Guest Column: Cutting Costs In BSB, By Mike Edwards
Mike Edwards set up MIST Suzuki back in 2005, and has been involved in motorcycle racing at the British national level and at the world level in the FIM Superstock series for many years. Throughout his years running the MIST Suzuki team, Edwards has gained a lot of insight into the underlying costs of motorcycle racing, and where savings can be made. With MSVR - the company which runs British Superbikes - set to publish the rules for the 2012 BSB series, including a raft of measures aimed at cutting costs, Edwards recently published a series of articles on the MIST Suzuki website on the cost aspect of racing, and where he believes costs could be saved. The articles have been reproduced below, with Edwards' kind permission.
Racing Is Expensive
Racing is expensive. Get over it. Does it need to be as expensive as it is? Of course not, but it's a difficult balancing act.
For any SuperBike round you need rubber, lots of it. The regulations permit a total of eight front tyres and eleven rear tyres for each round. Some might be qualifying tyres, others wet or intermediates with the rest being whatever is required over the weekend. At £222 a pair it's not cheap, in fact it's very close to the cost to the trade price that any dealer can purchase them at, but they don't have to pay for a team of people support the racing and fit tyres to the never ending line of wheels over the race weekend.
MSVR, who run BSB events. have done well to reduce the fuel cost for 2011. The 2010 price was £3.79 per litre, or with the recent tax hike £3.87/L. Having said that why are racers still obliged to pay £3.59/L for the control race fuel? Sure, there is a cost associated with delivering it to the circuit and making it available in 25L drums but, after a back-to-back test at the end of the 2010 season, the 98 octane fuel from the local garage was found to offer a negligible power increase at just 40% of the cost. That's a significant amount.
With three practice sessions, qualifying, warm up and two races a SuperBike has a lot of track time. That's a full quota of tyres and around 125L of fuel. Add it up and it comes to £449 for fuel plus the £2154 spent on tyres.
And that's just the cost of the bike out on track. How about the wages for the team manager, the suspension and data technicians, the truck driver or the guy that sorts and manages the tyres? Not forgetting the crew chief and the two mechanics needed for each rider. One team we raced against last year said their biggest expense for each weekend was the hotels and catering required for their small team. Pretty soon you start looking at the cost of fuel and insurance for the truck, the public liability insurance for the team, the workshop and dyno facility; the list goes on.
Perhaps the cost of actually building the bike isn't the most significant part of the budget. That was certainly one lesson we took from our time racing in the FIM SuperStock class.
Moving On Up
So if racing in a National championship can be considered expensive how about running with the big boys in World SuperBikes? Sure the bikes are more expensive but the base costs are also much higher. Even when we competed in the FIM SuperStock class we spent an additional £20,000 just on fuel, tolls and ferry crossings to get there. Not forgetting the need for someone to drive all over Europe during the season.
Don't forget that WSB is a global championship and that for each fly away round it is estimated the cost to ship the full team, bikes and equipment, and look after them once there, costs in the region of 60,000 Euros per event. For 2011, the entry fee was 10,000 Euros per rider with a further 2,500 Euros for Clinica Mobile contribution. Then add a further 55,000 Euros for tyres for the 13 race weekends and 2 official tests.
For the World SuperBike teams, costs are even higher. Word around the WSB paddock was that one leading non-factory team was spending 3.2 million Euros a season, though that amount of money did bring them some success.
Whichever way you look at it the numbers soon add up regardless of the debate on the spec. of the engines or which electronics package to use. So it is crucial for any major racing series to take a look at keeping costs down where possible, as racing is expensive enough as it is.
What Is The Best Way To Cut Costs In SuperBike Racing?
A few years ago we switched to race in British SuperBikes after several seasons in the highly competitive FIM SuperStock series run as part of the World SuperBikes calendar. Having raced for several years in a world class series where stock engines were combined with higher than standard rpm limits we were acutely aware of the fragility of components taken beyond their intended performance limits. With much higher refresh intervals to ensure reliability the costs spiralled to the point where our relatively low spec. 200 hp SuperBike in 2009 cost no more to build and refresh for a season than the 180 hp FIM SuperStock spec. machine we ran the year before.
When the Evo class was first proposed for the BSB championship we suggested a number of alternative ways to reduce costs whilst ensuring an exciting and evenly matched field with close racing:
- Permit aftermarket updates to potentially fragile stock parts when preparing their standard engines on the grounds of safety, e.g. cotters and retainers in some bikes, slipper clutches or gearboxes in others, etc.
- Permit basic tuning rules to ensure an even playing field for performance across different manufacturers and models of bike, e.g. 174 hp Suzuki versus a 195 hp BMW. Getting a Suzuki to 195 hp is relatively cheap so why not let us keep our brand allegiance?
- Implement a price limit for the aftermarket electronics similar to the FIM SuperStock rules, i.e. 1.5 times the cost of stock ECU, or for SuperBike a fixed price cap. If a manufacturer wanted to sell a £100,000 electronics package to everyone in the paddock for £10,000 then fair enough.
We thoroughly endorsed the concept of a fixed rpm limit. Spending money on titanium rods or other costly engine internals was always going to be a waste of money if the bike couldn't rev high enough for them to be of benefit. The fixed rpm limit rather neatly solves most of the other problems of engine cost.
After our sponsorship fell through shortly before the start of the 2010 season we chose to enter the BSB Evo class and built a completely new bike in just 30 days. With only the money for a few rounds we were still able to win races, set lap records and even led the championship despite giving away 20 hp, and a significant amount of budget, on the more powerful stock bikes.
The move to a one bike rule was inspired but you still need a second bike broken down in boxes should the unthinkable happen. Then only the big teams have the manpower to be able to put the parts together again in time for the next session. What are the small teams supposed to do?
To their credit BSB took note of some of our concerns and recommendations. For the 2011 season the rules were modified to allow teams to replace certain key components for reasons of cost and safety. Even models without air bleed systems to control engine braking or slipper clutches were allowed to add them.
They have clearly been listening again as for 2012 the rules will be changing once more and it looks like they will allow enough tuning to equalise the performance across the manufacturers. Trying to make up a 20 hp deficit really makes life hard, particularly on some of the faster circuits.
In fact, the key change for BSB in 2012, as the whole grid moves to the Evo rule concept, is that the proposed Evo rules are reportedly now the same as the previous SuperBike rules, but with standard pistons and a ban on titanium rods. Pretty much everything else remains with the addition of the control spec. Evo ECU, albeit with a slightly higher rpm limit.
Whatever the engine rules, and let's face it banning titanium rods will save a sizeable chunk of cash, a decent engine will still cost £10k to build. Kit gearboxes, generators, slipper clutches, head work, cams and other valve train components don't come cheap. Evo racing is still expensive so why try to sell it as a cheap alternative? The chassis is still the most expensive part of that equation.
Motorcycle racing is now at a crossroads. For so long the high costs have put people off, but there are still issues. It's not just the cost of the parts, it's the cost of the parts you cannot buy and the information on how to put them together.
This is where the AMA has it right. Everyone can buy the same parts at the same prices. I think they went a little too far in some respects but there are no factory specials for a few select teams. In the same way the one make tyre rule made a huge difference to letting everyone compete on an equal footing this takes it one step further.
Sure we can develop a swing arm just like the one the factory supplied to another team but it will cost us a lot more and that's money most teams just don't have. It doesn't have to be standard, especially as standard swing arms are invariably stiffer than the race items these days, but it does need to limit the input of the factory resources.
John Hopkins and the Samsung Crescent team put on an excellent showing at the recent Silverstone WSB round and they did it with a Motec ECU that costs £6.5k. Even at that price it includes the £2.5k data logging and analysis software upgrades so the base ECU is something of a bargain. That's less than a decent swing arm and, given the rise of the new fuel tanks that are required to help rebalance most bikes by moving the weight around, amounts to the equivalent of just two aftermarket fuel tanks once you have the special carbon bodywork and other parts you need to go with them.
Decent electronics need not be expensive. Sure, it's not going to be the same as the kit the MotoGP boys are using but it doesn't need to be. Does the Yamaha WSB electronics really need to cost up to 10 times the amount, as has been alleged in the press, to finish just 6 seconds ahead after a 106 km race?
If Motec can supply an ECU with full traction control, launch control, etc. that is capable of putting a bike on pole at a WSB meeting for a base price of £4k why is everyone so keen to remove traction control? Teams will still need a data guy at every round so it can't be about cost.
Do the front runners in any championship believe it allows lesser riders to keep up with them? Sure they do, although not everyone is trying to get it banned. Wiser minds than mine are already concerned that the riders in the CRT class at MotoGP won't be able to keep up without a decent electronics package. Would the gap increase or decrease if they banned them altogether? If you are looking for close racing then it could be argued that taking it away could be counter productive.
The poor BSB Evo guys are preparing their bikes and throwing away sophisticated electronics, incl. basic traction control, and replacing it with a very capable ECU without it. The 2010 BSB Evo champion on his BMW was only fractionally faster than the SuperStock champion of the same year on his BMW, despite better tyres, forks, brakes, suspension linkages, etc.
Even Giorgio Barbier, Racing Director for Pirelli Moto, has been quoted as saying that without traction control, Pirelli would have to change a lot. So the man that oversees the tyres that BSB riders have to run with says they would have to change, but because WSB retains their rules it is unlikely to happen.
As a small team we set out to make a point this season. We are building a bike as close to some of the race winning BSB bikes as we can in an attempt to show that it can be done on a budget. It might take us all season and we might not be able to afford the expensive swing arms but we can sure afford the not very expensive ECU with traction control. We just won't have the high staffing costs or other overheads associated with running a big team.
I wonder whether there are too many vested interests in racing trying to sell solutions without being able to clearly communicate the problems they are trying to solve. Racing needs to be cheaper but do you really need more than a few simple changes?
- One bike per rider and a rolling chassis as a back up.
- Price capped electronics with a fixed rpm limit for each manufacturer.
- Homologated parts to reduce the gap between the factory teams and the rest.
The rest of the cost savings need to come from elsewhere, e.g. tyres, transport, staff, etc.
And the final word from someone working with a leading race organisation:
"Do you want to fill your grid from the front or from the back?"
MIST Suzuki first raced in World SuperBike paddock back in 2006 when the team decided that the highly competitive European SuperStock 600 class was the best place for young riders to learn their craft. With a dozen factory supported bikes and two riders on their first season of 600cc racing it was one of the most closely fought seasons in recent years. A further two years in the FIM SuperStock 1000 class saw more good results before returning to race in the UK, initially in the British SuperBike series before the inaugural year of the SuperBike Evo class.
Being almost entirely self funded the team is acutely aware of the cost of racing at such a high level, even to the point of building their own engines, albeit with a number of more experienced friends willing to offer advice when the need arises. For 2011 MIST Suzuki are focused on proving that a small privateer team can build a bike capable of scoring points at World SuperBike level with careful budgeting and limited resources.