Gordon Ritchie's blog

Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: WorldSBK’s Wider View

It has been such a great start to the WorldSBK championship in 2022 that even last year’s two-pronged fight to the last round flag has been obliterated by the early season action. In a championship with five competing manufacturers there is also a distinct top three machine fight in 2022; Yamaha, Kawasaki and Ducati.

The Honda is nearly there. And nearly is where it may stay, but, an early Iker Lecuona rookie podium is still a great achievement already. The BMW is behind the 8-ball every week it seems, as much for bad luck as anything else. A fit Michael van der Mark alongside an inline four rookie in Scott Redding would probably accelerate things, in all possible ways.

But, providing the entertainment as well as leading performance now we are three rounds and nine races in, are top three top factory riders. In fact, it is an unmistakeable ‘Big Three’ title race.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Holding The Middle Ground

It is so much easier to design technical rules for a prototype class than it has ever been for production derived series. Argue all you want about that. But when you are racing the actual products that real motorcycle companies make, and however many racing modifications you allow or disbar, you have to get the scales out and make sure that you allow every potential investor in your racing business to be competitive. Then it is up to them to win or not.

So many things are controlled nowadays, in all forms of production racing, that the base model that you built has become even more important in its fundamental suitability for racing. Unlike prototype racing classes, you have to run what Mr Yamaguskawaduconda brung to a showroom near you.

We have been down the road of the bikes that are eligible in WorldSBK not mirroring real world sales trends in the past, of course. Think of the era when 750cc road bikes were going out of favour and everyone started building 1000cc or greater road-going race replicas. Paradoxically, they were road bikes first, WorldSBK race bikes only after a few argumentative seasons had brought forth new rules.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: That Whizz The Year That Was

The greatest WorldSBK championship fight for many years has just gone all the way to the very last day of competitive action. The new best Superbike rider in the world managed to become the most tip-top Top Cat after a season-long fight with the greatest WorldSBK rider of all time. And don’t forget another bloke in red, not blue or green. He also won more than a fistful of races.

Five of the top six riders also won at least one race, on four of the five competing manufacturer’s flagship products. All five manufacturers took multiple podiums.

When you see the final WorldSBK outcome written down like that then obviously 2021 will be regarded as a classic.

The past season will be remembered for many things, but primarily for Razgatlioglu vs Rea. It was, as even the most cursory glance under the roller-shutter pit garage doors proved, much more than just enthralling man-to-man combat.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Choice Cuts

Now that we are nearly at the end of the 2021 WorldSBK season, but still with what feels like ages to go until the deciding round in Indonesia, we have a chance to look back and forward at the same time.

We’re not looking at the enthralling final championship battle, however. No matter how much it has captured the imagination of the public. That will be decided in a while under the gaze of an increasingly appreciative bike-racing world.

Behind the headline happenings there have been another two important subplots brewing, simmering and both are worthy of a closer look before we get to see if the World Champion spends the winter on an island in the far west of Europe or as close as you can get to Europe but still technically be in Asia.

So, for a moment, pin that forthcoming campaign map up on the back wall of your mind’s personal Operations Room and think on this. We are - whisper it - watching the true start of the changing of the old guard in WorldSBK.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Rules, Damn Rules And Sparktistics

I guess it is a credit to modern motorcycle engineering that so few bikes that get looked after properly in racing break down in actual races any more. With major parts of most WorldSBK machines coming from a production line somewhere, along with the rest of the bikes destined for the street, that’s remarkable in itself. Given that they all have upper rev limits and just a little bit of something in reserve on the computer design screen simply because you have a very limited engine allowance through the racing year, overstraining even your purpose-built racing components is a risky business nowadays.

Especially as in all but a few straights, the electronics spend a lot of the time attenuating the power you already have. Most of these bikes make too much power now, so the way it makes it matters more.

The reason I mention this potential race bike breakdown thing is that as I am clattering the keyboard in a hotel in Murcia, halfway between Barcelona and Jerez, the championship lead is a mere point, with Toprak Razgatlioglu just one ahead of Jonathan Rea. But, without an unfortunate front-running breakdown, due to an electrical charging system and voltage drop problem in Race One in Catalunya, Razgatlioglu would be leading by quite a few more points. He’s running away with this championship, if only he didn’t keep losing points.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Time And Tide (Wait For No Man)

I am striking while the iron of competition is hot here. In addition, it is halfway through the season now, so time for a recap. This is a chance to indulge in a bit of fortune telling and then possibly a nightcap when the laptop lid closes on another busy workday.

It’s just a short time since the racing fates piled into the 2021 WorldSBK street fights that took place in the shadow of a heavenly Czech Castle in Bohemia and the reflection of a ‘flame-off’ from whatever satanic mill was blasting away just down the hill from the Motodrom Most.

At a characterful but sporadically outdated new WorldSBK venue, the 2021 WorldSBK championship trendometer swung to full scale deflection once again as those aforementioned racing fates jumped on Toprak Razgatlioglu’s pillion and helped him win two, and nearly three, races on his factory Yamaha. Fairly turbocharged him they did, and a treble was almost achieved.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: New Lamps And Old Flames

Assuming we really do have a full 13 round WorldSBK Championship in 2021 (and we all know what assumption is the mother of, don’t we?) then we will be starting new racetrack romances and rekindling old paddock flames from now until we arrive in the tropical idyll of an Indonesian Island racetrack, just in time to get some global Christmas shopping in. Well, mid-November, in reality.

Maybe my memory is misfiring but that seems very late for WorldSBK to park the Covid testing bus for a well-earned rest. But if we get all 13 rounds in without any changes from now until then, we will not be doing just well, we will be doing better than MotoGP, as they are having to change as they go, it appears.

Our principal 2021 changes since the last WorldSBK calendar released on 29 April have been more related to new and returning circuits, when we compare 2021 to the weirdest season of all time last year.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: The Inside Jobs

After the first few races of the 2021 WorldSBK championship some trends have already become apparent.

One, the usual one, is that nine races/nine podium man Jonathan Rea is leading the championship by a fair margin of 20 points. That’s equivalent to a second place in a full race. Four 2021 race wins under his awning already, he became the first rider to smash through the 100 race victory barrier in WorldSBK history at the opening round.

Two, Toprak Razgatlioglu is now turning into the more rounded, consistent force his talents have always pointed towards. Maybe his factory Yamaha too? Hence it is he and not two-time race winner Scott Redding who went from 35 points behind Jonathan Rea after Estoril to 20 points behind after the long-awaited return of Misano after two years. Redding is himself a full race win of 25 points behind Razgatlioglu. So that’s 45 points - yes, numerology is clearly not just for cranks and conspiracists - of deficit to the leader for the person many thought would challenge Rea most strongly after his great 2020 ‘rookie’ season. And he still might, of course. He’s still many people’s best bet, for obvious reasons.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: And They’re Off…

Well, nearly. WorldSBK will start for real in 2021 not only with summer upon us as we kick off at Motorland in Spain, but so late in May there will be a 20-something in the dates of the races.

Covid is to blame, of course, but after MotoGP has ravaged a full five weekends of its schedule, WorldSBK is just about getting ready for round one to start. Normally it is the other way about.

WorldSBK seasons have started at the glorious Phillip Island circuit in Australia for years now. And at the end of February, ferrgoonessakes, which really means the middle of February because the official tests take place a few days before the opening round.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Just A Technicality

In the greater Superbike firmament there has been an endless reduction in the kind of special parts and technologies that allow a flagship streetbike to become a true championship contender. And only if you get the right crew, set-up and riders on board of course.

Bike racing is truly a team game, as those few people who do most of the winning would recognise, publicly or privately. It escapes some others at times, especially those who think they should be doing more winning. There is no escaping the fact that WorldSBK being such an equipment sport means you have to have all the right tech stuff, fettled and then ridden by people who also have the right stuff.

In an effort to even things up, reduce tech costs and then cut costs some more, we have seen either an endless dumbing down of WorldSBK’s technical packages or a increasingly realistic approach in what is fundamentally a production derived category of racing. The net results has been more and more rules to level things up in terms of tuning and performance.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Test, Track And Race

Feels like a long time since we had any real racing, I am sure you will agree? We would have been well past the first round of any recent WorldSBK season by now but I am sure you don’t need me to remind you we do not live in normal times.

Being first out of the global gate compared to MotoGP, or almost any other major two wheel (or even four-wheel) hydrocarbon-based competition, was one of the attractions of modern day WorldSBK.

In most other years the majority of the Superbike paddock would have already recovered from post-Phillip Island jet lag back in Europe by now, just as MotoGP and F1 were getting ready to set their sights on round one. But, here we are in mid-March and still mired in the 2021 phoney war no-man’s land.

Particularly frustrating for all given that we have had enough pre-season rider reshuffles and new bikes on the blue horizon for us to feel the need to row out hard and fast to meet the latest WorldSBK dawn at full ramming speed. As it stands, WorldSBK will kick off in the high plateau of the Aragon region in Spain, between 21-23 May. I mean, we have to wait until very nearly the end of May to even get started…

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: WorldSSP - Revolution For The Squeezed Middle

The second biggest category within the second biggest global bike racing series has always been something of a halfway house in terms of its public profile. The FIM Supersport World Championship’s overall reputation, relative status and true importance is therefore always a good topic for bar room discussion. If only we were allowed to go to the bar, of course.

Featuring riders on the way up, riders on the way back down, and some riders simply finding their personal ceiling or a natural specialisation in 600cc racing, WorldSSP has often been the best class to watch.

WorldSSP has always waxed and waned in how far it ever emerges from behind the more puffed-up and attention-grabbing WorldSBK class. Since MotoGP has propelled itself into a nearly global motorsport must-see, at the expense of the WorldSBK paddock in general, WorldSSP has arguably been even more hidden from view than at any time in its turbulent life.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Veni, Vidi, Vici

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.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Choose Your (WorldSBK) Weapon

It has been said before, and I will say it again, it is a welcome feat of logistics and determination that there is a 2020 WorldSBK season going on, and a near miracle that we media types are allowed in to cover it from inside. Thank you to all involved, without exception.

Given my shockingly bad air travel experiences at the first two ‘season comeback’ rounds in Jerez and Portimao, my media enterprises empire (a laptop and the soft machine that thumps its keyboard) quite literally set sail for the rest of the championship, by motorcycle. Which is fair enough, as I am covering a championship that is indeed based on production-derived motorcycles.

Somewhere between the Picos de Europa mountains of Asturias and the swimming pools of Calpe near Valencia - and exactly between the Teruel and Catalunya rounds in chronological terms - my mind was distracted from a heat-induced intermittent loss of friction between throttle grip and throttle barrel by thoughts of a much more extreme version of the real road bike scenario; WorldSBK racing.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Privateers Progress

As far as seasons go, the 2020 WorldSBK version will be a short one. Even after three down and five to go in terms of full rounds, there have still been enough changes of fortune and unusual happenings to make for more than enough talking points.

First of all we had the usual wildfowl-dodging opener in Australia. Three different race winners, including two riders who had just signed with new manufacturers (Toprak Razgatlioglu on a Pata Yamaha, Alex Lowes for KRT), plus one old hand showing his mettle and a very human mistake on what was a testing weekend in many ways (KRT fixture Jonathan Rea). Then we – finally - came back to action in the scalding paella pan that was Jerez in very late July.

Scott Redding and Ducati built two winning extension and one runner-up mezzanine at Jerez atop their three podium foundations from Oz. Rea won the short race again though, and in some style considering how he could not get close to Redding in the long races. And then there was also a mystery rear-grip drop off for the five-time champion in race two, an unwelcome trek back down one of WorldSBK’s dimly-lit and seemingly sealed-off back alleys.

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