I’ll put it out there that I am not the keenest follower or fan of two-wheel racing. Ten years ago, following the events of MotoGP and the Superbike World Championship (WSBK) were as important to me as those of the World Rally Championship and Formula 1.
One of the reasons why the focus has shifted primarily to F1 – and WRC to an extent – is purely personal. I want a bit of a life! Following motorsport is fun and all but it feels good to have days entirely to myself to go out cycling, play basketball and other activities that don’t involve cars, bikes, computers and televisions.
The other reason is what seems to be the diluting of what was once an entertaining as well as a significant championship.
With MotoGP switching to a 990cc, two-stroke format in 2002, going down to 800cc and now up to 1,000cc a lot of WSBK’s thunder seemed to have been stolen.
Gone were the days when the two championships had their own distinct flavour and hence their own set of star riders. With its focus on racing tuned motorcycles that are available to the public, WSBK arguably had a greater audience connect. MotoGP had already established itself as the pinnacle of two-wheel racing due to the bikes used being prototypes. With the higher engine capacity, the F1 of two-wheels had now started to infringe on the territory of two-wheel racing’s equivalent of sportscar racing.
This was evident in 2003 when WSBK’s two biggest stars of the time – Colin Edwards and Troy Bayliss – defected to MotoGP after a thrilling championship showdown the year before.
Edwards has remained in MotoGP ever since while Bayliss went back to a WSBK in 2006 that seemed to have lost a lot of sheen and had, in effect, become something of a feeder series for MotoGP.
With both championships now coming under the banner of MotoGP’s commercial rights holder Dorna Sports, one can hardly expect much in the way of change in the status quo.
Especially since WSBK’s most recent star, 41-year-old Max Biaggi, has now decided to call time on his motorcycle racing career after winning 21 races and two titles (2010 and 2012) in his six-year stint.
Biaggi gained fame as a four time Grand Prix champion in the 250cc class and for losing out on the MotoGP title to Mick Doohan and more famously, two-wheel racing’s current superstar Valentino Rossi.
It certainly couldn’t have been the best advertisement for the riders currently in WSBK, which includes MotoGP ‘dropout’ Marco Melandri.
As far as the championship’s attraction to fans goes, Biaggi’s retirement puts the focus squarely on the machinery in WSBK. Given India’s two-wheeler market – that is far bigger than four wheels in terms of volume – seeing crazy riders astride superbike brands that are available for sale to the public should ensure that WSBK gain a fairly solid fanbase when it touches down at the Buddh International Circuit next March.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s involvement with a team in WSBK’s Supersport support category should play its part in drawing some media attention too.
However, the days of WSBK’s star attraction being names like Corser, Bayliss, Fogarty and Edwards are long gone, for the time being.
As are memorable duels like Imola 2002 (see vid below but apologies for music, full race video also available).