EXCLUSIVE: MotoGP ‘requires a higher skill level’ than Superbikes - Toseland

Following Toprak Razgatlioglu’s recent Yamaha MotoGP test and potential switch to Grand Prix racing in 2024, former two-time WorldSBK champion and MotoGP rider James Toseland spoke to Crash.net about the differences between both classes and why MotoGP requires a higher ‘skill level’.
Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati MotoGP Assen
Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati MotoGP Assen

A WorldSBK champion with Ducati and Honda before moving to MotoGP in 2008 with Yamaha, Toseland's glittering career saw him race against some of the very best motorcycle riders ever such as Valentino Rossi, Max Biaggi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and many more. 

When it came to enjoying sustained success, WorldSBK was the category where Toseland made a name for himself as he won the world championship in just his fourth season, second aboard a Ducati. 

Switching to Honda in 2006, Toseland backed-up his superb first season with the Japanese manufacturer - The British rider finished second to Troy Bayliss - by winning in 2007, once again beating Noriyuki Haga to the title along with Biaggi and Bayliss.  

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As was the case when Toseland was racing, WorldSBK is now in an era where it has another set of ‘Gladiators’ fighting at the front every race weekend. 

Those three riders are Alvaro Bautista, six-time world champion Jonathan Rea and reigning champion Razgatligolu. 

In fact, WorldSBK has arguably never been better and the level that all three riders are competing at is truly amazing. 

So much so that the level of racing has at times become as exciting if not better than MotoGP. But when discussing the two championships with Toseland and the idea of riders making the switch both ways, it’s clear that the two series’ are ‘very individually specialised categories’. 

Speaking to Crash.net, Toseland said: "I think they are very individually specialised categories and have specialised riders riding these machines to their limits. I know from first-hand [experience] that MotoGP bikes require a higher skill level because the technology allows you to go faster. 

"You have to be a better rider in MotoGP just because it requires you to push that package to the limit which is further than a production bike. 

Fabio Quartararo, Dutch MotoGP, 24 June
Fabio Quartararo, Dutch MotoGP, 24 June

"To come to World Superbikes and have a package that isn’t as difficult to get to its limit will be quite comfortable for the likes of; you mentioned Darryn Binder and Remy Gardner etc. But there’s all kinds of factors at play that your Jonathan Rea’s, Toprak's and Bautista’s have experience on. Mostly talking about tyres etc. 

"Understanding tyres is the biggest key to being able to ride any package to its limits. With the two championships being on different tyres it takes a bit of getting used to with that. 

"I remember when I was racing Biaggi when he came from GP to Superbikes for the first year. I was riding round the outside of him because the Michelin’s took two laps to warm up but the Pirelli’s took two corners to warm up. 

"It’s these little details that every rider needs to know. Jonathan Rea pushes his bike to exactly the same limitation as Quartararo on the Yamaha. But because the technology is so good in MotoGP now, it almost helps the rider to be able to push it to its limits." 

‘Very difficult to stand out in MotoGP’ - Toseland

As we’ve seen in 2021 and especially this season, the competitive nature of MotoGP is at an all-time high, whether that’s to do with machinery or rider talent.

The gaps in Superbikes are far more widespread, although it doesn’t impact how good the racing is at the front.  

"Everybody does the same thing or similar thing on a MotoGP bike, especially with the ride-height adjustments on the exit of the corner,” continued Toseland. "The braking ability and engine ability; it’s very difficult to do more than somebody else on those bikes which then creates a smaller window of opportunity for the riders to overtake. 

Aleix Espargaro, Dutch MotoGP race, 26 June
Aleix Espargaro, Dutch MotoGP race, 26 June

"That’s where Superbikes still have that bigger window of margin and where you can do a bit more than other people in other circumstances." 

Having a WorldSBK champion finish ‘last’ in MotoGP would be a ‘disaster’ for the series, for Dorna, says Toseland

With Razgatlioglu making his MotoGP debut in the form of a private one-day test with Yamaha last month, plus the continued speculation about him joining Grand Prix racing - won’t happen before 2024 should Razgatlioglu make such a move - the threat of the Turkish star being somewhat uncompetitive during the early stages is a concern for Toseland.

Given Razgatlioglu would already have a lot to learn from the standpoint of understanding a GP machine and then pushing it to its limits, that’s not to mention adapting from Pirelli to Michelin tyres and learning several new circuits, having Razgatlioglu potentially struggle could make WorldSBK look like a ‘secondary category when that is not the case’. 

On the subject of seeing a WorldSBK champion be uncompetitive, or worse yet, finish last, Toseland said: "It would be a disaster! It would also be a disaster for Dorna. It would make Superbikes look like such a secondary category when that is not the case. 

"Biaggi came over from MotoGP and we [himself and Troy Bayliss] showed him the way around, no problem. But then he did get up to speed because he’s one of the greatest ever. 

"When he was on it and I was trying to catch him in Qatar and he cleared off a bit, I was like ‘oh yeah, that’s Max Biaggi is it’. I took him to Brands Hatch and I didn’t see much of him that weekend [laughs] because he’d never been there before. 

"You take Quartararo to Donington in World Superbikes and give him a full factory bike, full factory support - yes he will be battling for the podium possibly. But he ain’t clearing off and winning by five seconds against Bautista, Jonathan and Toprak. 

Toprak Razgatlioglu, Alvaro Bautista and Jonathan Rea, Misano WorldSBK race1, 11 June
Toprak Razgatlioglu, Alvaro Bautista and Jonathan Rea, Misano WorldSBK…

"Those boys push those bikes right to their limit. There isn’t someone who’s going to come along and just win by ten seconds. So Dorna has to; MotoGP and Superbikes have to protect that. 

"That could really damage the perception and respect of the riders in Superbikes and visa-versa. I mean, you saw what happened to Stefan Bradl when he came over. And bless him - Nicky Hayden when he also came over on that Honda. It was a difficult job. 

"But the nice thing and forgetting who was better, that sort of thing - I think we just have to respect each category and that these riders push these bikes to their absolute limits."

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