The news announced in recent days by the SBK Commission regarding the next World Superbike regulations has aroused curiosity and some controversy. First of all the introduction of the minimum bike-rider weight, which had been discarded before the start of the current season. Precisely for this reason the executive director of the championship, Gregorio Lavilla, tried to bring some clarity, explaining to journalists how and why he will change the SBK regulations, starting next year.
Gregorio, why has the combined bike+rider weight, which was excluded at the beginning of the season, returned?
“The combined weight was never intended to be introduced in 2023, it was only supposed to be a trial for 2024. It had been approved by the Superbike Commission and the MSMA, but it was decided that the rules will be postponed to the following season, if there is not a unanimous agreement. The combined weight had been approved in 2022 for 2024, but then the Superbike Permanent Bureau decided to cancel this decision. Obviously the parties involved first tried to understand the reasons for the choice and then, from that moment, we began to work in such a way that it could be readmitted".
What is meant by “combined weight for motorcycle and rider”?
“First of all, I would like to clarify that the definition 'combined weight' is perhaps not the most correct, because it presupposes that there is the same bike+rider weight for everyone, but this is not the case in any category. The minimum bike weight is equal for everyone at 168kg but the difference in riders can be 30kg from the heaviest to the lightest, it’s never been intended in our sport to add 30kg of ballast to the lightest rider, as the definition of combined weight would assume. In motorsport, the majority of ballast which is accepted ranges from 8kg to 10kg, we understand that with the machinery which is already built to a certain weight, adding 10kg is something huge".
How will it work, therefore?
“Unanimously, all manufacturers have reached an agreement and that is going to be the minimum bike weight and a reference rider weight of 80kg with all race gear on. Whoever is below that reference will have 0.5 per kilogram added. which will be applied to the difference between the reference weight and the rider's weight. This means that with an average weight of 80kg, some of the lighter riders will find themselves adding up to a maximum of 10kg, which with a factor of 0.5 translates into around 5 or 6kg of ballast. From a production-based machine, in WorldSBK, we need to have some tools in order to balance certain things. The combined weight is nothing more than an extra help in this sense".
After all the controversy there has been, how did you manage to convince Ducati to accept the combined weight?
“The question is simple: if we hadn't intervened, someone would have thought of leaving Superbike and so, probably, Ducati too would have left in the end, because the championship would not have offered any type of challenge. For Ducati, as well as for any manufacturer that wants to win, it is more satisfying to win hard-fought races like those in Portimao, where you have to fight until the last corner. There were no reasons why there shouldn't be a unanimous agreement, also because, as I said, in Superbike a combined weight that is the same for everyone will not be introduced, as is happening now in Supersport, for example. It will be a formula that will mean that the lightest rider will have to add minimal ballast, which can be inserted anywhere, as long as it is done safely."
Will this lead to the disappearance of the famous algorithm, to intervene on engine rpm?
“To obtain unanimous agreement, the combined weight has been re-introduced with some specific requirements regarding the limitation of engine rpm, which in the past has been assessed as an attempt by the FIM and Dorna to reduce the performance of some bikes, when in reality it only served to find a good balance between the manufacturers. Engine rpm will already be established at the start of the season and will no longer be reduced during the current season, with the only exception being that a manufacturer that uses super concessions gets too much advantage from the added parts. In that case, and only in that case, it will be compensated with the engine rpm. These will be the same ones the manufacturers finished the season with, except one which will return to the laps used at the start of the season. This is also why Ducati accepted the agreement. I don't know if it will be better or worse than the current situation, but once the weight norm is established it will be easy to adjust it to make everything work better in the future."
Could making the championship more competitive open the door to the arrival of new manufacturers?
“We have never tried to manipulate the performance of those who are doing a good job. We simply needed something to help the championship, and we had no other ideas other than engine rpm, before thinking about the fuel consumption limitations, which however will really be effective in 2025, when they will be applied to all bikes, every time the engine is turned on. We have reached levels where we cannot use all the power we have at disposal, on some tracks. For this reason, to go fast you don't need to have the most powerful bike, but a bike that has good acceleration, good grip and good handling. To have a good show there must be competition between all participants. Everyone must think they can win, because if you lose the competition the risk is that those who win will also leave. We need to focus on the big picture and find a compromise between all parties."
Why will it be possible to intervene on the weight of the crankshaft and the balance axle?
“It all comes from the fact that there are different types of motorcycles in our championship: some that are evolved every two years to improve performance and others whose evolution is frozen due to different market needs or marketing strategies. Over the years, the FIM and Dorna have tried to keep the bikes close to the production ones, without knowing, however, that some manufacturers had interrupted this type of evolution from 2017-2018. This has meant that these manufacturers need an increase in driveability, which allows for better tyre wear, not power. This is why we have opened up the possibility of working on some parts of the engine, in order to allow them to close the gap with the best."