A small media brush fire has erupted between World Superbike director Gregoria Lavilla and newly crowned champion Jon Rea.
Rea won his fourth title at Magny Cours last weekend, ex-rider Lavilla was quoted as saying Rea’s lack of personality coupled with his domination of the championship is the reason that WSBK isn’t drawing any kind of spectator or viewership numbers that it once did.
Rea reacted as any rider would when cornered that way, suggesting very plainly that he’s not some kind of trained seal with shows at 2 and 4 daily, culminating with him using his nose to put a ball through a hoop. Rea stated emphatically that his job is to win races for Kawasaki. Period.
Firstly, the irony sirens are probably still wailing somewhere based on Dorna’s World Superbike Sporting Director Lavilla suggesting that another rider isn’t very charismatic. Lavilla, when he rode in WSBK for Kawasaki, Suzuki and Honda was a very quiet and reserved rider. EB White wrote that ‘Every man has to be true to his nature’. And “Greg” Lavilla’s nature as a rider and as a human would not (ever) be described as charismatic or colorful or anything remotely close to that. He was a good rider, no doubt, and seems to have transitioned into being able to hold down a real job, which a lot of riders can’t ever pull off. However, the vibe that Greg’ gave off as a rider was that he was, ahem, there to ride.
The world has changed since the days of rivals Scott Russell and Carl Fogarty crashing into each other, Fred Merkel’s infamous ‘YOU WANT BLOOD? YOU GOT IT’ helmet and Max Biaggi deciding to welcome Ben Spies into WSBK by giving him the ‘Biaggi Crunch’, (talking him out in the very first race). If you look down the finishing order of a current World Superbike race in 2018 it’s clear that most of the (British, Irish, etc) riders have known one another for most of their lives and are on very friendly terms. With the exception of Tom Sykes and Jon Rea, these are not fellows who would ever turn their head and spit in their hand before they shake the hand of a guy who just handed them defeat. These are riders whose are friends, are happy for any success their friends obtain, and in some cases are related by marriage. This is the reality.
Plus, if we learned anything from the Romano Fenati debacle at Misano, where he did a Canepa-style brake stab to another rider’s bike, it’s that fans will pine for the days of a colorful villain in racing, but the reality is that they seemingly really don’t want one. It goes without saying that Fenati is impulsive, not bright at times and makes regrettable decisions but he is the closest to a counter-culture villain motorcycle racing has seen in a long while. So, instead of reining in the little pirate, instead he narrowly escapes, as Valentino Rossi put it, “a lynching”. Hive mind of social media in 2019. This is the reality.
It’d be great if it could really be proven that the lack of Evel Knievel vs Barry Sheene is what ails World Superbike. That’s actually fixable. However the real fear is that World Superbike today is what MotoGP will be like when Valentino Rossi finally retires from riding. It used to be suggested only quietly but it is a pretty well accepted notion today that Valentino Rossi is actually bigger than racing, bigger than motorcycles. And his eventual absence will be more than just the end of an era. And with that so goes the world. Meaning that what you’re seeing in just about any motorcycle racing series today, struggling at times for fans or for fan interest, is what the reality is going to be like for all forms of roadracing one day. This is hopefully not the reality.
Is the lack of WSBK charisma or the domination of one rider and one manufacturer in WSBK an official problem as DORNA sees it? Obviously not, because if Rea’s domination was viewed as an issue, then assuredly DORNA would create a stepping stone for Rea to move into MotoGP and open WSBK back up. But he has had little opportunity there. This is the reality.