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GP Week : Issue 16
SHOW or Go – that’s the ongoing big debate in motorcycle racing. On the’ Show’ side is the faction that wants to dumb down the technicalities, cutting costs, while introducing stricter controls. This removes technical advantage from factory riders and makes the racing closer. Usually. The ‘Go’ faction takes a purist view: that racing is about not only speed, but also improving speed, taking technicalities to a higher level. In other words, progress and aspiration. And if the show suffers from time to time when one or another designer or manufacturer finds an advantage, so be it. The others generally catch up, sooner or later. The ongoing debate over dumping 250s in favour of 600 production engines is part of this debate. The four-strokes will, at least in theory, improve the show. Further restrictions, like control tyres and a control ECU, will go further towards guaranteeing close racing. But progress will be absent. The rules are designed to prevent it, even if you do call the bikes ‘prototypes’ because the chassis are non-standard. Now, events in the USA, where the new Daytona-linked regime has embarked on a sensational programme of dumbing down, have left the ‘Show’ supporters looking rather ashen-faced. That’s how it seemed to me, when Ben Spies revealed to me and some colleagues over a dinner-table chat that he will quit US racing for good as a result of the new US Superbike regs. Spies is twice AMA Superbike champion and on course for a third straight win. His status means that his words carry some weight. And the content made one of our number, a dedicated ‘Show’ supporter, go strangely quiet. The US proposals centre on a 185 bhp limit, with engine size not specified. This a long way short of the 200-plus made by a current AMA Superbike, and within easy reach of a street-bike-based motor. It will make the premier national series more like club racing, said Spies – an opinion widely shared, he said, by all the other factory team riders. To be fair, at least part of their objection has to do with safety, and the new insistence that races will not be postponed for rain, even at tracks currently declared unfit for racing in slippery conditions. But the main reason is that it will make stars of everyone – or no-one. There will be less for riders to aspire to, as well as the engineers. Will Spies be the only one to leave? The factory-backed Yoshimura Suzuki team, which has dominated the series for something like ten years, will also pull out. It remains to be seen what Yamaha, Honda and Kawasaki will do … though one slightly far-fetched theory is that one or more will spend a fortune building highly specialised 185 bhp engines of such efficiency that they will once again blow the privateers away. Club racing is fun. It’s close, with lots of different winners. Exciting for the spectators, except for one thing … no-one will know who the winners are. Or even care, half the time. As another colleague pointed out, the most important person at the meeting will be the commentator, telling the bemused (but apparently riveted) crowd who the hell the riders up front are. No matter how much fun it is; no matter how many winners there are, it’s hardly the status of a national championship. How much worse if the same principles are applied to (250cc) world championships? Superbike racing may have survived the introduction of control tyres, but it’s only a production series after all. And the regulations are loose enough to encourage factory participation, and to give the front rows of the grid a level to which the rest can only aspire. Remove this level of aspiration, and you’ve lost more than you gain by having close racing – especially when the biggest stars up sticks and go racing somewhere else. The ‘Go’ Show Supporters of the 250 switch to-‘Prod 600’ should look at what is happening in US Superbikes … Michael Scott MotoGP editor o p in io n Twice AMA Superbike champion Ben Spies will quit US racing as a result of regulation changes. 40