The ongoing coronavirus crisis has seen motorcycle sport across the world suspended, with many fans wondering if we will see any more racing at all in 2020.
Race bosses in all the championships are working hard to salvage their respective series, whether in front of fans or behind closed doors and they’re telling us that we will see more bike sport this year, and here’s what we know so far…
MotoGP and world superbike are separate series, but both are run by the same company (Dorna) and face broadly similar challenges. It looks like the two series will work together to ensure that they at least get half a dozen or so rounds to declare a championship.
Running a world championship is a logistical challenge at the best of times, but doing so in a global pandemic is even more challenging, when you have to bring people and equipment from all corners of the planet.
Motorcycle racing, like most sporting businesses, has a complicated financial ecosystem and nothing’s more complicated than MotoGP, with teams, circuits, riders and staff all looking to earn money from the series – and sponsors and TV broadcasters looking for a ‘product’ to justify their investment.
MotoGP has a global TV audience of around 400 million, so it goes without saying that only a tiny percentage of fans are actually at the circuit. Racing ‘behind closed doors’ clearly makes sense for MotoGP even though it’s not perfect, as circuits make their money from ticket sales and teams will miss out on the opportunity to sell VIP experiences to their sponsors.
Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta has made an agreement to start the MotoGP circus in Jerez, in Spain, on July 19. Round two of the championship will take place at the same venue the following weekend, with a round of the superbike series there the weekend after that. It’s expected (although not yet confirmed) that these will be behind closed doors.
Beyond that, we’re expecting a further update in early June. The Czech, Austrian and British Grands Prix are all scheduled for a busy August, although there’s no word as to whether or not some or any of these will go ahead. Silverstone, home of the British GP, has already signed a deal to host two Formula One car races behind closed doors in July and August, subject to Government approval, but Ezpeleta says that he is still to speak with the British circuit.
Like Silverstone, Austria’s Red Bull Ring is expected to host a couple of F1 GPs, and could well keep its MotoGP date, but the insurance policy for bike racing is likely to revolve around using the other Spanish circuits, Barcelona and Aragon, as well as Italy’s Misano, also hosting back-to-back Grand Prix weekends followed by a superbike weekend to fill out the seasons. Germany and the Netherlands have already cancelled their Grands Prix for 2020, while the Dorna boss says that the traditional non-European ‘flyaway’ races, including the USA, Thailand, Japan and Malaysia, can only go ahead with a crowd in attendance, and that a call will be made on these in September. If there are no races outside of Europe, the series is likely to consist of eight or nine races across five circuits, ending in Valencia.
What about British superbikes?
On paper, restarting British superbikes would appear to be simpler than the world championships – logistically at least. The series involves less workers and less travel, with very few people crossing borders to come to the series, but the amount of money in the championship means that racing behind closed doors is less desirable.
While the series enjoys extensive live TV coverage, live crowds form a big part of the BSB experience. With crowds of 20-30,000 at each race, it’s a big chunk of income to have to lose at each round, although that will have to be offset by the fact that there are sponsors putting money into the sport on the understanding that they will receive coverage on TV and in other media.
The national car racing championships have issued revised calendars starting from 1 August and BSB bosses say that they are currently consulting with circuits, broadcasters and teams, and will likely have a schedule out in the first week of June. Currently the championship has two events due to take place in July, at Knockhill and Brands Hatch, although whether or not these are able to go ahead remain to be seen.
MSVR, the series promotors, seem confident of putting on some racing and are expected to put out a revised calendar in early June.
The real road racing season has been decimated by Covid-19. The Isle of Man TT and Classic TT races have been cancelled for 2020, as have the North West 200 and Ulster GP.
With road races already requiring an amount of disruption to the local community in the form of road closures, it’s hard to see any racing taking place on the roads in 2020.
The closest we may get to seeing the road racing stars could be at Scarborough’s Oliver’s Mount course. The organisers have announced that they are planning for three races this season, starting with the Barry Sheene Classic on July 25/26, but admit that this (along with meetings in August and September) are very much provisional at present.
With no reliance on spectators and smaller numbers on site (typically competitors will have one or two helpers) plans are underway to get amateur racing up and running again.
The ACU, motorcycle sport’s governing body, has issued a statement saying that it was looking to recommence training as soon as possible, but is unable to commit to a date for the resumption of racing. They said: “We are keen to get people back (practicing for) racing as soon as possible, not just in preparation for the resumption of sport, but also for the proven benefits it has for mental health and physical wellbeing. Conditions of this phase will rely upon government restrictions on non-essential travel being relaxed to allow people to train/practice. We would still recommend that members only ride where it is safe to do so and within their personal capabilities, to avoid taking unnecessary risks. Once clubs are able to re-commence activity, there will be potential to restart some limited activity including training and practice.
“It may take a number of weeks before competitive activity can resume. While it is not possible to specify exactly when this restart date will be, there are likely to be a number of restrictions and social distancing measures still in place (as outlined above). However, with the right controls implemented, our clubs/venues can provide the safe and regulated environments that enable competitive activity to begin as soon as government gives the green light to proceed. At this stage we would envisage that events will resume at local level only initially, building up to national activity, to minimise unnecessary travel across the country. Clubs will need some time to adapt in order to accommodate new regulatory restrictions, which may include some restructuring to the format of events, such as limits to the number of people on site, the number of competitors allowed to participate. Attendance at events will be primarily restricted to riders, officials and club personnel at this stage, with a strict ratio for additional support. No spectators will be in attendance in the short to medium term, so larger events will not be possible while these restrictions remain in place.”
Track days have started to return in Italy, the first European country to be hit by the pandemic, and MSV, the UK’s biggest circuit operator has announced that its venues are now open for testing for professional teams, with track days due to recommence from next Tuesday (26 May).
And around the world…
America’s MotoAmerica series starts at Road America in Wisconsin next weekend (31 May) behind closed doors, but the remainder of the year is expected to go ahead with the public in attendance, starting from late June.
Japan’s historical Suzuka 8-hour endurance race has been rescheduled from its traditional July date to the end of October, while the Le Mans 24 hour should go ahead at the end of August.