WSB AT 30
World Superbikes’ best bits!
For years, the World Superbike championship was the world’s number one bike race series – it had it all. It had the men – youngsters on their way up, hungry for success and fearless, as well as grizzled veterans who had seen it all before and wanted to bag one last big payday. This was before the time of political correctness and sponsor-speak. Young or old, the racers never held back. Up-and-comers like Troy Corser, Colin Edwards and Anthony Gobert, our own no-nonsense Carl Fogarty, the super-cool Scott Russell, and then the old guard like Robbie Phillis (Syph to his friends), Raymond Roche (hard as nails) and former GP ace Marco Lucchinelli – every one a character. WSB had the circuits too. Some were great, like Donington Park, or the blisteringly quick Hockenheim, the spectacular Osterreichring and then iffy circuits such as pre-gp Laguna Seca, where the barriers seemed oh-so close. Whatever the circuit, the riders gave no quarter... And then there were the bikes. Like Ducati’s 851, 888, 916... Honda’s VFR750R RC30, Bimota’s YB4 EI, Yamaha’s OW-01 and YZF750. Kawasaki’s ZXR750 and ZX-7R models and Suzuki’s GSX-R750S… Yes, in the glory years of World Superbikes (the first 15 years) the series had it all and it knocked 500cc Grand Prix into a cocked hat for excitement and incident. Hence you’d see crowds of around 120,000 at the UK’S WSB Brands Hatch race, which dwarfed the crowds at the Brit bike GP. Carl Fogarty, the four-time champ, knows what made WSB so special: “So many things came together at the same time. The Sky TV coverage for one and you had the characters to support that, like Corser, Gobert, Haga, Edwards, Slight, Russell etc. You also had the bikes out there racing that you could actually buy. It was a combination of a lot of things and it made WSB the biggest world four-stroke bike championship in the world. To be part of it was amazing – sometimes I don’t think we appreciated what it was and how big it was at the time.”
1 Imola 2002
The climax of the 2002 season, Troy Bayliss and Ducati winning the lion’s share of the first half of the season and Colin Edwards and Honda the second half. Colin would turn a 58-point deficit to win the title by 11 points. The last two races were classic WSB – fairing banging and two of the best riders in the world going head-to-head. Here’s Colin Edwards’ take on a topsy-turvy year. “Maybe Troy had won 12 or so races so when I was at Laguna – he’d won the first race and it was do or die for me. I won the second race, then came Brands – I won the first race and I think he crashed and I made it a double. Then came the Suzuka 8-Hour where we got new parts and then Oschersleben. That morning I came behind Troy, I could finally stay with him, draft and then pass him. I was like ‘oh you is dead!’ I couldn’t do that up until then. It was a switch that finally went off in my head. I was like: ‘man, your ass is grass and I’m the lawnmower.’ He’d never seen me pass him before. “From there we won everything after that. He could still come second and win the title so the plan was this: Troy didn’t like to lose and he didn’t want to lose by a lot, he’s competitive. So figured if I could force him into a mistake…. It worked at Assen as he crashed so more points for me. At Imola – the final round – I was just one point ahead of him. The first race was aggregate: I was leading and then came the red flag, so I managed to win that one. “In the second race if Ruben Xaus passed me and I got third Troy would be champion. Troy in the second race gets out front and slows the pace right down. We could be doing 48s, but instead we’re doing 50s. I’m saying to myself: ‘alright, I know what you’re doing…’ Xaus was catching up fast so I figured ‘screw it’ you can only win it one way. Watch it back and you’ll see that I placed myself so that if I lost the front, he’s coming with me – and I had an electric start! I took the win and the title. “It was more satisfying than the first championship in 2000.”
2 Assen, 1998
1998 was a vintage season that went down to the wire between Carl Fogarty, Aaron Slight and Troy Corser. It came to a head at Sugo, the season-ender, when Troy crashed in the Sunday warm-up, breaking ribs and damaging his spleen and Slighty getting a duff Michelin tyre in the last race. Foggy came from behind to eventually take the title by 41/2points, but the real talking point had come before… 1998 didn’t just have some great races but some top bust-ups, the best being ‘The Battle of Assen.’ No-one knew that Foggy, Corser and Pier-francesco Chili were aiming for just two factory Ducati slots for 1999 and only the two top Ducati riders at the end of the season would get them. With this background it is little wonder that tensions were high. Race one saw the undisputed King of Assen Carl (a six-time winner) beaten to the line by Chili. Then in race two there were some hard but fair moves in the last few laps before Chili crashed at the final chicane. Initially, it was felt Foggy had touched him, but this wasn’t the case. As a result the two almost came to blows in parc fermé
with Chili interrupting the post-race press conference in his blue Terry-towelling bathrobe to grab the microphone and tell the world that Foggy was a dirty racer. In his autobiography, Carl said: “I had just entered the pit lane when he threw a punch at me that glanced off my visor. I asked him what he was doing and that I had passed him on the inside. Later Chili turned up in a tatty blue dressing gown – a long way from the classic stylish look. He grabbed the mic and said what I did was a disgrace. “I’d had enough so I got up to leave and I had to go past him to get out, when it all kicked off again with people piling in from all angles to separate us. It was all handbags at 30 paces, but I was still blazing mad.”
3 The first-ever race
April 3, 1988, Donington Park – the first-ever world superbike race. The first pole position was taken by Roger Burnett (he took a third in race two) and the first WSB race winner in history was none other than Davide Tardozzi – Ducati’s Motogp manager. He would finish third overall that year on Bimota’s YB4 EI but history records it differently, thanks to the strange way the first round was scored, as an aggregate of both races one and two, hence Marco Lucchinelli took the ‘overall’ win on the Ducati 851 – strangely the only Ducati on the grid – thanks to his second behind Tardozzi in race one and his win in race two. Interestingly, Joey Dunlop took third in the first race. Thankfully this system (which also gave double points) was dropped by the second round. If the standard system of two races with two results had been adopted from the off, Tardozzi would have been world champion and Bimota the manufacturer champ. As it was, they would take seven wins that year, five for Tardozzi and two for Stephane Mertens. The season would end dramatically. Firstly Ducati and ‘Lucky’ Lucchinelli dropped points by missing out the round at Oran Park (rumour was their bike was over-sized and would be collared by the more stringent Aussie scrutineers). Then, at the final round at Manfeild Park, New Zealand, Tardozzi crashed on the warm-up lap of the last race of the year and, despite frantic attempts from Bimota team personnel to get Mertens to give the Italian his bike so he could try and win the title, the Belgian (who knew he was getting the flick from the team) refused… As it was, it would be the cool Californian Fred Merkel who would take the first title for his Rumi Honda team, but that first year each manufacturer would score a win, Suzuki’s GSX-R750 with Gary Goodfellow, Kawasaki with Adrien Morillas, Ducati, Honda, Yamaha (with a certain Michael Doohan, who would go on to take three WSB wins from four starts) and Bimota.
4 Brits go mad at home!
May 14, 2000 – Neil Hodgson takes his first World Superbike win, as a wildcard rider at Donington Park. He then followed it up with another at Brands Hatch later that year but best of all the race also saw BSB rival Chris Walker on the podium. Neil had a tough WSB career in his first three-year stint for Ducati and Kawasaki. His best result was third at Laguna in 1996. For 1999 he went back to Britain to regroup and regained his confidence on a GSE Ducati, even refusing to do wildcards in WSB that year. In 2000 it was all different and he battled with series regulars Haga and Chili to take the win ahead of Walker for a British one-two! Neil recalls: “Being Foggy’s team-mate in 1997, I remember seeing him win, thinking ‘it must feel amazing to do that, to win a race and be mobbed on the circuit on the slow-down lap’. It was a dream really. The thought of getting a Union Jack on the slow-down lap after winning the race was always in my mind. Looking back it’s still like yesterday.”
5 Foggy’s first win
“The crowd didn’t come here to see a Frenchman win!” After crashing in race one at Donington Park in 1992, Carl came back to win race two on his private Ducati 888 he’d bought himself with help from dad George. Raymond Roche – the French factory Ducati rider, who would be his 1993 team-boss said: “Carl, you will win the championship. But not this year…” Roche was right, Foggy would win the title in 1994.
6 Temper tantrums!
We love WSB for this and there have been a few! Colin Edwards was involved in a titanic scrap in the 1999 Monza event in both races. Come race one and he was battling with Foggy and Pier-francesco Chili. Foggy would draft Colin over the line to take race one by a tenth. Col was not happy and threw water over a TV camera. Race two was even closer, with the timing screens first giving the win to Edwards, but then Foggy. This time Colin shrugged and had the balls to apologise for his behaviour after race one. That year at the Nurburgring, Edwards had every right to throw his toys out of the pram when the marshals failed to spot oil and coolant from a blow up on track, which took down him and a number of the front-runners. After throwing gravel onto the corner, Edwards then gesticulated to the marshals…
7 Assen 1999
Does it get any better than this? Two great WSB races and Foggy does a double. Iain Macpherson wins the Supersport race, the late Karl Harris wins the European Superstock race on a GSX-R750 SRAD on his way to that year’s title and Steve Webster and David James won the sidecars. Conservative estimates reckon that 30,000 Brits made it over the water to see the action.
8 Foggy’s fightback
It’s 1996 and Foggy is in the doldrums. He’s signed a big-money deal to move to Castrol Honda and the recalcitrant V4 RC45. The start to the season was poor – a crash in practice at the season opener at Misano hurt (sixth and seventh in the races). The next round at Donington was worse with eighth and seventh places and his trusted mechanic Anthony ‘Slick’ Bass was sacked by the Honda team. The turn-around came at the next race: Hockenheim. Aaron Slight won the first race and it was when both bikes were wheeled past Foggy that he could see that his bike sat lower at the back than Aaron’s. Jacking the rear up for race two made all the difference and an ecstatic Foggy took his first win of the year. He would be in the hunt for wins and podiums from then on, taking a win at Monza and doing the RC45’S first double at Assen, in a memorable event. “Race one was an easy win for me,” Foggy recalls, “but race two was different. Kocinski on the Ducati was faster than me in one section of the track, where I was struggling a little to get the bike turned. “Eventually, he outbraked me in the final chicane but ran a little wide, so I stuck the RC45 underneath him and hooked first instead of second to drive past him and Corser to the line to win. It meant a lot.”
9 Crash and win
Okay, it’s Foggy again, but one of the most timeless of moving images came from Carl’s 1995 race one crash at Sugo. Despite cracked bones and bruising he came back to win race two. Check it out at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=selovcy4uei
10 The Go-show returns!
Bimota was the most successful manufacturer in terms of wins in the first year of WSB but then disappeared. Anthony Gobert promised much in the series, took eight wins all-told, but never took the title. The bad-boy of WSB’S last race win was the most memorable – on Bimota’s Suzuki-powered SB8R at a wet Phillip Island in 2000.
LEFT: It was a real season of two halves, but Edwards would take the title.
ABOVE: The crash that was a big part of ‘The Battle of Assen’.
ABOVE RIGHT: Enjoying the celebration with former team-mate Troy Bayliss.
TOP: Roger Burnett takes the first WSB pole.
ABOVE: Neil had dreamt of this day...
BELOW: Hodgson comes good!
BELOW: Foggy would take the first RC45 double.BELOW RIGHT: Gobert wins on the SB8R.
ABOVE: Carl took his first win in 1992.
ABOVE: Colin wasn’t happy here...