Motorcycle Racing's Future Lies Eastwards: WSBK To Race In India From 2013 Onwards

It's no secret that motorcycle racing is in trouble in its traditional markets in Europe. With massive economic problems in the heartland of Spain and Italy, and declining attendances at both MotoGP and World Superbike races around Europe, both series are being forced to look further afield for fresh markets. Though Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta has expressed his intention to move into new markets, and has even made one or two moves, including announcing a deal to race in Argentina, WSBK is well ahead of MotoGP, with series organizer Infront Motor Sports getting ready to race in Moscow later this summer, and a deal already announced to race in Indonesia.

Now, Infront has got the jump on Dorna once again. On Saturday, the Italian company running WSBK announced a deal to race at India's Buddh International Circuit from 2013 onwards. The deal will see the World Superbike series race at the Indian circuit, close to the capital of the country, Delhi, for four years, until 2016, and is a major coup for Infront. Dorna is known to be negotiating with the circuit to stage a round of MotoGP at the Indian track, but Infront has stolen their thunder. What's more, the proposed date of the WSBK round - March 10th, 2013 - severely disrupts Dorna's plan of staging the season opener at the Buddh International Circuit in mid March, getting the season off to an earlier start than has so far been possible, as temperatures at the night race at Losail in Qatar make racing much earlier than the first week of April very difficult.

The fact that both WSBK and MotoGP are looking at India is part of a much larger and more important trend. Motorcycle racing is slowly moving away from the shrinking markets in Europe, and towards the fast-growing markets in Asia, especially the huge markets of Indonesia, Malaysia and India. The recent proliferation of Asian sponsors among MotoGP teams fits into this trend, with both the Honda and Yamaha MotoGP teams being backed by their respective Indonesian subsidiaries. For World Superbikes, their biggest problem is the collapse of the sports bike market in Europe. Even in the UK, traditionally the market in Europe where the sports bike is king, sales of both 1000cc and 600cc sports machines have declined steeply. Opening new markets in India and the far east is crucial for WSBK if the series is to maintain its economic base and expand its popularity.

The move of WSBK into India also represents a major threat to MotoGP. Where the two series are clearly differentiated in Europe by the fact that the spectators can go out and buy the bikes being raced in the World Superbike series, in India and the rest of Asia, this is far from the case. Asian markets are dominated by small capacity motorcycles mainly used as general transport, though also with a major leisure component. There, WSBK will be sold as an entertainment product far more than a series with relevance to the bikes the public ride themselves, the link between product and race machinery being almost as tenuous as the link between a MotoGP bike and the bikes being sold in Europe.

A WSBK race in India will also greatly strengthen the series' appeal to the manufacturers, or at least, the Japanese manufacturers, for whom Asia is a crucial market - where sales in Europe are counted in the tens and hundreds of thousands, sales in Asia are numbered in the millions and tens of millions. Reaching those customers is a key part of Honda's and Yamaha's strategy, and if the Japanese factories believe they can achieve their goals by supporting WSBK as it races in India and Indonesia, the necessity of investing many millions into MotoGP is greatly decreased. Dorna is currently handicapped by having an already full calendar and a lot of long-term contracts with existing European circuits. Adding extra rounds to an 18-race series is much more difficult than adding more rounds to a 14-event calendar. Adding extra rounds in key manufacturer markets is a very smart move financially for the World Superbike series, and MotoGP will have to follow suit as quickly as possible if they are to keep the interest of Honda and Yamaha, while pushing through a more affordable rule package against the will of the Japanese factories.

Below is the press release from Infront Motor Sports announcing the deal with the Buddh International Cicruit in India:

India’s Buddh International Circuit to join 2013 World Superbike calendar

Rome (Italy), June 9th, 2012 – Infront Motor Sports has signed an agreement with Jaypee Sports International Ltd (JPSI), a subsidiary of the private Indian engineering and construction conglomerate Jaypee Group, to host a round of the eni FIM Superbike World Championship calendar at the Buddh International Circuit (BIC).

The contract runs for four years, from 2013 to 2016. Next season, the Indian Round of the championship is scheduled to take place on March 10th.

World Superbike is set to open up a new frontier in India as it becomes the first international bike racing championship to be hosted at the Hermann Tilke-designed track at Greater Noida (Uttar Pradesh) near Delhi. Indian motorsport enthusiasts, who flocked to the Formula 1 Indian Grand Prix at BIC last year, now have a chance to enjoy some of the most exciting two-wheeled racing in the world.

Maurizio Flammini, Chairman of Infront Motor Sports, declared: “After meeting the promoters of Jaypee Group last year I got the feeling that I was dealing with a highly professional and powerful corporation which will guarantee the organization of a successful race in India, even though the Buddh Circuit was still under construction at the time. This impression was indeed confirmed by the outcome of the Formula 1 race held in October last year which turned out to be one of the best races of the 2011 season. We are sure that the FIM Superbike World Championship will bring added value to BIC as well as to India, and vice-versa. It will also deliver value to all the partners supporting and following our Championship and is a very important opportunity for them to expand their brands and business in Asia.”

Paolo Flammini, Infront Motor Sports CEO, added: “The inclusion of the Indian round in the 2013 FIM Superbike World Championship calendar represents a great achievement for our series and reflects our continuous target to further extend its international presence. India today is one of the most important motorcycle markets in the world, not only in terms of existing bike sales numbers but also growth and the upgrading of the range offered to the consumer. Undoubtedly the inclusion of this event will greatly benefit all the protagonists of our series and will create significant added value for the motorcycle manufacturers.”

After signing the agreement, JPSI Managing-Director and CEO Sameer Gaur said: “We are extremely happy to announce that besides holding the Formula One and FIA GT1 motor racing series, we will also hold a thrilling motorcycle race, the World Superbike Championship, at BIC early next year. There are many in India who are passionate about bikes. I am sure they will love to watch famed motorcycle riders compete against each other here at their own world class racing circuit.”

India will become the twenty-seventh country to host a round of the FIM Superbike World Championship, which in 2013 will celebrate the 26th year of its existence since it started in 1988. The Buddh International Circuit was inaugurated on October 11th, 2011.

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Another good example that Dorna is not doing its job. Maybe they will blame the manufacturers for this too?

Inst a surprise, at least Flammini's brothers have common sense and that is if Motorcycle in general is suffering in europe, then show your product where the motorcycle is considered a more important tool for the people.

What MotoGp is suffering for long time is the bad administration, lack of enforcement of rules in case of troubles, and still believing that europe is central part of the sport, they must act now if Mr. ezpeleta dont want to see how the series are dying, well already are dying, someone would say than SBK is about x or y or bla bla bla. SBK is also a World championship too.

And flammini's has stated clear in the past SBK is about Models based in Production something than people can buy, prototypes are only for R&D shodowns between the manufactures that's MotoGP Ground and that experiment of CRT in reality SBK's in disguise will not work, time will tell.

This news should come as no surprise to anyone who reads the quality press and raises their head to sniff the wind occasionally.

The traditional markets for sports based bikes have all now been exploited and saturated. In future they will rise and fall with the overall economic climate.

However the parts of the world where a motorbike is seen as a preferred and in many cases, the only affordable means of transport do not have the necessary road infrastructure to allow sports bikes to be ridden effectively. A racing series would be seen as entertainment as the sales vehicle, not some sort of spurious technological trickle down, to justify the bikes costs.

How many people in Indonesia, South America, India, China, or possibly the next big economic powerhouse, Africa, could tell the difference, or even care, between a superbike and a MotoGP bike.

Both types of bike, even a basic sports bike, are so far out of their reach as to be irrelevant to the manufacturers. The only connection would be brand identification and therefore sales of the smaller bikes that can be used on the poor roads in these countries.

Good luck to World Superbikes. In a sport which seems to constantly cry out for manufacturer involvement I suggest that any new bike maker, whether Indian, Chinese or a new name, would be far more interested in building a superbike than a MotoGP machine.

You said: "How many people in Indonesia, South America, India, China, or possibly the next big economic powerhouse, Africa, could tell the difference, or even care, between a superbike and a MotoGP bike."

Really?!?! How DARE you made such a stereotyped comment...there are passionate fans of motorcycle racing who know a thing or two about what is MotoGP and WSBK. Shame on you laugh at an Aussie that does not know who is Mich or Casey? FWIW, I had watch a weekend race where Jorge Lorenzo was still in 250GP, on Starsports cable in Indonesia, with Chinese commentary. That telecast was still better than SpeedTV because there was no commercial.

There are clueless people about motorcycle racing everywhere...even in California where I stay now. Every race weekend I had to explain to my co-workers ", this week is know, the one where there's no Valentino Rossi." Oh and that's also because I told them to wiki who is VR#46 too. Not everybody cares to know who is VR#46 too.

MotoGP, 4 races in Spain and 2 (soon to be 3) in the USA. A third of the entire calendar is in two countries. That alone should cause a manufacturers and riders strike, but they all just suck it up without so much as a by your leave. There should be only one round of the WORLD MotoGP Championship in each country. To do otherwise just devalues the series.

The continent of Europe covers 10,180,000 km². The country of The United States covers 9,826,675 km². The distance from Laguna Seca to Indy is twice the distance of Silverstone to Muegello. Whether the U.S. has enough interest to support three GPs is a legitimate question but the country is a significant chunk of the world compared to Spain, which is smaller than Texas.

That said, I definitely agree that motoGP should be pushing more into Asia and other developing markets.

just to clarify a few the last few years several small displacement sport bikes have come up in india and a lot of the young people who can afford them and want to have a premium motorcycle buy them...of course, being a country of over a billion people, it's a negligible number in comparison and yes it's true most of the people wont be able to tell any difference between normal commuter bikes and sport bikes and yes it's true most of them dont bother as long as they have a means of transportation, but thats largely because in such a huge population with no previous culture of motorcycling-for-pleasure-and-sport, it takes a lot of time for sport riding to be a significant fraction of the motorcycle market...afterall, it's been only a few years that affordable modern sport bikes, that is, the small capacity ones, have been introduced in the market...nevertheless, a significant (and ever-increasing) fraction of well-earning young guys now own some or the other small displacement sport bikes (of course most of those who belong to rich families have already had 600cc or 1000cc sport bikes all the time)..i think most of the audience in WSBK and MotoGP (if it ever happens, which it will sooner or later) in india would be composed of these people who know what it's about and actually own, ride and enjoy their sport bikes as opposed to the common people who see a bike only as a means of transportation and thus mostly own some normal commuter bike...

some of the small displacement sport and naked street bikes in india at the moment are - yamaha yzf r15 (version 2.0) which i own, yamaha fz-s and fz16, kawasaki ninja 250r, honda cbr 150 (to be launched soon) and cbr 250 (the latter being a sports tourer actually from the vfr series of honda and not the cbr series actually), ktm duke 200, hyosung gt 250r (the latest of the lot) and some more soon coming from hyosung...yamaha is also soon coming up with a 250 cc within a year or so, perhaps a naked street-sports or a dual purpose.

But can you blame Dorna for having long term contracts? The schedule is full of paying customers. It's not like Dorna can just say "we want to race in X country" - some promoter and/or track owner has to be willing to pay the sanction fee. From my understanding the way Dorna gets paid is with sanction fees and from TV contracts - not ticket sales. They don't care if only a thousand people show up at Qatar - they get paid the same from the sanction fee and tv deals. Is that bad for business? Not if they have a long term contract and get paid. Why does Spain get's criticized because they have 3 tracks that are willing to pay the sanction fee to hold a race? Why is the US getting criticized because they have tracks willing to foot the bill? Dorna isn't in the business of "opening markets" or spreading racing around the world - they are in the business of making money. Money which come off of sanction fees and TV contracts. No one is going to stop watching MotoGP because they don't have enough races spread around the world - the TV money will still come in. Dorna already has a full calender - when tracks stop sending in their checks to Dorna and a spot opens up then that's when Dorna will find a replacement. But as long as promoters, track owners, and local/state/federal governments are paying to hold their races then Dorna is ok with that.

Now, this strategy may not mesh with the manufacturers - they need to be in Asia more. But the series will only go to Asia more if there is someone to foot the bill. Yamaha had to cough up money to get the series to go Laguna in the US so maybe this maybe the case with some Asian markets were the manufactures subsidize some of the cost to host a race.

Tough times are ahead.

You've got a world economic crisis which has an effect on anything and everything, from sales of sportbikes, to gate receipts at a MotoGp round. Anybody that doesn't realize that, even riders, are delusional. The mfr's have driven the bike prices up so far, well it's easy to see why we have CRT's. We have CRT's, or we'd have 12 bikes on the grid only.

As far as these expansions, good on WSBK, but I'd hardly call this a competition between series. Both series are trying to expand and that is much easier said then done. In this economic climate, nothing is easy, nothing.

They have a huge number of people who are riding motorcycles and there is a significant population of yougsters who know their machines.There are more than half a billion people under the age of 25, so there are bound to be an impressive number of race fans.Its a reason why manufacturers are launching quarter litre bikes in India, as a start.

small number in Europe and America buying (relatively) expensive motorcycles < extremely large number of people buying cheap machines in India.