Thursday, September 11, 2008

Here we go again

Time to finally break radio silence, and what a way to do it: a rant about this whole AMA situation.

For those unfamiliar with the situation, the AMA Superbike championship has been the top US motorcycle racing series for many years, featuring the participation of all four Japanese manufacturers. However, it's had its problems:

  • A confusing set of rules which have changed a number of times and overlapping classes have caused a lack of continuity. Although the class structure appears to be kind of similar to the World and British championships with 1000cc Superbikes, 1000cc Superstock machines and 600cc Supersport bikes, the reality is very different. Superbike rules allow for a level of sophistication similar to that found in WSBK. This effectively shuts out privateers from winning, even a very well-funded satellite team like Jordan Suzuki. As such, they go play in Superstock, which features slick tyres, and then bring those Superstock bikes into the Superbike race, effectively forming a class within a class, a kind of "best of the rest" deal. Furthermore, there's a fourth class called Formula Xtreme, which is kind of a 600cc Superbike: much more leeway for modification and innovation. Once again you have the same problem, a couple of heavyweight manufacturer teams thrashing the pants of Supersport riders looking for extra track time.
  • The racing is DULL, DULL, DULL. For some reason, Suzuki have been dominant for years. In fact, in the last two seasons a non-Suzuki has only won ONE race of the 38 run. The pattern is always the same: the two Suzukis roar out front pull miles ahead and may or may not fight it out amongst themselves. Meanwhile the other manufacturers have a second battle (along with one or two satellite bikes) whilst the true privateers wander around on their Superstock bikes waiting to get lapped.
Clearly change was needed, and when the AMA sold the series to the NASCAR-affiliated Daytona Motorsports Group, change was coming. However, DMG came up with a wacky class structure that seemed to elevate the Formula Xtreme-ish 600 Superbike class to the level of headliner, with a lame-duck 1000cc Superstock-type class called Literbike playing second fiddle. The manufacturers, who may have been okay with some levelling of the playing field and adoption of BSB-style Superbike rules (which are more like Superstock and allow for closer competition), were furious. They needed the premier class to be 1000cc, and I have to agree with them there. It didn't work very well when the Daytona 200 switched to Formula Xtreme, so the lesson should have been learnt.

The damage was done. No amount of backpedaling could fix it and conciliatory gestures by DMG such as "local variance" rules couldn't divert the manufacturers from their chosen course of action, establishment of a rival series, called the US Superbike Championship. DMG fucked up. Their attempt to tighten up the racing by removing technology and power from the manufacturers was worthy, but they seemed to forget that no matter what happens, the Big Four had to be involved, because even though they cause poor racing, they bring money, prestige, cool bikes and the best riders with them.

The split is bad news, there's no doubt about it, and even though USSB is saying it's not like the CART/IRL split, the effects will be the same. Everyone will have to pick a side: mechanics, riders, teams, promoters, media, TV networks, and, worst of all, fans. I can see some privateers sticking with DMG, safe in the knowledge that with the factories gone they have a chance at being AMA Superbike champion. Riders like Chris Perez, Martin Cardenas, Scott Jensen, Tony Meiring and Ben Thompson all now have a legit shot at the title. I'd guess that most satellite teams e.g. those that aren't factories but that bring the big trucks like Corona Honda, Jordan Suzuki, Hotbodies Racing and Rockwall Honda will go to USSB. Teams that have done well in Formula Xtreme may stick with DMG, such as Boulder Motorsports and Pegram Racing, both of which run Ducatis. True privateers may end up cherrypicking the best races from either series.

I can't imagine what will happen next. One thing is for sure: we're doomed to sit through another season of desperately boring American Superbike racing, regardless of whose name sits at the top of the program.


Jimmy said...

Very strange. By the sounds of it, the DMG series will have control ECU and suchlike, meaning that it'll be even slower than 600 Superstock. Maybe the racing will be close, but will anyone care?

The BSB are going back to WSBK engine rules next year. Apparently the big teams are replacing so many conrods etc under the current Supersport engine rules that they're not actually saving any money.

Pee Wee said...

The AMA sucks like a Hoover.

The AMA/DMG sucks like the biggest shop-vac you've never seen.

Oh yes.