I’m sad about the way our sport has gone in recent years, especially at European Championship and World Championship level – it’s more about money than ever. I used to be proud of our sport when I compared notes with my counterparts in car racing in the 90’s. They found it extraordinary that I was a factory rider for a manufacturer in world championship and yet I came from a country that was not an important market to that manufacturer and I had no money behind me, so hadn’t bought the ride. ”It’s all about talent in our sport mate” I’d tell them. ”If you want results you need to have the best rider on the bike, not the richest. Cool aye!”
Now I get quite angry every time I bump into any of the talented 18-25 year-old riders around who have given up on our sport after exhausting all avenues and using the last of their own and their loyal supporters’ money trying to pay for rides in the various racing classes.
This brings me to the recent decision by World Superbike organisers to drop the European 600 Superstock class (Stk600). I believe that this decision has made the bad situation even worse. Parents/ sponsors that were only just hanging on in European Stk600 are now faced with the decision of coming up with between 100,000 and 200,000 Euros for one year in World Supersport, go back to a national championship… or quit racing. World Supersport is the only stepping-stone class left for young riders coming from National level 600 classes or the popular European Junior Cup series (a one make series) on their way to riding 1000cc bikes.
Is World Supersport an affordable class for young up and coming riders that hope to progress onto Superbike? Not at all. If I had to describe World Supersport to someone confused about all the motorcycle racing classes I’d say that it’s like a Superbike but 600cc instead of 1000cc. It’s a class that allows reasonably heavy modifications and data recording. All this costs an obscene amount of money (engines tuning and services cost 20- 50,000 Euro per rider per year minimum). These modifications make a 600 perform similar in a straight line to a low cost, standard GSX-R750 with an aftermarket exhaust system but of course the Supersport engine needs regular, expensive engine rebuilds where a standard 750 which is visibly identical to a 600 will only need an oil change.
Supersport do have new regulations this year. My understanding is that Dorna were pushing for Superstock spec in World Supersport but some of the manufacturers would not agree because their current models are too slow without the modifications. As a result the technical regulation changes that could have presented a real cost saving have ended up with the same highly tuned, expensive engines but with cheaper kit ECU electronics (same as stock classes- no traction control, launch assist etc). It does make some savings but as the bikes are allowed to be fitted with data recording systems, the teams still need a very clever electronics guy to be competitive and so there’s not such a big change in actual costs from the year before.
Manufacturers threatening to pull out if they don’t get the regulations they want is a big consideration for all series organisers. For years I’ve seen that not many series organisers have the balls to stick to what they know is best for the sport in the long run.
I’m not at all denying there are very good riders in World Supersport and the bikes are beautiful but it’s not more important to our sport than Stk600 (the same bikes but lower spec regs so relatively affordable). Turkish fans like World Supersport for the same reason Superbike was popular in the UK in the 90’s -they have a real hero in the class- but I believe the majority of fans around the world would choose to watch Moto2 over World Supersport if they wanted to see a close fought race between world championship riders on expensive 600cc motorcycles. I also believe that the riders in World Supersport that are confident in their own abilities and have big goals for the future will have their sights set on a future in World Superbike or one of the Grand Prix classes, not World Supersport. I’d rather see Supersport regs dumped in favour of Stk regs. I believe racing will be better and there will be more opportunities for riders.
Why do I think the stock classes are so important?
Every experienced rider will tell you that they have received help from someone who simply loved motorcycle racing and who chose to help them simply because they were motivated and talented. Our sport needs these people to help riders on their way. They appeared for me at a few different stages of my career, seemingly from nowhere, right when I needed them. Most of them were guys that loved working in their workshop and were experienced in racing circles. When they see someone that deserves their help they spend their own time, knowledge and sometimes money to build a bike for them to race. They sometimes convince a friend who has a successful company to pay for some race entry fees and some tyres. These guys are the base our sport is built on. Without them the conveyer belt that feeds riders through to the top is damaged. I believe that chief mechanics are often these same type of guys but have managed to make a career out of their passion. Often when chief mechanics retire from travelling with race teams they’ll get bored at home and build a bike to give a local kid a shot on. They are the perfect people to give a helping, guiding hand to a young rider.
Dropping Stk600 is taking away a racing class that these valuable, experienced people know is affordable to enter with a limited budget and where good results are achievable. Very few can build a Superbike or Supersport bike in their garage now. Sadly those days went out about the same time electronics came in because of the specialised know-how, staff and most of all the budget that’s needed to run electronics well enough to be competitive. As I have said many times before it’s rare that the big, national importer/distributor teams (Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, Kawasaki Ducati etc) enter World Superbikes or World Supersport races as wildcards at their local circuits these days; I think for the same reason. Regulations make it too difficult and expensive to be competitive.
Superstock classes are the most important classes in current times for bringing young riders through to the level they have a chance of being noticed.
If I ever achieve my goal of building a safe reliable income to run my little family and in doing so enabling me to have time to do other things, one of my dreams is to start a race series called, for example… “The World of Outlaw Stock 600 and 1000 Series”. Local wildcards welcome to try to qualify. No need to buy average quality ‘control tyres’ – run any production treaded tyres you want. I’d have strict minimum weight and maximum horsepower limits with frequent, random Dyno and weight checks and big restrictions on electronics. You’d be welcome to sleep in your van or caravan in the Paddock (BBQ’s encouraged). Strictly no computers in the pit box and no smartphones at the BBQ’s would be great, but unrealistic I know, so I’ll leave that out. All profit would go back into start and prize money and I’d encourage the winners on towards careers in WSBK, Moto2 and MotoGP.
Dreams are free.