Robin Miller: WorldSBK rule changes didn’t go far enough

Sylvain Guintoli is one of three big names to exit the series in 2017
Sylvain Guintoli is one of three big names to exit the series in 2017 Picture: GeeBee Images

Two pieces of somewhat underwhelming news. First came a rescue recipe for WSBK from the FIM Superbike Commission and then a tech company tells us how they are going to improve racing…

Just in case you didn’t know who sits on the rather grandly-titled Superbike Commission it is: Takanao Tsubouchi from the manufacturers association, Rezso Bulcsu from the FIM and Gregorio Lavilla, representing World Superbikes.

At their meeting in Madrid in a bid to boost the flagging fortunes of WSBK in 2017, they decided to remix the starting grid for race two, effectively relegating the first three from race one to the third row; wild cards are back; Supersport races become flag to flag and the weekend race timetable is being rescheduled although the Superbike legs will remain on separate days.

Present at the Commissioners meeting were Dorna’s man in charge of WSBK Danny Carrera and Scott Smart, the FIMs technical genius and an old racing mate of Lavilla. With this star-studded lineup shouldn’t we have expected more?

Perhaps with this notoriously risk-averse championship and governing body (i.e. FIM although they normally do Dorna’s bidding) we should be grateful for small mercies. And the technical tweaks proposed by Smart junior should even things up a bit. But I can’t help feeling that WSBK needs revolution rather than evolution.

The stark facts are that, judged by attendances, television audiences or website traffic, many European fans are preferring British Superbikes to WSBK. In a move which smacks of desperation Marco Melandri has been brought back because Italian TV company Mediaset promises free-to-air television. But two top riders, Sylvain Giuntoli and David Giugliano have quit the series for BSB and and persuading circuits to pay a fee is becoming increasingly difficult. What’s the betting there won’t be a British round next year?

Let’s hope these steps, which should be applauded, are the start of a revolution. Spectators need better value and a 35 minute race at Sunday lunchtime with two or three undercard support races is not enough.

This is a production bike race with sensationally-fast bikes. Let’s have the sprint race on Saturday, let the new grid rules apply for Sunday but have a much longer race requiring tyre changes. Great for mixing the race up, great for TV and these are machines basically similar to the ones you can buy in the shop. Changing the tyres is what road riders or dealers do.

Let’s make the whole show more gladiatorial via the pre-race build up. Who are these heroes - or villains? What do they look like outside those all-encompassing helmets covered in sponsors messages. Do they speak? And if/when they do is there anything worth hearing other than thanks to sponsors? We may not like what goes on, say, in boxing at the weigh-in but it sells tickets.

Yes, racing is different. It is dangerous. But as do have to put on a show. Our audience is getting older and we have to appeal to a younger audience brought up on entirely different forms of entertainment and the way it is presented.

While on the subject of danger, I was interested to read Alan Dowds’ story on a piece of technology which the manufacturers, Bosch, say will eliminate high sides. As you know the tech world is full of acronyms, now we have another one IMU - short for inertial measurement unit. And this, they claim, will completely control rear-wheel slides.

Apparently, a version of this is already on high-performance road bikes and Bosch think it should be adopted in racing. They acknowledge that this would eliminate some rider error but suggest this could be compensated for by penalties, a pitlane ride through, if the control mechanism was triggered.

There is an old saying which goes “improvement equals deterioration.” This applies to banks, energy supplies, rail companies etc. who trumpet improvement to service until you experience the “improvement” and realise it is not. This I fear falls into the same category.

Racing, like many other sports, professions, jobs, has consistently been de-skilled. And the reason why sports governing bodies are now pushing back is that people are less interested in watching automatons circling round Scalextric being told what to do by some guy twiddling knobs in the pits or, worse still, an algorithym.

Racing is not a safe sport but neither is rugby. And do we have an ambulance following riders round the course as they do in horse racing? It can be, and has been, made a lot safer. Hallelujah to that. But the skill of the rider is surely everything and the sooner that traction control, launch control etc is totally abolished the better.

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