WHAT’S OLD IS NEW
Momentum is building toward a revival of the ¾ litre class. Remember the days of 750cc fours, 900cc triples and 1000cc battling it out in Superbike racing? Well, they may be coming back.
1989 Yamaha FZR-750R 0W01
FIRST, A LITTLE HISTORY
When the World Superbike Championship began in 1988, the formula allowed for machines with a maximum of 1000cc for twin cylinder bikes and 750cc for four cylinder bikes. The disparity in capacity was an attempt to balance the relative power output capabilities of the different engine configurations.
Four cylinder engines can rev higher, producing higher relative peak power than a twin of the same capacity (revs equal power). To compensate, twins were allowed a higher capacity giving them a torque advantage compared to the four cylinder bikes, especially in the low and mid range.
Much later on (2003), Superbike racing defaulted to 1000cc for all engine configurations, also allowing 900cc triple engines. Incidentally, the Foggy Petronas FP1 was the only triple to race in World Superbike.
Foggy Petronas FP1 with Garry McCoy on board
With the 1000cc rule for all bikes now in force, the twins (only Ducati by this stage) found it ever harder to compete with the four cylinder bikes, now that they too were allowed a full 1000cc. This eventually led to the introduction of 1200cc twins.
It is interesting to note that the 1000cc Ducati 999 won 3 championships racing against 1000cc fours. Ducati claimed it was too expensive to maintain the performance from the 1000c twin and lobbied for a change to 1200cc. Ducati has always found a way to maintain a capacity advantage, but that is a story for another time.
THE FUTURE IS BRIGHT
With the history lesson out of the way, let’s look to the future. Sadly, Supersport bikes are dead. So how long before Supersport racing follows suit? The whole point of production-based racing is that the race bikes are based on the same machines average Joe’s and Jane’s can purchase from their local showroom. But if no one is buying Supersport bikes, how can the manufacturers continue to invest in them? They can’t and haven’t been, which is why Supersport bikes are thin on the ground if you want to purchase a new one.
The manufacturers and administrators of WSBK know they have a problem on their hands. The problem is that they have a responsibility to keep WSBK viable and interesting for punters. Just as important is the need to provide a viable stepping stone for riders on their path to the bigger and faster Superbikes. With no Supersport bikes left to race, a solution must be found.
Yamaha YZF-R6 – last of a special breed
The solution to the problem is to bring back the ¾ litre class (I shall call them maxi Supersport for now). That means replacing 600cc class Supersport bikes with maxi Supersport bikes and converting Supersport racing to a quarter litre formula. While 600cc Supersport bikes have all but disappeared, ‘maxi’ bikes like the Ducati Panigale V2 (955cc V-twin), Suzuki GSXR-750 (inline 749cc four), and MV Agusta F3 800 (inline 800cc triple) are still kicking about. However, they are not breaking sales records by any means, and Euro 5 emissions regulations have all but killed off the Suzuki.
SHIPS ON THE HORIZON
The case, therefore, could be made that this class is just as dead as the Supersport class. But look on the horizon, and you will see the masts of approaching maxi Supersport ships approaching.
Manufacturers are making moves to introduce more bikes in this class. The Yamaha R9 is probably the most significant and could be a catalyst for other manufacturers to follow suit. Having recently introduced am MT-07 based R7, the prospect of an MT-09 based R9 is mouth-watering.
The Yamaha R9 would fit beautifully within the ¾ class rules with its 900cc triple engine. Moreover, it could prompt MV Agusta to introduce a 900cc F3, Suzuki to revive its GSXR-750 and tempt Triumph to finally introduce a 900cc successor to the 765 Daytona.
But imagine this for a moment. Not wanting to be left behind, what if Aprilia builds a 750cc RSV4, Honda a V4 750cc CBR, Kawasaki an inline-4 ZX-7R, and BMW a three-cylinder S900RR! I am salivating at the thought of it!
KTM is also getting in the ring. Their recent release of the 889cc parallel-twin LC8C could serve as a proof of concept for developing a KTM maxi Supersport. Couple this with rumours of a 990cc Super Duke for 2022, and what we have is the genesis of a road-going KTM maxi Supersport bike.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
The added bonus of reviving the ¾ litre class is that they would make great road sportbikes. They would provide accessible performance and be more affordable than the now astronomically fast and expensive Superbikes. In addition, as they would be based on a common architecture (ala MT-09 and R9), costs could be spread across multiple portfolios, making the investment more viable for manufacturers.
I must admit to being biased. I own a 2017 Suzuki GSXR-750 and a 2017 GSXR-1000R. The 750 is my favourite ride on the road and can still be lots of fun on the track. Ultimately, the 1000 is faster on track, but faster doesn’t always equate to more fun.
Fun, accessible performance and affordability is the attraction of this formula. Not only do road riders benefit, but racers also get access to a more fit for purpose stepping stone to the ultra-fast Superbikes. It’s a win-win situation.
TESTING THE WATERS
Testing of this maxi formula is already underway. This year, the Ducati Panigale V2 and Triumph Daytona 765 are being raced in the British Supersport Championship. This pilot program is designed to evaluate options and set parity for eventual rollout in the world championships.
Taking things a step further, the Barni Racing team has announced a development project to bring the Panigale V2 to the World Supersport grid in 2022. So, it seems the cogs are in motion for a change in Supersport racing, with Dorna and the FIM working on the evolution of the regulations for the maxi Supersport bikes.
Barni Racing testin the Ducati Panigale V2
BRING IT ON!
1000cc Superbikes are becoming too expensive and too fast and focused to enjoy on public roads. They will become ever more niche and ever more costly on the current trajectory, further degrading their attractiveness to the average Joe and Jane Sportbike buyer.
On the other hand, maxi Supersports will be able to spread costs across platforms, making them cheaper to develop and purchase. But the most crucial factor will be the accessibility of performance, relative lightness, and fun this formula offers. That’s why my GSXR-750 is so enjoyable to ride.
Now all I need is an Aprilia 750cc RSV4 to add to my stable. Mamma Mia!
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