Next year’s World and British Superbike seasons will see the return of the homologation special as new rules make the practice of building race bikes for the road feasible again. In part two of our special feature (click here for the history of specials) we look at how the rules have changed, why they’ve changed, and what exotic, limited edition specials we can expect to see on the grid – and on our roads - next year.
Why Did Manufacturers Stop Building Exotic Homologation Specials?
Because of the way the rules were in WSBK in the 1990s, the Japanese manufacturers had to try every trick in the book to make their 750cc four-cylinder machines competitive against the dominant Ducati V-Twins which enjoyed a 250cc capacity advantage. Many complained that the rules were stacked in Ducati’s favour (at a time when the series was owned and run by the Italian Flammini brothers) so in 2003 four-cylinder bikes were also permitted to have a 1,000cc capacity. This was enough to make modified road bikes like Suzuki’s GSX-R1000, Honda’s CBR1000RR and Yamaha’s YZF-R1 competitive and all three bikes won titles so the need for homologation specials appeared to be over. But that’s no longer the case.
Why are Homologation Specials Making a Return?
Great road bikes do not always make great race bikes. The Honda Fireblade is a brilliant road bike but has not won a WSBK title since 2007. Similarly, Suzuki’s GSX-R1000 has not won a title since 2005 and doesn’t even compete in WSBK any more as it would be hopelessly outpaced against more race-focused machinery like the Ducati Panigale and Aprilia RSV4 1000. Something had to be done to encourage more manufacturers to get involved in the championship and the answer that WSBK owners Dorna have come up with is to change the rules regarding homologation specials.
Previously, big manufacturers had to build 2000 models of any bike they wished to race in WSBK and, given how technically advanced and expensive homologation specials need to be, that was often too high a number. For 2015, that number was reduced to 1,000 models - which encouraged Honda to build the CBR1000RR SP and Yamaha to build its YZF-R1 M – but now that number has been further reduced to just 500 units.
Given the huge demise in sports bike sales worldwide, it was simply no longer feasible for manufacturers to build up to 2,000 homologation bikes if they were going to struggle sell them, but since the market is still strong for super exclusive, high-end specials, it should be perfectly possible for any manufacturer to shift 500 units. So the groundwork has been laid for the return of homologation specials.
WSBK Homologation Rules
The current rules state that 125 units must be produced at the time of the first homologation inspection, 250 by the end of the bike’s first year of racing in WSBK, and 500 by the end of the second year. In an attempt to ensure that costs do not get completely out of control, engine tuning is still limited and a price cap of £35,000 has been put on all homologation bikes.
So What Bikes Can We Expect to See in 2017?
At the Cologne Show in October, Honda, Suzuki and Kawasaki all revealed homologation specials for the 2017 season. Honda revealed its CBR1000RR SP2, Suzuki showed off its GSX-R1000RR, and Kawasaki unveiled its ZX-10RR. Note the prevalence of ‘R’s in the model designations!
To make sure costs don’t spiral completely out of control Dorna has put a price cap of £35,000 on any homologation bike. But racing is racing and it’s inevitable that manufacturers will have to continue improving their machines as rivals gain an advantage and that will result in another technological race like we had the in the 1990s, which is great news for WSBK fans and great news for prospective bike owners. After all, you can build a cutting-edge motorcycle for £35,000.
If racing history tells us anything it’s that there’s nothing that manufacturers – and race fans - like better than an all-out technological war and this could well be the beginning of a new one in WSBK. The game is on again. Enjoy.
2017 Homologation Specials: Game on
Honda CBR1000RR SP2
Honda’s CBR1000RR Fireblade is the oldest bike on the WSBK grid and results have suffered because of that. The current model dates back to 2008 and has none of the advanced electronic systems employed by all its rivals. The bike has been more competitive this year because Nicky Hayden and Michael van der Mark have been riding the homologation SP model which was released in 2015 after the number of homologation bikes required to be built dropped from 2,000 to 1,000. For a big company like Honda that was just about do-able so they took the chance (as did Yamaha with the R1M) but now that the number has dropped to just 500, it should be possible for practically any manufacturer to build homologation bikes – and actually sell them all.
Honda have already released two new Fireblades for 2017 – the SP, and the SP2. The latter will be the highest-spec bike intended solely for race use and is ready for a full HRC race kit (with over 80 parts) as well as launch control, five-level power selecter, and even a pit lane speed limiter. Much of the technology comes directly from Honda’s RC213V MotoGP bike and one has to wonder if the promise of this machine in 2017 was what prompted Nicky Hayden to sign for Honda’s WSBK team last year. The third, standard Blade, should be unwrapped at Milan.
Suzuki doesn’t even bother running a team in World Superbikes at the moment because its GSX-R1000 has become so uncompetitive at world level. And the firm might not even be back in 2017 to show off its all-new homologation special – the GSX-R1000R – leaving it to Yoshimura in the US and Japan to do the development work. The spec of the standard road bike is impressive enough but the ‘R’ model features additional go-faster goodies like a quickshifter, autoblipper, launch control, and ten-stage traction control systems. Both bikes also feature Variable Valve Timing (a first for a Superbike) which has been derived from the firm’s race-winning GSX-RR MotoGP bike.
The GSX-R1000R is estimated to make around 200bhp in standard trim so once the bike has been developed by race teams it should have plenty of power to launch Suzuki back towards the sharp end of the grid. As yet, there has been no confirmation of who will run Suzukis in BSB but Suzuki GB has announced its intentions to run a two-man team, possibly with Hawk Racing or with former Crescent Suzuki team manager Jack Valentine at the helm.
If there was one manufacturer you’d think was not in need of a homologation special it’s Kawasaki. The Japanese firm has won the WSBK title twice in the last three years and looks certain to win it again in 2016 but Kawasaki knows it can’t to afford to rest on its laurels so rolled out the 197bhp ZX-10RR at the Cologne Show. Only 500 of the bikes will be built and all will feature modified cylinder heads (which are ready to accept the high-lift cams available in the race kit), reinforced crankcases, lightweight Marchesini wheels, and a KQS (Kawasaki Quick Shifter) system which allows seamless gear-changes both up and down the box. The RR will also have all the expected sophisticated electronic features like launch control, intelligent electronic brake control, and cornering management control.