MotoGP rights holders Dorna, put in charge of World Superbikes? Huge, huge news. Very little extra details can be extracted at present (expect the deal to be explained in full at the end of the MotoGP season), but it is certainly a massive move with grand implications for both series.
Like a classic detective show, flashbacks can be made to some key moments that led to the 'takeover' awarded by common owners Bridgepoint.
Dorna CEO, Carmelo Ezpeleta, met with the Infront management at the British WSBK round at Donington Park, in what was ostensibly an attempt to clear the air over the encroachment of the CRT subclass on Superbikes' production philosophy (Infront reaffirmed their stance that their technical rules were set in stone for a five-year period). This was a progression in the often stormy relationship between Ezpeleta and the Flammini brothers, despite the latter's refusal to make concessions as, more often than not, the dialogue between the two parties has taken place via press release. Whilst presented as a cordial understanding, at times tensions have boiled over. Dorna, for example, were very close in 2009 to releasing a scathing attack on the lax standards required by WSBK for a production racer to count as such, pulling the memo questioning the non-prototype nature of the Aprilia RSV4 and the BMW SBR1000 at the last minute when cooler heads prevailed.
Going further back, Bridgepoint's takeover of Infront in September 2011 meant that both series shared a common owner, and one more interested in the bottom line than the racing line. A private equity firm "focusing on the acquisition of companies valued up to 1 billion euros," their goal is to make as much money as they can from the two roadracing World Championships. When they bought Dorna for an estimated €400m from CVC in 2006, an assessment was made of every single position in the company and its necessity. Bridgepoint will have seen that MotoGP is where the profits have been made, and thus understandably wanted to transfer some of that alchemy to World Superbikes (which has the racing and the venues, but not the crowds). Rather than being a takeover, a venture or a coup, the second most popular series on two wheels was a gift — albeit one which Dorna are obliged to make profitable.
Mr. Ezpeleta was not at Magny Cours this past weekend for the World Superbike season finale, but Paolo Flammini was.
"When you open your company to external investors, you give an advantage to the company but clearly you can lose power on a personal level. There is no problem with this," explained Flammini, (not entirely convincingly, it must be said). "As long as this reorganisation process brings good results for the Superbike World Championship, we will cooperate, we will push for the good (of the sport), whatever our position in the new structure — if there will be a position."
Whilst the Italian entrepreneur was adamant that he did not know much more about the ramifications of the move than what had been said in the initial statement, there will not be an immediate closure of the Infront operation. The most sensible move would be for Dorna to keep on the majority of the Infront staff, as there is simply not the manpower within the Spanish company to take on such a large operation at the moment. Can the two work together? We shall see.
On the surface, this restructure is exactly what those behind MotoGP want. The rules can be tinkered with to keep the two series distinguishable and allow for the furthering of the CRT operation without the constant accusations of superbike plagiarism. MotoGP can bring in the spec ECU in 2014 that has so angered Honda (to the point where Mr. Ezpeleta was seen arguing heatedly with HRC's Shuhei Nakamoto in the factory team garage at Aragón). Honda, who recently announced improved support for the Ten Kate team in WSBK as a statement of intent, are now on the back foot and not looking so close to pulling out of MotoGP. As an extra, the profits from the Indian and Russian World Superbike rounds, sold at an undercut price, will now pass through Madrid.
The problems? Series identity is the big one. Whilst WSBK lacks the luster of MotoGP, it is still unmistakably itself. It wouldn't fit in as a feeder series in the Moto2 vein and it is unthinkable that it would share race weekends with Grand Prix racing — despite what people have suggested for years. Dorna will have to work to avoid calendar clashes with both F1 and World Superbikes and will never truly see any other series as being on a par with MotoGP. How could they? It's the premier class, the place where they made their name, the World Championship with the most history. Expect the best to be taken out of WSBK, because MotoGP will always be the priority.
In a tasty twist, MotoGP goes to Japan this week. What we'd all give to be a fly on the wall when Dorna meet with the factories…
- Sports & Recreation