Giorgio Barbier was present at Jerez to follow the SBK tests. Pirelli is not stopping with development and there were several new features to try for the riders who set benchmark times both in the race weekend and in the subsequent tests. We spoke with Barbier at a crucial moment for Pirelli, because in 2024 he will bring Pirelli to the MotoGP paddock, becoming the sole supplier of tyres for Moto2 and Moto3. A first entry among the prototypes which risks becoming preparatory towards an even greater commitment by embracing the challenge of MotoGP.
With Barbier we talked about this but also about the evolution of the SBK world championship, which remains the beacon for the development of those who build motorcycles and accessories dedicated to motorcycles. While on the one hand it is true that the super sports bike market has changed in recent years, it is equally true with regard to the users who buy SBK replicas today. An increasingly demanding and competent public, which loves to use these bikes on the track.
The world championship ended on Sunday and we are already here doing tests. Soon there will be the debut in Moto2 and Moto3, there is no shortage of work to do in Pirelli.
"The important work in SBK continues, we are doing tests in Jerez just two days after the end of the championship. Some riders have changed and we have also brought some new material for 2024. Moto2 and Moto3 will be a new challenge, we have done only one test in Barcelona after the Grand Prix and we will do another in Valencia after the end of the race, but by now we will be at the end of November and at that point the tyres for the first intercontinental ones will also start. The tyres have essentially already been chosen, we will start in Qatar to see what happens. We will have more tests in February, but the game will be up I would say."
What tyre will you bring to that paddock?
"The tyre will be the same as SBK. In Moto2 we will bring the same measurements as SBK in four compounds that have already been defined. Some things will be identical to those used in SBK, other things will be more specialized I would say. With SBK we are calm, we know exactly what to do, in Moto2 we will start with greater attention because we have to know some bikes better, there are tracks that we have never been to or that we have been missing for a long time. Then there we will not be able to do the development work that we do in SBK, where if we want we can bring a new solution to the race. There we will have to maintain a certain consistency of materials throughout the season."
What do those who try the Michelin MotoGP and then the Pirelli SBK tell you?
"I always follow with great interest the category changes of the riders for this very reason. Since the times of Barros, Biaggi, Checa, Hayden it is always interesting to have this initial feedback from the riders. Everyone notices that the Pirellis are sincere tyres that give responses that make you feel what is happening on the asphalt. This also depends on the fact that we have less rigid structures than those they use on the prototypes, because they have to adapt to various different frames and bikes in road configuration. However, this gives the tyre the ability to give feedback to the rider when he moves, when he loses grip slightly. An aspect very appreciated by the riders, as Iannone also told me here. Then they also learn to trust and push hard, because they interpret these signals as warnings and not as a tyre that is about to betray you from one moment to the next. This extra sensitivity is something they really like. They really appreciate the extra grip, but it's also clear that they are two different worlds."
After so many years, how do you see the health of SBK?
"I have been in this paddock since 1989 and I have experienced everything that was the genesis of the SBK world championship. It is clear that the market for high performance motorbikes has changed a lot. Today you have motorbikes on the market that are also difficult to use on the road. However over the last 20 years, the number of users has also grown, and they have learned that to exploit these motorbikes and have fun you essentially need to go on the track. The motorbikes then continued to improve and today they have incredible performance, they remain the diamonds of the manufacturers. Even if such a thriving market for super sports bikes doesn't exist, manufacturers are competing to see who can really put the best technology into production. This is the challenge and it is accepted by customers who are going to the track more and more. In short, there is an important market, which has become more track-focused and it's not just on the part of the manufacturer, but also of those who produce brakes, rims, suspensions, tyres. There is a need to remain linked to series models, here in SBK there is real experimentation for everyone. This is the strength of SBK from a technical point of view for the manufacturers and those like us who do motorcycle accessories. It will always remain our beacon, regardless of where SBK goes from different points of view. In fact, you can see from the commitment in the tests here, they are working for the future and anyone who is not there will come next week. A strong sign of the vitality and also of the necessity of this championship."
For now it's Moto2 and Moto3, but is Pirelli thinking about MotoGP?
"The world of competition between tyre manufacturers has changed since the birth of the single tyre in SBK. Over the years all top motorsport has gone in that direction. Therefore there is no longer competition from this point of view, which was very expensive for everyone, the important thing is to make this type of work sustainable. By bringing these products to the market at the beginning of 2000, we necessarily had to create products that had sustainable costs, because then we had to offer them on the market. The costs of the prototypes were disproportionate and I think they still are today. For me the challenge in this world will be to have bikes and tyres that cost less and are more sustainable also from an environmental point of view. If MotoGP takes this path, as it seems to be the case, we will all be close in the paddock to watch what happens."
Here in Jerez there was a meeting between the most important sponsors of SBK. What were the talking points?
"We need to separate what is the point of view of a sponsor who comes to this championship to show its image and what is instead a partner like us, who are here to do the work I told you about before. Of course we are all interested in having visibility here and you have this especially in emerging markets, where more motorcycles are sold today. Having said that, having a world championship with an insignificant number of races outside Europe is something that is seen as a limit, it seems clear to me. We have to deal with the sustainability of the championship from an economic point of view for everyone and you can't compare it with MotoGP which manages to go everywhere. In recent years we have had a calendar that stops at 12/13 races and I think that’s right. Maybe better distributing the calendar and also the countries in which we go racing is the task of the championship promoter. After that, from a technical point of view the circuits must be interesting and important to be able to do the work we all have to do. I like the idea of SBK racing on circuits that MotoGP doesn't race on. But it's all in the hands of the promoter and the possibilities of racing on certain tracks or others."
In 2024 there are many new features in SBK, from Iannone to the various riders switching to other bikes. It will be a good World Championship.
"This reshuffle of riders is important for SBK. It also means that Dorna was able to establish valid regulations, because the championships were good. There was a strong exchange between MotoGP, SBK and Moto2 riders and this is one of the things that I like and that we will also manage in the near future. When you start working with guys in Moto3 and Moto2, you give them a prospect of possibilities in one championship or the other to get to the premier class, be it SBK or MotoGP. For us it is very interesting to bring these guys up with Pirelli, because when they change paddocks they will always find the same product. The character of the tyre will be the same and I think this will facilitate these transitions. It is important that there is an effort also on the part of the media and the promoter to follow this championship with a particular interest".