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WorldSBK Portimao: SSP300 class and age limits under discussion

After the tragic loss of Dean Berta Vinales in the first WorldSSP300 race at Jerez the entire paddock was united in grief at the death of not just one of the riders but at 15 years of age. The racing did go ahead on Sunday, but it was not a guaranteed thing until there had been long and deep conversations about it.

Championship Director and former top-line racer himself, Gregorio Lavilla, also spoke to all the riders about the situation on Saturday night.

Although most of the top WorldSBK riders did not want to speak about it, which is entirely understandable, the seriousness of the situation and what could be done about future safety meant that questions about this class of racing had to be asked.


Scott Redding, a rider who started early himself ended up saying a lot about the risks and racing. “It’s got nothing to do with the age limit because I started racing when I was five,” said Redding, “I was riding at four. Kids are not supposed to be able to do that, but they do and that’s what makes some of the best riders in the world, so it’s nothing to do with age.

“I don’t think it’s anything to do with safety, but the problem is we’re having more and more fatalities with more and more safety. So, you’ve got to think, what is different from ten, fifteen years ago? I’ll tell you what’s different, is the racing is so close. Everything is so level that it doesn’t allow any break.

“You know what I mean? Sometimes it’s bad in Superbike, and then every class where they’re changing RPM and then giving one more… It makes the balance. It makes great racing, yes, but when you’ve got fifteen-year-old kids and you’ve got 40 of them with the same bike within a second of each other, anything can happen at absolutely any point. You probably all agree with me the same. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened earlier.

“I watched that racing for four laps and I can’t watch it. Honestly. I never watch that racing because it scares the life out of me. I’m expecting something in the straight. I come out. I can’t watch it. It’s too close. Back ten, fifteen years ago you’d have one or two guys who’d get away, then there’d be another three… Back in the 125 days you might maximum get a group of five or six on a good day. You ain’t got twenty of them.

“When you’ve got a train of fifteen guys, and something happens to the third one, the fourth one, the fifth one, the sixth one… By the time you’re coming, you can’t move. Unfortunately, it happened with the Tommy accident with me. (Redding was a following rider unavoidably involved in a fatal accident at Misano when Shoya Tomizawa was killed).

“I’ve experienced it and it’s horrific. It’s scarring. But you’re in a position where you can’t see and things move, but every time one person moves, you’re one step closer. Then eventually - you’ve seen it where people hit bikes. It’s just eventually you’re going to hit whatever is there. If it’s the rider, you can’t do anything. You can give 20 bar of brake pressure. That’s what I did in my incident. I can’t squeeze 20 bar if I go in the bike now, but I did. But it doesn’t help.

“It’s just sometimes a little bit close. It’s just too close. That’s all I can say. For us, today was okay, but Barcelona was getting out of hand. I started to think, what’s the point? Why are we racing like this? So, from one end, it’s great for the race and the second end it’s really hard for safety because the margin for error is absolutely tiny. It’s hard. It’s so sad because the kid didn’t even really start his life. For his family, it must be horrific.

“I don’t even know the guy and it hurts me, it hurts inside. And you go out there and race today and it’s like, it’s a life that went yesterday and we’re here racing. We’re only racing because his family wanted us to continue for him. We had the meeting yesterday and that’s what was said, because we were like… In the end, you’ve got to do what they want to do. If they say don’t race, we have to respect and maybe not race. But I said in the meeting yesterday, unfortunately, it’s happened before and unfortunately it’s going to happen again.

“It’s sad to say. It’s really bad to say it, but that’s the reality of it. I’m not somebody that covers reality. I say it as it is, and that’s the honest truth. So, if it’s this week or next week, that doesn’t have a point in the situation, but I think the family took it the best they could. It’s devastating. There’s nothing that you can do safety-wise. Just the racing is so close now. It’s hard for the sport. P


“eople say, but you know it can happen. That’s bullshit. We don’t think about that. If you thought every time you went out you had a chance of dying, you wouldn’t go out. You wouldn’t walk across a glass sheet high up in a mountain and go out three times a week like we do. You wouldn’t do it. No one would do it, because they know there’s a chance. So, it’s hard for us.

“In the back of our minds, we do know, but we try not to accept it. That’s the hard thing. We need to continue. The racing society is doing the best they can. The safety is amazing. The air bags, the helmets, the suits… Everything. But you just can’t do anything for those moments when something unordinary happens. That’s just where we stand. So, it’s a lot of question marks.

“Age limit for me doesn’t have anything to do with it. Just that those bikes are also quite heavy for the small guys. Just it’s too close racing. There needs to be something that can, not favour riders but at least break it up a little bit. It’s the same in Moto3 world championship. We lost a young guy this year. It’s the same thing because it’s just such close racing all the time. Until they can break that up in some way – I don’t know how it’s going to happen. We’re kind of stuck with this situation.”

Redding also doesn’t think that there is the same respect between riders that existed ten years ago, or so. “Not really. It’s different, though,” he said, “It’s really different because you have the famous last corner in Jerez and there’s multiple scenarios. But you don’t have five guys directly behind and you’ve got a five, six second gap. So something happens, you’re kind of okay.


“Now, it’s like, people are doing it in the first corner, like Alex Lowes in Barcelona. He was very lucky. There were 15 guys behind and somehow managed to miss him until the last moment. Sometimes it’s a respect thing. Sometimes it’s just… People are riding for a career, but how much is your career worth and do you respect what you’re doing to the other guy?

“That’s why I was so pissed off in Most, because I just felt it was not the place to be racing like that. I got a lot of shit for it. I don’t care. It’s water off a duck’s back. But if something would have happened, everyone would have been like, “Oh, yeah. It was too hard. You shouldn’t have done…” But it didn’t. I always try to picture stuff from outside on both sides – what if it did and what if it didn’t? That’s the thing. You can say with the accident yesterday, what if it didn’t happen? What if the kid was just injured?

“No one would have said anything. No one would have thought of anything. Today, the racing was much more mellow, if you noticed. It was a lot more calm. Overtakes were pushy, but they were a little bit on the calmer side. I think there was a bit of a reality shock for everybody in the paddock. It’s just sad that it takes something so bad to happen to wake everyone up. This is what I said when we went to race in Most. It’s not safe. I got a lot of shit for saying that. The track is fantastic, but it’s not safe for world superbike level at this moment, and I took a lot of shit for saying that. But what if there was a fatality in that situation?

“Oh, well, yeah. We maybe shouldn’t…” Look where we are. We shouldn’t be taking those chances, but we do. We’re here racing. I want to get paid, I got to race. It’s my job. That’s how it is. But the guys, honestly, they’re doing the best they can. World Superbike, Dorna, they are doing the best they can do. There’s no chance. Yesterday when we had the meeting with Gregorio, it’s the first time I really saw a human side. I think it really also hurt him a lot, so I have to give big respect to him for holding the whole thing together and allowing it and making the right decision.

|“In Most, I didn’t see that side of him, and from the other guys we had a meeting with I didn’t see that. It was kind of like, whatever, race at your own pace. You choose how fast you go. No, we don’t. But yesterday, I saw a side where it opened eyes and people thought, it can happen, and it still can happen. I send all my love to the family and friends. It’s hard. Move on to the next one and he’ll just be racing with the other guys upstairs.”

Six times champion Rea had his comments to make when asked about the dangers of racing, and what happened in Jerez. “The only thing I want to say about the matter is it’s very hard for everybody. We spoke the other day about being human and the mental side of racing. I do think motorcycle racers have a certain element of slightly sociopath. No emotion. You kind of have to.

“Sometimes we have huge crashes ourselves and you have to run back to the garage and go on the bike and try to make a lap time again. So, it’s so difficult to see this and focus on your job, but also in the same breath, I’m not thinking about myself. I was thinking a lot about his family. He’s a kid. He’s fifteen years old. His family and friends and his team have lost an incredible young rider with great potential - but he’s not a rider. He’s a person. He’s a son, a brother, a cousin, whatever. It’s sad. It’s really sad. The only consolation is he died doing what the loved to do.

“Not many kids in the whole world have great opportunities. So, I think his fifteen years were very rich. We know there’s dangers, but there’s that part of your brain you never think this is going to happen. I think both Dorna and especially WorldSBK are very inclusive to riders to voice their opinions on safety. We all had a briefing last night about racing and about the feeling. It’s an emotional time for everybody, but more so for his family and friends. So, that’s it, really.”

When pressed about what could be done Rea said, “I don’t want to get drawn in now because it’s so easy to throw shit when something has gone wrong. I think we all need to be very calm how we react to this because it’s part of sport. How could things be better is a matter of opinion. More and more so, in racing it’s not crashes and runoff areas that are causing it.

“It’s impacts from another bike or rider when there’s a fallen rider on the ground. With safety equipment, helmet, leathers, boots, and gloves, they’re as safe as they can be with technology in helmets and airbag systems. So, it’s very hard to be more proactive in that. That’s it, really. I don’t want to put shit on the riders or class because it’s not fair. They don’t need any more weight on their shoulders.”

Having come through from Moto3, the equivalent ‘close class’ to WorldSSP300 in the Grand Prix paddock, Andrea Locatelli had a particular viewpoint on the events. “So sorry about the family of Dean, and also the fans, for all the guys, and also the 300 riders because for sure it’s not easy. I think it’s a difficult category because it’s so close, the gap. In my opinion, with the small bike and no power on the bike, like in Moto3, the problem is it’s really difficult to do a gap, to try to get a gap.

“For example, the corner four, maybe you can do full gas. Every rider tries to do full gas. For example, with the Superbike, we have electronic, the tyres drop… It’s many problems when you ride the Superbike. When you ride the 300, you can do the fast lap also in the last lap. It’s so strange. So, the group is so close. The riders are so close, and this is so dangerous because when a bike crashes or one rider stays, because also the speed is not so high, and when you crash for example in the fifth corner and you are not very fast, you stay on the middle of the track.

“This is the Moto2, but maybe one time every ten years. This is the case, but now this year this is the third time. The same problem. Also in the same category, more or less. Moto3, pre-Moto3, 600… I think the problem is you don’t have big power. You don’t have a drop on the tyre. It’s so difficult. In the end, I repeat, I hope, I think all the people try to hope to make a little bit different.

“On the rules, I don’t know what we can do. For example, my idea is try to make it the same category but maybe with 600 stock. Maybe it’s important to try also if he’s young, try to understand the drop of the tyre, because with these small tyres, they don’t have a drop. You go full gas all the laps. It’s so difficult to make a gap.”

Loris Baz said from day one that replacing the 600 Stock class with slower and heavier bikes was never a good idea, even though like his fellow top riders, he was not keen on speaking about it at Jerez. “I don’t think it’s the right time to discuss about that, but I always said what I think about this class. For me, this class is the most dangerous class ever. I don’t like it. I don’t watch it. I’m scared when I watch it.

“Those bikes are too heavy and not enough power so you cannot make the difference. My trainer’s son started to race when he was 13. He did three races in 300 and because my trainer said he’s not learning anything and it’s too scary, we go to 600. So, he bought a 600 and he did the same as he did with me and I think it’s less dangerous to ride a 600 at 13 than racing a 300 at 13. If you cannot make the difference in the riding, you have to fight. You have a big group and you fight, but it’s not the right time to discuss about that.”

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