The importance of opening up new markets for motorcycle racing has been one of the biggest topics of conversation in both the World Superbike and MotoGP paddocks for the last couple of years. From racing's traditional base in Europe - and especially Southern Europe - both WSBK and MotoGP have been looking eastwards, both to Eastern Europe and Asia.
Russia has been one country that both series have been eyeing up with interest, given the potential size of the TV market there. But it is the World Superbike series which has been the first to break into the Russian market, with Infront Motor Sports today announcing that the company has today signed a deal with Yakhnich Motorsports to promote the WSBK series in Russia, as well as organize a Russian round of WSBK from 2012 onwards. The circuit is yet to be decided upon - the press release speaks merely of several circuits currently being assessed as to their suitability, before applying for FIM homologation.
While the move is to be broadly welcomed, there are dangers involved with expansion into Eastern Europe - as demonstrated just two years' ago by MotoGP's abortive attempt to stage a Grand Prix in Hungary at the still-unfinished Balatonring. That race had to be canceled (and then moved to the Motorland Aragon circuit in Northern Spain) after construction of the project ground to a halt due to financial problems. Doing business in Russia is even more problematic, as major companies such as BP can attest, as they can often bring political pressure to bear in their favor. To that extent, having the backing of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov will help, as doing business inside depends entirely on political support. Russia is ranked 154th on Transparency International's corruption index, alongside Haiti and Tajikistan. Added to this is Russia's demographic disaster, which is seeing a precipitate decline in population, as well as threats of terrorism from Caucasian separatists and Islamic fundamentalists, as well as home-grown racist violence, with racist attacks throughout Russia commonplace.
Finding a circuit will also be difficult: Russia's continental climate means that the country is often either freezing or baking, with no large bodies of water around to moderate the climate, and such climate extremes can play havoc on paved surfaces, with alternate cold and heat tearing asphalt apart. That would leave the region around the Black Sea as the best location, as is planned for the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi, though that would leave it far from main centers of population such as Moscow and St Petersburg. There is of course the new Crimean Grand Prix circuit being built in the Saki region, but that circuit lies in the Ukraine rather than Russia, and Russian pride may demand a race of their own.
No doubt the final decision on a circuit will be taken in the next few months, before the 2012 calendar can be drawn up in September or October of this year.
Below is the official press release from the WSBK office:
World Superbike arrives in Russia
Rome (Italy), Saturday 21 May 2011 - In a packed press conference yesterday at the Russian National TV centre in Moscow, Paolo Flammini, CEO of Infront Motor Sports and Alexander Yakhnich, CEO of Yakhnich Motorsport announced that a partnership agreement had been reached between the two companies.
As a result Yakhnich Motorsport becomes the organizer of the Russian Round of the FIM Superbike World Championship, and also acquires the TV and Marketing rights for the Russian market. The declared intention is to bring World Superbike to Russia already in 2012, and with this aim in mind negotiations are being held with a number of circuits currently in the process of applying for FIM homologation.
Paolo Flammini declared: "We are very satisfied with this agreement and we wish to thank Mr. Yakhnich for his warm welcome and for the truly professional work carried out by his team. Russia is one of the most important nations in the world, with a rapidly-growing economy. We think that the Superbike World Championship is the most suitable way to help develop the Russian motorcycle market, together with a plan that foresees the growth of young Russian riders on an international level in our four categories".
Alexander Yakhnich added: "We are honoured to have reached this prestigious target. Thanks to the vital support of the Russian Government, specifically the Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov, Russian motorcycling is getting ready to play host to the Superbike World Championship and in this way help the growth of the sport in our country in the best possible way".
The ceremony, which in addition was attended by Paolo Ciabatti, SBK General Manager, and Alexander Lunkin, President of the Russian Motorcycling Federation, also saw the presentation of the ‘Two Countries Cup', the UEM-organized trophy for Italian and Russian riders with ‘Open Stock 600' bikes, the two rounds of which will be held at Misano on 12 June as part of the San Marino Round of the Superbike World Championship, and at the new Canyon circuit in Kazan (Russia) on 21 August.