Perennial Problems Of WorldSBK

Graeme ponders on external forces in Misano

At the race in Imola it had been suggested to me that with MotoGP using a standard ECU it didn’t make sense that WorldSBK, the ‘production championship’, didn’t do likewise. I discussed it one evening with some other journalists and photographers and there was a feeling that teams in WorldSBK wouldn’t want to change that situation as they use the development of the electronics in WorldSBK to give direction to the development of the equivalent road machinery due to MotoGP having the standard unit.

This weekend Dorna announced that they were indeed looking – with the FIM and the Superbike commission – about introducing a standard ECU in the Championship for the 2018 season, most probably based on the Magneti Marelli system currently used by Kawasaki, Ducati, Yamaha and MV Agusta.

There seemed to be a bit of a mixed reaction in the paddock to the news but I got the sense that it was more negative than positive. I managed to speak to Paul Denning and he was quite open in explaining that the official view from Yamaha is supportive of any attempt to level the playing field that will make the competition closer but that imposing a standard electronics package was not the way to do it in their view.

He highlighted that under the current regulations there is a cap of €8000.00 on the ECU to make the hardware accessible to the privateer teams, with the appointed ‘factory’ teams obliged to pass down base settings for each race track to teams using the same machinery.

He was honest in his assessment of his owns team’s performance saying that in all sports there are elite competitors and teams who generally run out as champions. Crescent and Yamaha could not expect to come with a brand new bike and be immediately competitive with teams like Kawasaki and Ducati, who had been developing their entire package for at least eight years and who have some of the strongest riders, technicians, mechanics etc in the paddock. He echoed something I mentioned previously that the hardware is available and relatively accessible to all, and that as a team/manufacturer you just have to do the hard work of development. It doesn’t happen overnight and does have an implication on the budget, but looking at their own situation he was happy they were making the progress they needed to and that a standard ECU would not necessarily change the need for machine and set up development for other teams.

That position was borne out by Michael VD Mark’s performance at Misano. The Dutchman looked on course to secure his own and the R1’s first win in WorldSBK until his rear tyre exploded causing him to crash out in the closing laps of Saturday’s race one.

This raised an all too familiar issue with Pirelli and the Superbike Championship. Jordi Torres suffered a rear tyre issue on Sunday in race two which forced him to retire whilst running in a podium position, and all that coming off the back of Jonathan Rea’s high speed crash at Donington with a similar problem. Rea himself had a major issue in race two at Misano with his rear tyre that he felt prevented him from challenging Melandri for the win.

As far as I know Pirelli had examined Rea’s tyre from Donington and acknowledged there was a cut in the tread but at Misano they were not aware of an issue that would allow them to identify what caused the tyres to fail. However, I can recall many times previously when similar issues have befallen riders. Karl Muggeridge led a race in Brno riding the Honda when the tyre delaminated after five laps, in 2007 James Toseland finished a race at Monza with a one inch section down the middle of the rear tyre missing, to name but two.

One theory at the weekend was that Pirelli have lightened the construction of their WorldSBK race tyre to reduce the likelihood of it spinning on the rim under the forces of racing, which causes a vibration at the rear as the wheel goes out of balance. That change in the manufacturing process may have reduced the durability of the tyre causing them to fail.

Whatever, it most probably robbed two manufacturers of the chance of a podium. When a team does all the development that Paul Denning spoke about and a tyre failure denies them victory I can understand the high level of frustration there was in the paddock on Saturday and Sunday evening. What makes it worse for me is that Van Der Mark was leading on by own merit. This was Saturday’s race one, where the riders lined up on the grid based on their qualifying times. There was no reverse grid to manipulate the results. Van Der Mark had a relatively strong lead when he crashed out. Jonathan Rea, who was running in second at the time, felt he would be hard pushed to catch him before the chequered flag. It proves that Yamaha are knocking on the door of winning races and to have that taken away by a technical fault out with their control, or in the future by a change to standardized electronics, is, and would be a cruel twist indeed.

If it is the case that manufacturers are using the WorldSBK series to develop their road going electronics package, could it be that imposing a standard system on them would have the detrimental effect of driving them out of the series? It’s a very fine balancing act that Dorna will have to manage over the next few months.

Finally I just want to wish Chaz Davies a speedy recovery. I was at the corner when he and JR crashed. I read some rubbish on social media over the weekend but Chaz simply tucked the front end and with Jonathan right behind him, trying to get a good drive to the final corner to make a move, he had nowhere to go. Their recent rivalry went out of the window as Rea was upset about what happened and stopped on his slowing down lap to check on Davies who was receiving medical treatment trackside.

Hopefully he will have recovered sufficiently by Laguna Seca to take the grid. It was there that he ignited his winning run to the end of the year, giving us the gripping finish to last season. I predict that we are going to see some closer racing in the second half of this campaign and I just hope Chaz can be in the thick of it.

Photos by GeeBee Images

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