WSB AT 30

World Su­per­bikes’ best bits!

Classic Motorcycle Mechanics - - CONTENTS - WORDS: BER­TIE SIM­MONDS PHO­TOS: MOR­TON’S AR­CHIVE/MARK WERN­HAM, KAWASAKI, HONDA, KEL EDGE

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...

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.