GP & WSBK: some home truths…

Published by Nick on December 8th, 2011 - in NEWS

The first thing an interested observer has to understand regarding MotoGP’s crisis management strategy – or the lack of one – is the business relationship between the premier class and WSBK.

The set up.

Bridgepoint is a private equity company. Which means it uses its own funds, plus equity from other investors, to buy up companies with a view to selling them on following re-structuring. If an acquisition is especially profitable, the equity company can simply retain its controlling interest. And in times of fiscal uncertainty – like now – retaining rather than selling on may well make more sense. One company acquired by Bridgepoint is Dorna, commercial rights holder to MotoGP. The media rights holder to a major sporting series wields so much power that they inevitably end up writing the rule book. Bridgepoint picked up Dorna after the EU insisted that Dorna’s previous owners divest, since they (CVC) had acquired a controlling interest in F1. EU competition commissioners deemed this stranglehold on both F1 and GP anti-competitive: enter Bridgepoint. Their masterstroke was the subsequent purchase this year of Infront Sports and Media, rights holder to WSBK. Thus Bridgepoint had created their own monopoly of top class two wheeled racing, facilitated by legislation which sought to safeguard a pluralistic market place. Genius.

Bikerglory spoke to Bridgepoint about their vision for the future of motorcycle racing, since if anyone can legitimately claim to have a controlling global interest in it, they can. We wanted to know if, broadly speaking, Bridgepoint’s intention was to bring the two series closer together with the eventual aim of creating a single, ultra dominant class – or emphasise the differences, in order to keep them as distinctly separate, viable championships. Bridgepoint’s official line is that Dorna and Infont make their own decisions without interference in policy: ie the official line is that there is no official line – beyond the fact that Dorna and Infront are self determining entities.

The problem with this explanation is that Bridgepoint representatives will be on the boards of both Dorna and Infront, and their wishes will ultimately hold sway. A source close to both organisations suggested to us that Dorna had misread Bridgepoint’s intentions regarding the Infront purchase, in assuming that a fully fledged merger between WSBK and GP was on the cards. Hence the nonsensical and ill advised CRT fiasco, along with pronouncements about control ECUs in the near future – thus nudging GP in the direction of WSBK territory.

The plan.

The reality is that Bridgepoint would like to see both series successful on their own terms, since that is the simplest route to profitability: the structure is already in place – even if in future, there is rationalisation and some events are shared. But a demarcation will remain in place – signifying pretty much the exact opposite of Dorna’s recent pronouncements. What does this mean in practice?

For WSBK, it means remaining a production based superbike series first and foremost, with the emphasis back on the P word. Don’t be surprised if WSBK moves towards a superstock ethos in the next couple of years. Infront will be watching next season’s BSB series with great interest, since by dispensing with bespoke electronics, BSB have positioned themselves at the cutting edge of the back to basics revolution. (The fact that production sportsbikes feature increasingly sophisticated electronics themselves is not an obstacle, since how they perform with the black magic switched off is of compelling interest to race fans and prospective punters alike.)

MotoGP, on the other hand, needs to embrace an open class philosophy, with as little restriction as possible. The dream of a new generation of DI strokers battling with rotaries and four stroke machines is still very much a fantasy, albeit one people would pay good money to see in reality. And that is the point: a premiere class has to consist of the elite, in engineering as well as rider terms. Otherwise it forgoes the right to be top dog. Instead of subsidising CRT no hopers, funding should go towards helping the players who could compete in an open environment. That means the factories. A single competitive Suzuki and/or Kawasaki would do more for the sport than any amount of also rans. The counter argument is that it’s simply too expensive to bankroll prototypes. But the factories want to stay: if anything drives them away, moving GPs towards a kind of enhanced WSBK is guaranteed to do the trick. Sacrifices will have to be made: a reduction in series length is a possibility, with the bonus of fewer races meaning increased prestige for the remainder, as is the mouthwatering prospect of a WSBK / GP shared card. Dorna need to get a grip on the new reality of their owner’s recently expanded portfolio. Killing (or mutilating) the goose is not the answer.

The outcome.

Bridgepoint’s controlling interest in the game could, ironically, prove to be a salvation for both series. But private equity companies are not known for a surfeit of tolerance. Infront, and especially Dorna, need to think about the implications of common ownership and act accordingly – by ensuring that WSBK and MotoGP retain their unique appeal, via their technological distance. If Bridgepoint’s aim is to retain both companies in the medium/long term – and as yet there is no evidence to the contrary – we’d expect to see the two classes kept as far apart as possible in terms of regulation. Especially if, as some have predicted, meets are eventually shared to cut logistical expenditure. WSBKs as the support race to an open class GP round would make for a memorable, and highly profitable days racing.

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