From grass-roots club racing, to World Championship level, Supersport racing has, for as long as plenty of us can remember, been home to some of the closest, most exciting racing going. Since 1989 the ‘axe-murderers’ have entertained BSB crowds with the thrills, spills and fairing bashing antics of characters such as Leon Camier, Cal Crutchlow and Sam Lowes. And those are names that not only became British Supersport Champions (in 2005, 2006 and 2010, respectively), but went on to do (and are still doing) pretty impressive things on the world stage. And they’re by no means the only current world class riders to have risen through the ranks of either the British or World Supersport 600 Championships, so I think we can all agree just how important the class is, as far as the bigger picture of motorcycling racing is concerned.
But there’s a problem. And it’s a problem that has been causing an increasing amount of concern for some years now. You see, a racing class for production based 600cc sportsbikes is all good and well whilst manufacturers are still making them. In the 90s and 00s, all the Jap factories, and some of the European ones, were churning out Supersport machines like they were going out of fashion. Unfortunately they were going out of fashion, and nowadays, unless you want to ride a ten year old relic of a thing, the only real options are Yamaha’s R6, or Kawasaki’s ZX-6R (which isn’t even a 600 – it’s 636cc). Thanks to a massive shift in the global motorcycle market, the Supersport 600 class, as we know it, can’t and won’t last for ever.
Over the years, I’ve put a lot of thought into what should eventually replace the Supersport class. Should there be a racing class for naked bikes, maybe? Or another (decent) one make series, a la R6 Cup? There are a ton of options, and one that I hadn’t really considered was just to manipulate the Supersport rules to let a few different (and not necessarily 600cc), but on a par performance-wise, models into the mix. This is exactly what the FIM, the WSBK organisers and the BSB organisers are talking about doing.
Just like in the Supersport 300 category, where bikes of different displacement are subject to slightly different rules so that they can compete together on a reasonably level playing field, a plan has been hatched to allow different bikes, from different manufacturers into Supersport Championships. The idea behind it is to give the class the boost it needs. We’re thinking this’ll mean the inclusion of models like Triumph 765s, Ducati 955s and such like.
Will it work? Well it sounds like we’ll find out in 2021 as BSB Series Director Stuart Higgs has announced that the British Supersport Class will pilot a scheme, to see how well it works (if at all) and to establish a base set of technical regulations which could form the platform for the 2022 FIM World Supersport Championship.
I expect there will have to be a lot of complicated rules governing a class that allows bikes of all different displacements and categories to compete with one another. I’m half expecting there to be bizarre and difficult to understand regulations like “you can replace the inlet valves if the machines displacement is less than 700cc, unless the cylinders have been bored out to over 10% of their standard dimension, in which case, you may only replace the exhaust valves”. In practice, a power cap might be the way forward; there’s already a weight limit (it’s 161kg in BSB). Perhaps they could say “you’re allowed no more than 130bhp and no less than 161kg. How you achieve that, and from what machine is up to you and completely open.” Although I can’t see them going down that road, that would be far too easy.
Whatever happens, I hope they make it work because Supersport 600 racing is, and always has been some of the best racing going. And not only that, it’s a massively important part of motorcycle sport, at every level. Something has to be done before Supersport racing dies a genuine death, so I’m glad the FIM, the WSBK and the BSB people are taking the bull by the horns. I, for one, will be keeping my fingers tightly crossed, hoping that the guineapig British Supersport season produces the type of racing we’ve not only become accustomed to, but learnt to love. Let’s see what happens.