When John Hopkins announced that he would be taking 2013 off, he put that capper on a seriously crappy season, for Americans, in the World Superbike Championship.
The U.S. hasn't exactly been setting the world on fire in MotoGP, either. Which set me to wondering whether this was the worst season for America on the World Championship stage since, well, whenever. Of course, some years only one or two Americans rode but did really well, while in other years, several Americans competed, but none were regularly on the podium.
To compare such varied seasons, I needed a metric that measured domination at the sharp end of the field, and depth on the grid.
I decided to look at overall season rankings in both MotoGP/500GP and WorldSBK, between 2011 and 1976. I then assigned point values to riders' rankings, as if those rankings were finishes in a MotoGP race.
IE, points were awarded for P1 through 15 on the season, with 25 points for first, 20 for second, 16 for third, down to P13=3 pts, P14=2 pts, P15=1 pt. The chart below goes back to 1976 because that was the first year an American, Pat Hennen, placed in the top 15 overall in a premier-class World Championship. I call this metric depthination (trademark applied for.)
So, by this standard, just how dismal has 2012 been? Let's just say we're putting the 'depth' in 'depthination'! With Hopkins, mired in 20th position, the SBK contribution to America's 2012 depthination score was nil, zip, zero, the null set. One chocolate donut.
As for the MotoGP side of the ledger, assuming that Hayden (currently in P9=7 pts) Spies (P10=6 pts) and Edwards (P17=0 pts) hold their positions in the standings, America's on (maybe I should say 'off') the pace to score a lowly 13 points in 2012.
Compare that to past results on my patent-pending Depthination Chart, above. This hasn't been the most dismal year since Americans arrived on the world scene, but only 1995 was worse.
That year, Scott Russell and an injury-plagued Kevin Schwantz finished 13th and 15th, respectively in the 500GP class, while Colin Edwards and Mike Hale finished 11th and 15th in WorldSBK, for a total of 10 DP (Depthination Points).
The depths of winter are coming and many a tear, and beer, will be spilled as Backmarker readers try to figure out how America can recapture its World Championship mojo. They'll look back, wistfully, to 1983. That year Spencer, Roberts, Mamola, and Lawson finished 1-2-3-4 in 500GP, for 74 DP.
Even that wasn't America's best year by this measure. That came in 1992 when six of the top ten riders in 500GP were Yanks -- and as if that wasn't enough, Doug Polen won the WorldSBK title, and Edwards and Fred Merkel both finished well inside the top 15 in that series, for a combined 111 points. If you want to consider North America's aggregate DP, that year was even better, as Canada's Miguel Duhamel finished 12th overall in 500GP. The continent, collectively, put 115 points on the board, and the Euros to rout.
The U.S. fell from grace in the mid-90s, and American 500GP riders scored no DP in 1997. Luckily, that was its best-ever year in WorldSBK. John Kocinski won the title, and Russell, Hale, and Edwards all contributed to a 44-point season, saving America from global moto-shame.
I have to say that I started to compile this post as a lark. But now that I've finished crunching the numbers, I think my DP statistic is actually kind of useful.
As of right now, I'm not sure any Americans have WorldSBK rides lined up for the 2013. Unless there's a miracle (or a monsoon) neither Hayden nor Spies can realistically target finishes above mid-pack on the Ducati in MotoGP, and Colin Edwards will have his hands full finishing in the DP points. I think that it's an even-money bet, whether or not the U.S. will score better in 2013 then it did in 2012.