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David Miller: Heroes and villains - why World Superbikes needs them

There is a general malaise around World Superbikes at the moment. It’s all a bit too nice. The bikes are lovely, the tyres are lovely, the team-mates are lovely, everything is lovely. From a paying spectator’s point of view, it’s not lovely, it’s samey. Boring, in fact.

You can fairly safely predict the podium in each World Superbike race and it takes a crash or a breakdown to alter the outcome. Jonathan Rea, Tom Sykes and Chaz Davies have won 19 of the 20 WSBK races this year - Nicky Hayden being the only fly in the ointment at Sepang. Wet or dry, it has been one of those three, and that’s why Michael Van Der Mark in fourth is 92 points behind Davies in third.

It’s not the riders’ fault, they just want to win and go home. The same could be said for the manufacturers, although Kawasaki are spending the equivalent of a small African nation’s GDP on WSBK, and could easily run a MotoGP squad for the same cash. But they wouldn’t win.


There isn’t any edge to Superbikes any more. There’s no big personality to cheer for or to hate. And that’s not saying anything bad about the riders, they aren’t allowed to be themselves and say what they want, when they want for fear of offending someone.

Kawasaki have hushed the mutual loathing between Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes, and will more than likely continue to do so. Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri have history but you can bet your last bag of Pata crisps there will be no public dissent at Aruba Ducati next year.

However, Ducati sold a shitload of motorbikes off the back of Carl Fogarty’s success. The Blackburn rider was, and still is, a hero to some and a villain to others. People either wanted to watch him win or fail. Fogarty polarised opinion in and out of the paddock. He openly hated and belittled his opponents, whether they were team-mates or not. He named a potbellied pig after Aaron Slight and a cockroach after Colin Edwards. And then there was the Pier-Francesco Chili dressing gown incident which grabbed headlines across the world.

Superbikes was in its heyday and helped by the fact that 500GP racing was in the doldrums. Mick Doohan was so dominant that people flocked away as they pretty much knew the result. He even described it as ‘boring as shit’ and then threatened to flatten journalist Rob McDonnell, the man who reported said statement. However, at 6ft 2in and 15 stone, McDonnell would have taken some flattening.

At the moment, MotoGP has it sewn up. Eight different winners in a season and the thinly-veiled hatred of Rossi from both Lorenzo and Marquez. The needle between the Movistar Yamaha team-mates has been the stuff of pub conversation, the actual results secondary. Or even further down the pecking order.

Some might say they should do their talking on the track. But that’s bollocks. Everyone likes to be on the periphery of a fight. If they didn’t, entire bars would empty when the first punch is thrown just before closing, but the crowd edges closer and the phones come out to ensure it goes on YouTube.

Neil Hodgson and Anthony Gobert hated each other. Paddock rumour had it once that Gobert got hold of Hodgson’s helmet and pissed in it. He denied it. Years later, he confessed to Performance Bikes’ Trevor Franklin that although he didn’t piss in Hodgson’s helmet, he held it while someone else did…

PR is the culprit here, team managers frightened at what their sponsors might think. WSBK boss Daniel Carrera should tell everyone to lighten up, it’s all good TV time. If there’s some needle in the paddock, get it on the telly. MotoGP were very quick to jump on the Rossi/Marquez Sepang incident and it is still being talked about now, 12 months on. Valencia ticket sales went through the roof at the prospect of some more.

The last last-corner pass that caused anyone to even catch their breath in WSBK was Rea and Davies at Sepang last year. That’s not how Superbikes should be…

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