Category: Superbikes – British Superbikes, World Superbikes
London 2012 has been incredible so far: the velodrome has provided entertainment like nobody’s business; there have been emotional scenes of disbelief and pure joy from the likes of Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking in the rowing from Eton Dorney; the nation has been gripped by minority sports like judo and shooting; even Andy Murray looked almost pleased with Olympic gold.
And my personal highlight to date: Mo Farah taking a richly deserved victory in the 10,000m. I’ll be in the Olympic Stadium to see him run in the 5,000m heats, and I can’t wait for that.
Do we want Olympic motorsport?
As a motorsport blog, perhaps this isn’t quite the angle I should be going for. But honestly, with that embarrassment of sporting riches, why would anyone need motorsport in the Olympic Games?
Going by what I’ve seen on Twitter, the lack of motorsport certainly doesn’t mean a lack of enthusiasm for the Olympics, from even the most fervent motorsport fan.
Nevertheless, let’s have a look at whether Olympic motorsport is even possible, and what form it could take.
Could motorsport be in the Olympics?
We’ve already established that there was nearly Olympic motorsport in 1900. So could it come back as a full Olympic sport? Actually, it’s not out of the question.
It’s a common misconception that the Olympic Charter precludes sports which “rely on mechanical propulsion”. There was such a rule – and indeed at least as recently as 2007. But a quick look at the current version of the Olympic Charter, in force from 8th July 2011, reveals that there is no longer any such rule.
So the door’s open, right? Not so much. Environmental impact is a factor in assessing new sports for inclusion in the Olympic Games, which would probably rule out any kind of motorsport.
For more on this, have a search of the illuminating Historical Dictionary of the Olympic Movement – for the ‘Automobile Racing’ and ‘Motorcycling’ sections specifically.
How could Olympic motorsport work?
Okay, so we don’t really need or want it, but it is possible – albeit unlikely. What form could it take?
Formula 1 is often put forward as an obvious candidate for an Olympic motorsport event. I can’t imagine why though: it’s expensive, exclusive and elitist. Not to mention the practical considerations: it wouldn’t be very fair to have just the world championship drivers in their regular cars; but if it was open to other drivers, which cars would they use? It’s a minefield.
Something like Formula 3 has more potential. It’s at a more accessible level to ensure wider participation, and you could have F1 drivers and the like going back to risk their reputations against young upstarts. There’s a good geographical spread of national championships, and the Macau Grand Prix demonstrates that they can come together and race against each other effectively.
On two wheels, the same goes for Superbikes. The recent Silverstone 200 race, a support event for the MotoGP, successfully brought together competitors from various superbike, supersport and superstock championships. Not to mention the superbike race at Macau.
Those would, however, depend to a greater or lesser extent on the team and machinery. To eliminate those factors, you’d need to go down the route of something like the Race of Champions. That would be brilliant, but not really practical given the time it takes to transform a stadium into a race track.
However: Race of Champions at the Olympic Stadium. Now that sounds like a very fine idea.
ITV4 has been covering the Isle of Man TT for a good few years now, and a grand old job it’s done. Indeed, I said the channel deserved a medal in 2009. But little has changed since then, so it’s about time for some mild criticism.
Time for more timing
The coverage has always done – and continues to do – a fantastic job of conveying the madness of racing motorbikes around the island’s roads at frightening speeds, averaging up to 130mph or so. But it’s never really got to grips with how to tell the story of the races.
With the TT races being time trials, and riders setting off individually at intervals, it’s tough to convey who’s fighting who for position on adjusted time. But rallying manages, doesn’t it?
We just need more timing data on screen. All we get at the moment is a frustratingly brief look at the top six at the end of each lap, and very occasional split times. It’s got to the point now that it’s even hobbling the commentators, who at times can’t even say who’s leading the race due to a lack of data.
It might be more fundamental than that, though: the highlights need to be built a little more around the race, rather than showing off fancy camera work. That way more timing data should almost come naturally.
Not that I want less fancy camera work, just for it to be used a bit more as a means to tell the story of the race, and not as an end in itself.
Less slow motion, more on-board
After all, the stunning footage is what makes the coverage so enjoyable.
It was the first place I remember seeing high motion cameras being used to produce the astonishing slow motion shots that we now see in a lot of motorsport coverage. I wouldn’t want to lose those great slow motion shots, but it’s no longer special enough to virtually build the coverage around.
What is special about the TT is riders speeding past walls and hedges at staggeringly close proximity. On-board cameras convey that better than anything, so that’s I’d like to see more of. The technology is getting better and smaller too, so there are loads of options – gyro cams, helmet cams, and more places on the bike to put cameras.
What has improved
I don’t want to be negative though. There have been improvements over the years: what was initially a curious commentary combination in Steve Parrish and James Whitham, for example, is now completely natural.
And this year’s coverage is still essential viewing. It’s just that it could be even better.
The BTCC made a bit of a thing recently of tickets for all this season’s meetings now being on sale.
That got me wondering about how much motorsport tickets vary in price. As is my wont at such times, research and a little visualisation followed. Not every venue has every event on sale yet – for example British F3 & GT meetings aren’t all available yet – so I’ve stuck to the main events: BTCC, British Superbikes, and international championships.
There’s a surprising conclusion, that I really wasn’t expecting: Silverstone is the UK’s bargain motorsport venue.
BTCC & BSB
There’s not a lot of variation in the big two domestic championships. All the MotorSport Vision venues – Brands Hatch, Cadwell Park, Oulton Park, Snetterton – are £25 a pop for race day general admission, as are Donington Park, Knockhill and Thruxton.
The only ones below that are Croft at £24, and Silverstone with an early bird price of £23.20. Do Silverstone’s haul of big international events create economies of scale that enable them to undercut the competition?
Rockingham is the only venue at over £25, though in fairness their £26 includes a grandstand seat as standard. Mainly because there’s virtually nowhere else to watch from.
Inevitably Formula Two is the cheapest international event, and again Silverstone comes out on top at £9 compared to £17 at Brands Hatch. You could argue that the Brands Hatch event is co-headlined by the International GT Open, and that Silverstone’s support line-up of Radicals and Minis is not comparable. But having been to F2 at Brands Hatch last year, I can assure you that it’s not worth the asking price, relative to other events.
Next up at £29 is DTM, which doesn’t really work on the Brands Hatch Indy circuit. Moving on, then.
The Superbike World Championship is another where Silverstone wins: £32 compared to £40 at Donington Park.
Silverstone is also the most expensive venue though – but then, hosting the two premier class championships, that’s not much of a surprise. There are still early bird discounts to be had on MotoGP, starting at £52, but no such luck with Formula 1, which is quite the leap up at £135 or more. Perhaps there’s something to the argument that F1 is subsidising everything else at Silverstone.
The festivities are over for another year, everyone’s back at work, it’s wet and windy, the news is unremittingly bleak – it’s easy to get down. So, in an effort to keep SAD at bay, here are some reasons to be blindly optimistic.
Which nation is best at motorsport? Well, I thought I’d try to find out. To do so, I threw the final standings of an entirely arbitrary selection of world championships – Formula 1, WRC, WTCC, MotoGP and Superbike World Championship – at a spreadsheet, normalised the points to a total of 100 per championship, and totalled them up by nation. Then I made a pretty pie chart.
It’s impossible to make this fair, the most obvious issue being three car championships and only two bike. But given the extent to which Spain and Italy dominate on two-wheels, it doesn’t seem too unreasonable. Plus, this way, the UK comes out on top. Which is the most important thing.
The UK and Spain – second overall – are the only nations to score in every one of the five championships – albeit the UK not very well in WRC and MotoGP, and Spain in WRC and WTCC. They’re followed by Italy, overwhelmingly thanks to lots of riders doing quite well – without winning championships – in MotoGP and SBK. Though to be fair, no championships were brought back to the UK either.
France is fourth, thanks to a couple of championships – Yvan Muller in WTCC, Sebastien Loeb in WRC – and Loeb’s new favourite rival Sebastien Ogier. Almost all of fifth place Germany’s points came from F1, and two-thirds of those from Sebastian Vettel.
Outside the top five, we finally leave Europe, and find Australia, represented almost exclusively by Casey Stoner and Mark Webber. Finland, in seventh, inevitably gets all its points from the WRC, chiefly Mikko Hirvonen and Jari Matti-Latvala.
The USA in eighth is pretty much the MotoGP lads, since most American drivers tend to stay in America. Ninth is Norway, courtesy of Mads Ostberg and the Solbergs in WRC. Alain Menu’s WTCC third place near single-handedly takes tenth for Switzerland.
The whole table follows for your delectation:
Officially, it’s perfectly clear: it’s the FIM Superbike World Championship. The problem is, no-one really calls it that. World Superbikes is probably the most common way of referring to the series, which is then abbreviated to WSB. But SBK is the chosen abbreviation of series promoters Infront Sports & Media.
Good news, then, that the series is being rebranded. But they’re sticking with SBK, which seems like a missed opportunity.
It’s a tiny issue, obviously, but branding-wise it’s huge. People searching for any one of the terms – World Superbikes, WSB, Superbike World Championship, SBK, WSBK – are only going to get some of the results.
With the series going by so many names, the promoter, teams and media all have to work extra hard just to be found. It’s totally avoidable if everyone could agreement on what to use.
But the promoters aren’t going to budge, presumably because SBK looks better than WSB. Which is true especially since, according to Infront’s Paolo Flammini:
Which is another slightly curious choice: chevrons are associated with ‘keep your distance’, which is I’m sure is not the message the promoters are trying to get across.
Ah, the wildcard entry. There’s little better than seeing a rider or driver on an unfamiliar grid, beating the regulars. Unless you’re one of the regulars, of course.
Formula 1 doesn’t do wildcards. It’s a shame, but I can’t see how it could work.
Ferrari – famously keen on the idea of running a three-car team – would probably enter a wildcard at every race. Probably the same driver, if they could get away with it.
Instead, one driver getting a chance in F1 means another losing out. Karun Chandhok is the lucky one this weekend in Germany, taking the place of Jarno Trulli at Team Lotus. No bad thing.
Maybe it’s because there’s not as much spare cash sloshing around the sport, but there are no such restrictions on wildcards in MotoGP. And they can provide some real highlights.
Troy Bayliss, for example, winning the final race of the 2006 season at Valencia, on a wildcard entry for Ducati, having already won the World Superbike title for them. That was in place of the injured Sete Gibernau though, so perhaps not the purest example of a wildcard.
There’s a proper wildcard entry for AMA rider Ben Bostrom this weekend at Laguna Seca. He’ll double the number of riders at LCR Honda, persumably as a bit of a kick up the arse for Toni Elias. It’ll be fascinating to see how he gets on.
His performance in British Superbikes has been one of the highlights of the year so far. To so quickly return to winning ways, on the unfamiliar and – shall we say – idiosyncratic, circuits of the British Isles is hugely impressive. Hands up who wouldn’t love to see him win the championship? If your hand’s up, shame on you.
He’s already been rewarded by Suzuki with one MotoGP race – standing in for an injured Alvaro Bautista at Jerez – and he’s got a wildcard entry on a second Suzuki at Brno next month. Not only that, but he – along with his BSB team-mate – has a wildcard entry for the World Superbike round at Silverstone.
You can’t blame him for passing on LCR Honda, and not risking his clearly very good relationship with Suzuki. Already I can’t wait to see what he’ll be doing next season.
He’s by no means the only superbike rider to get about.
Tom Sykes had a wildcard entry for the Brands Hatch GP round of British Superbikes last year, with the Kawasaki World Superbike team, and won two of the three races. He’s doing the same again this year.
And before he made his MotoGP debut proper in 2010, Ben Spies had a clutch of wildcard entries: three in 2008 for Suzuki, when he was riding for them in AMA; and one in 2009 for Yamaha, when he won the World Superbike title with them. He scored points in every one of them.
Unless I’m being an idiot – quite possible – wildcards on four wheels don’t tend to be quite so high profile.
There’s a bit of it in touring cars – Colin Turkington at the Donington Park round of the WTCC last weekend, for example. But that didn’t go terribly well.
Rallying too. Volkswagen, for example, preparing for the debut of the Polo R WRC in 2013, by running Skoda Fabia S2000s for various young drivers this season.
But most enticing is The $5,000,000 Challenge in IndyCar – which will see five non-regulars race at the finale in Las Vegas. The lure is a $5 million payout if they win the race. How great an idea is that? Very great.
If only Formula 1 had an appetite for that sort of thing…
Apologies in advance for the length of this post. It’s the equivalent of the ’90s Saturday lunchtime ITV multimedia extravaganza Movies, Games and Videos – by which I mean it’s incoherent – but with less Steve Priestley. Sadly.
Senna is already the third highest grossing documentary ever at the UK box office (excluding concerts) – and deservingly so.
Top of that list is Farenheit 9/11, with what looks like an unassailable £6.5 million. Second place looks distinctly more achievable – March of the Penguins with £3.1 million (I think, though that disagrees with the figure quoted elsewhere).
As of last weekend, Senna was just shy of the £3 million barrier, which it should pass this week. Give it a couple of weeks, and I reckon it’ll take the number two spot. It should do, if you look at the trend.
TT3D: Closer To The Edge
There’s good reason to think that Senna will hang around in cinemas for a while yet, in the form of the also excellent TT3D: Closer To The Edge. After 12 weeks on release, it’s still taking money, albeit at only six sites last week. It’s grossed over £1.2 million to date.
Which means the DVD and Blu-ray release, which I am keenly awaiting, is still yet to be dated. The good news is that plans seems to be well advanced though, as there’s an extensive listing on Duke Video now.
More Guy Martin
But if you can’t wait for more Guy Martin, then this entry to the Relentless Energy Drink Short Stories film competition, entitled Isle of Man Tourist Trophy, is worth a watch. It’s a bit like TT3D, but about 100 minutes shorter.
In other Guy Martin news, he revealed in passing this week that he’s got another TV project in the works. And in ACTUAL RACING NEWS, also this week he won the Senior Race at the Southern 100. Which is good.
Lastly, a game! Or perhaps more accurately, a promotional tool for Red Bull Speed Jam, which takes place in Cardiff on 3rd September. Amongst the attractions will be Red Bull Racing, aerial acrobatics from the Red Bull Matadors, and the finals of the Red Bull Kart Fight karting competition.
Red Bull Kart Fight is also the name of the game, which comes in iPhone and browser variants. Buy Red Bull – if you can stand the stuff – enter the code thereon, and you can win tickets to Speed Jam through playing the game.
The iPhone version is little more than glorified Scalextric: accelerate and brake are the only meaningful inputs; tilting only adds drift and modifies the racing line which you automatically follow. Not good. Still, better than the TT3D promotional iPhone game.
Thankfully there are proper controls in the browser version, which isn’t a bad litle “nod to Micro Machines” – to quote the company behind the game.
On paper, Ian Hutchinson should have been the star of TT3D: Closer To The Edge. In 2010, he became the first rider ever to win all five races in a year at the Isle of Man TT. It was an incredible achievement. But Ian Hutchinson is a softly spoken humanoid automaton – albeit endearingly so – and gets the screen time his personality demands.
So does Guy Martin. The difference is that Guy Martin’s personality is that of an excitable Jibba Jabber. In short: he’s good value.
It’s not all ‘likeable idiot’ stuff though. There’s plenty of that early on – when Hutchinson, John McGuinness and Michael Dunlop are also profiled, providing an enjoyable juxtaposition. But at the TT, we get to see the meticulous, uncompromising, petulant side of Guy Martin’s personality. And, perhaps less welcome, his love of wanking.
It all adds up to a compelling portrait of Guy Martin. But entertaining though he is – and there’s no doubt that the force of his personality drives a lot of the film – it’s not him I came away thinking about.
The film doesn’t shy away from the issue of death. It’s extensively talked about by the riders, families, officials – everyone, in short. To an extent, the film is trying to understand the fascination with the TT, when it’s so objectively dangerous.
New Zealand rider Paul Dobbs died in the 2010 TT. Footage of his funeral procession on the island with dozens of bikers following is one of the most poignant moments; the interview with his widow, Bridget, is one of the most inspiring.
Another moment imprinted on my mind is seeing Conor Cummins tumbling down the mountain like a ragdoll. It’s absolutely staggering. That he’s back on a bike now is incredible.
I’ve not mentioned the races a great deal, but the film’s not really about the races – it’s about the people. Don’t get me wrong: on-board footage on a huge cinema screen is a treat to see. But it’s not what makes the film what it is: a proper documentary, with laughs, gasps, shivers, tears, and food for thought.
So here’s hoping for a DVD release – as TT2D, if you like. The 3D added nothing, anyway.
These must be interesting times for Guy Martin: having signed for Relentless Suzuki, things look rosy for the road racing season ahead; his prime time BBC One series has just finished; and his move up from the small screen to the big screen is imminent. Blimey.
The Boat That Guy Built
Did you watch The Boat That Guy Built? It was a curious beast: by turns fascinating and tedious, amusing and annoying, over long yet running at a breakneck pace. Like Guy Martin himself, you might say.
His role was curious too. It felt to me like perhaps he didn’t quite work out as hoped in front of the camera, and in the edit became more the subject of the documentary than the presenter. Certainly his pieces to camera that did make the cut were a touch more rapid-fire and rambling than a 7.30pm BBC One audience might be used to. It would also explain the Liza Tarbuck voiceover, delivered very much in the tone of a despairing mother.
I stuck with it though – despite the unending calls of “chief” and “boss”. It’s always good to see Industrial Revolution era engineering, and Guy Martin’s enthusiasm and willingness to have a go was a reasonably effective medium.
It’s available on the BBC iPlayer for a few weeks yet.
TT3D: Closer To The Edge
I can’t decide which is more unexpected to see Guy Martin in: a prime time TV series, or a documentary film with a wide cinematic release. TT3D: Closer To The Edge is about the Isle of Man TT as a whole, but the trailer suggests that Guy Martin will be one of the main focal points.
Like I, Superbiker, the majority of the screenings will be on one night: Wednesday 20th April 2011. They’re being labelled preview screenings, but far fewer cinemas will be showing the film on its official release on Friday 22nd April.
But unlike I, Superbiker, I think TT3D might be genuinely good. The trailer certainly looks a lot more professional, and gives the impression of being a proper documentary. It’s also telling, perhaps, that the pre-release plaudits have come from the like of Empire and Total Film, rather than The Sun and MCN.
Fingers crossed, then. I’ll pop along to one of the preview screenings, and shove my opinions right up this website shortly afterwards.
But, whatever you do, don’t download the TT3D Game for the iPhone. It is literally the worst thing I’ve played in years. It looks awful, the course is completely flat, the bike is virtually uncontrollable – I shan’t go on. Just don’t go near it.