Tuesday, October 16, 2007

BSB: Shock as GSE Ducati Close Down

British Superbike racing is in a mild state of fear and alarm after the GSE team announced that they have withdrawn from the BSB, and cannot find sponsorship for a WSBK campaign. They have therefore shut up shop.

The problem is that Ducati have told them that the 1200cc Ducati 1098R is unsafe to race with standard pistons, and must only be raced with aftermarket pistons. The reason that's a problem is that the BSB rules, set by the MCRCB, state that original stock pistons must be used unless there is a clear safety issue. Ducati have claimed it is a safety issue, but have been unwilling or unable to provide independent proof of this.

Under the 2008 BSB technical rules, V-twin motorcycles (i.e. Ducati) are allowed to run a 1200cc engine at the same level of tune as 4-cylinder motorcycles of 1000cc. The extra 200cc is intended to make up for the fact that a screaming 4 will produce more power than a booming twin of the same capacity. Until now, V-twins had the same capacity as 4-cylinder bikes, but were allowed to replace various engine internals (including pistons) to achieve a higher state of tune and therefore more power.

Buying all of these trick engine parts, and rebuilding the engine frequently due to the high level of tuning, was extremely costly. That is why the new rules were written. Ducati could produce enough power by using capacity rather than expensive new parts. That was the theory, anyway.

The rumours on the forums are that the 1200cc Ducati with stock pistons cannot be tuned highly enough to compete with the 4-cylinder bikes without blowing up. This is the safety issue, that Ducati engines would be blowing up left, right and centre, spewing oil all over the track. Therein lies the rub. Many would say that if the engine blows up when you tune it for 200bhp, then don't tune it for 200bhp. You'll just have to settle for 180bhp or whatever it can safely produce. This would make your bike safe, but very slow.

Basically the two viewpoints are:

1) A Ducati tuned for 200bhp would blow up and therefore it's a safety issue.

2) A Ducati tuned not to blow up would only produce say 180bhp, and therefore it's a performance issue.

The MCRCB aren't backing down, and that is why GSE have been forced out. It seems that the villains of the piece are Ducati, who have produced a homologation special with rubbish pistons. By claiming that it can't be raced without aftermarket pistons, Ducati have left GSE no option but to leave the BSB, as this clearly breaks the technical rules.

Personally, I think it looks like cost-cutting by Ducati. They are only producing the 1200cc version of the 1098 in limited numbers and people are biting their hands off to buy it. Building them with proper racing pistons would cost an estimated £1000 to £1500 per bike, but Ducati decided not to do this. Possibly this is because they didn't realize how popular the 1098 would become, thanks to its good looks, performance and association with the all-conquering MotoGP Ducati of Casey Stoner. I'm sure they could have got away with slapping another grand on the price tag, but without a crystal ball they may not have been willing to take that risk.

What BSB will look like next year is a moot point. No thundering Ducatis, and the departure of Ryuichi Kiyonari for WSBK will slash the HRC backing for HM Plant Honda. There will be a one-tyre rule in BSB, which may level things up, but can Suzuki and Yamaha get close to Honda, or will BSB turn into a Honda Cup? It's all up in the air.

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