Gordon Ritchie has covered World Superbikes for over a quarter of a century, and is widely regarded as the world’s leading journalist on the series. MotoMatters.com is delighted to be hosting a monthly blog by Ritchie. The full blog will be available each month for MotoMatters.com subscribers. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.
I came, I saw, I conquered; so said Julius Caesar, after a particularly swift triumph in battle. Which manufacturer will be next to come to WorldSBK, size it up fully and then conquer it – of those currently residing outside the WorldSBK compound at least – is a question without urgent need of an answer. There appear to be no prime candidates standing at the gates for starters.
Right now expansion beyond the known superbike world is not that important for WorldSBK either, not with five important factories competing for honours at a global level, all with bikes that are fully competitive. Or at least would be fully competitive if they all reached their very similar full technical potential as consistently as Jonathan Rea and his crew from Kawasaki have, for six years in a row. In all measurable terms WorldSBK has never been as wide open and accessible to even a new or returning manufacturer looking for instant glory as it is right now. So it would be a good time to join the party.
Even without an upper capacity tweak to suit the latest generation of four-cylinder ‘litre class’ bikes, none of which currently qualify for WorldSBK by being over 1000cc (think Aprilia or all ‘non-R’ Ducati Panigale V4Rs), WorldSBK could be a happy hunting ground for more than the current BMW, Honda, Ducati, Kawasaki and Yamaha litre bikes that divvy up the podium or Superpole prizes at present.
The obvious missing WorldSBK member from the traditional Japanese Big Four is Suzuki. You know, MotoGP Riders’ champions with Joan Mir Suzuki? MotoGP Team’s Champion, with Mir helped along no end by Alex Rins on the other Team Suzuki Ecstar bike, Suzuki.
It has not been an easy road for the members of S-Club 2 to climb back to the very top of the whole sport, and maybe you would be right in saying that it would have been Marc Márquez and Repsol Honda that would have almost definitely prevailed yet again, but for an injury and the Covid-19-blighted season.
And yet, against all the big guns, and because they did right when others clearly made some wrong decisions, Suzuki won MotoGP in 2020. Yet still some in WorldSBK have been asking why there has been no official Suzuki presence in their particular paddock for many years?
Small fish, big pond
The answer is now another question. Why should they, when they have eventually won in MotoGP, the biggest thing of all in two-wheeled racing?
The answer for several previous years, especially so when the clearly potent 2017 model came out, was that they just didn’t want to. Not with MotoGP sucking the juice out of many of diverse Suzuki budget streams anyway.
WorldSBK has been wide-open for a bit of Gixxxer action of late, but no, it was just national and EWC production potency, as Suzuki carried on skipping over WorldSBK direct to MotoGP.
The residual attraction of WorldSBK, however, is that if you do well there all your other classes of production-derived racing should be covered more than adequately. National racing, Suzuka 8-Hours, and all the rest. All the rest means more or less every form of racing on the planet except MotoGP. Build a good WorldSBK base and everything else should be competitive wherever you race.
So even though it would have cost very little compared to the maniacally-moneyed MotoGP effort for Suzuki to partner up with a respected WorldSBK team (who would provide a workshop and other logistics) freeing up enough budget for Suzuki to make a winning WorldSBK tech package, they simply elected not to.
And given how things turned out this year – arguably ever since they accelerated towards winning races and scoring podiums in MotoGP (mostly from 2018 onwards) – why the hell should they go back down to WorldSBK now? Their decision to stay in MotoGP only has just been vindicated.
The other perspective
In a slightly black mirror image of Suzuki’s experience Kawasaki left MotoGP some time ago and still refuse to go back, citing unjustifiable expense to even get into contention. Having won seven of their eight all-time WorldSBK riders’ titles in the past eight seasons, why would Kawasaki give up on a spend of a few million Euros each year to stay on top of the production world – with bikes they actually make and sell – to spend probably 30 million Euros to just get onto the grid each year in MotoGP? Especially given that MotoGP, despite all its many restrictions and regulatory limits, is still prototype racing. Relevance to actual roadbike technology? Some juries are still out on that front.
The majority of the skeleton, flesh and internal organs of a WorldSBK Kawasaki is not just derived from the production bike, it is the production bike. Same for the others. Some tuning, race parts and a fair amount of electronic changes and strategies are allowed, but even these are strictly limited nowadays.
Why bladder a load of money on something you cannot directly recoup money or development costs from, with your first season in particular costing much more than any subsequent one, as you design a GP bike from scratch, hire a whole new bunch of people and then test, test and test again, with high-profile engine and other forms of failure dogging your every move as you try to manoeuvre your way to the top table? The task even sounds exhausting reading from the page, never mind turning it into an unknown reality where the only absolutely sure outcome is that you will spend money enough to fill your flight cases with solid gold. So the Kawasaki logic is also understandable.
It can be done though, just ask Suzuki.
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