As winter testing begins, we take a look at the regulation changes for WorldSBK in 2018.
The opening round of the 2018 WorldSBK season may be 100 days away but the race to get ready for Phillip Island has begun in earnest. The majority of the paddock are in the south of Spain to begin winter testing at Jerez, and there is certainly a lot of work to be done.
The biggest single change in the history of the series will see widespread changes to the technical regulations. The headline act has been the introduction of mandated - and variable - rev limits for each manufacturer, in a bid to curtail the dominance enjoyed by Kawasaki and Ducati in recent years.
FIM WorldSBK Technical Director, Scott Smart, was the man tasked with writing the framework for the new look regulations. The Englishman has rewritten the book on Superbike regulations in recent years, and admitted that the biggest goal of the changes was to create a more balanced field.
“The biggest factor behind the introduction of these regulations is that we want to find a way to have more exciting racing in WorldSBK,” admitted Smart. “The 2018 regulations will allow private teams to have the ability to have access to the same engines and power of the factory teams. This will make them more competitive, but with a lower RPM limit it will also improve reliability for teams. If you are a strong privateer team that has the right rider and good mechanics, you can be competitive. For example a private Kawasaki team can have the same package underneath them as the one Jonathan Rea is riding.”
While the RPM limits have garnered most of the headlines, the introduction of approved parts is arguably even more significant. It is this change in the rules that will allow for midfield teams to improve their package at an agreed cost. No longer do midfield teams have to undertake a hugely expensive engine development program: instead they can purchase the same specification from their manufacturer. The parts that are available on a manufacturer basis are called concession parts.
For Smart the changes will mean that “a well funded privateer team will feel that all their Christmases have come at once.” It should also allow for fans to experience the same. While it would be a very tall ask for the likes of Puccetti Kawasaki to mount a title assault, it will now not be a surprise to see them fight for podiums on a regular basis.
The ability to purchase performance parts is not limited solely to concession parts. There is also the option of purchasing cost capped “approved parts.” These are available to any team on the grid to buy and can be viewed as being related to improving the handling and feel of a bike rather than its power.
The list of approved parts contains the likes of swingarms, triple clamps and linkages. These will also allow every team on the grid to have the potential to make a significant step forward without undertaking vast spending. On paper it seems as though the changes should have the desired effect but it will only be this weekend when the reality starts to become clear.
Spending more helps less
In recent years Kawasaki and Ducati have spent considerably more resources than the rest of the grid. That is the biggest reason why they have enjoyed as much success as they have, and while the gap between them and the field will be lessoned we should still expect them to set the pace.
The introduction of RPM limits will see the likes of Kawasaki, Aprilia and Ducati hardest hit. The RPM limits are calculated on a case-by-case basis, with the definition of each limit based on a calculation of 3.3% above the red line of their road bike. This will ensure that Kawasaki will lose approximately 1200rpm for 2018 whereas the likes of Honda will see little change with their Fireblade.
The limits placed on each manufacturer will be assessed after three rounds. The introduction of concession points will allow teams to overcome development issues. The more competitive you are, the fewer changes that you can make, but if you are struggling the goal is to allow teams to develop an evolution of their engine to drive forward their performance.
It is an ambitious step by WorldSBK to try to drive increased competitiveness, and it will certainly take some time to fully understand if it is has been successful.
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