2011 Silverstone World Superbike Sunday Round Up: On Championship Contenders, A Single Bike Rule, And Equalizing Twins Vs Fours

It's on days like these that championships are won. In both the World Superbike and World Supersport classes, the championship leaders came in with differing expectations, met with wildly different experiences through practice, yet both Carlos Checa and Chaz Davies leave Silverstone with their lead nicely consolidated and comfortably in charge of their own destinies. They confronted the circumstances that crossed their paths and turned them to their advantage.

In the World Superbike class, Silverstone was supposed to be a tough track for Ducati. A couple of high-speed straights would favor the four-cylinders - especially Aprilia's brutally powerful RSV4 - leaving the Ducatis with too much work to do in the twisty sections to be able to match the fours. The best that Carlos Checa could hope for at the UK round was to limit the damage in both races and see what remained of his lead when he left here for the next round.

So much for the conventional wisdom. Checa was fast in every single session of practice at Silverstone, faltering only slightly in Superpole to end up 4th on the grid, and come race day, the Althea Ducati rider was unstoppable. Held up behind other riders until one-third distance, he took the lead on lap 6 in race 1 and lap 7 in race 2 and pulled a gap he could safely defend. Running two near identical races was a measure of just how in control of the situation Checa was, attacking when it suited him, running the pace needed to build a gap, then backing off just enough to ensure a comfortable victory. In his 100th World Superbike race, he secured his 10th victory of the season, and the 301st win for Ducati. Checa has exuded the kind of calm that championships are made of all year and realistically, only disaster stands between him and his first ever World Championship.

But apart from Checa's exceptional performance, the expectation that the Ducatis would perform poorly at Silverstone had no real basis in fact. Certainly, results from last year were hardly dazzling, but Michel Fabrizio scored a 4th on the (ill-fated) factory Ducati in race 1, and though Shane Byrne crossed the line as first Ducati in a lowly 8th place, the Althea Ducati rider was at the back of a big group battling over 4th, and just over a second from Leon Haslam who won that scrap. Certainly, the Ducatis were giving up a lot of top speed - Checa's best top speed was 10 km/h down on Max Biaggi in race 1, and 12 in race 2 - but their big advantage was the way the V-twin uses the tires. Checa's Ducati 1198R looked like it was on rails all weekend, while the four-cylinder bikes all flopped around like Supersport machines. With tires lasting just about to the flag, Checa was never going to be challenged.

Though you really can't take anything away from Checa's performance over the weekend, the Spaniard was helped - in the championship at least - once again by a little bit of luck. Yamaha's Eugene Laverty was the only rider to have anything like Checa's pace all weekend, the Irishman inserting himself between Checa and his rivals for the title, Marco Melandri and Max Biaggi. Melandri's two 3rd places helped the Italian close the gap on Biaggi, current 2nd in the title race, but up until this weekend, the main threat to Checa's championship hopes was coming from reigning champ Max Biaggi. A clash with BMW's Troy Corser on the first lap of race 1 saw him bend his front brake lever so far that he had to virtually take his hand off the throttle grip to use the front brake, which combined with a clutch problem saw Biaggi stagger home in 11th. Race 2 was better, but a stout defense by his teammate Leon Camier - with little to lose, as the lanky Englishman is not expected to be retained by the Italian factory next season - meant that Biaggi did not get by him until it was too late to try to steal 3rd from Melandri. Melandri dropped 18 points to Checa at Silverstone, but the damage to Biaggi's title defense was much worse. The 30 points that Biaggi trailed Checa by after Brno have more than doubled, with Checa leaving Silverstone with a 62 point lead. With 200 points on the table, and Checa with a strong record at both the Nurburgring and Imola, Checa has at least a couple of fingers on the 2011 World Superbike trophy.

If anything, Chaz Davies' weekend was the reverse of Carlos Checa's, except where it counted. The Yamahas had been hotly tipped at Silverstone, the strong top end of the R6 expected to make it more than competitive at the fast, flowing circuit. Yet practice for both Davies and his ParkinGO teammate Luca Scassa had been little short of disastrous, Davies scraping through to qualifying in 8th. On race day, though, Davies came into his own, and holding off challenges from Florian Marino, Fabien Foret and an impressive David Salom - the Motocard.com Kawasaki rider is getting better with every race - he kept a firm grip on the race and took a highly-deserved and very popular home win. The four races left in the World Supersport championship leave Davies' pursuers - Salom and Foret the only realistic candidates - looking for ways to prevent a runaway. With just 100 points in play, Davies' 42 point lead is looking positively insuperable.

Away from the racetrack, the teams and Infront have been talking about rule changes for next year, and the switch to a single bike is drawing ever closer. The single-bike format forces WSBK to drop the flag-to-flag racing concept adopted first by MotoGP in an attempt to ensure the races fit inside their scheduled TV windows, but the estimated savings of 400,000 euros for a two-bike team is not to be sniffed at. To ensure that riders can be back on track quickly after an off, teams will be allowed to have a spare rolling chassis at the back of the garage needing only an engine fitted for it to be ready to roll. Exactly how what is in effect a second bike without the motor is so much cheaper than a fully-ready second bike is not immediately obvious, but the teams have been convinced by the arguments so who are we to argue?

But the real bone of contention remains the handicapping system for the V-twins and the thorny question of air restrictors. The battle is basically between the two Italian factories, Aprilia pushing for the tightest possible restrictions on the Ducati - especially in light of their new oversquare Superbike expected to be presented at this year's EICMA in November - while Ducati are wary of finding themselves fighting the fours with one hand tied behind their backs, though a better metaphor might be with tight-weave facemask over their mouths.

The problem remains a fascinating one, and the solution previously employed - taking the results of the two best twins and the two best four-cylinders and testing the gap between them - had a lot to say in its favor. The situation is ripe for analysis by students of game theory, with so many elements making balancing between the 1200cc twins and the 1000cc fours immensely tricky. The point is to make the engine formula irrelevant, yet looking at this year's championship it would be easy to say that the twins have an advantage. That would not do justice to the situation, however, as Carlos Checa is having an astonishing year, while his opponents collectively stumble. Checa's huge advantage in the championship is as much down to the compendium of errors that Max Biaggi has accrued during 2011 as it is to Checa's flawless riding.

The problem is further confused by the fact that there is only one factory competing with a twin. Ducati could easily game the system, handicapping any second rider to artificially keep the average performance of its new Superbike low, while pouring resources into a single rider with the sole aim of winning the title. With six other manufacturers producing four-cylinder bikes, no single manufacturer can manipulate the results without damaging its own competitiveness with respect to the other fours, and potentially risking a failure of its own bike while allowing the twin - that is, the Ducati - to go completely unhandicapped.

At the core of the problem lies a single question: how do you equalize performance without thwarting the success of outliers, with Carlos Checa being a case in point. Debate could continue for some time on this point, and will make an interesting subject for analysis at a later date. Racing should be as fair as possible, but life and reality tends to have a nasty tendency to intervene.

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I continue to be amazed at the smooth style that Checa has. No dramatics, no wild sliding, no wheels going in different directions. He clearly pushes the bike, but seems to keep it all very sanitary. This, coupled with very few mistakes on any significance, makes him our likely champion for this year.

Checa's always had a smooth high corner speed style which pushes the front hard. When in GP's he got some sort of record for the number of lowside front-end crashes in a year some years back. Obviously his riding has matured a lot since then, but also the 1198 has a front end that he can put 100% faith in.
Should be interesting to see how he goes on the new "engine-frame-concept" Superbike next year. If he turns back into a front-crasher... oh dear.
I'm really looking forward to seeing what this bike will be like, and how it performs against its predecessor. For Ducati's sake lets hope it's a winner, as they already have a marketing mountain to climb in launching the model based on what is rapidly becoming recognised as - to be most sympathetic - a "not yet perfected" concept.
Meanwhile, I'm really happy for Carlos, who has stuck at it and now finds himself a very likely champion.

I can only hope the Superquadrata code name was chosen to describe a bore-stroke in excess of 2:1. If Superquadrata is code for 2:1, it is possible that the 1199R or whatever it will be called, may actually be 1000cc twin. If Ducati go back to 1000cc for the R model, it would eliminate the air restrictor problems.

Every time Ducati win a race a bunch of idiots come out and whine about their supposed advantage. Where was the Ducati last year eh? The Ducati has some advantages especially with traction, the 4 cylinder bikes have others like way more power. At different circuits it plays out differently and some riders are better at exploiting their bikes strengths than others. This is why I love WSBK, if they all become 1000cc Vfours the series will be poorer for it.

Ducati were capable of building another competitive 1000cc twin to follow the 999R, but the company had bankrupted itself, and they threatened to withdraw if the FIM didn't allow them an extra 200cc. The extra capacity was used mainly to increase stroke and reduce the rev ceiling, and 1200cc put Ducati road bikes closer to the Japanese fours in terms of horsepower which is what Ducati really wanted.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to balance performance accurately across various displacements and cylinder counts, particularly in motorcycle racing, so the organizers are basically guestimating how much top end they must remove from the Ducati to compensate for the prodigious torque and low-end power of the 1200cc twin.

The arrangement has other problems as well. The Flamminis are not impartial. The performance indexing rules can be easily cheated, as Krop pointed out. The performance indexing rules actually guarantee that Ducati will always be at the front even if they build a bad motorcycle. The entertainment value of the sport is significantly less when one bike has an occasional insurmountable advantage.

I'm happy that you love WSBK, but it has little to do with writing a rulebook for international motorcycle racing.

I couldn't agree more. I think the easiest, most cost effective way for the playing field to be leveled is for everyone to run the same displacement and at the same minimum weight. If that means that Ducati will have to switch back to building 1000cc bikes then so be it. For as long as I can remember the Ducati lovers have always claimed they needed extra displacement for this reason of that reason but there is no replacement for displacement. If the engine configuration isn't good enough to run with the same displacement as the other bikes then either make it better, change it, or stick to a V-twin series.

most cost effective way for the playing field to be leveled is for everyone to run the same displacement and at the same minimum weight.

I disagree. If you do that, the only way to be competitive is to build a four. If you want variety, some allowance needs to be made for different volumetric efficiency of a twin. It was proved in the past that 33% more capacity was too much. 20% turned out not to be enough to make the 749 competitive against the 600/4's.

Any limit is arbitrary. You could set a maximum power, or a maximum crankshaft weight. I've read good arguments for limiting piston area, since that appears to be a better correlate of maximum reliable power than swept capacity.

In any case, the issue doesn't really seem to be about engine performance: the Ducati is slower than the fours on top speed, it simply appears to get in and out of corners better, at least when Checa is riding it. How many Duc's are in the top 5?

If I was going to try to defend a "natural" compensation for fewer cylinders, it would be to allow less weight. A twin should be naturally lighter than a 4 (although in the past Ducati have been handicapped by less than ideal crankcase casting technology)... and if Thorsten Durbahn can build a 136kg 1098 in his shed, still using a stock frame and with a starter motor, then 165kg is rather a lot.
As they demonstrate by attaching that decorative styling exercise SS swingarm... :(

PS "super-quadrata" just means "over square", just like every modern 4-stroke. The announcement in MCN was 112 x 60.9mm, so well under 2:1... and 1199.98cc

It also means the piston area is almost exactly the same as most of the 1000cc 4's...

"You could set a maximum power, or a maximum crankshaft weight. I've read good arguments for limiting piston area, since that appears to be a better correlate of maximum reliable power than swept capacity."

..........or they can homologate a rev-limit at 1000cc and call it a day.

The 999R was the class of the field and then in 2007, Ducati announced that it didn't work anymore. In MotoGP, they never supposed a twin would be successful.

WSBK doesn't follow the normal rules of race engineering. WSBK is designed to follow a certain path, and meet certain objectives that have been predetermined by the MSMA and the FIM. After 5 years of 1000cc competition, at the height of the company's financial woes, Ducati decided that WSBK's objectives were no longer compatible with Ducati's ambitions.

The sport was performance balanced to everyone's satisfaction prior to 2008. Now that Ducati is relatively safe, I will be disappointed if they do not return to 1000cc for the R model. Performance indexing is not good for the integrity of the sport or for the entertainment value of the racing.

If Ducati make a 1000cc twin, WSBK will be NASCAR? If Ducati made a 1000cc V-4 twin pulse, people wouldn't even know it was a four cylinder bike until they counted the spark plugs.

Enough nonsense about spec racing. Ducati has lots of options, and with the standard bikes at 1200cc, it has never been easier for Corse to build a 1000cc R homologation special. They only need to install a short throw crank and longer rods (sound familiar?). I have no idea whether or not Ducati can spin a 108mm piston at nearly 14,000rpm, but I think they hate the air restrictors enough to try.

WSBK exists so that we can se production based motorcycles race. If the rules hadn't been changed to allow 1200cc twins we wouldn't get to see those fantastic Ducati 1198s racing against the other great superbikes which would have been a terrible shame.

The rules have to reflect what is on the showroom floors, not the other way around. Otherwise you end up with the ridiculous situation we had for a few years in the late 90s where everyone was riding 1000cc R1s and blades but they were still racing irrelevant 750s in WSBK. In fact the regulations can never guide the market. The manufacturers will always make the bikes they can sell which won't necessarily be the specs dictated by the WSBK rulebook.

for the simple fact it can't rev as high. In it's simplest form an engine is nothing more than a pump for fuel and air. It not hard to figure out a faster moving pump will move more fuel/air (thus producing more power) than a slower moving one of the same capacity. So having the same capacity won't produce the same power between twins and fours.

The 999cc was vastly underpowered to the 1000cc 4's at the times. The advantage it had was that Ducati was using their MotoGP electronics on their superbike before the other manufactures. That meant the Duc was able to get on the gas before the other bikes and was better on the tires. Bayliss has said without that they wouldn't have won the title in 2006. 2007 was a struggle and not nearly as competitive as 2006 because the others were catching up. So I don't think it's correct to say they could have built another competitive 1000c twin. The fours have come a long way with controlling the power now because they also use advanced electronics now.

Ducati went to the 1200cc bike not only to balance out the power but to also save money. The 1000cc engine was at such a high state of tune that it needed rebuilding almost after every race weekend. Also, some seem to forget that by going to the 1200cc motor Ducati gave up a lot of tuning that was allowed for the 1000cc twin - so the 1200cc is not in such a high state of tune as the previous engines.

David has a very good point when he says that ducati is the only twin and could artificially alter results for satellite teams. Also, although constructors are concerned about horsepower, most riders have been complaining about tires. A single tire is obviously going to give an advantage either to twins or 4s according to its characteristics. I think a two tires system could solve some of the problems without intervening too much on engines.

Why not take take the slowest and fastest bikes from each factory out of the equation before analyzing the data?

Seems simplistic, but would help take out the "rider X is having a season of a lifetime" and "so and so just can't come to grips with the Y bike and is at the back of the pack all the time" scenarios. Also, would help, but not solve, the problem of factories/teams pouring tons of money in the top two bikes, while leaving the satellites at the back of the pack.

year lies in a wildcard WSBK apearance on the oh so sweet and competitive 1198.

Does anyone know when it could be possible considering the MotoGP and WSBK calendars???

Hard to see what that would achieve: possibly rob some points from Checa while underlining that the current MGP bike, on which the 1199 is philosophically based, is a dog. That might help sell off the remaining stock of 1198's, but not do much for 2012 sales.

Meanwhile, I notice that WSS and Moto2 times at Silverstone were quite similar... so if the GP11.x's were significantly slower than the 1198R... mmm.

I'm still not understanding the cost saving of the 1 bike rule. If teams are allowed to have an extra rolling chassis and surely they will have a spare engine in case 1 blows up and sucks in gravel in an accident, isn't a spare engine and rolling chassis essentially another full bike in the garage?

So is the thought process that a 2 rider team will only have 1 spare chassis and 1 spare engine instead of 2 complete back up bikes? That's the only way I can see of any cost savings. Or am I missing something?

Or as David suggested... 'Tight weave facemask". Was it back when Neil Hodgson won the title on the 999 ? The 1000 4's wore the facemask to level the playing field.
Whether in parallel, V or L format the twin of equal capacity is outgunned by the 4 not only in terms of outright HP potential,but also outright torque figures. Dyno graphs prove this over and over again.
The fly in the ointment is where the twins develope their max.torque...midrange.
The fours have their max.torque and HP figures slam in within a narrow band at the top of the rev range. The twin gets the thrust down more gently but equally firmly out of corners thus going easier on its tire,but is ultimately blown out of the water at the top end. Monza and Aragon were cases in point.
Silverstone,although fast has no monster straight. Those straights are just short enough for the twin to not get totally swamped. Checa was a little worried heading into Silverstone,but he was a lot less bothered than he was heading into Monza and with good reason as evidenced in the two heats.
This brings me to Checa.
High time we gave the rider some credit rather than bemoaning 200cc here and 20HP there. He gelled with the Ducati brilliantly last year and has carried the form admirably into 2011. This season,given the Aprilia's base from last year and Biaggi's familiarity with the bike makes any condemnation of the rules a joke.
Laverty and Melandri are doing extremely well. Smrz is consistently as quick as Checa on the same bike,except when it matters.
Should Carlos win his first ever major title for Ducati this year,I sincerely hope he gets the credit rather than hear a bunch of whinger's complaining about the advantage his kit had, a la Stoner 2007. I can put a gun in your hand. All you have to do is load it (set up), point it (visualize) and sqeeze rather than pull the trigger. Get those 3 right and you will win the duel, 9 out of 10 times.
Carlos has been a great marksman this year and it has its roots in last year.

I'm sure I read that Melandri and Laverty had re-signed for 2012.

Any possibility of the entire team continuing as a non Yamaha Europe supported effort?

Did the Flammini Bros get drunk at a party and accidently insult Yamaha? Seems pretty early for them to leave the party. The racing is good and their bikes are at the sharp end. Pulling out now doesn't make a lot od sense from a marketing stand point.

I guess it's not surprising: they're running both MGP and WSB without a major sponsor, sales of bikes are way down, and things in the US are not looking like turning round in the short term. The UK market is probably a bit sad as well... Then if you had to choose between winning or running second in MGP, and running 2nd or 3rd in WSB, it's clear which has the better marketing value.

Hopefully they'll sell the bikes to a private team, as they did with the R6's, who can then try to do an Althea.

Does anyone know the state of tune Hopkins' bike was compared to a factory WSBK bike? Since he was running, I assume, his BSB bike... what are the BSB rules for modification? I know the AMA series allow very limited modifications, so if the BSB has somewhat similar restrictions, I think it is pretty impressive he did so well against the WSBK prepped bikes.

But, since there was no mention, that I heard, of any bike deficiencies... his BSB bike is comparable to a full factory WSBK machine?

BSB and WSBK use the same rules and homologation procedures. Whether or not the BSB teams can actually afford to run full WSBK spec is another matter though. I tend to believe that Hopper had full-WSBK spec at Silverstone.

Two points:
1, Ducati has supported Superbike World Championship racing since it got started in 1988, so why are so many hell-bent on screwing them?

2, Since the 1200cc twin vs 1000cc four rule was implemented, I think you will find it reads - 2008: 1200cc twin; 2009: 1000cc four; 2010: 1000cc four; 2011: (likely) 1200cc twin.

The current rule appears to be working ok. Perhaps Ducati should shelve their new twin as the current bike is winning and has a chassis everyone likes.