Analysis: A New Dawn For WorldSBK In 2018

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.”

Concession parts

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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These changes are very welcome in my opinion. Any to make the racing in SBK more exciting. I miss the Spies Haga Fabrizio days.

I also hope an American gets a crack somewhere soon. It was a shame to see Josh Hayes sit in AMA/MotoAmerica. He def had the talent for the world stage. Roger Hayden would be a welcome addition.

Draft rules have the following proposed initial limits.  

Ducati 12400

Honda 14300

Kawasaki 14100

BMW, Suz, MV, Yam, 14700

After season begins can be adjusted up or down in 250 increments in similar way as other handicaps were handled before every three rounds.  

They also add that limit based on lower of 3% over stock bike or 1100 over point where makes peak power.   I suppose this later bit could be why Honda are proposed to have a lower starting point than others apart from Kawasak despite lack of results  But I highly doubt these numbers stay as is without being contested.  

Socialism for racing.  Not a fan.  Why should any manufacturer work to succeed if the only outcome of their success is that they're penalized and the fruits of their labor (i.e. performance parts) are made available to all at a capped price, thus ensuring the manufacturer loses his advantage AND does so at a financial loss.

only Kawasaki privateers would get Kawasaki factory parts, etc, so hardly a losing situation for the manufacturers.  The official factory teams would lose some of their advantages over privateers.

I do dislike the mid-season adjustments to make bikes more equal.

This has been done before during the Daytona Motorsports Group (NASCAR essentially) era of AMA Superbike. DMG required the parts manufacturers to submit their equipment for homologation. If approved it was listed on a regulatory paper as a homologated modification. It was effectively a money-making racket. The parts manufacturers were paying homologation fees for direct sales to the racing teams and for marketing. As far as the public knows, DMG were not performance balancing SBK (they created Supersport 1000, instead), but AMA had a new class called Daytona Sportbike. The DSB class relied on performance balancing motorcycles. It was entertaining, but also borderline absurd because the class featured Buell 1125R's racing against Ducati 848's against Yamaha R6's. Needless to say, the performance adjustments occurred more frequently than once per year. 

Anyway, back then DMG insisted that their way was the future, and they submitted several proposals to the SBK Commission (IIRC) to create a national standard of rules. While the new standards were more or less necessary for the old AMA, who were operating a "sport" that was nothing more than a commercial for the Japanese distributors in the US, the prevailing wisdom at the time was that DMG were a bunch of crackpots, and no one would ever be stupid enough to adopt their rule book. Maybe the world is slowly warming to DMG's control fetish and profound love of meddling. 

Regarding the 2018 WSBK rules, the major change I see regarding engine modifications is that cams are no longer free. Cams are a big deal because timing, lift, and duration can all be changed, which increases the amount of air (therefore fuel) the engine can pump. Free cams also affect engine reliability because the top-end tolerances can be so miniscule that the engine cannot survive for long. However, the rules specify that concession cams may be available. No telling how this rule will be implemented. They can either give some manufacturers more aggressive cams to equalize things or they can give all of the manufacturers the same concession. Who knows. Maybe cam homologation is the money making racket. 

Regarding the rev limit, I think they are just screwing with us. The Suzuki GSX-R1000 is a 76mm bore 1000cc bike. Setting the rev limit at 14,700rpm is MotoGP-esque performance from a motorcycle engine that will apparently retain mostly stock internals, like cylinders, piston rings, etc. The Honda's 14,300rpm limit is also questionable. In fact, all of the engines are listed near their theoretical performance limits, except the BMW. It can make 14,700 without breaking a sweat, but WSBK won't advertise BMW's theoretical rev limit because their engine exceeds 1.5 bore-stroke ratio. Very naughty! What these limits say to me is that WSBK admits the sport will be rev limited in 2018, but they are throwing a bunch of fake numbers at the public because they want to protect their sanctioning intellectual property. I could be wrong, but that's what it looks like.

This post is meandering because Smart isn't really telling us much of anything. There are several different ways you can implement rev limited racing, imo. If everyone has the same capacity engine, you set the rev limit for everyone, and then you let them modify heavily to the max theoretical performance of the rev limit. Some mfgs will work harder than others. Whoever wins, wins. I suspect this is more or less how SBK works now. The second method is handicapping. At the end of the season, you knock down the good teams to make the sport more compelling from an entertainment standpoint. This is where SBK is heading, imo. The other method is genunine performance balancing where you take a bunch of unequal stock machine and you mess around with the state of tune until the performance is supposedly equal. If they are actually keeping stock cams, they might need to performance balance the sport. 

In summary, this is the same regulatory hijinks we always get as fans. Our job is to stare at the screen in perpetual stupor, until we eventually fall for some marketing gobbilty-gook that convinces us to pay for a subscription or purchase a new sportbike. No thanks.