Courtesy of Ducati

World Superbike Tries Again For The Magic Of A Level Playing Field

Let's all play "Dial-A-Winner..."

Jonathan Rea has won the World Superbike title on a factoryKawasakithe past three years with occasional challenges from teammate Tom Sykes and other top riders on factory (or near-factory)Ducatis.

Meanwhile,MotoGPhas actually achieved the holy grail of having many winners and more than two makes in Victory Circle.After trying alternatives,MotoGP put all its riders on fully engineered racebikes,and those riders are the valedictorians of Moto2 graduating classes.

World Superbike at Phillip Island

Factory and independent Ducatis: Marco Melandri (33) won both World Superbike races this past weekend at Phillip Island,while Xavi Forés (12) and Chaz Davies (7) traded podium finishes.

Courtesy of Ducati

Now the question: How can World Superbike duplicate MotoGP's obviously more level playing field?This closer competition is regarded as the key to growing series attendance and marketing power.

The answer this year is pages of rev limits,250-rpm penalties for being too successful,and for brands that lag behind in results,access to "concession"parts,with the assurance a complex-but-fair algorithm lies behind these measures.It has very much the flavor of a video game with its "health bar"and conditional access to special weapons.

Presenting just the rev limits given the various makes is less instructive than giving them in terms of Kawasaki's 14,100 rpm as 100 percent (Kawasaki had run its engine to 15,200 previously).

Brand Percent RPM
Kawasaki 100 14,100
Honda 101.4 14,300
Other* 104.3 14,700
Ducati 105.5 12,400**

*"Other"is Aprilia,BMW,MV,Suzuki,and Yamaha
**(times Ducati's 1.2 displacement advantage = 14,880)

Now consider the nature of the World Superbike "playing field problem."It is as though MotoGP had decided it had to find a basis of equality between 2012's fully engineered racebikes of factory and satellite teams with the Superbike kit engines and artisan chassis of the CRT teams.The latter were generally two to six seconds off the pace and not infrequently as much as 10 seconds off.

The World Superbike grid consists of two factory teams hiring the best available riders and technical personnel versus rows of non-factory bikes ridden and attended by those not hired by the factories.Ronald Ten Kate is quite candid about his team's situation: They get some help from Honda but it is just that—help.That help is not in the form of a fully engineered racebike.The Ten Kate bikes are very professionally planned and built,but such a private team cannot afford the long hours of reliability and development testing that are essential to running up front with a bike that is kind to tires.

No Suzukis are present.BMW withdrew its World Superbike team years ago.Aprilia is making a major push in MotoGP,as is Yamaha.MV Agusta is a small-volume builder with limited resources.

Rev limits have been pushed as a performance limitation scheme for years,and they have the advantage of simplicity.Honda strongly opposed them in MotoGP,offering at one point to withdraw from the series were they adopted.Dorna riposted by taking control of what Honda might have seen as its alternative: World Superbike.Even so,rev limits have not been adopted in MotoGP.

Pata Yamaha teammates Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark

Pata Yamaha teammates Alex Lowes (22) and Michael van der Mark (60) battled each other in race 1 and 2.Lowes came out on top with sixth- and fifth-place finishes.

Courtesy of Yamaha

Most of what goes into a quick lap time has little to do with peak revs,which are used on straightaways and in cases when the rider can't upshift just now.Therefore,it's no surprise that the top five in race 1 at Phillip Island were Ducatis and Kawasakis.In race 2,Chaz Davies' crash elevated Alex Lowes (Yamaha) into fifth place.

Why don't we see more "leveling"in these first results?The same riders and bikes are up front!Last year,Ten Kate reckoned that factory teams benefited by roughly a second from having the best riders with the best technical personnel giving them what they need.As the season unrolls,we shall see how the complex new system of honey for the defeated and vinegar for winners will operate.We may also see some "strategic underperforming,"as stronger teams try to appear weaker than they are,thereby avoiding a dreaded 250-rev click down in redline.

One of the major factors that separates the head and tail of the grid is ability to make tires last.Again and again,we have seen hot young talent shine during practice only to slip down the order to finish without distinction race after race.It takes time and effort to learn this,and being given an extra few hundred revs may very well slow the learning process rather than accelerate it.

We don't know what Dorna will accept as "level"from World Superbike.Maybe officials will be happy with a few more bikes in the first second of qualifying times.If not,further flurries of new rules can be expected.As we've seen in the past,the top teams can best afford and most quickly respond to rule changes.


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