If I was king of MotoGP and WSB...


Bridgepoint’s announcement that MotoGP and World Superbike are to be run by the same company is the most significant happening in motorcycle racing since WSB’s launch a quarter of a century ago.

Dorna will now run both championships, which will allow them to arrange technical rules, race calendars and so on to the benefit of both. In theory, at least.

It is a huge deal from a commercial perspective that is likely to have a major impact on fans, for better or worse. I am hopeful, even though monopolies are not a good thing and even though I’m not keen on many changes that Dorna have made over the years.

Whatever happens, I believe it had to be done. You cannot have two struggling championships jockeying for position and expect either to come out of it well.

Dorna will certainly strengthen MotoGP’s position as the premier championship, but that doesn’t necessarily mean bad news for WSB, which has always been the number two championship in terms of fan base, media profile and money. It is possible for each series to retain its position and still grow.

Inevitably, there are already rumours that the two will ultimately be merged into one. I’ve always wondered whether motorcycling is big enough to sustain MotoGP and WSB. The size of the grids in both championships would suggest that it isn’t. WSB’s struggles haven’t made headlines like MotoGP’s woes, but the series is seriously underfunded, with many private teams barely able to stay in business and no more bikes on the grid than MotoGP. Might a combined championship be the best thing we’ve ever seen? Think about it: all the factories, all the riders, distilled into one title race.

We live in a time of great change, with the current economic climate the reason – or excuse – for all kinds of new rules and regulations, both in real life and in sport. Dorna have forged ahead with their moves to make MotoGP more affordable. Inevitably, this means making it slower. Now that they run WSB as well, they can move WSB rules in the same direction. If Dorna make the right moves, both championships will have bigger grids. It’s not impossible.

The factories, of course, have been left reeling by Bridgepoint’s announcement because it strips them of pretty much all their power. They used to effectively run GP racing; now they have very little leverage. HRC’s threat to defect from MotoGP to WSB (first revealed here at the end of August) now means little or nothing, because Dorna are now in charge of both championships.

Honda only made their threat because a few months ago WSB made it clear they were happy for the factories to continue electronics R&D. This was a classic case of corporate competition making a mess of things. Had both championships continued to belong to competing companies, then we might have ended up with the ridiculous situation of MotoGP running a control ECU while WSB allowed unlimited electronics technology. Now electronics regulations and other technical rules can be coordinated to maintain a gap between the two categories.

The problem for MotoGP – and any prototype class like Formula 1 – is that there is now more technology available than we can afford. Given an open budget, there is no real limit to how much can be spent making a bike or car go round a racetrack as fast as possible.

Back in the late 1970s, cutting-edge technology was very affordable. Suzuki’s RG500 was the greatest race bike of the era and anyone could buy one for £12,000, about £60,000 in today’s money. A well-fettled RG was fast enough to score GP podiums.

These days 60 grand wouldn’t even buy you a chassis. About £400,000 will buy you the cheapest CRT bike on the MotoGP grid, the FTR Kawasaki. But if you want a bike capable of scoring podiums you will need to spend three times that, or 20 times more in real terms than what people had to spend 35 years ago. The latest bikes are that expensive because they are that good, but there’s no point in them being that good if no one can afford them.

So what would I do if I was in charge? I would introduce a control ECU to MotoGP because F1 teams tell me that F1’s control ECU has slashed their expenditure on electronics by half. To those who believe in the necessity of unrestricted electronics R&D, I would point them in the direction of BMW’s new S1000RR HP4 road bike. The HP4’s state-of-the-art ECU – with traction control, wheelie control and semi-active suspension – was developed from a BMW 7 Series road car.

Then, year by year, I would turn down the rider aids within the control ECU until the point where the riders are safe enough and the bikes are once again exciting to watch. It’s not only us fans who want less electronics, most MotoGP riders are aching to get back some of the control they lost with recent electronics advances.

This year’s BSB championship proves that tackling the electronics issue isn’t impossible. BSB has banned all rider aids and everyone seems happy with the change.

I would also tell Bridgestone to make their MotoGP slicks less grippy and more friendly, so riders would be comfortable with the rear tyre moving around and spinning up. This would help compensate for less traction control and again increase the spectacle.

WSB would move in a similar direction, adopting the changes that have worked so well in BSB: less engine tuning and no fancy electronics. Maybe road tyres, too.

Former BSB champ and team owner Rob McElnea summed it up for me a few years ago when he said “we spend a fortune on tuning the bikes for more power, and then we spend another fortune on electronics to calm them down”.

Hard to argue with that…

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