Leavings and comings

Graeme reflects but also digs around on the chances of Suzuki entering WorldSBK once more

It is difficult to write anything about WorldSBK at the moment after the devastating news that Nicky Hayden passed away in hospital after the cycling crash in Italy. Imola was such a difficult weekend for Hayden and Honda with an under-powered machine and crashes on both sides of the garage. As a cyclist myself I know how therapeutic it can be to ride your bike for a few hours with your own thoughts and use it to clear you mind. I am sure it was just what Nicky needed after those days at the track.

I was introduced to Nicky a few years ago through my work with Honda but first photographed him at Laguna Seca in 2002 when he raced for American Honda on his way to his AMA title. It has only been in the last couple of years since he moved to Ten Kate Honda team however that I really got to know him.

He was such an intense competitor, completely focused on his racing. He was constantly trying to improve things to the point that at tests the mechanics joked that he didn’t like them stopping for a lunch break. He was happy with his peanut butter and banana sandwiches in the pit box; let’s keep riding to get things right. I also found him quiet and considered and a warmhearted person. He would always ask how my cycling was going and earlier this year we shared a car journey through the Netherlands where we chatted all about his wedding plans for the end of the year.

My last little job with him was at Imola on Thursday afternoon when he took time to head along to the Red Bull Honda Hospitality unit to meet a group of local school children whom were at the race track. He was there signing posters, smiling and joking with them, posing for photographs. Little events like that never seemed to be an imposition for him and he always met people with that charismatic smile of his.

It is always terribly sad when someone from our sport loses their life but in most cases it happens at the race track. We are almost steeled against it happening when we see our heroes racing elbow to elbow at break neck speeds. That’s what makes Nicky’s passing all the more tragic. He was relaxing away from the track, doing something he loved and spending time with fiancée Jackie.

The little Kid from Owensboro, Kentuky who became MotoGP World Champion against all the odds will be missed by us all but none more so than the whole Hayden family who lived for racing motorbikes. My heartfelt condolences go to Nicky’s family and friends.

In the bubble of WorldSBK there has been a bit of talk about Suzuki re-joining the series over the last few weeks. Sylvain Giuntoli, currently riding for Bennetts Suzuki in the British Championship, was given the nod to deputise for Alex Rins in the Ecstar Suzuki MotoGP team at his home GP in Le Mans. He gave a press interview where he said that he had already tested a WorldSBK spec GSX-R1000 and that the signs were positive; it was an option to race in WorldSBK next year.

The Yoshimura Suzuki’s in MotoAmerica are winning races with Toni Elias and Roger Hayden, with Elias currently leading the Championship. They are up against a really strong contingent of Yamaha teams, so it would seem that the building blocks are there for a return.

Added to that, it was also reported that the German IDM team of Dominic Schmitter and Vittoria Iannuzzo had their eyes on WorldSBK and were likely to race at Misano as a wildcard next month. However, Schmitter raced last weekend at Misano in the CIV Championship and was a long way off the pace so that idea has maybe been placed on the back burner till later in the year.

I spoke to Dorna Sporting Director for WorldSBK, Gregorio Lavilla and he was not aware of any plans at the moment for a Suzuki return. He pointed out that if Suzuki were planning a return in an official capacity one of the crucial factors to consider would be the organization and structure of the participating team.

His view was that if Crescent Racing had continued their association with Suzuki then the 2017 GSX-R1000 would be on the grid this year but for now he said he was not aware of any plans. If any existing teams within the championship were to consider using Suzuki machinery then it would be kept pretty much under wraps at this stage until all details and contracts were signed. If a new structure were to be put in place he said that Dorna/WorldSBK had no information that would suggest it was going to happen at this stage.

That seems to be the case. I previously worked with Suzuki when they last raced as an official team in the FIM Superstock 1000 Cup and my contact close to Suzuki Europe confirmed that there were no plans at present for an official Suzuki return. There was the chance that the private teams currently running the bikes at national level could move up to the world stage but for now it would be without support form Suzuki.

From the information I have it would seem that if the bike performs well in any of it’s wildcard outings, or lap times in other championships are on a par with the WorldSBK field, then we may see them race in 2018 in some form. The likelihood of a Kawasaki-esque factory outfit is however extremely unlikely.

The other matter that starts to come round at Imola is other future plans for the Championship in general.

There are still rumblings of changes to the technical regulations in an attempt to further level the playing field and halt the utter domination of the series by Kawasaki and Ducati. One team boss was amazed that when the FIM and Dorna were imposing ‘standard’ electronics in the MotoGP Championship that WorldSBK manufacturers had a free reign on the system they used across all their entrants.

Standard electronics would solve part of the problem but I am beginning to see that the main issue is the amount of time and money the other manufacturers, through their teams, are willing to spend on the development of their race machines.

Consider Yamaha. They are slowly but surely closing the gap to the front of the grid. My understanding is that they have another series of upgrades due for the R1 after some development at the start of this season. As a manufacturer they are responding to the requests of their riders and spending that time and money to further develop the race machine. I don’t think it will be long before they are challenging for podium places.

There was also some discussion about the 2018 race calendar and it would seem that there will be little change. There is the reported plan to host a race in Argentina but it all depends on the construction of the new circuit and it’s facilities. The only other question marks would, as always, be over Portimao and Jerez with their usual contractual discussions.

However, for now all thoughts of the future are on hold.

Photos by GeeBee Images

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