Max Biaggi retirement means the bikes are now the stars in WSBK

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).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

McLaren and Mercedes partnership to continue

According to a report in British newspaper The Daily Mail the McLaren Formula 1 team will retain it’s engine partnership with Mercedes-Benz ‘for years to come’. The team principal of the second most successful team in F1 history stated so in an interview ahead of the recently concluded Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The partnership that had started in 1995 (first victory in 1997 Australian GP, see vid below) was the subject of much speculation after a report in German automotive magazine Auto Motor und Sport suggested that Honda was keen on an F1 return in 2014. It was rumored that the Japanese engine manufacturer was keen to tie up with McLaren after the British team after it became a customer team following Mercedes’ purchase of the Brawn GP team in 2009.

Mercedes had tried, in vain, to acquire a majority ownership of McLaren for a large part of its partnership with the team, especially after rivals BMW did the same with Sauber F1 before leaving the sport at the end of 2009.

The McLaren-Mercedes partnership has won the team three drivers’ titles (1998, 1999, 2008) and one constructors’ title (1998). Both parties were recently involved in a high-profile shake-up of the drivers’ market as Lewis Hamilton left McLaren to replace the retiring Michael Schumacher at Mercedes.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The man who could call the first F1 champion ‘awful’ passes away

This is a bit delayed as 39 straight days of work, which included covering the recently concluded Indian Grand Prix caused me to take it easy to the point that I kept my computer off and didn’t log on to the Internet to do anything more than check my emails.

Former American racing driver, John Fitch, passed away this Wednesday near the Lime Rock racing circuit in Connecticut, USA.

When it came to racing and safety (or road safety in general), Fitch is a name you may not have heard of. Names like Jackie Stewart and Sid Watkins may come to mind more due to their association with the high profile world of Formula 1. But overlooking Fitch, who was 95 when he passed away, would be a mistake.

Fitch only competed in two F1 world championship races, but that is only an indication of how much more there is to motor racing than F1, which is really just the tip of the iceberg as far as motorsport is concerned.

He devised the Fitch Barrier, which is a standard feature on pretty much every American highway. If you recall a scene from the Keanu Reeves movie ‘Speed’ where a Jaguar XJS crashes into a water-filled yellow barrier at the exit of a highway; that would be the Fitch Barrier in action.

Specifically to racing, he also developed the Fitch Compression Barrier, which is used extensively at oval tracks and in its design is the forerunner to the Tecpro barrier that you now see used at the latest F1 grade circuits like the Buddh International Circuit.

His safety innovations aside, Fitch was also one hell of a racing driver as his record suggests. By his own admission, his greatest motorsport achievement came at the 1955 Mile Miglia (Italian for thousand miles) when he won the production sports car category and was beaten only by the racing prototypes that had drivers like Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio behind the wheel.

He finished as high as third at the 24 Hours of Le Mans where he competed six times as well.

While I was too young (by a long way!) to ever see any of these exploits in person, I did have the pleasure of meeting Fitch at the 2006 Greenwich Concours d’Elegance where I asked him about racing in F1 during the world championship’s infancy in the early 1950s.

Given his extensive experience, Fitch was in a position to honestly dish out on Grand Prix racing’s stars of the time.

“He was awful, just awful!” was Fitch’s take on Giuseppe Farina, the sport’s first world champion. “He was a real dirty driver who didn’t care about who was on the road with him.”

Fitch spoke in awe of five-time F1 champ Fangio but noted that he was not a driver to take lightly. “Fangio could race really hard,” said Fitch. “He didn’t race dirty but you had to watch yourself going up against him.”

The most praise was set aside for Britain’s Stirling Moss, who scored 16 pole positions and 18 wins without ever winning an F1 title. “He was a real gentleman,” said Fitch. “He would always race fair.”

I confess, that at the time, I wasn’t entirely up to speed on Fitch’s contribution to motorsport’s colourfully rich story but the experience of talking to a man who experienced motor racing’s most high-profile addiction in its beginning was surreal in itself.

Fitch’s contributions to motorsport goes beyond just numbers and for that, those involved in the sport today should be thankful.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

One more year for Raikkonen at Lotus F1

The 2007 Formula 1 world champion made an ‘announcement’ 12 days ago on his 33rd birthday with the creative use of a video on youtube.

While entertaining, it wasn’t the announcement that many in F1 expected. It was confirmed today, however, that the Finn will remain with Lotus F1 for one more season in 2013.

There have been rumors of the team’s (formerly known as Renault and Benetton before that) owners Genii Capital are running a little light in their wallets and as a result, the team may not be as competitive as it was in the early stages of this season.

Given Raikkonen’s superlative comeback this year (third in the championship with six podiums) a one year extension indicates that the Finn doesn’t see his long-term future with Lotus F1. Whether its because he harbours ambitions to be back in a championship contending team from 2014 or due to Genii’s supposed financial difficulties will remain to be seen.

The upheaval in this year’s drivers’ market has all but died down – an announcement regarding Hulkenberg and maybe even Adrian Sutil could be likely – and Raikkonen was pretty much left out.

Ferrari’s Felipe Massa is the other top driver who got a one-year contract extension this year. It’s not too far a stretch to speculate about a return to Ferrari for the Finn, but let’s leave that one for official announcements.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Stewart on 2014 regulations

In a fairly long telephone interview (pleasantly surprised at the time he was able to set aside), three-time Formula 1 world champion weighed in on the proposed 2014 technical regulations.

The topic was only briefly touched on but personally it was a relief to know that Stewart doesn’t oppose the regulations, but questions only the timing.

On the face of it, an engine formula that cuts fuel economy while retaining current power levels and has relevance for the automobile industry that forms the backbone of motorsports can only be a good thing. Hopefully the timing of the move won’t be an issue.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Kingfisher Airlines’ licence suspended

The Aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has suspended the flying licence of Kingfisher Airlines for failing to come up with a viable financial revival plan reports the website of news channel New Delhi Television (NDTV).

The airline’s trouble has recently caused much grief to its owner, Sahara Force India chairman and team principal as well as its employees who have reportedly not been paid for weeks.

NDTV reports that Kingfisher Airlines has not operated a single flight since October 1.

Only recently, a non-bailable arrest warrant had been issued against Mallya and other Kingfisher Airlines executives by a Hyderabad court after cheques intended to pay user’s fee to the company that runs the city’s airports bounced. The warrant was later withdrawn when a financial settlement was agreed to.

As far as motorsport is concerned, it remains to be seen whether the troubles faced by the airlines will have an effect on the running of Mallya’s Formula 1 team, 42.5 percent of which belongs to Sahara after a deal was struck between the two parties ahead of last year’s Indian Grand Prix.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

New Jersey F1 race reportedly set for 2014 debut

America’s Speed channel has reported on its website that the planned Grand Prix of America to be held at the Port Imperial street circuit in New Jersey is set to be taken off the 2013 Formula 1 world championship calendar.

The channel cites sources that state that F1’s commerical rights holder Bernie Ecclestone will make the announcement shortly.

The race had been scheduled for June 16, 2013 but track organizers have requested more time to complete the necessary permitting process to complete the 3.2 mile course that lies along the Hudson River (see vid).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment