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Is Superbike Racing Dying?

What is “superbike” racing? It isn’t 750cc four-cylinder bikes versus 1000cc twins, any more. Then, what is it? It is a moving target . . . that’s what it is.

A couple of years ago, it became obvious to virtually everyone that 750cc street bikes were dying, and that production-based racing at the highest level would have to allow 1000cc bikes of all cylinder counts and configurations. Although this feeling was fairly unanimous, transitioning to a new format where 1000cc motorcycles of all cylinder counts and configurations race against one another fairly has been very difficult. The FIM and the promoters of World Superbike have their own vision for the future of superbike, but there is a problem. Superbikes are based on production machines, and motorcycle manufacturers must manufacture those machines, and race them. Otherwise, the FIM and superbike promoters can dream up any rules they wish, but the racing will die on the vine.

The MSMA (Motorcycle Sport Manufacturers Association) consists of Aprilia, Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha. The MSMA sits down to look at superbike rules, and discusses (a) whether they want to manufacture bikes that would be competitive under those rules (given the modifications permitted), and (b) whether they want to sponsor factory and/or privateer teams to race their bikes. Well, the MSMA issued a press release today condemning the rule making by the FIM and the superbike promoters, and, essentially, stating that a majority of its members will not race in the World Superbike championship next year. They’re done.

Of course, things can change, but the current course announced by the MSMA could kill the World Superbike championship unless the FIM and the superbike promoters can adequately appease MSMA members

The bottom line is that manufacturers race in order to sell product. Without stable, predictable rules for superbike racing, and rules that make sense from a manufacturer’s perspective (when they manufacture a production machine that will be the foundation for racing), manufacturers will look to other race series for participation.

There is an old Chinese saying that “change is the only constant”. Just as the 750cc class has died (for everyone except Suzuki), “superbike” racing may die as well. This isn’t necessarily tragic, because other racing series will develop, using names other than “superbike”, and the fans and the manufacturers will love it so long as the racing is competitive, fair, and involves interesting and talented individuals.

Here is the press release from the MSMA issued today:

The MSMA and each of the individual manufacturers who are members of the MSMA would like to thank the media for all the work they put into covering motorcycle racing and for encouraging so many people to take an interest in, and give their backing to, the sport.

On the assumption of implementation with the World Championship SuperBike from 2004, each of the participating manufacturers – members of the MSMA – have worked together over a period of two years to create an environment where differences in performance can be lessened for a relatively low level of investment, putting a stop to abnormal increases in engine power through large financial investments, and in spite of performance differences due to differing numbers of cylinders, making the gap between engines with different numbers of cylinders with the same 1000 cc size fairer. In order to do this, we created a technical rule for the adoption of air restrictors (already fitted to the current Suzuki machines). After receiving the understanding of the various parties involved, this rule was adopted as an FIM rule for 2004 onwards.

As manufacturers of commercial machines, we drew up this rule with great care so as not to require equipment and performance for the purpose of racing exceeding that which would normally be needed for commercial motorcycles, which would consequently cause the price of the commercial machines used as the base of racing to rise, and put an unnecessary load onto ordinary consumers.

The six manufacturers that are the members of the MSMA are therefore extremely disappointed and discouraged by saying that FGSPORT and FIM wanted to change 2004 SuperBike World Championship technical regulation suddenly.

The six manufacturers that are the members of the MSMA feel that this sudden change does not conform with the quality and status of a World Championships, and does not meet basic requirements for technical rules, such as enabling large numbers of teams and companies to compete under fairer condition. The adoption of rules that are a long way away from the reasons for drafting the rule described above has had a major impact on the interest of the manufacturers in competing in World Championship SuperBike.

Moreover, it was requested to MSMA that it attended SBK Commission for the rule change.

Of course, we rejected attendance to the SBK commission that discusses such an unreasonable proposal, and decided to secede from such SBK Commission.

In addition, it is sad, but it has to be said that this is not the first time that something like this has happened. In 2000, the kit-part rules for World Championship SuperBike were suddenly changed only half a year before implementation. Members of the media will remember that event clearly.

On that occasion, too, each of the companies that were the members of the MSMA had already incurred the costs of development, the costs of manufacturing actual components, and the costs of components already ordered. The companies suffered a great deal of damage on that occasion, but had come to believe promises that the same thing would never happen again.

Despite that, the same situation has recurred after less than three years. This time too, substantial damages have been incurred through loss of investments in development costs, etc. In addition to this, the basic incentive for competing is substantially reduced as described above. As a consequence, the large majority of the MSMA member companies who were considering entering World Championship SuperBike have reviewed their positions and decided not to enter World Championship SuperBike at all.

The MSMA member companies feel that for racing at the World Championship level, quality and status need to be maintained, and that fair rules need to be introduced and kept steady. That is a prerequisite for competing.

We are aware that this MSMA decision is a very sad one for the world of motorcycle racing, but we believe that the members of the media, with their deep and all-encompassing knowledge of motorcycling, will be able to properly understand and appreciate the reasons for the decision.

We would like to ask you for your understanding and hope that you will continue to be able to give your support to the continuing support to the growth of motor cycling and motorcycle racing.

Yours sincerely,

Takanao Tsubouchi

Secretary General