World Championship level ICE motorcycle racing is a European-centric sport. Here are some facts for the upcoming 2013 season. First, 61%, or 11 of 18, MotoGP rounds are in Europe. 4 of them, or 22% are in Spain alone. For the first time in history 3 of them are in the US. But given the size of both the US and the motorcycle market (or the size it used to be) that makes marketing sense. The only explanation for Spain is that it’s motorcycle racing nuts. In WSBK, again 11 rounds are in Europe, but there are only 15 for the year. And of the 4 not in Europe 1 is in the US. Just how Euro-centric are they? One WSBK team came out and said that if they really wanted to reduce costs they should stop traveling to races outside Europe. Clearly he doesn’t understand that would make it a European series, not a World series. What is even funnier is that the sport is dominated by Japanese brands. Why the Japanese are content with this I am not sure, but I am certain they are simply following the money.
Us Americans, we’re not so understanding or accommodating. We like American sports, unique to us. None of the once dominant American companies (Harley and Indian) caught onto the whole sportbike craze, and as Michael Uhlarik pointed out, the Japanese now have such a large body of knowledge they are probably impossible to beat. Hence, there has never been and American sport bike brand, other than Buell. And as the AMA “bent” rules for the Buell bikes it caused outrage in die hard fans. It’s funny really. In order to help the Buell bikes get to an equal playing field they were allowed huge displacement advantages. But instead of everyone poking fun at how much displacement they needed to compete with mere 600s, everyone cried they had an unfair advantage because one of the bikes was winning. Turns out it wasn’t the bike, but the rider as he won the next year on a Suzuki GSX-R600. The result of all this was Honda quitting the AMA Pro series. Frankly the racing has been great ever since. So the Japanese field teams, that really are European-based and seem to not mind the travel. However, American teams with the same distance to cover don’t race in the World championships. One team did. Kenny Roberts fielded a teams for several years in MotoGP, but based them out of the UK. Why? Well with maybe one or two races in all of North and South America at the time and, again, most of them in Europe it only makes sense. But it is pretty simple. Historically, American teams do not race in world championships because most of the races are outside North America. It’s too far to travel, the cost of getting established are too high, getting sponsors in the US looking for and willing to pay for international exposure is near impossible, and there are no US manufacturers much less ones big enough to help foot the bill. Also the money to be made here is so good, and the racing is good enough, that Australian Matt Mladin stayed here and won 6 AMA Superbike titles instead of going on to world level racing like he had originally planned. So cost, lack of US manufacturers, and satisfactory level of money and racing are the reasons I have why American’s (other than some riders) are not engaged in world level racing. Until now, that is. The US holds the highest number of manufactures and the fastest bikes in electric racing. Every time European and American teams get together, the Europeans are lucky to crack the top five. And the American teams always have American riders on their bikes. Heck, eCRP had hired US rider Shelina Moreda at one point. Have you ever seen an TTXGP/e-Power race at a MotoGP event outside of the US? No, and it’s not going to happen this year either. But we are going to be at 2 MotoGP events, and quite possibly 1 World SBK event in CONUS. In Europe they are being paired up with the Endurance races. But these American teams have never once traveled to the TTXGP’s past World Finals to compete. Accept the one Mavizen rider in 2010 who raced a bike that was already there in Europe. American teams consistently chose to save their money they could spend on traveling to the World Final on next year’s bike. Heck, Lightning let the FIM help them go to LeMans instead of going to the final NA TTXGP race and qualifying both bikes for the World Final. And then they didn’t even show up for the World Final with the one bike that could have qualified. So American’s team’s disrespect of the World Final may not just be the cost of travel. My point is that if the US has all of the top bikes, teams, riders, and manufactures as well as fans and bloggers (shameless plug) then that is the market you have to cater too. It seems pretty clear to me that if you want electric racing to take root all over the world you have to focus on where it has taken the root the most and grow it from there. I am truly very suspect that Brammo will spend the money on an international world championship. Their bikes seem to be doing well in Europe though. If a majority of the races were in Canada and the US with a few fly-a-way races to Europe and Asia I can see American teams being able to swallow that pill a whole lot easier. But smaller teams with fast bikes have complained since the beginning they want a “real” world championship, and have flown to Europe to race, but to the TT Zero and not the FIM e-Power championship. Will they now?
A really big problem with my whole US-centric idea is that now that this is a full on FIM series, they can only race at FIM sanctioned race tracks. Right now there are 4 FIM approved tracks in the US that I am aware of. Laguna Seca, Indy, Miller Motorsports Park, and the new Circuit of the Americas in Texas. There are others that have tried to get FIM certification like Road America and Barber Motorsports Park. Don’t forget LOLA outside of New Orleans is new and probably within spec, and Sears Point hold FIA races. VIR isn’t that old either. Right now 4 is enough to have 2/3 of the races in the US next year, and 1/2 of the races in 2015. The thing is I doubt an eRR race would be enough to make a circuit jump through the FIM hoops to certification, approval, homologation; or what ever it is they require at this point. But you never know. A bigger problem is this philosophy doing to European teams what it does to US ICE racing teams. Unfortunately the only real European eRR competitor are Muench and Zong Shen. The only previous TTXGP competitor that is still active is ARC EV racing, but they are off developing their bike in local club races. Who knows if we’ll ever see eCRP back and racing. With multi time European and World Final victor Meunch having a hard time getting sponsorship, I doesn’t seem to me that the European elmoto racing seen is in anything much more than shambles. Muench has given so much to the TTXGP, the FIM, and electric motorcycle racing in general I would love to see the series prop them up and help them through US centric seasons. They have earned it in my opinion. But I would seriously hate to see them dissapear. ZongShen is a major Chinese Manufacturer, so I don’t see them going anywhere. And you kind of have to wonder if California isn’t a bit closer for them, even if it’s the wrong type of market.
So a US-centric approach would cause problems in getting tracks which isn’t that much of a problem for now, but could really put a damper on things for the European teams trying to get a better footing. But with not one but four North American University programs working on race bikes right along side of US manufactures gaining ground, and with the up coming TTXGP eSS starting in the US only, you have to wonder where the balance point is. And be damn glad you’re no the one who has to find it.