One of the best things about running MotoMatters.com (apart from the opportunity to get so close and learn so much about racing motorcycles and the people who are involved with them) is the interaction I have had with readers. I am regularly complimented by people in the paddock on the intelligence and thoughtful tone of the comments on the website. Indeed, I am sometimes put to shame by them, the comments being far more interesting and insightful than the story which appears above them.
It is not just on the website itself. There is also social media, and interacting with race fans via Twitter or Facebook gives me a real sense of what fans think and what they want to know. From time to time, I will also try to arrange a meet up with fans at a racetrack itself, and talk to people directly, although that is too often very hard to fit in to the hectic schedule of a race weekend.
That proves to be the hardest thing for me. So many of the comments and questions come during a race weekend that I never have time to answer them with the attention they deserve. Questions that come in via Twitter are often interesting, but with only 140 characters to play with, giving a full and clear response is often very difficult.
It was a busy track at Jerez, with more teams from various classes having converged on the circuit for the last couple of days testing. While the Suzuki factory MotoGP team has packed up and left, their place has been taken by the Ducati factory team, both MotoGP and World Superbike, along with the Forward Yamaha Open class team and Avintia Ducati. There were a number of Moto2 riders lapping here, rather than joining the Marc VDS Racing team and Gresini at Almeria, the Pons Kalex and QMMF teams taking to the track at Jerez. MV Agusta also started their first couple of days of testing, with Jules Cluzel returning to race in World Supersport, while Leon Camier gave a brand new F4RR a shakedown, starting his first day of work with his new team.
Alex Lowes has topped the second day of combined testing for teams from both major world championships at Jerez. After another wet morning, the track finally dried out in the afternoon, allowing the riders to post competitive lap times. Lowes ended the day as fastest, the Suzuki rider posting a fast lap right at the end of the day, beating his superpole time from the race weekend here back in September.
Lowes was one of a group of riders who chased a quick time at the end of the day, Kawasaki's Tom Sykes ending just over a tenth of a second behind Lowes, while Leon Haslam put the factory-backed Red Devils Roma Aprilia into third place. Both Aprilia WSBK riders were fast all day, Haslam and possible future teammate Michel Fabrizio dominating proceedings earlier.
One of the things I enjoy most about running the MotoMatters.com website is the ability to communicate and interact directly with fans. Here, and as @motomatters on Twitter (and even one day on Facebook, once I get the page sorted out properly), I derive a lot of pleasure from hearing your questions and answering them to the best of my ability.
Of course, the problem with Twitter is that space to give an answer is severely limited, to just 140 characters. That doesn't leave much space to give as full an answer as the questions usually deserve. Similarly, when responding to comments on the website, I often don't have the time to spend giving the answer the full attention it deserves, as most of the questions and comments come during a race weekend.
The FIM have finally released the provisional calendar for the World Superbike series for next year. The 2015 season will see WSBK travel to 14 rounds, returning to all of the venues which hosted races in 2014, and two more overseas rounds added, in Russia and Thailand.
The chances of this being the definitive calendar appear to be slim. Three rounds are marked as still subject to contract: Portimao, Moscow and Qatar. Both Portimao and Qatar look likely to go ahead, but whether WSBK will actually return to Moscow remains to be seen. The 2014 round was canceled due to the political instability in the Russian Federation and the overflow of conflict in Ukraine, which affected various partners of the series. The political situation has only deteriorated since then, with the EU and US imposing sanctions on Russia, making the race there almost impossible. The teams and riders will be hoping for the round to be canceled: the race was a logistical nightmare to get equipment to and from, and for both the fans and riders to attend and find accommodation for.
Motorcycle racing is expanding further into Asia. The World Superbike series has agreed a three-year deal with the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to stage a round of WSBK at the track.
The track at Buriram was completed earlier this year, and had already staged several rounds of car racing, as well as a round of the FIM Asia Road Racing championship. After an inspection by Dorna and the FIM, the track was homologated earlier this year, and will now see a visit from World Superbikes. The WSBK round is seen by Dorna as a test for MotoGP, with a chance of the premier class visiting the circuit from 2016 onwards.
Though the facilities at Buriram appear to be first rate, the only concern about the track is it is in the middle of nowhere. Bangkok is four hours away, and the town of Buriram is home to 15,000. Accommodation, just for the teams, could be difficult, let alone the crowds they hope to have.
Thailand is one of three extra rounds expected to be added to the World Superbike schedule for 2015. The 12 races held this year will also feature on the calendar, with Thailand added and Dorna hoping to add two more races. The World Superbike schedule is expected to be published next Tuesday, 18th November.
Below is the official press release issued by Dorna:
What is the biggest problem in motorcycle racing today? Is it the predominant role electronics is playing, ruining the racing? Is it the ever more restrictive rules imposed, killing bike development and the spirit of Grand Prix racing? Is it the lack of competitive machinery, making it impossible for anyone but a factory rider to win a race? Or is it the dominance of the two top manufacturers, driving costs up and discouraging wider manufacturer participation?
You can point to all of those and more as being an issue, but they pale in comparison to the real problem the sport of motorcycle racing faces at the moment: Money. Specifically, the lack of it, and the inability of almost everyone involved in the sport to find ways of raising any. All of the ills of both MotoGP and World Superbikes can be traced back to this single failure.
The root of racing's problem is well-known. Once upon a time, when advertising tobacco products on TV and radio was banned, the cigarette companies needed some way of reaching potential customers. Spotting the loophole in the law, they immediately leaped on sports sponsorship as a means to promote their product. They went for sports which were glamorous, exciting, and had an edge of danger, exactly the image they want to project, and came up with motorsports.
Governments around the world saw the loophole they created, and started to close it down. After some clever negotiating by F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone, motorsports were given an exemption until 2006, at which time all visible promotion of tobacco products in the sport's major markets was completely banned. The good times were over.
The last World Superbike race of a season is done, and with it, the season is over. The cloud of team orders hung over the overnight races, and tensions rose over orders refused.
Press releases from the series organizers and the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after the final round of the 2014 season at Qatar:
The World Supersport championship was settled in Magny Cours, but second place remained to be decided.
Press releases from the series organizers and the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after qualifying on Saturday at Qatar:
Qualifying for the last race weekend of the season is done and all that's left now is to race. Tom Sykes or Sylvain Guintoli will be crowned champion in a matter of hours.
Nighttime World Supersport qualifying at Qatar.
In what looked like it was going to be another weekend of dominance by Michael van der Mark, Kenan Sofuoglu ekes past at the last minute, with a 2'02.576. Van der Mark and Jules Cluzel were within a tenth of a second of the Turkish rider, while Film Wilairot was three tenths further back.