World Superbike, what can we expect from the series this year?
First of all, before we get in to the riders and the potential they have shown through their pre-season performances, we have to remind ourselves of some of the changes that will be in effect. I believe that these changes will definitely be a big factor in the results this season.
The biggest change in effect from this season is that of the Grid positions and how they are decided. The way in which the grid positions are decided for race two has now changed. The grid for race one will remain decided by the Superpole, which, as per last seasons, will happen on the Saturday with race one following later in the day. Race two however, will now be decided by the results of race one.
So this is how it will work, according to the WorldSBK website:
- The top three riders move back to row three with 1st and 3rd swopping position.
(In effect, this will mean; 1st will start 9th, 2nd will start 8th and 3rd will start 7th on the grid for race two.)
- 4th, 5th and 6th in race one will be promoted to the front row.
(4th will start 1st, 5th will start 2nd and 6th will start 3rd on the grid.)
- The riders who finished 7th, 8th and 9th will start from the second row.
(7th will start 4th, 8th will start 5th and 9th will start 6th.)
According to the officials, this is to create a more competitive environment, more varied podium battles and exhilarating racing.
To be honest, I’m not so sure about this. It makes sense in a way. It may be giving other riders and manufacturers a chance to mix it up out front, but is it really good for the sport? It makes things all really confusing, both for the teams, riders and the spectators, those at the track and watching from home.
You are now basically being punished for a good result. I am in agreement that, yes, it does become a little boring when Kawasaki just run away with everything because their bike is the best in the field, but is that not healthy for the progression of the championship? My point here is that the other manufacturers are spurred on by Kawasaki to increase the performance of their bikes, push harder and fight till they are at the level of their competitors. Instead, now everyone just gets rewarded for trying, like kids getting rewards and medals for participation, and not for actually contributing. So they think, “oh well, why try harder when I get something anyway?”
Just look at last season. Kawasaki took the honours again, and for a while it seemed they were just going to run away with it, but they didn’t. Ducati kept trying and kept pushing to make their bike as competitive and in the end they did it. Chaz Davies dominated the end of the season and showed what a threat he will be this year. That is good for the championship and the sport in general. Yamaha are pushing, Honda have brought a new bike that will most likely be another fierce competitor and Aprilia are back to do big things and are looking good.
In the end, I don’t agree with it, but hey, the rules are the rules, and what do I know anyway? Let’s see how it all unfolds.
If I am honest, I would love to see the WorldSBK series follow a little more in the lines of the MotoGP series. Let’s just have qualifying on Saturday, then on Sunday it’s the 300’s race, followed by the 600’s, then one Superbike race. Enough of this one race on Saturday, now let’s all switch positions to give little Timmy who’s not as fast, a chance up front in race two. Little Timmy couldn’t keep up the pace in race two and one guy managed to get through on him earlier and off he goes in to the sunset, winning by an even bigger margin than before, because his closest rivals are having to try dodge little Timmy.
Ok, I went off on a bit of a tangent there. But you get what I am trying to say. Let’s all have one race, slog it out and then off to the next destination, best man wins, no do overs.
Moving on to the other changes. The Technical changes. All the manufacturers must now run standard throttle bodies in the engines. The same standard throttle bodies that are found in the manufacturers standard road models. Fair enough, this is a production based series so why should you be allowed to modify to that extent. There is also a new limit for battery capacity, but let’s not get in to that, I’m getting bored just typing out; limit for bat……zzzzzzzzz…
…on to the fun stuff then. The riders, their bikes, their teams and just how fast they are going.
As could be assumed, Jonathan Rea is still absolutely flying! After a two-day test in Jerez, Rea was top of the time-sheets with a 1.39.809. It seems to me that his intentions are clear, he wants that triple crown, three in a row. I don’t assume it will be all that simple for Rea this year. He has ever improving competition and one of them tried to ruin his party last year and well, frankly, rather stomped all over him in the final legs of last season.
That is of course, Chaz Davies. He may not have been up top in this particular test, but I don’t for one second believe that it is a true reflection on how quick he is, swopping a lot between the 2016 and 2017 machines to refine the set up. Even so, Davies was still up in the top 5 along with his new teammate and well-known name, Marco Melandri. It will be great to see both Ducati’s up front instead of one, which we saw plenty of last season. Let’s hope Marco still has what it takes, his looking good so far.
The big surprise of the test has to be the pace of the new Aprilia. Now under the Millwaukee banner, the Aprilia finished 2nd to Rea with a young Lorenzo Savadori on board. Savadori clocked a 1.39.809. Impressive from the Aprilia and their new young rider. I want to see him fighting up front alongside his teammate, Eugene Laverty, who returns from his stint in MotoGP. Will they build on the test and show that kind of pace in races? Let’s hope so.
We then have the slightly disappointing team of the season past, Pata Yamaha. They burst on to the scene with their highly rated R1 and promised so much. Unfortunately, they were just not up to the task and lacked the kind of pace they needed to compete, and to top it off had rather a few mechanical/technical issues. If they have managed to iron out those creases, I see them being very strong, especially with the talent they have on board in Alex Lowes, and the hottest property in WorldSBK, Michael van der Mark, who has switched from Honda. Making that big switch with a new blade on the way, he must have seen the potential in the R1. Now let’s see him show us that potential.
Speaking of the new blade, my word (Wayne’s Word, get it;)) is that bike a beauty! Honda have finally brought out a new Fireblade, and it is gorgeous.
If the write ups are anything to go by, which they are because I read the one in RideFast magazine and they don’t just say something is good, they mean it, then the Honda racing team certainly have a great machine to start with. They were not quite there yet but they have only had one test with the new bike and there is still work to be done. I somehow doubt they will not be competitive and with the team they have put together, two former MotoGP riders, one of which was a MotoGP champion, the intent is most certainly there. Nicky Hayden and Stefan Bradl are to take the fight to the track aboard the stunning Red Bull Honda Racing team, CBR1000RR.
We then of course have your regular contender and Superpole machine, Tom Sykes. Let’s see if he can turn his luck around and get some more wins under the belt. Sykes consistently starts from pole, gets out the blocks early but can’t keep up the pace when he hits grip issues from pushing too hard from the outset. A little more race management and he could take back his crown for sure.
Those I suspect will be our main contenders this season. I’m not too sure about the BMW’s just yet. They aren’t showing any signs of major improvement, the likes of which has been shown by Honda, Yamaha and Ducati, even Aprilia. They have some talent in their team with Jordi Torres and Markus Reiterberger, but put those guys on a Ducati or Kawasaki and see how they will go.
Xavi Fores certainly showed us what he is capable of last season. I felt he deserved a factory ride. Hoping to see more of him up front. All depends on how much backing he gets from Ducati.
Just as in MotoGP there has been plenty movement in the WorldSBK Paddock. Here is to all that change making for a great season. I really do want to see WorldSBK up in lights again like the good old days. Who am I backing to take home the spoils, you say? Hmmm…My money is on Chaz. He deserves it, and if Ducati keep the momentum going, he can most certainly do it! Phillip Island will let us know what we are in for. Can you say; “Racing season is back!”
My word on the 2017 WorldSBK season to come.
(Picture Credit: WorldSBK Facebook page.)