There's all the maneouvering and speculation for 2013 to get into, after all, with the fallout from Ben Spies's forthcoming parting of ways with Yamaha and the Valentino Rossi saga to keep MotoGP at the forefront of the mind. For those whose hunger for racing cannot be satiated by soap opera, however, it was time to gorge on World Superbikes action from Silverstone this past Sunday.
Reading your comments, almost invariably at least one person pops in to push the argument that the World Superbike Championship is a more entertaining series for a spectator. Tired of a lack of variety on the podium in MotoGP, frustrated with the factories running the show or befuddled by the CRT concept, the production bike series is used as a threat rather than as an alternative by the tired observer.
Recently though, the same argument has been used by some of the top talent in the premier class. Spies is keeping schtum, but it is an open secret that he is returning to WSBK with BMW to partner fellow MotoGP exile Marco Melandri. Disgruntled at the possibility of being overlooked for the Yamaha factory ride, Andrea Dovizioso has also vocally considered the option of switching competitions rather than remaining in a satellite team. It's not often that you see one rider in his prime taking what is still considered a step down, let alone two.
I love a Superbike race as much as the next man (unless the next man is Troy Bayliss, in which case I can't really compete with that) but it's unrealistic to think that MotoGP is going to play second fiddle in the popularity stakes anytime soon. To be recognised as the superior series, there would need to be a mass influx of 'proven' MotoGP talent and, paradoxically, more Superbike specialist racewinners proving that they can do the same on a prototype bike.
Spies was the big coup of recent years in 2008, rejecting a Suzuki MotoGP ride for a '1+1' Yamaha contract that would take him the long route to his preferred destination. But we all knew that was temporary - a diversion for a few months. In the end, World Superbikes didn't gain much popularity, Spies romped to the title and then headed off, with no superstar replacement coming in.
MotoGP has the advantage in history, prestige, television coverage and salary. The fastest bikes in the world are there. Compare the fastest race lap in Assen for the much maligned CRT bikes acknowledged to be glorified backmarkers, with the fastest race lap in both Superbike races at the same venue: 1'36:808 (Aleix Espargaró on the ART) with 1'38:092 and 1'37:320. The younger stars in WSBK also all express their desire to ride in MotoGP one day, hardly helping the cause.
One man could shift the balance of power in a second, however. Rossi has joked about going to Superbikes in the past, mainly to get a rise out of old rival Max Biaggi, but a switch for his final active years, after one more stint on a top bike in MotoGP, is more of a possibility than ever if the Italian media are to be believed. MotoGP will have lost Stoner, Spies, Simoncelli and possibly Dovizioso before then, Lorenzo and Pedrosa will no doubt have carried on winning and fans will still love Number 46.
The power of the racer over the racing: Rossi is the only man capable of making such a seismic shift. Fans will follow him wherever he goes. Fellow riders would want to race alongside him, whatever the series. The young saviour of MotoGP in the 2000s might yet give Dorna a headache in the twilight years of his career.
- Sports & Recreation
- World Superbikes
- Ben Spies