Written by David Emmett
World Superbike is to see pit stops introduced from 2013 onwards during wet races. Races affected by changing conditions – either rain falling during a dry race or a track drying out after rainfall – will no longer be stopped, except for ‘extraordinary conditions’, or conditions which affect rider safety. Instead of stopping the race and restarting with either wet or dry tires, riders will now be allowed to come in to the pits, where the the team will be allowed to change tires and, if necessary, suspension settings. Only three mechanics will be allowed to help each rider during the pit stop, though the rider himself will be allowed to help.
The decision to introduce pit stops is a result of two factors: the first is pressure from TV broadcasters to remain within their given broadcast window, a move that prompted MotoGP in the past to introduce flag-to-flag races. This system was also adopted by World Superbikes, but when the series switched to a single bike per rider at the start of the 2012 season, that became impossible. Reverting to stopping and restarting has not been popular with TV companies, and so WSBK has instead adopted pit stops, allowing teams to change wheels. That change will likely see the widespread adoption of – very costly – Endurance style quick-release wheel axles and brakes to speed up wheel changes, but depending on the speed of the teams it could also lead to riders attempt to stay out for longer in difficult conditions, and risking crashes.
The introduction of pit stops was just one of the rule changes agreed during the meeting of the Superbike Commission at the final round of World Superbikes at Magny-Cours just over a week ago. A number of other modifications to both the sporting and technical regulations were also made, including the introduction of a 3-abreast echolon grid instead of the 4-abreast system, the introduction of tail lights to be used in wet conditions, and brake lever protectors. All of these changes have already been tested in the three classes in MotoGP.
The two biggest changes to the technical regulations are to the minimum weight and to the wheels. The six kilogram ballast added to the V twins (in other words, Ducati) has been dropped, and the Ducatis will now start the season with the same weight as the four-cylinders machines. The move is partly in response to Ducati’s introduction of the Panigale; the radically redesigned V twin has a long way to go along its development path. The performance balancing rules remain in place, meaning that should the Ducati prove too successful, extra weight can be added according to the formula set out in the rules.
The loss of the six kilo ballast should mean that Carlos Checa will shortly announce he will remain with the Althea Ducati squad for next season. Checa had been extremely vocal in his criticism of the extra ballast the 1198R had been forced to carry, and had hinted it would be barely worth competing if the extra weight were to remain. His rival Max Biaggi, the 2012 World Champion aboard the Aprilia RSV4, takes a diametrically opposed view of the situation: “They [Ducati] were already competitive before. Now they’ll start with championship already halfway won,” the Italian told GPOne.com.
The second major change is the switch to 17-inch wheels. The idea behind the switch is to bring the Superbikes closer to the production machines from which they are descended, and to slow the bikes down a little. The aim to slow them down has been quite unsuccessful: at the Aragon test which took place this week, all of the bikes were as fast or faster on the new, larger wheels than they were on the old 16.5-inch wheels, the traditional ‘racing’ wheel size.
These rules will remain in place for at least the 2013 season. After that, the series is likely to move more towards a Superstock format, in line with the wishes of Dorna, who have just taken control of the series. No formal announcements on the future beyond 2013 are to be expected for some time to come, however. First, the rules for MotoGP for 2014 and beyond must be determined, in a process which Carmelo Ezpeleta has said must take place before the start of 2013. Only then will we know the future of World Superbikes.
CLICK HERE for the official press release containing a full list of the changes introduced by the Superbike Commission.
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