Why is there a lack of popularity with World Superbikes compared to the domestic series?
Even though the 2017 British Superbike Championship came down to the final race of the season with a three-way battle between Shane Byrne (aged 40), Leon Haslam (34) and Josh Brookes (34), there is still a so-called Golden Era of BSB with emerging young talent in the shape of Jake Dixon (21), Bradley Ray (20), Luke Mossey (25) and reportedly-for-2018, Tarran Mackenzie (22, next week) for 2018.
But what if one of the young guns wins a couple of championships by the time he’s 25, then what? Is World Superbike a draw anymore? Is the step to the MotoGP paddock too big, see how Tarran Mackenzie dominated British Supersport and then couldn’t score a point in Moto2? Even with such British talent in the World Superbike championship such as Jonathan Rea, Tom Sykes, Chaz Davies, Alex Lowes and Leon Camier, why is it so unpopular?
We asked BSB and WSB Eurosport commentator James Witham for his thoughts. After all, he was two-time British Champion and competed at World level too during its own ‘golden era’ with big crowds and an even bigger popularity, so who better to have a chat with…
JW: “We’ve got some cracking riders in World Superbike and yet the people are not going to watch in. The key thing there is, it’s not so much about the young guns coming through and the old guard still being there in BSB, it’s about close, competitive racing. We’ve had 10 different winners in BSB this year, we’ve had six different manufacturers winning, that is unheard of. It’s just incredible. And to me, that says that the rules, the regulations, the controlled ECU, whatever they’ve done at BSB to make parity between bikes and make it affordable for teams, has worked and it’s giving close, exciting racing. That’s the key to it.
At World Superbikes you’ve essentially got two bikes that can win every weekend – that’s the Kawasaki’s, one that can nearly win every weekend – that’s Chaz Davies’ Ducati and no one else who are never going to get a look in. And that’s the problem. It’s not that it hasn’t got the riders, I almost feel sorry for Jonathan Rea because he’s such a good rider, as is Sykesy, as is Davies and other people in the championship. But all you can do as a rider is go out and beat the people you’re racing against. Jonathan Rea has done that and yet people are saying ‘it’s not a credible championship’ and he’s a cracking rider, he could run at the front in any championship in the world.
What they’ve got wrong, in my opinion, at World Superbike, is they’re trying to please everybody. They’re trying to please the teams by keeping the electronics because the manufacturers say ‘we don’t want to be involved if there’s no electronics because that’s where we test our electronics’. But if you haven’t got close racing and nobody’s watching it then there’ll be no championship so they won’t be able to test anything!
So, I think, if I were running World Superbikes, I’d be thinking ‘right, it’s not working we need to alter it big time so it’s stock engines or controlled ECU’s, you’ve somehow got to make it more affordable for smaller teams to stay involved and be more competitive’.”
BikeSocial: Surely, it would naturally make sense where you’ve got possibly the world’s best production-based race series here in the UK, they would run the same rules?
JW: The problem is there is you’ve got the manufacturers and you’ve also got the is the organisers. The organisers don’t really going to want to be saying ‘you know what, there’s a model that works, they’ve got it dead right there, we’ll copy that’. They want to look at their selves as a stand-alone genuine world championship and I think that’s were the problem has been. They know that BSB works and then cynically you could think that it’s DORNA that runs MotoGP, which is really popular at the moment, quite rightly so, and World Superbikes. Would it be in their interests to make their second championship as popular as their first? I don’t know, it’s all conspiracy theories that. To me, to make World Superbikes more popular you’ve got to make the racing more exciting so to do that you’ve got to dumb down the regulations in quite a big way.
BS: Where do you think the likes of Jonathan and Tom Sykes and Chaz Davies, very highly talented racers, are going? What motivates them week-in, week-out?
JW: I think that with Jonathon Rea, genuinely if he gets the chance on a good bike at MotoGP, he’s got to do it because I think in 20 years’ time he’ll look back at his career when he’s finished and say, ‘I had a chance and I didn’t to do it’. I think he’s genuinely good enough to do it.
BS: He showed himself on that Honda a few years ago…
JW: Yeah, and he was told that he didn’t want to be crashing it, so he rode so conservatively and I think he looks back on it now and thinks ‘I could have done a lot better if I’d have risked a bit.’
So, I think he may get a chance and if he does then he’s got to take it. Don’t get me wrong, for these guys it’s a good career, they’re making good money and they’re winning races and it’s a lovely life but I’m sure they would love to be doing the same thing in a more popular, more competitive championship.
BS: And what about these guys in BSB, the so-called ‘golden era’, if in 2,3 or 4 years’ time maybe they’ve a championship or two – where does their career take them at 25? MotoGP is surely the target.
The dream is always MotoGP for anyone starting this sport. There’s no direct route into MotoGP from BSB. Maybe if you race a Moto3 bike, like Tom Booth-Amos, done really well this year there’s things happening there just at the minute, he may just have a chance. He’s tested a couple of Moto3 bikes and we may see him in Grand Prix next year. Most of the people tend to think the route into MotoGP, which is almost a Spanish championship, it’s very Spanish-based, would be through Spain. You see if you do the CEV Championship on a Moto2 or Moto3 bike and that’s your route into MotoGP. The downside of that is you don’t make any money while you’re doing it and it’s costing your sponsors and your parents a lot of money and maybe it’s not going to work so after five years going around in circles in Spain and you’re back in Britain…which has happened. So, a lot of these kids may see out their complete career in Britain, in BSB, that might happen, I don’t know.
BS: So, the 125cc championship became the MotoStar series a few years ago which introduced Moto3-style bikes but will Moto2 perhaps is coming?
Yeah, Moto2’s coming but the problem is they’re going to have to replace what has been a brilliant class in the Supersport class with something else. Because with Euro-4, none of the manufacturers are building brand-new 600cc middleweight sports bikes. Triumph aren’t, Honda aren’t, Kawasaki aren’t and Suzuki aren’t. But Yamaha are. So, if that Yamaha, and it looks like it’s going to be the best bike to have, in World Supersport it’s doing all the winning in its first season. So, if you’re buying a bike to go racing in Supersport you buy a Yamaha. It’s the most modern one and has been designed in the last couple of years instead of eight or nine years ago like the other bikes in the class. So, it’s going to become a one-make championship but is there anything wrong with that? Well, I remember back in the 70s and early 80s where if you raced a 250 or 350 then you had a Yamaha TZ, and everybody in the race had one so that was almost a single make championship. But if they don’t want that then they’re going to have to think of a replacement class that’s in between Superstock and Moto3. To me, a Moto2-type category would work. But they’ve got to be careful because it has to be affordable. What they don’t want is a rich dad to go to MotoGP and say, ‘I want that one, my lad’s going to race that one in Britain and I’ll give you £300,000 for it.’ Because that spoils the whole lot for everybody.
What they need to do, in my opinion, is have some kind of form where you can build your own frame if you want, we don’t want to do away with some of these backyard engineers that are brilliant in Britain, we’ve got some brilliant engineers who can build their own chassis and do their own welding and build their own bikes, we want them involved. But what you say is, ‘you can only use this fork, this fork or this fork. You can only use this shock or this shock. You can only these brakes.’ And have almost like a catalogue they can chose things from that’s capped. Because you don’t want them having £25,000 forks in there that clearly will give some advantage if your kid can ride. They got to somehow make it affordable. And I think it can be done and I think the class will work. What you don’t want is a kid jumping off a Moto3 bike and jumping on a ‘stock thou’ because there’s a big gap there and he will go flipping cartwheeling towards the marshals a few times and you don’t want that, you need a stepping stone in between and I think Moto2 would work.”
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