, a qualifying race in the afternoon and then 3 short races interspersed throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday. ‘Feeder’ series like this are supposed to be about developing racing talent, providing an inexpensive race series and adding entertainment to the programme. What better way to satisfy all three of those criteria than to have these young riders racing all the time instead of lapping a big circuit on their own for 15-20 minutes, chasing a lap time as the only thing they do for a whole day? If my kid is anything to go by, when he goes to the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome in Glasgow he hates training, practicing starts and “all that rubbish”, he just wants to race all the time. Lets give our budding WorldSBK stars the same chance.

Photos by GeeBee Images