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Homophobia. 10/21/2005

In World Superbikes, known as WSBK, there is a special rule requiring that all motorcycles raced in the series be available, in limited quantities, for the buying public. This process is called Homologation, and involves producing a very limited number of motorcycles, with the same engine and chassis parts, as the race version. This rule is intended to cut down on the cost of producing a racing motorcycle, and ensure that privateer teams get equal access to race bits.

Homologation motorcycles tend to be twice as expensive as the same model motorcycle available for sale, and are produced in runs of 500. Some companies regard this as an oppurtunity to generate exclusivity, like Ducati, relying on the ’snob’ factor of owning a very limited edition motorcycle. Others, like Honda, don’t particularly care, producing their homologation machines through Honda Racing Corporation, HRC, and usually only selling them to privateer teams, and to the general public only on request. Yamaha goes even one better, and their OW series motorcycles are supposedly for sale, and shown in their catalogue, but try calling them and getting a machine.

Many bikers are snobs, and like playing the ‘look-at-me’ game. Most riders are exhibitionists, and rolling into a biker cafe on a homologation special is a good way of getting attention. Some of us buy homologation specials with the intention of racing them in the local race series, thinking that the special bits in the engine and chassis will give us an edge.

This, unfortunately, is not the case. The engine and chassis in a homologation special are, well, special, but factories guard the current race engine and technology jealously, and usually only offer race engines from the year before to privateer teams. Also, factory race engines tend to be filled with ‘unobtanium’. I once had the opportunity to compare the connecting rods from a 999R, Ducati’s homologation race motorcycle, against the actual connecting rod used in the race engine. The difference was like chalk and cheese. They were both made from titanium, but the race engine rod was significantly lighter, and designed differently.

There were other differences between the homologation machine and the actual race machine. Suspension, chassis, lots of other things too numerous to mention. I asked the Ducati team manager how much it would cost to have a WSBK Ducati made up for me, and he took off his sunglasses, lifted his eyebrow and smiled. And named a figure which made me go pale. I know from experience that racing motorcycles is an expensive game, but this was something on another level entirely.

Factories are determined to win races at any cost, due to the prestige of winning championships, and the resultant sales in the public market. Ducati are the success they are today because of their performance in WSBK. When WSBK started as a race series in the late 80’s, evolving from FIM Formula 1, the rules stated that a minimum of 200 machines had to be produced for sale, before the motorcycle was eligible to be entered into the series. The realities of manufacturing being what they are, this was sometimes not possible, and the FIM would ‘close one eye’, and accept a manufacturer’s production schedule, or partial production, as being ‘close enough’, for admission into WSBK.

By the way, for those of you who are boy racers, and throw the acronym ‘GTO’ around, be advised that GTO stands for Gran Turismo Omologato. In English, Grand Touring Homologation. Basically, it means the car is a limited production vehicle, produced to ensure compliance for admission into a race series. It was not meant to be a marketing gimmick (sort of), when originally produced by Alfa Romeo and Ferrari in the 1950s.

Girl Friday.

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