World Superbikes faces losing it biggest star, biggest sponsor, and biggest team in 2008, after the man behind Max Biaggi and Suzuki’s revival said he will quit the series and take the Italian legend back to MotoGP if WSB bosses approve rules to allow 1200cc twins race next year.
Alstare Suzuki team boss Francis Batta, whose Corona Extra beer backers pour millions into WSB as team and overall series backers, has slammed long-mooted rule changes which would let Ducati run a big-bore version of its new 1098 next season.
The straight-talking Belgian – who has quit WSB before after threatening to do so, in 2004 over the Pirelli one-make tyre rule – told MCN at Donington: “We are already in April and no rules have been made for next season. Now the earliest anything can happen will be 2009. If the 1200 is allowed to race in 2008 we will leave the series. We could race in MotoGP.”
Batta scored the coup of the off-season in coaxing Biaggi out of the wilderness into WSB for 2007 after he left Repsol Honda’s MotoGP team in acrimony at the end of 2005.
Biaggi is now just five points off the series lead after this weekend’s Donington Park races, yet despite the very real chance of taking the title with Italian, Batta explained to MCN: “The problem is that the situation is not clear. There is no decision from FGSport who run the series and no decision from the FIM so for the Japanese manufacturers it is very difficult. For the Japanese people the minimum reaction time to change the technical regulations is one year.”
Though no official announcement has yet been made about a move to allow 1200s – which Batta is not in principle against – it is widely assumed that the change is all-but approved and merely needs rubber stamping by the FIM when Ducati formally ask to race the bike next year.
Batta continued: “In my opinion if they change the regulation for 2008 then the Japanese manufactures will say OK, bye bye - like they did in 2002. With no clear decision it is very difficult to discuss.
“The problem is not the capacity of the bike, the problem is that there should have been discussion between Ducati, the Japanese and all the teams. At the moment there is no communication – nothing. This weekend we have the big Superbike chief here from Japan and he knows nothing about this plan to change the rules.
“In Valencia there will be a discussion between all of the top teams. After this there will be a meeting between FGSport and the FIM and then I will be going to Japan to discuss the matter with Suzuki. The time scale is very short but nothing can change until 2009 and if it does before we will leave.”
Losing Alstare wouldn’t merely mean the loss of Biaggi, as Batta masterminds the distribution of millions of pounds worth of Corona beer cash, backing the series as title sponsors too. He has also helped run the series before, when rights owners the Flamminis first took over the series in 1990.
MORE ON THIS STORY IN WEDNESDAY'S MCN, INCLUDING REACTION FROM RIVAL TEAMS