WSBK (World Superbike) is the name for the world championship of superbike motorcycle road racing. It features official teams from the major global manufacturers, however unlike MotoGP, the racing bikes themselves are based on production motorcycles that must be available to the public to buy. By definition a “superbike” is a production sports motorcycle with an engine size of between 1000cc to 1200cc. WSBK is considered the premier production class road racing series in motorcycling, one step below the prestige or difficulty to MotoGP.
WSBK Superbike racing is an evolution of several race series that came before it, such as Grand Prix, Formula TT and later F1. In the 1970’s a split occurred in motorcycle racing, between events run on strictly on purpose built tracks and races held on closed-off public roads.
Road racing had been where motorcycle racing had started more than 100 years earlier, but the vastly increased speed and risks of death demanded that Grands Prix be run exclusively on closed course tracks. This naturally favoured smaller prototype machines, which evolved into modern MotoGP. The remaining road races, including traditional events like the Bol D’Or, Isle of Man TT and Dutch TT continued as separate competitions running large engined, production based motorcycles modified for racing.
Since 1988 there has been an official World Superbike Championship. The rules require that to participate, motorcycles must be based on a mass production model available to the public, although retail price is unlimited, and “mass production” means as few as 250 bikes. It would seem that this opens the door to abuse, but manufacturers are as eager as organizers to keep costs down, so the motorcycles are typically designed with a mass production bias.
Motorcycles are 1000 cc for four cylinder engines, 1100 cc for three cylinders, and 1200 cc for two cylinders, this rule designed to keep an interesting variety of machines in the offing, while attempting to equalize performance. With gasoline powered engines, more cylinders equals more power, which is why the engines with fewer cylinders are allowed to be proportionately bigger.
Electronic rider aids are limited to what is available to mass production solutions, unlike MotoGP where teams can make their own. Fairings (the motorcycle bodies) must be identical to production bikes and since 2013 have to carry stickers that imitate the headlamps of production bikes, again in the interest of promoting the commercial link between the motorcycles on the track and what anyone can buy.
Races are organized into 13 rounds in 11 countries, with each event featuring two races in the same class on the same day. Like MotoGP and other road racing, events usually begin on a Thursday with teams setting up at a new track, followed by several free practice sessions. Qualifying for a starting position takes place the day before the race. There are two separate qualifying sessions, called Superpole, one for each of the races taking place the next day.
Race day (usually a Sunday) staggers events around noon, with race #1 in the mid morning and race #2 in mid afternoon. Both races are awarded equal points, so a bad finish in either does not mean the whole race meet is a write off for competitors, a major advantage over MotoGP or other all-or-nothing race classes.