WSBK Rule Changes Imminent: One Bike Per Rider An Option, But No Limits On Electronics

One of the more telling differences of the 2011 World Superbike series has been the relative change in grid sizes between the World Superbike and World Supersport classes. Last year, WSBK had 30 entries, while WSS had less than 20. This year, the situation has been reversed, with just 22 full-time entries in the World Superbike class, and 30 or more lining up for every WSS round.

Paolo Flammini, head of Infront Motor Sports, the organization that runs the WSBK series, puts that reversal of fortunes down to a single factor: the limiting of World Supersport riders to having just one bike scrutineered, exactly as is the case in Moto2 and 125s in the MotoGP paddock. As a result of that switch, PTR - the organization behind Simon Buckmaster's Parkalgar and Bogdanka PTR racing teams - has been able to run two teams instead of one, using the spare bikes that the Parkalgar Honda team had last year and making them available to the newly-formed Bogdanka team.

So convinced is Flammini of the success of this approach that, according to reports over on the leading Italian website, the Superbike Commission (WSBK's rule-making body) is considering introducing the rule for the World Superbike class from next year. The rule, Flammini believes, would save some 300,000 euros for each two-rider World Superbike team, a significant amount on a WSBK budget. It would also allow one-rider teams to expand to include a second rider at a cost of around 200,000 euros; given the greatly improved media exposure a two-rider team allows, raising that amount extra in sponsorship looks like an entirely viable. And of course with a sudden glut of extra machinery - all of the second bikes suddenly being freed up - Flammini hopes that this will allow some teams to either expand their participation or sell the machines to new teams entering the series.

Though the reasoning behind the move to a single bike is sound, it also contains a number of dangers. The first is that although riders are restricted to having a single bike in the garage at one time, that does not mean that bike costs will be cut in half. The rules will be such that damage to a machine must be taken into account, and a rider must be able to get back out on a repaired machine either in the same session, or at least in the next session. Though only one bike may be scrutineered at a time, it does not preclude the teams having a second - or even a third - bike ready and waiting in the truck. Such is the case in Moto2, for example, where despite the one-bike rule, Marc Marquez has two complete spare machines in the race truck, waiting only for the official Honda engine to be removed from his damaged machine before being presented to scrutineering for the next session.

But a single machine carries a much bigger danger, one that some Moto2 teams have also complained of - though only off the record. With one bike and limited practice time, it is imperative for a rider to get back to the pits as quickly as possible, to allow his team to fix his bike so he can get back out again. Though there is no suggestions that he did it knowingly, when Alex Baldolini toured round in the pouring rain at Assen with his engine spewing oil all over the track, he did so partly in response to the pressure from the team to get back to the pits. He had no knowledge that he was dumping oil on the track, he merely knew there was something wrong with his bike, and he needed to get back to the pits to get it fixed. Had he had a 2nd bike waiting in the garage, he may have headed off the track as quickly as possible to the nearest scooter, and got himself back into the pits to head out on a second bike.

That situation caused an entire afternoon of practice to be abandoned at Assen on the Friday. Had it happened on Saturday, with TV ready and waiting to show qualifying, then it would have been far, far worse. It is not unthinkable that a similar situation could present itself in World Superbikes, with engines letting go and riders oiling the track in their haste to get back to the pits.

Though restricting riders to just one bike is aimed at cutting costs, the most obvious course - limiting electronics and reducing the amount of modifications allowed to World Superbike machines - is not something that Flammini and the Superbike Commission are prepared to countenance. The teams, it appears, would not have accepted a reduction in electronics, as it would have penalized some of the more successful teams. And a reduction in modification was also rejected - a move that has been successful both in the US in the AMA series, and in the UK with BSB - as changing to a formula similar to Superstock (such as is the case with the BSB's EVO class) would punish the manufacturers whose standard production bikes (which form the basis of all World Superbike racers) are more road-biased, and require more work to get them up to racing spec, whilst favoring manufacturers such as Aprilia whose road bikes are already very nearly ready to race on the dealer's floor.

No rule changes have been finalized, with further meetings expected at Silverstone in two weeks' time. An announcement is expected shortly afterwards.

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That is great... he does spend a fair amount of time on the deck doesn't he...

Although the pic of him on the Duc Hypermotard with the back tire in full power slide smoking, knee on the ground, one hand on the handle bars and giving a thumbs up to the camera, I think, is the single coolest bike picture I have ever seen. And there are some really good ones out there!

"The teams, it appears, would not have accepted a reduction in electronics, as it would have penalized some of the more successful teams."

Is this more important than creating a more level playing field and substantially reducing costs?

We have seen in MotoGP what happens when manufacturers have too much say in the direction of a championship, Signoro Flammini and the FIM need to devise a way to force some real changes to make the series viable in the long-term.

Also, unless all the one rider teams pick up a second rider as suggested, it could result in some angst from their sponsors. Would you throw money at a team when one big off on Sunday morning warm up could completely write off any potential branding exposure come race time?

OK, that's a longshot but I see these rulings as more posturing than anything meaningful.. something is better than nothing I suppose..

Most professionally run teams at this level are going to have 2 bikes per rider and aren't going to lead the back up bike to someone else. It's not going to save any money either because teams will still buy that 2nd bike.

The one bike rule is a bad idea, imo, and the reasoning behind it is flawed. As you have pointed out, David, the one bike rule cannot actually prohibit a team from bringing extra bikes in the form of spares so the organizers allow teams to keep extra bikes locked away in the truck. Furthermore, the one bike rule punishes mechanics, and in some instances, one bike may force teams to hire more mechanics in order to get the bikes rebuilt on time. What savings? If the #1 bike is never crashed, the #2 bike rarely makes an appearance. Conceivably, the #2 bike could be the same bike at round 1 as it is at the final round as long as the rider doesn't throw the #1 bike down the road with regularity. What savings? Savings is derived from riders who don't crash, not from restricting the number of bikes. Cheaper crashes are very useful as well which ties in with the carbon fiber ban in WSS.

The big difference in WSS has been the carbon fiber ban, imo, and perhaps some other behind-the-scenes rules tweaks we me not see in the homologation papers. I suspect IMS were anxious to ban carbon fiber in WSBK since it MIGHT save hundreds of thousands of dollars per bike (no more carbon fairings, carbon racing fuel cells, or other minor parts), but the teams apparently rejected. The one engine rule is probably helping a bit as well in WSS.

Electronics are a more difficult problem than banning CF b/c electronics don't affect the teams equally. If TC is limited, it seems like bikes with an uneven firing order (Ducati, Yamaha, Aprilia) would gain a huge advantage while the screamer I-4 machines (Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, BMW) would be struggling for grip. Given the complexities and expense of using a crossplane crank or a V-configuration, I'm not sure banning electronics is actually cheaper. I'm sure other complications are present as well, particularly regarding fuel management, and companies like BMW are in WSBK to develop proprietary electronics systems with Bosch. Eliminating factory electronics has been high on the AMA to-do list, but they have also failed so I can't fault IMS. It is an interesting conundrum though, even with free electronics, the uneven firing order bikes are well clear of everyone else......perhaps this is attributable to Checa, Biaggi, and Melandri though.

I can't be 100% sure, but I think WSBK could save a shedload of money if they abandoned free compression. WSBK is free compression and free valve lift/duration which means the tolerances in these race engines are probably measured in millimeters or perhaps tenths of millimeters. Aprilia said that the tolerances were so tight that using gear cams (much more accurate than chain drive) would double the service life of their engine.............and give an extra 3-4hp throughout the entire rev range. Imagine WSBK abandon free static compression by enforcing 13:1 via cylinder homologation. The result, imo, would be much larger tolerances inside the cylinder which means engines could go longer between service intervals. Planing the cylinder head would have to be banned which might save a bit of cash on engine work. Fixed static compression would also eliminate a lot of the research and development that goes into squeezing the last few hp out of the engines, and it might even allow the manufacturers to sell their racing internals to private teams. I think the same benefits would apply to WSS as well. A Moto2 engine is just a WSS engine with low compression and a conservative cam profile. A Moto2 engine does about 5 times (IIRC) the mileage of a WSS engine. I don't think WSS should be detuned to Moto2 standards, but I think a case has been made for widening engine tolerances. Sacrificing 5-10hp seems acceptable to decrease costs, increase grid numbers, and get the sport back to its roots. Not an engineer, though, so I could be mistaken.

I'm not sure that it is that complicated to limit electronics. There are two easy approaches: force the use of stock electronics or homologate some sort of Bazzaz solution. Of course the first of those would increase the cost to the factories in R&D but isn't that what Superbike racing is about? Of course, there is then the issue of BSB bikes being faster than WSBK machines as a result of more complex electronic but I'm not sure anyone would shed a tear. However, Flamminis may be chasing MotoGP times in some sort of power struggle, in which case, limiting electronics won't happen.

I'm not really opposed to a compression limit but it is hard to see that actually happening.

I suspect IMS were anxious to ban carbon fiber in WSBK since it MIGHT save hundreds of thousands of dollars per bike (no more carbon fairings, carbon racing fuel cells, or other minor parts)

Hundreds of thousands? It's not as though the teams will start buying their glass from the back-yarder down the street. The cost of a carbon or carbon-kevlar fairing is typically <50% more than for a glass one of similar quality (ie well finished mould, epoxy resin).
It's also more likely to survive a small crash intact. I doubt even Xaus could get through 200 sets of fairings in a year.

For fuel cells, a custom aluminium tank will usually cost more than carbon-kevlar, because of the skilled welding required on every tank... not to mention the shaping or tooling.

I would guess that on most bikes the paint job costs as much as the bodywork underneath. Certainly you could get 3 sets of unpainted carbon fairings for a single pair of forged magnesium wheels... and count the number of wheels that are in most team trucks!

Banning carbon bodywork in SSp seemed a fairly ignorant and symbolic action: the real saving was in having only one bike.

If an unenforceable rule is making the difference in WSS, then perception has replaced commercial reality. When reality returns in the form of anemic bank balances, the grid will contract again. If the carbon fiber ban or the one engine rule are making the difference, the grid numbers should remain relatively strong. We will find out in the next 24-36 months.

The one bike rule doesn't pass basic logical scrutiny regarding cost reduction. Furthermore, there was no rule nor a competitive paradigm that stopped a team from running a single bike prior to the rule. However, there was a competitive paradigm in the past that required entrants to have carbon fiber parts and multiple engines for each weekend.

No one knows what the future holds, but it might as well be a foregone conclusion.

with 10-15 more bikes compared to last year, would not work for SBK?
However there is another hurdle in SBK since they race twice on sunday, crashing in race 1 would mean DNS in race 2 unless your team rebuilds the bike in a couple of hours.
125, Moto2 and SSP don't face this kind of consequences.

It doesn't really matter that the wealthy teams would still show up with 2 (or 3) bikes, the rule is intended for the budget teams who WILL save money, having to buy only one bike and spares instead of 2!

When will electronics leave? Is it so important to the mfr's to ruin every single 2 wheeled series around the globe? The fans, both in person, or on television do not want and have said so for years now. Ex GP after after Ex GP champion has said the same. Most of the rider in GP have said the same thing.

I'm tired of it. I can't believe a F1 race is more of a spectacle than GP or Supers. Ban the damn laptop jockeys and focus on power delivery, chassis design, etc.

David, I'd like some insight to something if you have time. As much as I disliked the mafioso way DMG treated Mat Mladin and a few others when they first took over the AMA series, no one can argue with the results of their rule changes. Racing is close and entertaining again. One of their new rules IIRC was that any part used by one team had to be available on the market for everyone; no one off custom fabricated parts, even if they did fit the other rules. I wonder if anyone has considered such a rule for WSBK and what kind of effect it would have on the series. Of course, I also think a carbon fiber ban coupled with a ban of GPS dependent electronics would save a bit of money as well.

This article was written September 30, 2001. Everything the MSMA and FIM believed about 1000cc SBK racing prior to the battle with IMS is contained in this press release.

Here are a few highlights.

"MSMA and its President, Ivan Beggio, also specify the primary objectives which lie at the heart of the regulations.
1. Performance levels of the competing motorcycles are not to be lowered. *~180hp at the end of the 750 era*
2. The level of participation and interest of championship Manufacturers is to be maintained.
3. The interest of official, privateer teams and tuners is to be increased.
4. Running costs are to be contained and equal opportunities of competitiveness are to be ensured for all participants.
5. The rules to be drafted are to be valid also for national championship."

In 2003, objective #2 was not being satisfied by the manufacturers according to IMS (I tend to agree). IMS threw out the MSMA rulebook and crafted their own rulebook which required lots of prototype racing parts, and therefore, manufacturer participation. The result of the new rulebook was that objectives 1,3,4,5 were thrown out the window, but objective #2 still wasn't met according to IMS' wishes b/c the manufacturers still denied direct involvement by running their teams through privateer organizations like Ten Kate, Paul Bird, Alstare, and Yamaha Italia (a national distributor). Ducati was the only factory team at that time. Things changed in 2009 when BMW, Aprilia, and Ducati all ran factory teams, but the Japanese still refuse to this day. Ducati Corse don't compete ATM, but they are scheduled to return with the new bike.


Here is a link to a Paolo Flammini interview from June 22, 2000 AFAIK


"What [IMS] have asked the FIM is to postpone the kit rules and reconsider how the kit rule will be done. We feel that the kit rule was an intelligent solution for four years ago. Today with a fantastic grid in World Superbike, with very sophisticated bikes and a situation where manufacturers are heavily involved, maybe (the kit rule) is not the right amendment to the existing rules."

The kit rule he references was very similar to the AMA SBK homologation rules. All racing parts would be homologated by the manufacturers in racing kits which would be available for purchase on the open market to any competitor. It was to be introduced for 1000cc competition, and had been mulled over during the 750 era before the manufacturers started building race-ready homologation specials.

Please, God, NO!!! I really hope they don't go down this route. Seems like the risk of having multiple riders out due to their only bike being trashed is a huge risk. If WSBK only ran one race a weekend I could see this working, but what happens when multiple bikes are crashed and unable to start race 2? Great racing, great series,please don't mess it up!

A team that cannot afford two bikes unfortunately is already unlikely to be much of a threat to the front runners. Those same underfunded teams will be no closer to front if Max, Checha or Melandri, only had one bike. The bike is only one part of the equation.

I think some of the underclasses may get by with one bike because people understand it's not the big show (Plus, the valid point they only race once a day). I hope they don't make a knee jerk reaction to an off year that may be the results of a multitude of causes.

BSB has had this rule in for a few years already as well. I'm sure Flammini talked to them when he was thinking about this.... right?

Short video of a mechanic explaining the rule and what they have back in the truck.

By the way teams wouldn't have to hire extra mechs to handle the extra load of repairing crashed bikes quickly, they'd just do what US companies have been doing since the past few years... cracking the whip... I mean, "increasing productivity".

If you promote a series, get better coverage and get some local talent fans increase, if fans increase, promotions increase, which allows more money which attracts more teams, and better riders.

The world economy is a little slow still, fuel is near 4.00 in the US and there is only 1 race USA race, and No US racers.
If WSBk is concernced about grid numbers figure out how to make more money and get a bigger fan base.

IMO swapping Biaggi, Checa and Melandri for Xaus, Berger or Vermuelen will still leave the 3 in the front and the other 3 in the back. The difference, the teams can afford better more experienced riders. There are exceptions, like Pedricini.

For proof look at Haslam, was in the lead 2010 with no money, now in a top ten maybe 2011 with a lot more money.

Leave the whole thing alone, it will work itself out.

They are not an awful thing but there needs to be limitations from the real world useage, Wheel spin, and Yaw sensors should be allowed, but they need to eliminate corner by corner TC and any other "programmable" setup. BMW, Kawa, DUC, and APe all have sophisticated systems but beyond what is deemed realworld TC everything else should be eliminated.

It should not be about saving money "its racing" its about making money not that many race teams ever make any.