A TALE OF TWO WHEELS

Marquez/SilverstoneRegularly looked down upon by the MotoGP faithful, the World Superbike Championship is all too often perceived as being the former’s less attractive sister; not as technologically advanced; less exotic somehow.

Some of that is down to those mechanical animals that appear untameable for mere mortals such as you or me; the motorbikes at the centre of the sport. MotoGP parades pedigree prototypes, specifically created for producing blistering lap times, unbelievable grip and speed. Astronomical amounts of money are spent each year by manufacturers in the hope of producing the ‘bike that propels their star rider to championship success.

The ‘ugly sister’ that is World Superbikes on the other hand, utilises road-going ‘bikes, adapted to find pace on the track. As a result, they tend to be less advanced, not quite as spaceship-esque, but more relatable to the spectator as a result.

All that however, is inconsequential when one considers what is truly important; the quality and excitement of the racing. So how do both two-wheeled world championships compare?

Take 2014, the most recent episode in each discipline’s rich history. MotoGP witnessed early season domination, the likes of which had not been seen for decades, as the reigning World Champion Marc Marquez claimed victory in the opening 10 races of the season. With three races to spare – one of which is still to be run – the chiselled-jawed, fresh faced 21 year-old clinched his second MotoGP title.

The result appeared a mere formality and now attention is on the fight for runner-up. Yamaha team-mates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo have just that one remaining race to settle the ‘best-of-the-rest’ argument.

It should be noted that Marquez’ team-mate Dani Pedrosa – off form in 2014 – has been the only man to join Marquez, Rossi and Lorenzo as a race winner in 2014’s seventeen races, a fact that’s unlikely to change courtesy of the season’s final in Valencia.

In the world of World Superbikes meanwhile, the freshly completed 24-race season saw five different riders from four different teams, competing for four different manufacturers claim at least one win.

In stark contrast to MotoGP, the Superbike title was fought down to the wire, settled at the final race under the floodlights of Qatar, and not without controversy or thrills.

Reigning champion Tom Sykes – rough stubble doing little to disguise an ample chin and slight overbite; no MotoGP-esque plastic skin here – appeared set mid-season to take back-to-back titles. Having departed California’s daunting Laguna Seca with a healthy 44-point lead – courtesy of eight race victories – and facing just six more races, Sykes seemed set for a comfortable run in for title number two.

Despite a dutiful yet frustrated Loris Baz, team-mate to Sykes, handing the Yorkshire-man a podium in Magny-Cours, Sykes’ lead had been cut to just 12 points by the time the circus arrived in Qatar for the final two races. A defiant charge from France’s Sylvain Guintoli aboard his silver Aprilia RSV4 sGuintoli/Doningtonaw him emerge as Sykes’ prime rival.

Guintoli rode faultlessly to a victory in Qatar’s opening night race to cut Sykes’ lead to just 3 points. It would have been more had in not been for Loris Baz this time ignoring team orders, retaining second ahead of his championship contending team mate. That spat continues on social media some 48 hours post race…

It all meant that after 23 stunning races, the fight for the title came down to just one.

And Guintoli was untouchable; a silky smooth waft to his fifth victory of the season saw him claim his first World Championship to rapturous celebration from Aprilia and mutual respect from his rivals, including Sykes.

As far as nail-biters go, World Superbikes 2014 has left me little to scratch myself with.

Perhaps it goes to show that the ugly sister is always worth considering.

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