Friday, May 22

SUPERBIKES GO HOME...

By MICHAEL ESDAILE

This weekend, the Superbike World Championship returns ‘home’ to where it all started back in 1988 at England’s Donington Park.

Yes, it was 27 years ago that the first round of the first Superbike World Championship (SWC) got underway at Donington.

The record book shows that England’s Roger Burnett put a Honda RC30 on pole, and that Italian’s Davide Tardozzi and Marco Lucchinelli won the two races, Tardozzi on a Bimota YB4ei and Lucchinelli on a Ducati 888.

What the official record does not show is how the Superbike World Championship became established.  It was not a case of the motorcycle manufacturers banding together with a common vision for the sport.

When has that ever happened?

Nor was it a case of motorcycle sport’s governing body, the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) suddenly realising that a production-based series would be a great way to get all the major motorcycle manufacturers involved in a world championship road racing class.


As is so often the case, the driving force was a man with a vision.  In this case former AMA Superbike racer Steve McLaughlin.

McLaughlin had been pushing his idea of a Superbike World Championship to the FIM for more than a year when New Zealand motorsport man Brian Lawrence just happened to be in transit at London’s Heathrow airport and picked up a copy of English weekly Motor Cycle News.  Flicking the pages he came across a report about McLaughlin and the representations be was making to the FIM.

Lawrence not only bought that copy of Motor Cycle News back to New Zealand with him, he was sold on the idea and pushed it to the company he worked for at the time, Global Sports and Promotions based in Newmarket, Auckland (and owned at the time by Madison Corporation – a public company).

Global Sports and Promotions was interested in the concept so Lawrence contacted McLaughlin in California and in short order the Sports Marketing Company was formed, the FIM agreed the technical rules McLaughlin had proposed (based on the AMA Superbike rules of the time, but with the 1200cc limit for twins reduced to 1000cc), and the circuits McLaughlin had initially approached eventually agreed to the calendar.

The principal players in the Sports Marketing Company were New Zealanders Keith Jones and Brian Lawrence, American Steve McLaughlin, Englishman Richard Milner and a Frenchman named Pierre.

The Sports Marketing Company then signed a contract with the FIM giving the New Zealand company commercial rights to the series and that is how on April 6, 1988 the Superbike World Championship fired into life at Donington Park in England.


So when you watch the eni FIM Superbike World Championship action from Donington on Sky Sports, raise a glass and salute McLaughlin and the Kiwis who made all this happen more than 27 years ago.