BSB well-placed to weather the storm

Published: 21 January 2009

“Is Jonathan Palmer completely delusional? He’s lost his best riders. The top guys left are all old. The teams are struggling like any other businesses.

"Yet he’s predicting crowds will only drop off by 5% and says BSB won’t be affected by the recession. Interesting!”

That was the emotional outburst I heard in the office from a non-racing person as he read MSVR boss Palmer’s comments in today’s MCN about the state of BSB.

That started me wondering, ‘how many others might also question Palmer’s thinking?’

Palmer is nothing but positive and enthusiastic when it comes to BSB. But no matter how much passion he has for the series, he’s also a pretty astute businessman and I’d say I have to go along with his positive spin on the current state of BSB.

It’s true the series has lost not just its top names – but also its top characters.

It’s also true that while there are some experienced old hands in BSB there’s also a wealth of exciting new talent that I reckon will be giving the more established names a pretty hard time, maybe not early in the season, but certainly mid-term after they’ve settled in to their new roles.

Like Palmer, I’m absolutely intrigued to see what Glen Richards can do on a seriously competitive superbike.

I agree it’s fantastic that fans’ favourite like Chris Walker is back, especially with Michael Rutter as his team-mate and soon to be arch rival on the other side of the garage (friendly rivalry no doubt, but rivalry just the same).

And I’m sure I’m not the only one waiting to see how Sylvain Guintoli does on British tracks.-

It goes without saying young gun Leon Camier has to be a championship contender but I also think it’s going to be fascinating to see how superbike rookies like Ian Lowry and Graeme Gowland fare.

BSB 2009 has 30 entries – a healthy grid count by any standards. If anything, the recession will bite BSB less than say MotoGP because the teams are, virtually all bar HM Plant Honda, run by passionate private individuals rather than corporations who are answerable to share holders.

The racing will be good. It always is thanks to our quirky tracks, packed grids and quick-fire races.

Whether the crowds drop off, and by how much, depends entirely on the economic climate and even Palmer, with all his passion and enthusiasm can’t control that.

He’s already preparing to take a 5% hit. Only time will tell if his assessment is accurate.

The thing he, and his Race director Stuart Higgs, can control is keeping the championship viable for the teams and let’s face it; they’ve never been shy in the past to shake things up.

Higgs was the man who brought in 1000cc superbikes at a time when WSB was faffing around not making tough decisions.

He was the one who brought in the Pirelli control tyre at a time when Dunlop virtually had a monopoly on the BSB grid (apart from two Michelin-shod Hondas).

And last year the pair of them decided the Ducatis had an advantage and slapped a weight restriction on the twins.

Okay it wasn’t the best-received or best-implemented rule change but at least they did something. And the controversy was soon forgotten.

It’s pretty obvious most, if not all the BSB teams, are going to take some sort of budget hit this year but Palmer and Higgs seem well on top of the situation and, the way the series is run, with consultation between them and the teams, means decisions can be made quickly to alleviate potential problems.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a one-biker-per-rider rule implemented in future to cut costs – though current budgets seem to be pushing most teams in that direction anyway.

Two-day meetings would save money too. If MotoGP can bring these changes then BSB can. But, so far, that’s just my theory and not something Palmer is openly talking about..

It was interesting to hear from Palmer that BSB would contemplate a switch to superstock-spec engines if the recession continues to bite deeper.

Personally I like the thought that BSB bikes are fearsome beasts, tuned to the hilt but let’s be serious, you can’t tell the difference what’s inside the engine when you see the bike sat in the pit garage.

Neither can you tell the difference trackside in lap times between a full-on superbike and a superstock bike – unless you run them side by side.

As long as BSB keeps the FIM-spec superbike chassis, so there’s so trick stuff to  talk about back in the pub, I don’t think any of us will care what’s inside the engine – as long as the racing is close, competitive and safe.

Superstock engine are not something for this year but, if the switch to FIM-spec superbike engines this year (after last year’s more costly hybrid supersport rules) proves too expensive for teams then Palmer is willing to change again to help them.