Michael Googis

Former MotoGP rider and World Champion Dani Pedrosa must be laughing at the World Superbike riders who complain that smaller riders (one Alvaro Bautista in particular) have an advantage because of their size and that the rules should be changed to accommodate heavier riders . To make things “fair” in the world of WorldSBK, they claim.

And all I can think is not this again!

Pedrosa, for those of you with short memories, is a little guy. When I interviewed him in Laguna Seca, he barely reached my chin. I have a dog that is almost the same weight as Dani. When the beast of a MotoGP machine he raced got out of shape, he couldn’t bring it back into submission the way bigger, stronger riders could. And that meant a career with dozens of broken bones and hundreds of stitches, not to mention missed opportunities to compete in the MotoGP World Championship due to injury.

“There’s no doubt why he broke his body so much, even with small crashes,” said MotoGP veteran Jack Miller The world of road racing MotoGP editor Matt Oxley in 2018 when Pedrosa announced his retirement. “Every time he crashes, the bike always throws him up in the air because the bike is so much bigger than him.”

Somehow, Pedrosa took his Honda MotoGP machines to 31 wins in 11 seasons. This is the fourth place among riders who competed only in the MotoGP class. But the big prize, the MotoGP World Championship, has always eluded him.

Ask Pedros how big an advantage it is to be small.

The question of minimum rider weight has resurfaced in WorldSBK, where Alvaro Bautista is on the verge of his first World Superbike Championship. CTO Scott Smart reportedly supports the idea.

Under the current WorldSBK rules, the Yamaha YZF-R1 is allowed to rev up to 14,950. The Honda CBR1000RR-R up to 15,600. The BMW is allowed more chassis adjustment than the Yamaha. Garrett Gerloff (31) weighs seven pounds less than Javi Vierge (97). Will WorldSBK now force Yamaha to add weight? Photo by Michael Googis.

This sentence occurs when two things happen in any series.

First, the lightweight rider wins. Second, the riders he beats are popular. Every time Valentino Rossi’s results started to drop, there were cries about the minimum weight for a biker in MotoGP. It seemed like anything to bring the sport’s most popular driver back to the fore.

Jonathan Rea and Toprak Razgatlioglu are two incredibly popular riders in the WorldSBK pod. There is no doubt about Rea’s overall skills – he is able to get the most out of a car that was limited by the current rules. Former British Superbike Champion and three-time Suzuka 8 Hours winner Alex Lowes is in the same car as Rea and the podiums this year are 24-2 with Rea ahead of Lowes. And Toprak’s intense corner entries with a locked front wheel and an airy real wheel have also earned him a legion of fans.

So with Bautista beating them on a semi-regular basis, the outcry about minimum rider and car weight was almost inevitable.

The BMW is allowed a rev ceiling of 15,500rpm to the Yamaha's 14,950rpm, and large chassis adjustments will also be allowed.  Photo by Michael Googis.
The BMW is allowed a rev ceiling of 15,500rpm to the Yamaha’s 14,950rpm, and large chassis adjustments will also be allowed. Photo by Michael Googis.

The reasons for not doing this are pretty easy to understand:

– No one believes that the minimum weight of the driver and the car is necessary for “fairness” if the lightweight driver does not win. You haven’t heard any of this in the two years that Bautista has been on a factory Honda and competing for multiple podiums!

– Lighter riders have fewer muscles. And to move the Superbike along the track for the entire distance of the race at a winning pace, you need muscles. I interviewed Chez Davis a few years ago and we discussed the difference between riding the Ducati he raced in WorldSBK and the Kawasaki that Rea won championships on. It came down to this: everyone could turn the same time in one lap. But the Ducati was so much harder to ride that Davis inevitably made small mistakes over the course of the race. And Rhea did not. Power is part of this game and bigger riders have more of it.

– Minimum driver and car weight limits do not take into account the difference in results between two drivers in the same car. Ducati’s Axel Bassani weighs 20 pounds less than Razgatlioglu. Razgatlioglu with Yamaha has many more wins and podiums. Does this mean the minimum rider and machine weight for the Yamaha should be more than the Ducati?

The list goes on.

Full disclosure: As a former racer, the measures to level the competition do not apply to me. Some are acceptable if they apply to the entire field. For example, I need a rubber specification. The rules are the same for everyone.

But I was one of those who objected to different rev limits for Superbikes, and it still pains me to see Kawasakis fall behind on the straights because of the limitations placed on the performance of the ZX-10RR engine.

And the combined weight of rider and car will not be the same for everyone, because because of differences in human beings, cars will weigh different amounts.

And worst of all, the minimum rider and car weight will be determined in a way that hurts the best performers the most. Racing should celebrate those who do well, not punish them.

Look, let’s cut to the chase: For most of the Superbike audience, the wrong rider is winning. If Bautista had been from Wales, we would have heard much less about this issue. So why don’t we recognize that what we’re trying to do is prevent a particular rider from winning and just take action against Bautista like:

– Nationality. Spanish riders receive a three-place penalty.

– Hairstyle: braided hair, 10 seconds added to the final race time.

– Tattoos: Drop anything visible above the racing leather zippered neckline to one spot. This will affect Scott Redding as well, so we may have to take a more refined approach.

Anyone with all three must start from the pit lane.

WorldSBK already has two measures of competition equalization. The speed limits are different for almost all machines. There are now “super concessions” that allow non-winning manufacturers to make adjustments to their machines that winning bike manufacturers cannot. All of this individually makes sense in a way.

The problem is that the more differences there are in the rules for different machines, the less it looks like leveling the playing field and the more it looks like outcome management.

The rules currently give the BMW a higher rev limit and more chassis adjustments than, say, a Kawasaki. The Honda gets even higher revs and increased chassis adjustments. The Ducati has higher revs but fewer chassis adjustments. No two makes on the grid have the same rev limits and several will have different chassis modification rules. The addition of a minimum driver and car weight limit means that – quite literally – no two cars on the grid will be set up by the same rules.

If the Ducati is really too strong, lower the revs. Better give the Kawasaki the revs it deserves. Or hey, crazy idea, same rev limit, same weight, same adjustability for everyone!

But the 16-time Grand Prix winner, 125cc world champion shouldn’t be penalized for being smaller than the average person. It minimizes and belittles the human ability to do something incredibly difficult with a tremendous level of success.

Instead, perhaps we understand that while his height may give him some advantages, it is not a golden ticket to the top of the podium.

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