King of the Hill

Graeme's latest swerve through matters WorldSBK and a title about to be won

The best thing that happened at the WorldSBK race at Portimao last week was Ana Carrasco’s smile. The diminutive Spanish racer took victory in the WorldSSP300 race on Sunday afternoon and looked fit to burst with joy on the podium. It was an historic moment in world championship motorcycle racing but was such a special moment to share also. Well done Ana, hopefully we will see more wins in the future.

On the other side of the paddock the band has had to be called in early and rapidly rehearse the victory parade. Jonathan Rea has looked a stick-on for three in a row all season, but in the space of a couple of days it all looks to be done and dusted. We have the formality of this weekend in Magny Cours to go through but the massive crash on Saturday that saw Tom Sykes sit out the weekend, and Chaz Davies’ DNF on Sunday, has all but handed Rea the title with three rounds and six races remaining.

If all goes to plan JR will notch up a historic hat-trick of wins, never before achieved in WorldSBK. He is also on course to achieve the most SBK wins ever and could be knocking on the door of the highest ever points total, a record that a blown engine in Qatar denied him at the end of 2015.

It inevitably has had the jungle drums banging louder and louder about – the rules NEED to be changed – Rea NEEDS to be in MotoGP – Kawasaki NEED to have a penalty imposed on the bike. I am honestly fed up talking about it but one thing has struck me this week.

September was a month of historic results in another sport I follow.

Having won his third Tour de France in a row in July, his fourth in five years and Team Sky’s fifth win in six years, Kenyan born Brit Chris Froome went on to win La Vuelta a Espana earlier this month. He became the first British rider to win the race, and only the third man in history to win both in the same year. Last weekend Slovak rider, Peter Sagan, became the first man in history to win the Elite men’s World Championship Road Race three years in a row. Maybe now he gets to keep that jersey and the cycling governing bodies have to come up with a new combination of coloured stripes for the World Champion next year.

Sagan is widely adored in the cycling world. A maverick, who rides with his heart on his sleeve and in every race he competes is never away from the sharp end. Froome on the other hand is much more aloof. Team Sky are the kings of the cycling world. They have by far and away the largest budget and employ the best riders for a three week Tour. For that reason they are not the most loved team in the peleton and many liken them to the US Postal team that took Lance Armstrong to his multiple Tour victories. Only now do we know that that achievement was as much orchestrated in the chemistry lab as it was on the bike. I am in no way suggesting that there are any underhand practices at Team Sky but their utter domination of some aspects of the sport draw out very emotional responses from cycling fans. However, the same principles apply. The best team, with the best riders and best equipment tend to win all the time.

Does that sound familiar? I am sorry to say that that is just the way it is.

What I don’t hear, however, are cycling fans, commentators, promoters and governing bodies all jumping on a high horse suggesting that the rules of cycling need to be changed.

In my own domestic football championship in Scotland, Glasgow Celtic have the biggest budget, share the biggest fan base (for those that know I am sitting very gingerly on a fence here), have the biggest squad of players etc etc. They have been unbeaten for 57 domestic games in a row, have won the last six league titles and nobody can see beyond number seven. No other supporter in the country likes it, but no one wants the rules changed.

In my view Dorna and the FIM can fiddle and tinker with the WorldSBK rules all they like but, at the current moment in time, Jonathan Rea, Kawasaki and Provec Racing would still be winning if the championship resorted to 50cc shopping trolleys as race machines. That combination, however, will not be around for ever. If some sections of the motorcycling press are anything to go by Rea will be riding a Suzuki MotoGP bike next year anyway. So where does that leave us with our tinkering?

The WorldSBK championship fell into the perfect storm in 2002/2003. The Flammini organisation that was in charge at the time hatched a deal with Pirelli to supply a single tyre for the series; they also abandoned proposals to have a kit part regulation for in-line fours, all supposedly without consultation with the MSMA (Motorcycle Sports Manufacturers Association). To a man the MotoGP paddock lampooned the single make tyre rule and standardization of technical regulations. Fast forward to 2017 and …….ah well different times ’n all that.

Added to that Grand Prix racing changed from 500cc two stroke machines to four stroke litre engines, the same configuration as a Superbike almost. It was an easy option for Honda, Yamaha and Kawasaki to simply walk away and develop a whole new breed of prototype race machines where technology could be directly passed down to the production room floor. If Dorna are serious about changing the rules for Superbike racing they must, in my view, first sit down with the MSMA and the Superbike Commission, which includes FIM technical delegates, and come to a consensus as to what the technical regulations for the series should be. Regulations that will encourage the maximum number of manufacturers to compete and be competitive but crucially, those rules should be unmolested for a period of 3-5 years minimum.

Bear in mind that we are dealing with production models that have to be homologated for racing. There is no prospect of a crate arriving from Japan or Borgo Panigale on a Thursday afternoon with a whole new frame design or aero package to be raced this weekend at this specific race track. Manufacturers must be given time to develop the road machine, bring it to market and then develop it into a race bike. With technical regulations within the series continually changing then, if I were a manufacturer, I could be tempted to say: “Stuff it. It’s costs too much money to start developing something that may not be eligible in two years time.”

For now Jonathan Rea and Kawasaki, like Chris Froome, like Peter Sagan, like so many sportsmen and women and teams before them, are king of this particular hill. Rea will abdicate his throne, or be overturned someday and a new king will be crowned. What I don’t want to see is a dirty great earthmover changing the size and the shape of the hill every two minutes.

P.S. that’s my last word on it. I promise………well at least till the next time.

Photos by GeeBee Images

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