Expletive Deleted: Deathwatch of the In-Line Four?
by dean adams

In racing, results are ultimately the most important goal. Not image, not even sponsorship or other theatrics. Winning is the point, really.

Knowing the above, and if one is of the opinion that the World Superbike series offers the highest level of street-based motorcycle racing in the world (as opposed to the US, Japanese or British Superbike series) then you can spot a trend in 2001 World Superbike.

And that trend is this: the four cylinder 750cc Superbike may very well be aging war horse which has seemingly lost pace with its twin cylinder machines. Evidence: In five races this season at three rounds in varying conditions, three different four cylinder Superbikes have failed to win a single race, while the Honda RC-51, Ducati 996 and Aprilia RSV have dominated the top spot on the podium. Yes, both the Kawasaki and the Suzuki looked fairly impressive yesterday at Monza, but the former only made it to the podium after some noted DNFs, and the latter hasn't made it there yet this season.

There are disclaimers that go with this perceived trend of course. One of the four-cylinder machines, the Kawasaki, is fairly dated, having been introduced in its current form in 1996. The Suzuki GSX-R750 is state of the art currently for an in-line four, but in World Superbike the Suzuki effort doesn't have the same depth as a factory effort as the Honda, Aprilia or Ducati teams; it simply does not appear to have the same level of support from Japan that the other teams do. Neither of the factory four cylinder teams do, frankly.

Yamaha makes a spiffy R7 Superbike. Yet, Yamaha does not currently race the series as a factory effort. Therein lies a large part of the puzzle: Yamaha was a strong competitor in World Superbike for the past three seasons and gave all the teams fits trying to compete with it. With Yamaha gone the dominance of the Twins is more enhanced, or reality shows that much clearer.

Ducati would no doubt answer the charge that the reason for Kawasaki's lack of race winning competitiveness in World Superbike is because it is a dated design with their own data: the 916/996 machine hasn't changed that much since 1997, and in some ways since 1994, the year it was introduced. Moreover, the basic crankshaft design for the bike was done in 1982. Yes, it has new cylinder heads and a state of the art fuel injection/engine management system, but the bike is more a souped up old hot rod than it is a mini-F-1 machine.

Besides engine type, the other major difference between the Twin cylinder teams and their four cylinder brethren is that the twin-cylinder teams have use of a large budget and they extract as much competivness from that resource as they can. Ducati's World Superbike budget is twelve million (or more) dollars. It's hard to imagine Honda's budget being less than that. Aprilia, too, certainly spends freely. The Venice-based manufacturer spent millions on development on the RSV and then hired one of the best riders in the paddock to ride it; to support him they build or give him whatever he feels the bike needs to win. It's simple, really, if you have the capital to spend and a true willingness to do whatever it takes to make a winning motorcycle, you will win.

With no four cylinder team on equal budget status, from the outside it gives the impression that the engine configuration is no longer competitive, simply because the engine configurations between those that are winning and those that are following are vastly different.

I think it's more a question of dedication from the manufacturer and size of their World Superbike budget than engine configuration. Harald Eckl is a smart man, a former racer (winner of the 1991 Daytona 250 GP race, but hey, you knew that), and was renown in Grand Prix as a 125 and 250 team owner who could make a $250,000 budget look like a million dollars. I suspect he is doing the same in World Superbike with his Kawasaki team. Admirable.

However, if you desire race wins and the championship in the current World Superbike climate, bargain based team ownership will not work. Winning is the point of all of this and the factories must give their WSC teams ample resources in order to obtain the goal.


Expletive Deleted is an almost weekly column by dean adams

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