Milestone.hu - Adrian Musolino - The swinging pendulum
 


Roland írta,
16 óra 26 perckor,
Médiaszemle témakörben.
Kovax nemrég Ausztráliában járt, ahonnan hozott is egy motoros magazint, nevezetesen a Two Wheels januári számát. A mind tartalmában, mind megjelenésében jó minőségű kiadvány egyik cikke a gyorsasági motorversenyzés két bajnokságát (MotoGP és SBK) veszi górcső alá. Mivel Adrian Musolino írása eddig még nem jelent online formában, kénytelen voltam kézzel bepötyögni a színvonalas összefoglalót. A copyright miatt még írtam is egy levelet Jeremy Bowdler szerkesztőnek, de ő a mai napig nem válaszolt. Sebaj, a cikket ettől függetlenül - eredeti nyelven - megosztjuk az olvasókkal.

Adrian Musolino - The swinging pendulum
Would we all be better off with just one world motorcycle championship?

The final MotoGP race of 2006 will be remembered not just because it marked the end of Valentino Rossi's five-year championship reign, but also as the day Troy Bayliss returned to MotoGP in style. As the World Superbike champion, Bayliss made a one-off return for Ducati, taking a famous victory at Valencia and laying the ghosts of his previous GP career to rest.
It was also a win for the reputation of the Superbike World Championship, which has often been labelled as an inferior category to GP: a second division of motorcycle racing. But is this the case?
The differences between the series are easily explained. MotoGP is for prototype motorcycles, while Superbikes are derived from production bikes. This may be obvious to bike nuts, but for non-motorcycle fans the visual differences between a MotoGP machine and a Superbike are not so apparent.
Many non-motorcycle fans believe the MotoGP and SBK are warring factions, like two different boxing titles. Veteran journalist Dennis Noyes, who does SBK commentary with Spain's Telecino, says the most common question asked by viewers during the coverage is where are the likes of Rossi, Pedrosa and others.
The confusion is not surprising considering the relative strength of both series. SBK, for example, is televised in 173 countries. In less than a decade the amount of hours of SBK televised worldwide has doubled. Not bad for a "second division" category.

Renaissance
SBK has certainly found an audience. Despite shaky beginnings in the 1980s, SBK emerged 10 years later as a viable alternative to GP racing. Manufacturers could race the bikes they sold in the showrooms, a direct link between the track and the road. In the mid-'90s SBK's popularity in the UK actually far exceeded that of GPs, thanks to the dominance of Carl Fogarty and the lack of a genuine British contender in GP since the late Barry Sheen.
MotoGP is the premier class of motorcycle racing, but SBK is not far behind, especially considering it survived one of its greatest challenges when MotoGP switched to four-stroke machines in 2002. Tellingly too, in light of MotoGP's recent tyre battles [tw 12/07], SBK also survived the implementation of a sole tyre supplier, which initially led to a series boycott by the Japanese manufacturers.
These events had the pendulum swinging in favour of MotoGP, but the manufacturers could not stay away from SBK for long. The temptation of racing on Sunday and selling on Monday for a fraction of the cost of MotoGP proved too strong, and now all four Japanese factories have officially-supported teams.
Aprilia looks set to join the 2009 grid with its new 1000cc V-four, as does BMW with a new in-line four, while KTM is rumoured to be looking at SBK, as its 1200cc RC8 V-twin is now allowed to race with the new engine capacity regulations starting in 2008. And despite Carl Fogarty's exiting an arrangement with MV Agusta to run a factory team due to lack of sponsorship, it's possible the Italian manufacturer may still run Superbikes in 2008.
If all these plans come off, SBK would represent a majority of the world's leading motorcycle manufacturers, several more than MotoGP. The SBK renaissance would be complete.
SBK's organisers have also signed with Swiss sports promotion company Infront Sports and Media, which promoted the soccer World Cup, to increase the series' global exposure. So expect SBK's calendar to expand back into Asia, the Americas and Africa, just like it did in its golden era of the 1990s.

Troy Bayliss's stunning flag to flag win in the last MotoGP of 2006.

Neck and neck
The SBK renaissance means we have two high-profile world championships and, in terms of performance, there is a little separating the two. MotoGP has adapted well to the change to 800cc four-strokes with all the manufacturers, and especially Ducati, showing decent pace with the smaller engines, and lap times have remained competitive with the 990s.
To accommodate Ducati's 1098, SBK will allow 1200cc machines this year, despite initial threats from some Japanese firms, such as Suzuki, to leave the series. It means the performance gap between SBK and MotoGP could be further reduced and, if SBK ever returns to a competitive tyre rule, like the fierce war between Bridgestone and Michelin in MotoGP - which will continue for at least another year now that Dorna has rejected the single-tyre proposal - that gap can only get smaller.
Both series are also similar in terms of grid size and sponsorship backing. Both average 20-bike grids, too small for ideal bike racing. Only 18 MotoGP bikes took the grid for the 2007 Dutch TT compared with 24 at the same event in 1997, or 37 back in 1988. The reason is the costs associated with running a MotoGP bike have skyrocketed and diminished entries.
Filling the grid needs more sponsorship and both MotoGP and SBK have struggled to find large, multi-national blue-chip backers, despite the relative popularity of both categories. In MotoGP, the tighter laws on tobacco sponsorship - one of the class's greatest supporters over the years - have not helped the situation. Today, with the exception of Marlboro-backed Ducati, no teams enjoy tobacco sponsorship, and filling the void left by its absence has been very difficult.
Where Formula One has successfully replaced its tobacco sponsors with a host of household names such as Vodafone, AT&T and ING, MotoGP has struggled. The major sponsorship deal of 2007 - Italian automotive giant FIAT's backing of the factory Yamaha team - had more to do with the popularity of Valentino Rossi than MotoGP.

Pay to play
Since the switch to four-strokes, independent MotoGP teams have struggled to survive. Team Pons and WCM have disappeared, while Ilmor was unable to find sufficient funds to see out its first season in 2006. Current teams such as Tech 3 Yamaha, D'Antin Ducati and Gresini Honda are all said to be struggling to fund their programs, and Team Roberts was on the brink of closure before minor sponsorship deals meant it could continue racing in 2007.
Dorna has been forced to fund independent teams, paying a reported $50 million in subsidies, $20 million more than in 2006. It's a predicament that cannot be sustained, and it all comes despite MotoGP's growing popularity. Estimated worldwide TV audiences are up to 320 million per race, and the average spectator attendance of 126,000 per GP is double that of a decade ago. But why is MotoGP, and bike racing in general, struggling to find sponsors?
Ilmor boss Mario Illien believes more needs to be done to make the sport more appealing to commercial backers. "Key people outside of the sport don't really understand what MotoGP is and the fantastic opportunity it represents by association." he said. "I also think that people perhaps underestimated the impact that the decline in tobacco sponsorship would have on the sport. Added to this potential corporate sponsors are much more environmentally aware these days. I'm a strong believer that environmental issues and professional motorsport shouldn't be mutually exclusive. There are plenty of opportunities to be explored on this front." said Illien.
Internal bickering hasn't helped, driving some sponsors away as happened with Telefonica Movistar, which quit the sport when Dani Pedrosa defected to Repsol Honda. Motorcycle racing will always struggle to find sponsors relative to car racing, purely because of the differences in the size of their worldwide markets. And despite being a world championship, with events around the globe, MotoGP has also faced accusations of being primarily a championship for Italians and Spaniards, whose career are bankrolled by sponsors through the 125 and 250 ranks.
FIM President Vito Ippolito has pledged to develop motorcycle racing in emerging continents such as Asia, Latin America and Africa. It is hoped this will not only allow riders from places other than Europe into the sport, but also expose the sport to new markets and sponsors. Already MotoGP is attempting to spread its wings with two races in the US, with Indianapolis joining Laguna Seca on the calendar this year.

Two into one?
One proposal under discussion is the scaling down of the 125 and 250 classes, reducing the status of these championships by separating them from the MotoGP paddock. Both Kenny Roberts Senior and F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone believe the status of the support categories deflects sponsors, attention and television time away from MotoGP.
Ecclestone's suggestion of downgrading the 125 and 250s from a world championship to a European series has been rubbished by Dorna chief Carmelo Ezpeleta. MotoGP must be careful not to completely shout out the 125 and 250 series, for they continue develop young riders. MotoGP champions Rossi and Stoner and contender Pedrosa are all graduates of the smaller classes. The smaller classes also cater to the powerful Spanish and Italian lobbies.
Another proposal involves replacing the 250 two-stroke GP class with 600cc four-strokes, but the potential conflict with World Supersport, itself a world championship status supporting category of SBK, is obvious and no doubt alarming for SBK's organisers.
Many of MotoGP's problems are shared by SBK as another world championship competing for market share, TV audiences and sponsors. SBK has struggled for funds of late: besides MV and Carl Fogarty's problems, Francis Batta's 2005 championship-winning Suzuki team has lost its Corona backing, forcing Max biaggi to find another ride. The only saving grace is the cost of running Superbikes is much smaller compared with MotoGP.
Could unification of the two series be one way of ending the sponsorship drought? Sponsors may be tempted by a sole world motorcycle championship, and it would erase any doubts about which category is superior.
Although it may take the demise of one category to facilitate a merger, if MotoGP and SBK remain separate and the competition between them becomes too intense, both series may suffer from a shortage of bikes and money.
But how could unification work? Finding common ground on uniform technical regulations would be near impossible, though if no agreement on a merger could be reached, an alternative might be to run both categories on the same program, with perhaps a support category in tow.
While this could create further tension over which is the superior category, the prospect of having MotoGP and SBK racing on the same program would be enticing. And it would also be a lot easier to answer questions regarding the differences between the two if they were parts of the same package.
Whatever happens, the decision will be a commercial one. Despite Ippolito's pledge to develop motorcycle racing in emerging continents, the FIM has leased most of the organising rights to the respective promoters of MotoGP and SBK, and has little control over the future directions of either class.
As the pendulum continues to swing between the two series, it's worth considering whether motorcycling would be better off with just one unified peak world road racing championship. As Bayliss demonstrated, champions are champions no matter the category.

Forrás: Two Wheels magazin, 2008/01



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