Haslam Released From Alstare Contract - Suzuki In Trouble In WSBK And MotoGP

The press release issued earlier today by the Alstare Suzuki team came as no surprise: Alstare boss Francis Batta merely formalized the news that the team had released Leon Haslam from the second year of his two-year contract that Haslam had with the Alstare squad. The reasons given were obvious: A lack of sponsorship combined with a lack of support from Suzuki's Hamamatsu headquarters, despite Haslam coming perilously close to securing the 2010 World Superbike title. The Englishman is now free to finalize the switch to BMW which has been so widely leaked.

Alstare's problems with Suzuki are not the only difficulties which the Japanese factory faces. Suzuki's future in MotoGP is currently under discussion in Japan, with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta flying out early for meetings with Suzuki bosses this week, according to British bike weekly Motorcycle News. Suzuki has not yet announced the level of support that it will give its MotoGP squad for 2011, though pulling out of the series is not an option. After Kawasaki announced it was withdrawing from the series, Ezpeleta went on a tour of all of the Japanese factories, to explain the terms of the contract they signed with Dorna and the consequences should any of them be tempted to follow Kawasaki's lead. Pulling out of MotoGP would prove to be at least as expensive as sitting out the year for Suzuki, and as a consequence, Paul Denning's Crescent Suzuki team will continue for at least one more year in the series. With the current contract between the manufacturers and Dorna ending after the 2011 season, Suzuki could seize that opportunity to pull out of the series altogether.

The text of the official press release from Alstare announcing their release of Leon Haslam follows below:

Team Alstare announcement - Alleur, September 27th, 2010

Team Alstare hereby informs the international press and media that Leon Haslam has been released from the 
two-year contract with Team Alstare.

For the past six weeks Team Alstare has been waiting for an answer from its principal partner regarding the 
situation for the future of the Team.

Last week, after Francis Batta's visit to Japan, we were assured that an answer would be given to the Team before 
the race in Imola (September 23rd). Team Alstare received no news.

Such a lack of interest and an unclear situation from our main partner forces Team Alstare to let Leon decide his own future.

Francis and Patricia Batta have been in contact with Leon Haslam's advisors for the past few weeks and 
were informed that Leon had received some proposals from manufacturers.

It is therefore in total agreement between the parties that Leon was authorised to deal with another manufacturer in order for him not to lose 
an opportunity to further his future career


Team Alstare, Francis, Patricia and all the staff want to thank Leon and his family for the fabulous season he achieved.

We all wish Leon all the best for the season 2011. 
We are disappointed to lose such a talented rider in whom we had put all of our hopes.
 Obviously our main partner did not share our opinion.

Leon Haslam will be released from his obligations with Team Alstare on Sunday night after the last race in Magny-Cours 
(October 3rd) in order for him to test with his new team.

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With Ducati officially out and Suzuki, apparently for 2011, it looks as though the SBK grid will begin to diminish like GP.
No doubt expense is at the bottom of the issue and new rules to follow.
The governing bodies should simply run SS and SBK as you and I can buy them off the dealer's floor,ie:in current Superstock guise.
Feel bad for the Batter's and Haslam's. No doubt Leon's bike was tweaked to the absolute limit and beyond to force the chase to Magny-Cours.The gamble resulted in what appeared to be a catastrophic top end failure.
I wonder whether Carlos got some assistance from Ducati post Miller.
Bad news all round for GP and SBK,no matter how it pans out.
Bautista must be biting his nails.

"Obviously our main partner did not share our opinion.


And the gloves are off!

I personally don't buy the "economics" excuse. These companies are hugely profitable (at least in North America) and frankly I'll always refer to the Yoshimura Suzuki team past and present (e.g. Mladin's and Spies's old crew) as simply the class of the field for a decade. This is a bike and manufacturer that can and has won in the recent past. Were you to have transplanted the Yosh team to the WSBK paddock, they would have been winning races/titles right from the word go. Any excuse by Suzuki to the contrary is exactly that, an excuse.

I find myself puzzled to be honest regarding the "what the hell are they thinking" question. At least Kawasaki has the moral high ground of saying "Well we're just consolidating our efforts towards WSBK". So if Suzuki pulls the plug on both series exactly how do they intend to further their road going sportbikes from an R&D perspective?

And to think, Spies almost ended up on Batta's and/or Denning's Suzuki's. Talk about dodging a bullet.

Just because a company takes in a lot of money doesn't mean that they are in good shape on the balance sheet.

People, companies, and politicians (I guess they are people?), can always find ways to spend more money than they take in. Believe it or not it's really a moral problem, which is all too common on planet earth.

Obviously Hamamatsu are feeling the pinch in times of austerity with consumer wallets snapping shut. But whatever happened to 'win on Sunday, sell on Monday'?
The GSXR brand is a strong one. Suzuki risk dilluting it's image by not supporting WSBK. This is nose / face spiting stuff. There are plenty of other winning in-line fours to choose from.

It really is very perplexing that the factory didn't work harder for Leon this year. Perhaps they weren't expecting it?

Here's my take.

First, this could prove to be an unfruitful move for Haslam. If the MSMA decide to rev limit WSBK, I think it will be between 12,000rpm and 13,000rpm. Those modest engine speeds should create an advantage for small bore bikes like the Suzuki. Furthermore, while BMW put a lot of effort into WSBK, they are developing proprietary technology. It is uncertain whether this will prove to be an advantage or a disadvantage in the long run.

Second, WSBK needs a reboot b/c the diseconomies of scale are killing the manufacturers and the series. Right now, companies like Suzuki pay race teams to prep bikes for WSBK, BSB, AMA, CEV, ASBK, IDM, etc etc. This practice is known as duplication of effort and it is a guaranteed way to send costs soaring.

The manufacturers need to return to the old homologation rules. Maintain a similar rulebook with minor tweaks to control costs (e.g. rev limit, compression limits, ban titanium and carbon fiber) and the same homologation quantities. Those bikes are homologated for stock competition. But instead of allowing the manufacturers to handbuild race bikes in a dozen countries under a half dozen different rulebooks for superbike competition, require them to homologate the race bikes as well. Same thing for the 600s. Chop 2,000rpm off the top and then build 500 race-prepped bikes to sell to private teams.

I know that many countries have a national race tuning industry, but that is based upon the current wastefulness of duplication of effort. The inefficiencies of superbike racing are killing the manufacturers, the national racing industries, and the national series as well. Plus, look at what the duplication of effort is doing to the smaller countries. WSBK used to have a very wide international talent base, but now the talent base has narrowed b/c the manufacturers cannot duplicate effort everywhere. The small markets lose out.

If a 'reboot' is in order, then they should restart in safe mode. Stock rules with just allowances for taking off lights, turn signals and changing tires should be the limit. As soon as one other alteration is allowed everything becomes a possibility. Why build some limited quantity of race bikes? Some limited number for homologation should be required, but if their product isn't suitable off the floor then it should be reflected on the track. Instead of 15 year olds running 600cc superstock they can have 125 and 250cc production racing.

That all does leave out the cottage industry of tuning. Maybe the new CRT rules of GP racing will inspire a GP series where their talents are relevant and grids of 50 bikes with 30 permanent team riders 20 wild cards a weekend will be a reality.

b/c you and I disagree about whose demands the MSMA are trying to satisfy with these bikes. The customers don't write the FIM rulebook. In fact, we are not even consulted.

Modifications are our friend; especially engine mods b/c it allows the manufacturers to build consumer-friendly production bikes and then modify them for high performance racing. We get the best of both worlds when we allow lots of modifications.

The best of both worlds just leads to an expensive arms race. In 1957 the Italians all agreed that it was nonsense to keep up expensive racing in a bad sales climate. MV Agusta betrayed Gilera and Guzzi and went on to dominate for another 15 years, but the situation will repeat itself as long as people have no interest in asking the question of 'why race'. Stock racing answers every gripe about the state of racing today. No other option does that. Customers may not write the rule book, but they do write the fortunes of every business involved. To be honest, I have no idea what the MSMA are trying to satisfy and don't think it matters. Are they involved in WSBK?

There is no arms race in WSBK and there isn't going to be one. It's not an accident that 5 different manufacturers have race winning pace. Stock doesn't answer the gripes, it creates a more dangerous situation where the manufacturers have more incentives to sell race bikes to road customers.

The only SBK arms race is in the consumer marketplace. Manufacturers are constantly pushing the boundaries of decency by peddling unreliable, high-maintenance racing equipment to consumers. It's a lot of fun when people have got lots of cash, but the economy's default setting is not "steady growth with unlimited access to cheap credit".

The gripes with production bike racing are that 1. the bikes are mainly prototype with little production-relevance, and 2. the bikes are too expensive to race

1. Allow the same modifications but ban titanium (unless it's valves or other minor parts) and ban carbon fiber. Two big steps in the right direction.

2. Mass produce the racing motorcycles on a special production run. The race bikes can still have stock parts that are meant to be swapped with bolt-ons from preferred vendors (e.g. brakes, clutch, exhaust, wheels, electronics, tires, chain, sprockets, etc).

There is no better way to lose control of quality and spend ungodly sums of money than to hire scores of race teams to hand build bikes. Everyone is suffering under this highly inefficient system that was instituted during an economic boom when the Flamminis dismissed the MSMA from the rules making process.

Your two gripes describe one and racing stock solves both with the worlds thinnest rule book.

Selling race bikes to customers is the reality of the entire industry related to sport bikes. If they sell unreliable machines to people who can't afford it that's a business model that will bring an end to the issue long before a decline in interest or participation in racing.

"If they sell unreliable machines to people who can't afford it that's a business model that will bring an end to the issue long before a decline in interest or participation in racing."

What do you think is happening?

There is no "if". They sell high-maintenance racebikes, and those bikes are banned, heavily taxed, or heavily regulated in every major market on earth but the United States. There hasn't been a proper global sportbike market for 4 years.

Imo, they need to "dumb down" stock and superstock competition (or ban altogether) with fixed compression ratios, low rev limits, and engine reliability rules. Then build limited runs of Superbikes for international/national competition. Stock bikes would be more production relevant. Superbikes would be more super compared to stock performance. Everybody wins.

The manufacturers thought they would race stock equipment when they wrote the 1000cc rules, but they've ended up selling race bikes. The idea was already tried, and it has already failed. Historically speaking the idea has always failed, and that's why every racing series on earth is heavily modified or completely prototype. Even "stock" racing series like NASCAR are full prototypes.

Not to throw something entirely new into the picture and please forgive my long winded rant below in advance, but what about those of us who WANT high end, sharp end of the stick machines? There are guys like myself who only do 200 or so miles a weekend and like the high performance we get from modern sport bikes. On top of it, I enjoy the maintenance work I have to do to keep my ride at the sharp end. Call me crazy, but Ive always thought that was part of motorcycling's fun. Doing your own work. I enjoy coming from work on Friday afternoon, changing into my jeans and Honda racing tshirt, throwing some meat on the grill and grabbing a beer while I listen to some Lynard Skynard on the radio in the garage while I prep my bike and go over every inch of it for the next day's early morning meet up and ride. I like that. Its fun and decompressing for me after a long week of work. Its my little reward to myself. Id prefer to pay 8 or 9,000 for that same bike, but I wont get that will I?

I always thought that Ducati had the best system figured out. Build 2 or 3 trim levels of the same bike model, 1098, 1098s, 1098R, priced accordingly and that way everyone gets the bike they want. They have a basic bike that is more than capable on the street without using exotic Ti and carbon fiber parts, but they also meet the homologation rules for racing the R model. But Ducati was hit just as hard and I think harder than some of the other factories in sales. So that wasnt the way to do it. Truth be told, I think it is the right way to do it. But good luck getting the production lines in Japan to work like they do in Italy. That wont happen. Even though all you have to do is build them in group runs. Build all the standard bikes, then the S models with upgraded brakes and suspension, then the R models with upgraded motors and suspension. The line doesnt change, only the parts you are bolting on do.

I dont think the problem is so much that the factories are building expensive exotic material bikes to sell to the public so they can race. I think its more than that. I mentioned somewhere else that I spoke with my old boss at the shop I used to work at and he laid out the past few years as follows. In 2006 and 2007, everything was fine. Credit was flowing and bikes were moving. 2008 credit crunch hit and he had people in the door who wanted to buy, but they couldnt get the credit line. This continued through 2009. And we arent talking people who had bad credit either. This was across the board. 2010 has been the opposite. Credit has loosened up, but people have tightened their belts and cant justify the prices. Is it due to the price of the new bikes? He thinks so, because cruisers are selling very well, but also because people learned from the economic crisis and are being smarter with their money. No matter how we slice it, motorcycles, as the 1st world knows them, are luxury items. Scooters may be daily transportation, but motorcycles have been, and will always be, luxury items. They are the first things to get downsized. Sport bikes are not cruisers in that one can easily justify spending $10,200 on a new Honda VTX1300 because it really isnt going to change over the next 10 years as it hasnt changed since its inception 8 years ago baring a few styling tweaks. Look at the Honda Magna. Once it was established in 1993, it remained basically unchanged for the next 11 years. Sure it went through a few different variations before that, but it had an 11 year run as basically the same machine. As opposed to the first generation 600RR that was introduced in 2003 and then upgraded in 2005 and completely redesigned in 2007. Repeat previous cycle. 2009 refresh of 07 model and next year I bet there is a new 2011 600RR. Maybe there wont be due to the economy, but its not outside the realm of possibility and if the past 10 years have been any indication its going to happen.

I did like when Yamaha had their new R6 and released the older model as the R6S in 2006. I thought that was a great way to extend the shelf life of an older bike while building a new competition machine. Same with Honda and the F4i and the 600RR in 2003.

But unfortunately what happens is that people either cant be talked into buying the appropriate machine for their needs or the salesman push the high performing machines because they make more money off of those sales. The lower performing bike doesnt look as good, its not the hot new item, or something silly like that. And eventually, due to poor sales, they are discontinued. Hence I like Ducati's approach of building the same bike in different trim levels. All 3 bikes are the same shape and look the same.

As far fixing it. Pheonix, I agree with you. Exotic materials should be removed from the street machines. Ban carbon fiber in everything except fairings, trim pieces and fenders. Allow for those internal mods to be made by the teams that want to race the bike. The only down size is that this will increase the cost of racing since someone must be paid to disassemble and reassemble said racing bike and those new parts must be built and sold by someone as well. Imagine that, I just created some new jobs...

The big problem I see, while reading about WSBK and MotoGP always boils down to the same basic argument. That racing is too expensive and therefore it isnt "fair." It isnt "fair" that some teams can spend 2 mil, while another can only spend 1 mil. The only way to make things "fair" is with a completely spec series where engine, chassis, suspension and tires are all the same and only rider tweaks on suspension and gearing are allowed. And that is boring to watch and as we have seen in Moto2, very dangerous. Sure its great racing, with 10 guys trying to get to get to the same spot, but we have seen that when 1 little thing goes wrong, the outcome and tragedy are magnified by the closeness of the racing. No to mention I like seeing different engineers try to tackle the same problem in a different ways. I like the uniqueness of seeing Corvettes race Vipers and M3s and Porsches. Not the same body with a different sticker kit it on it. I like seeing different things compete against each other. Variety is the spice of life. Oh and after making it "fair" with a spec machine, then you will have people complaining that Team A is shelling out more money for a top level rider where as Team B cant spend that much and they arent able to compete with Team A because their rider is better. Its a never ending cycle of complaining. I say say shut up and race.

Ultimately you will never make things truly fair in racing. Aprilia is focusing their attention on WSBK while Honda is focusing on MotoGP. Well inevitably Honda is going to do better in MotoGP than Aprilia and Aprilia better than Honda in WSBK. Its the reality of life. There is no magic formula to fix it.

"The big problem I see, while reading about WSBK and MotoGP always boils down to the same basic argument. That racing is too expensive...."

I agree. Expense is the problem. A lot of people (myself included at one point) were convinced that racing stock equipment was the answer b/c it would reduce costs, but I've been thinking about it for months now, and I've realized that racing stock equipment (without lots of restrictions to enforce production relevance) would be a mistake.

People want to race stock equipment b/c it is mass produced (cheap and ubiquitous), but anything can be mass produced. Wanna know why the manufacturers won't mass produce the current superbikes? B/c they have proprietary technology that the MSMA don't want to sell. Pardon me if I'm incorrect, but isn't the point of WSBK to race technology that is (at least) theoretically production relevant?

The manufacturers should be required to mass produce the race bikes and they should be required to sell them on the open market. They can decide how much technology they want to sell, or they can get together and standardize the various tuning disciplines (Superstock, Supersport, Superbike) by regulating compression and revs.

I'd still prefer that they don't race stock equipment. I'm only advocating a ban on carbon and titanium (for most parts) simply b/c it isn't part of production kit and developing carbon fiber and titanium parts isn't doing the consumers much good.

Whoa there. I dont think that expense is the ultimate problem. Expense is a symptom of the idea of fairness. Lets face it, if everyone was only allowed to spend say 20 mil and that was easily doable by all parties involved, no one could claim it was unfair because all parties spend the same amount. Yet, it would still be expensive. Expense in racing, IMO, is relative only to the lowest budget team vs the highest budget team.

Ive reread my rant a couple times and I think I missed my whole point or Ill just another one here. Recently Ive been seeing the word "fairness" substituted for the world "competitiveness" and I think that is a huge problem. The 2 are not synonyms and are not interchangeable. This is something beyond racing Ive been seeing as well. It really bugs me that the idea of "competitiveness" is being replaced with "fair for all parties."

At the end of the day, I agree with you that stock racing is not the answer, unless, like you said there are limits on what you can and can not do in regards to product improvement, or companies adopt the 2 or 3 tiered system where they sell limited numbers of high end and expensive racebikes to racers and guys with silly money and the rest of the commoners get lower tiered machines that are more suitable for our needs on the street and the occasional track day. Beyond safety systems I dont see the level of usable sport bike technology for the street increasing much more than it is. Almost all bikes are more capable than the riders who use them and they are built to handle much more than can be safely done on the street.

I still like the idea of reducing the rules of what you can and can not change because it allows street bikes to stay street usable and it allows the race teams to build bikes that are for racing. I dont know about racing production relevant tech. Like I said before, I think we are way passed the area of usable tech for the road. That might have been the original purpose, but I think we jumped so far, so very quickly in the past 10 years or so that we peaked out a bit. I mean can you really make an R1 handle any better than it already does? My 600RR has served faithfully for 7 years 25K with proper maintenance and part replacement. I dont think it can be made any more reliable than that. Whats left to conquer besides rider safety?

They shouldn't have any proprietary secrets in SBK bikes. Everything is supposed to be available (example: Aprilia gears). There may be a few not so well known tweaks here and there, but the real "secrets' are in the GP bike.

The gear cams are required to be sold b/c it changes the method of valve actuation. None of the other racing parts are sold b/c the manufacturer does not want the technology to get out. You're right that most of the technology is in the GP bikes, but the manufacturers still refuse to sell the racing parts on the open market unless they are required to by the rules.

Clearly Suzuki has realized that they aren't making bikes for guys who like performance bikes capable of lapping tracks at blistering speeds. Suzuki has realized that their bikes are being bought by the stretched swingarm, fur covered bodywork, wreck it in a week stunna crowd. Why pay good money in racing when the guys buying your product don't care about it?

a GSX-R didn't win the AMA/DMG superbike title for the first time in about 100 years! If they can't win the series they have dominated for such a long time with 75% of the field running GSX-Rs they need a new bike.


no spies and no mladin and everyone still scrutinizing their crank. any wonder why they couldn't win AMA this year? (:

Sporting events are one of lifes great equalizers. From the man with a PhD to the man that digs holes for a living, whether they are on the same point of view or opposites, who's right? There are those that state Superbikes are street bikes and should remain true to form. That is, in such a low state of tune, as not to be able to pull a layer of skim from milk.

On the other hand, we have Grand Prix racing. An open rule book, fire breathing machines and unquestionable hierarchy from 125-250-MGP (true racers). It's what racing was meant to be...until the money ran out.

Two years ago when Batta was courting Ben Spies, he wrote (in a British magazine) that the way Suzuki's budget was split, half went to MotoGP and the remaining was split equal with the AMA & WSB. Of course I do not take that as gospel however it does keep it in perspective. Since the domestice series budgets are down due to them running closer to street bike spec, shouldn't that free up more funds for WSB? In 2008 Suzuki built 2 GP bikes for Spies even though they had to know he was leaving or at least likely to leave. It's said that the Rizla sponsorship money barely pays for the paint job on the bikes, yet they had 3 bikes running at some tracks! The point is Suzuki has the funds when they want to do something. WSB does not appear to be something they are into at the momment.

After Kawasaki announced it was withdrawing from the series, Ezpeleta went on a tour of all of the Japanese factories, to explain the terms of the contract they signed with Dorna and the consequences should any of them be tempted to follow Kawasaki's lead.

If Ezpeleta threatens a company like Suzuki he might loose more than he'll win. In 2011 Suzuki can always run with this years bikes, don't move a finger in development and wait till 2011 is over. And then they're gone. And what has he won with that in the mid therm/long run?
Probably nothing, because the other factories wont sign such a contract anymore.

The current contracts got us into the mess we are in, with the factories deciding they needed really, really expensive 800cc MotoGP bikes. With the factories gone, MotoGP might get affordable again. 

Haha, now that would be interesting! I have to admit, I like that option.

But I can't see how you can keep guys like Rossi in such a competition.

And I'm afraid for Ezpeleta the most important question is: How can I keep/make MotoGP a cash cow?
A move to really cheap bikes might bring back fun and excitement into MotoGP, and hence attract financially strong sponsors, but it would be a risky move. I doubt Ezpeleta has the guts for this move.

"Everybody is talking about reducing costs, why not look at ways to bring more money into MotoGP?"

Just wondering: is Suzuki suffering (relatively) more from the economic downfall than Yamaha or Honda? Does anybody know?

I know they only brought in like 5 models of 2010 bikes to the US. I think I read they stepped up to 11 for 2011.

So yes, Suzuki are feeling the pinch in the pocket book. Not sure how much compared to the other 3 though

Reading from their FY09 report they are doing somewhat well in Asia but their NA sales are down 51% for the year. That is a trend that started in 2007. The motorcycle group posted an operating loss of about $250M when converted from Yen with todays conversion. That isn't chump change. I could see how running a last place racing team would not get the board and CEO too excited.

Comparing the 07 statement to the 2010 statement (07 being their best year), using their numbers for the motorcycle segment with their rate conversion to dollars (I would assume done more or less in real time) their operating income went from $384,390,000 in 2007 to -$226,330,000 in 2010. Revenues dropped from $4.9B to about $2.8B.

I would say the motorcycle folks at suzuki are hurting. I would think dropping their MotoGP program ASAP is a high priority for them but it seems they can't do that until the 2012 season.

Good on Batta to do the right thing by his rider, and Haslam for doing his best to not only win for himself but also for his hard-working team, despite the waning (non-existent?) factory support.

Is it time for Mladin to wheel out his last AMA title bike, get the band back together and show the factory how it's done? :P

(David - is that a freudian slip referring to MotoGP? "Paul Denning's CRESCENT Suzuki team will continue for at least one more year in the series")

It's Dennings dealership and BSB team. Even on the Suzuki MotoGP Team site it's copyrights are noted to Crescent Suzuki.