The repercussions of Bridgepoint's decision to hand control of the World Superbike series to Dorna are just starting to become clear, as each of the protagonists get to explain their side of the story. After Paolo Flammini spoke to the media at the final World Superbike round of the year at Magny-Cours, at Motegi, it was the turn of Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta to face the press.
He did so an hour before the traditional pre-event press conference, giving a statement and answering questions from assembled journalists on the implications of the move (a full transcript of the press conference is available on the official MotoGP.com website). Ezpeleta did his best to first of all quell any fears among the legions of World Superbike fans that Dorna intended implementing any major changes for the coming season, ensuring the assembled media that all would go ahead for 2013 as planned. "For next year things will continue as they are, and both MotoGP and WSBK will continue the same way, with exactly the same system of organization and with the same technical rules," Ezpeleta told the press. "For 2013 the regulations will be the ones that have been approved between the FIM and Infront Motor Sports," he said in response to questions, "In 2013 it will be exactly as proposed by the different parties involved, there will not be any changes for 2013."
Beyond 2013 is a different matter, however. Ezpeleta made it clear that his goal was to harmonize the regulations between the MotoGP and World Superbike series, each maintaining their separate identities, but cutting costs and increasing the spectacle in both. "From now, together with the FIM, the manufacturers, the circuits and with the teams, we will try to accommodate these difficult economic times to set up two championships that are able to continue and to grow together," Ezpeleta said. "This is the main aim of both championships - reducing costs and increasing the show."
After the bombshell announcement that Bridgepoint was putting Dorna in charge of both the MotoGP and World Superbike series, the media were keen to get a reaction from either of the Flammini brothers, the two men who had helped to grow the series into the success it is today, and who currently run WSBK. After an initial deafening silence, Paolo Flammini finally made an appearance at Magny-Cours on Sunday morning, to explain his, and Infront's, point of view. Our friends at the Italian website InfoMotoGP.com were present to record the press conference on video.
Flammini did not say much - indeed, he started his speech with the words "I don't have much to add to what is written in the press release," - but what he did say helped clarify the situation a little. Starting off with an understatement - "This step represents a very big moment in the history of World Superbikes", Flammini told the assembled media - the Italian was at pains to make clear that World Superbikes would face few changes for 2013. "Many people are worried for the 2013 season, but nothing special will happen," he said, emphasizing that his aim was to keep stability in the series.
Press releases from the World Superbike finale on Sunday from Magny-Cours:
The last weekend of World Superbikes in 2012 gave us tense action throughout the day, as the championship resisted all efforts of being straight-forward. In Supersport, a pantomime villain twirled his waxed moustache while in Superbike, a lantern jawed Englishman stood for victory and fair play in the field of sports while duelling with a skull and crossbones pirate.
As the title was settled last time out, the fight for third place and the manufacturers title were still to be decided.
Sunday is going to be a big day for World Superbikes at Magny-Cours. Not just because the 2012 title is to be settled in what could be a fascinating showdown, helped in no small part by the weather, but perhaps most of all because on Sunday morning at 9am local time, Infront Motor Sports CEO will speak to the media for the first time since the announcement that Bridgepoint, the private equity firm which owns both Infront and MotoGP rights owners Dorna, has decided to bring both series under a single umbrella, and that umbrella is to be Dorna.
That news has sent a shockwave through the motorcycle racing world. The World Superbike paddock is hardest hit of all: the mood there is somber, with everyone from Infront staff to team mechanics fearing the outcome of what amounts to a coup by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta. Optimists are few, especially as Ezpeleta is one of the most reviled characters among denizens of the WSBK paddock, because of what he represents: the perceived arrogance of the Grand Prix paddock, and a culture which is anathema to everything which World Superbikes stand for. MotoGP is truly the Beatles to WSBK's Rolling Stones.
There is some justification to their fears. WSBK, in the person of Paolo Flammini, has been holding out on requests from MotoGP's organizers to impose further restrictions on development of the WSBK machines, bringing them much more in line with the Superstock-style regulations proposed by FIM to harmonize regulations at the national level. He does so with good reason: the manufacturers currently racing in World Superbikes have made it very clear that they have no desire to see any further restrictions on tuning and bike modification put into place. Given WSBK's increasing reliance on manufacturer teams - though blessed with six different manufacturers, teams without some form of manufacturer backing are finding it increasingly hard to survive, leading to shrinking grids and gaps opening between the factory-backed and privateer squads - keeping the factories happy is becoming ever more important. WSBK does at least have the freedom to change the rules without factory interference, something which was until recently unthinkable in MotoGP.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after qualifying for the WSBK season finale at Magny-Cours:
The last Superpole of 2012 held a few surprises with a small error of a tenth of a second or two having potential consequences for what remains of the season.
The rain stayed away all day, ensuring the World Supersport qualifying would be unhampered by weather.
The provisional calendar for World Superbikes has been released. Unsurprisingly, Miller Motorsports is no longer present, being replaced outright by Laguna Seca. Portimao is still on the calendar, but is now subject to contract, meaning they need to show they can hold a race without going broke first.
The first two months hold a single race each, in Australia then India, and the European leg starts in April.
Supersport misses out on racing at Laguna Seca, while the Superstock cup doesn't run in Philip Island, Buddh, Donington, Moscow Raceway or Laguna Seca.
Both Brno and Misano are missing from the list, but there is an unannounced track on June 23rd. With Imola following a week later on the 30th, a return to Brno seems marginally more likely.
Broc Parkes topped the timing sheet above French duo of Jules Cluzel and Fabien Foret. Parkes reeled off quite a few 1'42 laps while Cluzel only managed two. Tellingly, Fabien Foret had a run of seven 1'42 laps in series after his fastest lap. Kenan Sofuoglu and Sam Lowes also put in long runs of 42s and 43s.
As this year has been wracked with weather, it only seems fitting that World Superbikes should be greeted to Magny Cours, the last racer weekend of the season, with overnight rain that left the riders at the morning's free practice sessions to duke it out on a drying track. As the day progressed, the track got drier and riders were able to start getting their elbows down at the sweeping left-handed 180 corner.
Jules Cluzel took advantage of the dried out track to grab a clear provisional pole ahead of Broc Parkes and Fabien Foret in a session split by a red flag.
In the last race weekend of the year, the weather makes one final appearance and caused a slow session as everyone got used to the conditions. Sam Lowes was fastest, showing the form he's brought with him all year as an early riser. Kenan Sofuoglu, crowned world champion last time out, demonstrated that the title doesn't slow him down either as he pipped Jules Cluzel for second fastest.