Exclusive: ‘We still need to improve Superbikes’ – FIM boss Viegas

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Viegas (left) with WorldSBK boss Greg Lavilla, or The Masked Depanter as he likes to be known in the evenings
Viegas (left) with WorldSBK boss Greg Lavilla, or The Masked Depanter as he likes to be known in the evenings Picture: GeeBee Images

FIM President Jorge Viegas was at Jerez for the WorldSBK race weekend and we caught up with him to ask about WorldSBK, the other non-endurance road racing championship that the FIM is in charge of besides the blue riband class that is MotoGP. The past – our very weird present – and also the future were all discussed in this Q&A session.

Q: Very strange times we live in. When you became the FIM President it was impossible to think that something like this COVID-19 pandemic would arrive. For you, in your position, how has it been?

JV: It is easy to be President of anything in the easy times. But when you have real problems this is when you have to be a good President. That means I try to motivate everybody, I try to solve problems - daily – because this crisis changes the conditions every day. We have to change races, we do not know what is going to happen tomorrow; so it is quite a big challenge. I try to be a good President in these difficult times. It requires a lot of flexibility.

Q: For the future it looks like long haul travel for races will be difficult, at least until we until we find a vaccine?

JV: I am very optimistic that as soon as we have a vaccine then things will come back to business as usual, because people are fed up with this life. We want to come back to what it was. We are a global sport, we cannot make races only here. This we are doing here because we have nowhere else to go. MotoGP is the same, it is not only Superbike. Motocross we do not know what they are going to do, in Speedway they are in Poland, and in Enduro we are also around here, because this is where the teams are, the riders are, and we have to avoid the maximum dislocations, the travel. If we can do the championship like this exceptionally, we have to do it. We have to flexible. My feeling and my wish - and what I believe will happen - is that we will come back to what it was. We have to go to Asia, South America, etc, of course. I don’t know if it will be next year because there are a lot of uncertainties yet.

Q: What about WorldSBK itself. We have seen an interview when you said that there will be some change?

JV: I didn’t change but I am still working together with Dorna to see the model of the future. But I have to confess that the virus stopped a lot of things. It is on hold, these ideas. I still believe we need to improve Superbike. How this is going to be done is brainstorming between us, the manufacturers, Dorna of course. I believe we will go to something new.

Q: When you say improve, you mean the show, the marketing or the penetration into markets?

JV: We need to have a discipline that is really the showcase for the production bikes. We must have all the manufacturers we can have. This is the big battle to show who has the best model you can buy in a shop. This is the philosophy. Now, we need to have, of course, the best races, and have to improve the commercial side. I think Dorna with the FIM also has made excellent work in what concerns the balance of the bikes and you can see the differences in the times are incredible. So I think we are in a good way. But we need to attract more sponsors; we need to attract more spectators. We need to improve a bit.

I do not want Superbike to be considered the second division. I want Superbike to be a different product than MotoGP. The problem in the past if you remember, in the times of Flammini, that while MotoGP was trying to limit costs, Superbike was trying more and more performance. It did not matter the costs. So the two products were difficult to distinguish for the spectator. I believe for a product to be successful it has to have its own personality it has to be really different from others. So never Superbike must compete with MotoGP. The spectator must know that this is a standard bike and this is a prototype. This is the way we should go - this is my opinion, of course.

Q: So if we go back to the very beginning in Superbike then they look very different. When manufacturers sell these big bikes nowadays it is more difficult. I would imagine in every way it is more difficult because of legislation and sometime, someone, is going to say 200bhp on the street – no way. So maybe we are looking at a ‘flat handlebar’ future? Is this the discussion at least?

JV: We are discussing everything. This philosophy is on the table and we are discussing how to do it. The model, the sporting model, the commercial model. Yes. But as I told you, we are six months late because of the virus.

Q: What about the ownership of the series in general? Some people say that the relationship between Dorna, for example, or other promoters and the FIM is too much the promoter, and not the FIM?

JV: People say that Dorna is the boss, but I would say that Dorna does nothing without talking to us and we do nothing without talking to Dorna. We have a very good understanding. We are the institution; we are responsible for technical and sporting rules. But we do not do it without the support of Dorna. They are responsible for the commercial and TV rights. They do not do anything without talking to us. I can tell you that if you talk to Dorna, ask them how are their relations with us. I think we have a very good understanding, both in MotoGP and in Superbike. You have to add to this the relations with the MSMA that is perfect. I am really happy. Of course, people tend to say ‘Oh, Dorna does what they want, they are leading’ – it is not true. We do everything together. I can assure you. I have here a lot of people from FIM. If you got to race direction half of the people are from the FIM. Technical, doctor, environmental, safety officer, etc. But I know the image we have, I know very well.

Q: A problem that some people see is the disconnect between WorldSBK and everything else now. BSB, MotoAmerica, we do not see these riders arriving and we do not have so many wildcards when we go to USA, to the UK. For the growth of Superbike do we have to reconnect globally?

JV: Absolutely and we have the same, exactly the same rules, technical and sporting rules, and to connect and to have a system of qualifying. This is something I was talking of this morning with the people from Dorna.

Q: For Superbike what about Japan? The major manufacturers are Japanese and Superbike no longer goes in Japan.

JV: We only have Endurance in Japan, the Eight Hours of Suzuka, which is a mixture of Superbike and Endurance. This is an issue of Dorna, because this is a commercial issue. But, obviously Dorna would like to go to Japan. But the problem in Japan is that we have the Suzuka 8-Hours that is the race, and they do not care about anything else. So we go through the endurance championship and it is very similar to Superbikes.

Q: There is no way of connecting the two?

JV: We will see, we will see. But this is to do mainly with the promoters. This is an issue of the promoters. It is to do with contracts.

Q: Aside from the COVID-19 issue, if there was one big thing you could do for WorldSBK right now, with Dorna and everyone else, what would it be?

JV: I really want to simplify the technical rules in a way that people, the spectators, know they can buy the bike that is racing. This we can go to a system where we have stock bikes with a kit given by the manufacturer also. So that you have a limited cost for the bike and you know exactly what these are.

Q: Thank you

JV: No, no, thank you