1992 WORLD SUPERBIKE RULES: Loaded Dice?
In 1992, with the World Superbike Championship celebrating its fifth anniversary, there was a widespread feeling among all teams and manufacturers that it was time to take stock of the previous half-decade of world-level four-stroke racing.
No motorcycle then dominated its own racing category at world level as totally as the desmoquattro Ducati 888 twin, leading to widespread complaints by the four-cylinder faction that the technical dice were loaded against them. But back when the Superbike World Series was conceived by Steve Mclaughlin and his colleagues, the idea that any twin could compete with a four-cylinder bike on level terms was pretty unrealistic. So to encourage the Italians (and, it must be said, Harley-davidson and BMW, too) into broadening the scope of the series, the founding fathers and the FIM jointly concocted an equivalency formula aimed at attracting manufacturers from outside Japan to run twins alongside fours.
With so little basis for comparative judgement back in 1986 when the rules were formulated – the best twincylinder in those days was a Pantah-based 100bhp Ducati 750 F1 desmodue, and the 851 fuel-injected desmoquattro was still just a gleam in the eye of Ducati’s then-new chief designer, Massimo Bordi – you had to give the men who evolved the two-tier Superbike formula real credit for seeking to attract thundering twins to the series as (in their view) a necessary contrast to the four-cylinder screamers which would surely dominate matters. They particularly wanted to avoid the fate of 500GP racing, whose grids were uniquely peopled by V4 two-strokes, after the demise of Honda’s dare-to-be different NS/ RS500 triple.
So WSB’S founding fathers established a minimum weight limit of 165kg for four (and three) cylinder bikes, dropping to 140kg for twins, which also enjoyed a 1000cc capacity ceiling against the fours’ 750cc limit.the basis was laid for a fascinating power struggle between two completely different engineering philosophies – a struggle in which the ultimate winners were streetbike customers around the world, who were able to enjoy its technological fruits.
The fact that Ducati was the only company brave enough to opt unreservedly for the twin-cylinder route meant the series of World Superbike titles it was able to chalk up was arguably deserved reward for daring to be different and on far slimmer resources than its Japanese rivals, too.the world championship success of the booming Bologna-built bikes was earned the hard way, for during the first two years of the SBK World Series, Ducati’s race effort had seemed brilliant but erratic, as it struggled to refine its unique liquid-cooled fuel-injected desmoquattro 90-degree V-twin, and make it reliable. Bimota fell at the final hurdle in 1988 – literally, after its table-topping rider Davide Tardozzi crashed on the warm-up lap of the final race of the season in NZ, when seemingly set to take the debut World Superbike title with its avantgarde beam-frame fuelinjected Yamahapowered YB4EI, handing victory instead to Honda, which repeated its success in ‘89, both times courtesy of Fred Merkel and the privateer V4team Rumi RC30.
So with three very different (and different-sounding) engineering strategies fighting for victory, Mclaughlin and Co deserved a collective pat on the back for getting the balance just right.
But then the Ducati steamroller got into gear, and from then on it was rolling red thunder all the way in SBK, as its engineering guru Massimo Bordi gradually increased capacity of the desmo motor from the original 851cc dictated by the use of Pantah crankcases as a cost-saving measure – complete with blankedoff kick-starter boss – to 888cc, 926cc, 955cc and finally 996cc, while at the same time greatly refining its Weber-marelli engine management system.
Bimota and Honda both fell by the wayside, and by 1992 the only competition to the twin-cylinder desmo bandwagon was Kawasaki, with Rob Phillis and Aaron Slight race-winning rivals to the Ducatis, with a heroic wild card threat from Fabrizio Pirovano’s lone Byrdyamaha OW-01.THE rest were nowhere – yet despite the weight limit so heavily favouring twin-cylinder bikes, BMW took the decision not to join in with its R1 Desmo Boxer Superbike which they had been developing for the past three years.
History shows that 1993 would see Scott Russell best Carl Fogarty on his 888, making the American the only inline, ‘across-the-frame’ four-cylinder 750cc champion on the Muzzy Kawasaki, supported by the factory. 1993 was a close-run thing, but by the end of that year Honda was about to bring its fuel-injected RC45 successor to the RC30 into the arena while Ducati had the new 916 ready to go.
Moreover, the contentious weight limit formula so heavily favouring twin-cylinder bikes would indeed be progressively reduced by the FIM until, by 1996, it was the same for both fours and twins – and bringing in a universal 1000cc capacity limit for fours, triples and twins in 2003 finally brought about the long-awaited level playing field for the World Superbike rulebook.