Last weekend's World Superbike round at Assen provided the first chance this year to directly compare the pace of production based WSBK machines against the prototype MotoGP racers ¨C with startling results.
MotoGP raced at Assen two and a half months ago and ¨C whilst the GP itself was wet ¨C the preceding practice and qualifying sessions took place under near identical weather conditions to the SBK event, allowing direct comparisons between the lap times.
So, let's start with some facts:
1) WSBK pole sitter Frankie Chili's best lap was just 1.1secs slower than MotoGP pole sitter Loris Capirossi ¨C despite Chili riding a two-year-old Ducati 998RS with around 50 less horsepower and weighing around 20kg more than Capirossi's Desmosedici V4 prototype.
2) Chili's time would have put him 11th on the MotoGP grid! The following is a list of the riders and teams he beat on his 'street bike':
Ukawa (Honda + 0.055secs), Hayden (Honda +0.124secs), Bayliss (Ducati +0.273secs), Haga (Aprilia +0.314secs), Kagayama (Suzuki +0.727secs), Hopkins (Suzuki +0.841secs), Hofmann (Kawasaki +1.298secs), Tamada (Honda +1.477secs), McWilliams (Proton +2.122secs), Pitt (Kawasaki +2.497secs), McCoy (Kawasaki +2.533secs), Kiyonari (Honda +2.833secs) and Aoki (Proton +5.298secs).
3) Under the 107% rule, using Capirossi's time, the top 22 WSBK riders at Assen would have qualified for the MotoGP race. That includes both Foggy Petronas machines ridden by Troy Corser and James Haydon! Corser was just 0.1secs slower than McCoy's Kawasaki.
4) Top Suzuki qualifier, Gregorio Lavilla ¨C riding a GSX1000R ¨C was just 0.6secs slower than top Suzuki MotoGP qualifier, Yukio Kagayama.
5) Top Kawasaki qualifier, Ivan Clementi ¨C riding a ZX7 RR ¨C lapped 1.1secs slower than top Kawasaki MotoGP qualifier Alex Hofmann. But, Clementi was faster than both Andrew Pitt and Garry McCoy ¨C despite his significantly smaller engine size.
It's worth mentioning that Assen requires both horsepower and handling, which should shift things further in MotoGP's favour - the gap between WSBK and MotoGP could actually be closer at many other circuits.
All of which is a bit embarrassing for many GP teams ¨C the rules may state you need to build a prototype, they don't say it needs to be slower than a production bike...
For the likes of Suzuki and Kawasaki, whose MotoGP machines don't appear to be much quicker than their WSBK designs, it is especially baffling.
Presumably, when designing their prototypes, they could have used all their WSBK experience, then employed expensive materials/manufacturing techniques which were impractical on production based racers to improve the bike further ¨C of course changing enough engine internals to satisfy the prototype rules (and avoid a WCM type situation).
So where are they going wrong...?
Firstly, building a GP prototype can't be underestimated, but the teams' SBK experience and data gathered should ¨C as the Assen results prove ¨C have given them a good base to start from.
Maybe they've simply outsmarted themselves? Instead of a step-by-step evolution of what they know works they've tried for a revolution and ended up giving themselves too many 'unknowns' to work with.
Only Suzuki and Kawasaki can answer that question, but they must surely wish they'd taken the approach used by Ducati ¨C who claimed pole in both series ¨C by using chassis and engine technology they understand intuitively.
Meanwhile, with WSBK rapidly imploding under the strain of controversial new rules, maybe Carl Fogarty and his Petronas backed team should consider a MotoGP move more seriously...