The future of WorldSBK: here’s an idea…
Getting back to work after a long break is always a shock to the system. When the WorldSBK ends the season in late October, early November things don’t really stop. Sometimes it is only a matter of a week or so and the teams are testing again. The run up to December is filled with trips to southern Europe chasing clement weather. Christmas has just passed and the winter testing schedule resumes, followed by studio shoots and team launches and in no time at all the first round in Phillip Island comes along and the merry-go-round starts again.
The long summer recess that WorldSBK now has actually does present a real break. There were only two days of testing in ten weeks, 67 days, from when the trucks were packed up in Misano until the bikes took to the track in anger again at Portimao. A ‘fifth’ of the year. It makes the restart seem like Christmas all over again. Everyone is super excited to get the bikes out and have a blast.
I am not the only one who is baffled as to why WorldSBK can’t have a more even spread of races across the year. In the previous era there was always the traditional break in August, when the championship was run by the many guises of the Flammini organisation and the entire nation of Italy heads to the beach. Now, however, with Dorna at the reigns, there is not the same requirement to have a defined annual hiatus. The MotoGP calendar happily runs through this period so something else must be at play.
There is a need to avoid a clash with the Suzuka 8Hr which rules out the last week in July, but to have nothing scheduled at all from early July to mid September is hard to fathom.
Part of the problem comes with there only being 13 races on the calendar. I will state right now that I am happy with that (when I say ‘I’ it’s the royal I, Clan Brown would not be chuffed with much more). There are also contractual reasons why the Phillip Island race has to take place when it does. It’s the end of the Australian summer holidays and the Victorian state government are keen to have the WorldSBK paddock decant down under for the ten days of testing and racing to extend the holiday season at the popular island location.
Beyond that there is, on the face of it, no reason why the following 10 events couldn’t be more evenly spread across the next 9 or 10 months. There are many other contributing factors, however. The circuits themselves have to schedule their events evenly over the course of the year. They don’t want to have two prestige events within a few weeks of each other, lest the local population will chose one over the other as they decide their financial priorities. There is also the need to avoid clashes with other race series. WorldSBK more or less tends to be on alternate weekends to MotoGP and hence shares the calendar with F1. That itself dictates the TV schedules with everything being arranged around F1 broadcasts, which also varies depending on which geographical territory they are racing in.
When you put all these factors into the equation you actually find that there are not so many free weekends in the year for a circuit to host a WorldSBK event. For me that still doesn’t fully explain why there is such a huge gap in the second half of our season. The harsh reality would seem to be that no one actually wants to host a WorldSBK race during this time. This is one of the key things I think needs to be addressed as part of the current review and fan survey that Dorna are undertaking. It can only be detrimental to the standing of the series that after eight rounds we have a two and a half month period before the competition resumes.
Here then is a radical proposal. Like most of the world’s football championships, and also now the FIM Endurance World Championship, could WorldSBK not be a winter series? If there is nowhere willing to host a race in the European summer months, a race in September could actually be the start of the season. It would then need some circuits in warmer climates to host a race in November, December and January and the series runs through the winter, with a grand, summer, season finale. At a time of the year when other motorsport series have stopped, WorldSBK would keep going and hog the limelight and TV audiences. It is the summer in the southern hemisphere and locations like Australia, South Africa, South America may just be interested in hosting racing at that time of year. It would give sponsors and advertisers an exclusive period to market their products to an almost captive audience. It is also traditionally a time of year when the motorcycle industry is presenting their new products for the coming year and as a production based race series it offers a platform to showcase the new model range to a motorcycle audience.
Technically the teams can only be happy with that as starting the season in Australia in February always presents logistical problems. It is a race itself to have the new race machines and their parts ready on time. At the start of last season the Ten Kate Honda squad had something like three weeks to get their bikes out of the crates, stripped, fairings measured, made and painted, and everything rebuild and packed into crates to head to Phillip Island. Starting the season in autumn would alleviate that problem and everyone would come to the start line fully prepared.
It would be interesting to see what people thought about this idea and whether or not there would be an appetite for year round motorsport. I am most likely talking out of my hat (I am being polite) but a few people have said that WorldSBK needs a revolution more than evolution. There are suggestions around some sections of the media that it is on the emergency room table being administered the last rites, so something completely left field may be the thing to revive it. On the other hand, maybe I just needed to get back to work and keep my mind more productively occupied.
Words & Photos by GeeBee Images