2016 Phillip Island World Superbike Notes: Has WSBK Turned a Corner?

We are racing at last. The first round of World Superbikes at Phillip Island means we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The long, dark winter is over, and motorcycles are circulating in earnest once again.

What to make of the first weekend of World Superbikes in the new format? Those who worried that spreading the racing over two days would hurt attendance and ruin the series have not seen their fears realized. Attendance at Phillip Island was around 75% of the MotoGP attendance there, really strong figures for the track.

Some caveats apply, of course: firstly, the Phillip Island MotoGP round is one of the most poorly attended on the calendar, though last year numbers improved. Secondly, the combination of Australian Superbikes with World Superbikes meant there was a full program of racing, and plenty for fans to see. The real test of the new format will come at tracks like Donington and Jerez, where attendance has been dismal. If they can get more people through the gate there, the Saturday-Sunday format will be more of a success.

Slick pics

Though the question of the race weekend format is yet to be settled, there can be no argument over the massive upgrade for the series presentation. Slick new graphics, much better camera work, better direction, more onboard cameras, the new TV coverage has lot to commend it, and is a sign that Dorna is taking the series seriously. The upgrades were badly needed, graphics and TV direction felt staid and old-fashioned in recent years. The new look made WSBK feel like a modern series, and added some sparkle.

A new commentary team helped matters along. Steve English provided good in-depth knowledge and analysis as a counterpoint to Greg Haines' excited play-by-play coverage. It added some much-needed depth to the world feed, making it a much more balanced affair. Perhaps I could be accused of bias – I am honored to count Steve as a friend, and we work together on the Paddock Pass Podcast – but on the other hand, as his friend, I was much more worried he would would not do well. He passed his first test with flying colors.

King of the hill

As for the racing? That has never really been a problem for World Superbikes. The two WSBK races turned into the usual multi-rider battles, tense and exciting from start to finish. Despite the excitement, there was an air of inevitability to the winner, Jonathan Rea looking totally in control throughout. Rea was happy to let others lead, then pounce in the final laps. There was almost a Rossi-esque feel to his racing: sitting behind his rivals to put some pressure on them, secure in the knowledge that he could win when push came to shove.

Rea's insinuations at the team launch, that the new Kawasaki ZX-10R had been built around Tom Sykes rather than him, turned out to be nothing more than mind games. Sykes rode the same race as ever: pushing hard early, but losing pace in the second half of the race, and losing out to his teammate. It is a little early to be calling the championship for Jonathan Rea, but it is clear he is the man to beat. He will now be the bookies hot favorite to repeat.

Desperate Davies

Behind Rea, the Ducatis looked very strong, Chaz Davies trying two desperate lunges, one in each race, in an attempt to deprive Rea of victory. In race 1, Davies took the classic Phillip Island line, round the outside at Lukey Heights to dive inside at MG, but Rea parried simply, taking the better line through MG and using the drive of the Kawasaki to repass Davies at the next corner. In race 2, Davies tried at Honda corner, but he tried just a little too hard, losing the front of the Panigale R and sliding gently out. He remounted to take tenth, but it was clear just how hard Davies was trying from the start.

Jonathan Rea seemed less than impressed with Davies' attempted pass. The TV coverage showed the podium riders all taking as they waited to go out and receive their trophies, and the hand signals seemed to indicate Michael van der Mark, Davide Giugliano and Rea all discussing Davies' crash. Rea's use of a finger to the side of the head was not a sign of great appreciation, I venture.

Aruba.it Ducati teammate Davide Giugliano had two very solid races, with a fourth on Saturday and a third on Sunday. Though the Italian still put in a few slightly questionable moves, he rode more cleanly and precisely than usual. The serious crashes from last year may have been big enough to curb the excesses of Giugliano's style, something which was really needed. Dialing it back from 101% to 99% is the difference between winning or binning and regular podiums. The Italian may have found a way to be in the latter camp at last.

Hope for Honda

The Hondas, too, were impressive. I spoke to team boss Ronald ten Kate recently, and he said they were much better prepared at the start of the 2016 season than they had been at the start of 2015. They were carrying off where they left off, and Michael van der Mark's double podium was a sure measure of their success. The young Dutchman rode two fantastic races, his sheer commitment a joy to behold. The extra corner speed he was having to carry to stay at the front was clearly visible, his sweeping lines much wider than the rest. Phillip Island is a track Van der Mark loves, and his affection was reciprocated with a double podium. It bodes very well indeed for the races at Assen in early April.

Nicky Hayden's debut in World Superbikes was solid, the American just deprived of a podium by Davide Giugliano in race 2. Hayden is adapting quickly to the WSBK paddock, but still has some work to do. Some of the work is getting used to the Pirelli tires, Hayden suffering badly in race 1, and losing a lot of places in the final third of the race. It is a common problem with the WSBK Pirellis, quality control meaning that tire life and behavior can vary drastically. Like Van der Mark, Hayden must be optimistic about his home race. The American is at least back in sight of the winner again, after a long period in the wilderness aboard the Open class Hondas.

Yamaha and BMW show promise

The return of Yamaha to World Superbike can be deemed a success, both Sylvain Guintoli and Alex Lowes showing very strong pace, and finishing within a few seconds of the winner. The Yamaha YZF-R1 still has some development to do, but it looked like a strong all-round package. A win must surely be on the cards soon.

Of the two riders, Guintoli looked like he played a better hand. Lowes seemed to struggle a little, trying to adapt his riding style to the bike, and occasionally getting it wrong. Guintoli, meanwhile, was steady, taking what he could get without taking too many risks. Paul Denning and the Crescent team must have reason for optimism.

BMW's renewed efforts in WSBK also went well, with a couple of strong debut performances. Josh Brookes' switch to WSBK with the Milwaukee SMR team went well, the reigning BSB champion grabbing a pair of top ten slots. The BMW S1000RR still needs a lot of work on the electronics, but Brookes rode a couple of decent races to make his WSBK debut. Fellow rookie, the German rider Markus Reiterberger, also made a really strong debut. The IDM champion was running in strong positions in both races, a blown tire causing him to crash out in the final corner of the final lap of race 1, and grabbing eighth in race 2.

Reiterberger wasn't the only rookie to make a good first impression. The Italian Lorenzo Savadori, fresh from Superstock 1000, had a couple of solid races with the IODA Racing team. IODA, who have switched from MotoGP this year, were the weakest team in the premier class, so much of Savadori's performance must go to him, rather than the team. Just how much support IODA will get from Aprilia remains to be seen, however. So far, the Noale factory has put all of its money, time and effort into its MotoGP program, leaving WSBK as the redheaded stepchild.

Leon Camier had an outstanding seventh place finish in race 1 on the MV Agusta, the bike still underpowered and in need of development. Camier is a rider who is often overlooked, and he finds himself fighting an uphill battle once again in 2016. Just how much effort MV Agusta is willing to put into its World Superbike campaign is a question mark, but Camier has given them reason to consider upping their investment.

The strange case of Phillip Island

Of course, the trouble with Phillip Island is that it is such a special track. The layout of the circuit rewards bravery and commitment – or, as it is more commonly called there, Michael van der Mark – and hides bike weakness. The Chang circuit in Thailand is a touch more conventional, and should give us a better perspective on the balance of power in WSBK. Drawing conclusions from Phillip Island is always hard, but there is one truth which is indisputable. Reigning world champion Jonathan Rea remains World Superbikes' apex predator, and is showing no signs of relinquishing his spot at the top of the food chain. But at least there are others willing to challenge him.


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Total votes: 193
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Comments

Thanks for the write up David. I've just got home from PI & couldn't wait to check motomatters.
What a weekend, you mentioned the crowds being close to gp, I have to agree and even say I was thinking are more people here than October last year??? it was packed & the atmosphere was awesome.

Johnny Rea, what can be said of his racecraft, amazing??? very happy I went to sbk this year.

Total votes: 139

The Althea squad seems better prepared than the Milwalkee team at the moment. Do they receive more support from BMW?

Total votes: 124

I know this website focus mostly on MotoGP, but it is a given that most here have a passion for motorcycles and related racing first and foremost.

And if there was a time where MotoGP fanatics could pick a time to jump in the WSBK/WSSP bandwagon and feel related with it faster, I think this is it.

First, there's a really strong injection of reknowned riders who are new to the WSBK series.
Nicky Hayden, Joshua Brookes, Karel Abraham and Alex DeAngelis (among others) are now looking to take a piece of the pie from the usual suspects.
Then there's the official return of Yamaha, BMW and also MV Agusta.
Meaning, it's just not about the possible winner (and yes, Johnny Rea and Kawasaki seem to be favorites), it's about all the comotion, everything that is happening in the top 10 places this year.

And then in WSSP you have just as much tight competicion and drama.
Traction control now being disallowed, gets it back to the roots (riding wise) also making it more accessible to the smaller teams.
This weekend there was Kenan Sufuoglu (Kawasaki ZX6R) looking as the clear favorite. But then the MVAgusta F3 675 riders led by Jules Cluzel went like a pack of wolfs, along with a group of fellas riding Hondas CBR600RR, one of which was the lone american P.Jacobsen on the TenKate CBR (will be a very strong contender again)....
But, wait for it, Anthony West, who was making a simple wildcard appearance with an outdated Yamaha R6, gave a show with a fight for the podium!
But then drama ensued, Cluzel went wide, Zaneti crashed, and Sufuoglu did as well once he got back to a clear lead. His team mate, the Krumenacher fella that just came from Moto2 took the win! HAHA Brilliant!

I still have my doubts regarding Dorna and WSBK, but have to admit and agree that you can clearly see the effort. The way the series are being televised, be it the camera work and general "packaging", the comentaries looking a lot improved too (IMO), it is commendable.

I don't feel there is much to nitpick, just wishing that there were more "in-depth" commentaries, not just of the technical sort (which are extremely appreciated) but also the backstage stuff that you don't see or read out there.
For example, it was commented that the Milwaukee BMW team (Brookes and Abraham) are not receiving any help or data, whatsoever, from the Althea BMW Racing Team, who seem to have direct support from BMW and, no less, the participation of the Jan Witteveen's master mind (yes, that guy from the GPs who was partially responsible for so many Aprilia victories).

This is interesting info that wasn't seen anywhere. It makes an amusing "competicion" to follow, inside what is already a very competitive grid. A bit like in 1991/1992 with the Ferracci Ducati versus the full factory Ducatis.

Anyway, it really looks like WSBK (and WSSP) will provide a tremendous season this year.
Next round please, bring it on!

Total votes: 138

Oh, that was a wild card for Westie?
I watched the race at the local, so I couldn't hear the commentary.
I thought he'd made a surprise move to WSSP.
I'd be happy for him to see the podium every week.

Total votes: 130

I was pleasantly surprised with Ant West's appearance in the WWSP grid this weekend only to be disapointed later, when I found out he was racing as a wildcard.
He deserves a lot more than that for sure - podium with that bike is proof enough to me, once again.

https://www.facebook.com/Anthony-West-Official-178525528860715/

Such a talent, ignored and left to waste.
The man is still looking for a ride and sponsorship for this year.

Total votes: 128

Being in the States, I found beIN Sports' coverage of prior years a bit poor so opted for the WorldSBK Video Pass and found the enormous amount of coverage well worth the reasonable price and dropped my DirecTV sports package making the cost a wash. But then, after learning the beIN will now be my only source for televised MotoGP, I did a bit of panic until I was able to renegotiate my satTV package and get beIN Sports back.

Having already purchased the season pass for WSBK I was looking forward to comparing the two, but what a delightful surprise to find your friend Steve English (along with Gregory Haines) being the presenters on my TV and my computer! Smart move by beIN to take the world feed and pass on their in-house folks who seemingly no little about moto racing and less knowledge (or homework) regarding who's who.

Having the Video Pass certainly provides extended hours, and the No-Spoiler feature makes it possible to sleep-in rather than have to watch live Euro-time from Oregon.

Like you said, the racing was spectacular, but watching both PJ Jacobsen and Nicky lose places on their last laps made the weekend less joyful for me, but to be real, they both made awesome showings. For PJ, having both Keenan and Jules take zero points, may pay dividends come the season end, but if Krummenacher continues the surprise, this might be the most exciting World Supersport ever!

Yes. The dark winter is over!

Total votes: 127

Nice story David, again....but why do you always write tyres as USA style...TIRES?

Cant you use "TYRES"?

Keep up the good work!! ;)

Total votes: 140

Are there any details on this?

Total votes: 114

The lack of news or comment on this seems a bit surprising. Maybe it falls under the "don't criticise the tyres" clause in pirellis contact.

Total votes: 128

Tune into British Superbikes for another great Championship & support racing, with great Circuits & fully committed Riders.

Total votes: 115

that's the best you can do? It was a great race and much better commentary and somebody is complaining about the editor's spelling? LMAO!!!

Total votes: 153

Josh isn't technically a WSBK rookie. He rode in 2006 and 2007, but didn't do full seasons in either year.

Anyway, great article!! Would love to see your take on WSBK more as the season unfolds. But of course MotoGP will be taking up all your time pretty soon!

Total votes: 133

Really didn't seem all that brazen to me. Aggressive? Sure, but in race one it really didn't seem like he pushed Rea outside in fact I thought Rea's pass 'round the outside was a bit riskier, and in race 2 he wasn't anywhere near Rea and his bike slid out without affecting any of the other riders. Personally I thought Guigliano's passed were a bit more questionable

Total votes: 134

Spot on, but don't upset the favoured rider. It's going to be that way when the winner is the one quoted. The crash in race 2 was obvious, Rea took a really tight, defensive line so there was no way Davies was going to make the corner. In race 1 he should of pushed Rea out much harder. Great races though no matter the details.

The Eurosport commentators are pathetic when it comes to Guigliano. Yes, he makes questionable moves sometimes, also brilliant ones like on Hayden, but he is no worse than Rea was for years. They seem to forget all the people he's knocked off and smashed in to the side of. If he didn't constantly get referred to as dangerous and scary then neither should Guigliano.

Total votes: 147

Not aggressive - we had several racers together to watch, we all immediately saw that the one last move that predicated his crash was an anomaly. Davies got hungry and grabbed at a line that doesn't work. I have done that, embarrassingly, quite a few times. Have a look - you just can't get into that corner from there grabbing that extra bit of throttle. He knows better, but last lap juices and hunger for a win just got the best of him.

No video clip available yet of just the Davies crash, but here is the race one end of the race Rea - Davies passing...it is BEAUTIFUL. Brush it off #7, you have a win coming! Sykes is the one that has wounds to nurse from the weekend.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=S73mRwyxdTw

Great job Honda squad getting that old bike at the front! I wish we could see dyno comparisons w the Kawi, van der Mark and Hayden both rode the grease out of those things! Could it be possible that Honda managed to get more power out of that SP motor for the year? Methinks no. Van der Mark on next year's CBR however may prove to be the Kawi beater that Rea would have been had they put their V4 out as planned before he jumped ship. The kid is good!

Praise for MV Augusta is due for doing so much with so little resources. Their budget can't be much, wishing them well w reliability. This year they have quite a presence in WSS. I have NEVER seen a middleweight bike of theirs anywhere before! It is practically a homologation special. Nice to see an R6 get near the front again w Ant West (R6rider did you catch the race?). Still longing for Triumph to graduate the Smith Racing squad up to WSS, the bike can do the business if they cared to. Can't say that about the Suzuki.

(Tyres, tires - it gets much more fun than that. In the USA we can "root" for a rider (meaning cheer them on). Over there that is like saying "screw." I am glad we are all here in the comments section, we have some race bike builders, racers, paddock insiders, people from nearly every country in the world, and yes a few grammar/spelling dictators. I see it as a bit of an autism focusing style, but once in a while they manage to notice and point out some interesting detail somewhere we missed).

Great racing. If you didn't watch WSS, do. The 600's have a few lines the big bikes don't and they made good use of them.

Total votes: 129

but do you really worry about how he spells something.. he as far as im aware lives in america and a hell of alot of his readers are american.. get a life
the racing ect was an improvement for sure, just hope it continues
was great to see the hondas do well
also shame imo brooks wasn't given a yam.

Total votes: 139

Since David is a Brit living in Holland then yes I expect him to spell tyres properly. If he prefers the Yank spelling that's fine but you need to check your facts before commenting.

Total votes: 130

I do spell tires properly. It is just a question of perspective.

Total votes: 142

Good to see some racing again, and good to see a decent sized pack of riders racing for the front.

I try not to root for anyone, but I was definitely cheering Nicky on to get that podium. Either way, so good to see him near the sharp end rather than mid-pack for a change.

Total votes: 138

WSBK still has traction control (comment by Luc Marqs).

Total votes: 123

Have been just as, if not more interested in SBK for years, however the content delivery in my country (Australia) is garbage. I don't have/want TV, either free to air or pay, and have a paid subscription to worldsbk.com (as well as motogp.com), but they delay races by 7 days to Australian customers for SBK. WTF?

It just KILLS the appeal. Fix it, please. I think I watched maybe 2-3 races last year because it's always spoiled well and truly before I get to them, and typically forget about the race by the time i'm able to watch it.

Total votes: 114

You should just torrent it if they're being that daft. It's usually posted within an hour of finishing, needs a bit of jiggery-pokey and is not technically kosher, but if you've tried and failed to buy it legitimately, my morals say it's ok. It's what I occasionally did for the odd race I found interesting enough (mainly PI) as at that stage there was no streaming content to Oz at all IIRC.
In the end I caved and got Foxtel, mainly for the racing but also for the odd bit of abc/sbs which we always had really patchy reception of. Plus being a bit rural our internet is wireless and hence slow/expensive/unreliable/limited bandwidth. I must say the foxtel coverage is impressive and you get the unexpected gems like live coverage of the Suzuka 8hr last year - loved that!

Total votes: 124

I have done/shall do that from time to time (did the same with MotoGP before I got good enough internet to stream live from motogp.com), but I'm actually a paying customer, trying to do the right thing, and getting screwed. It's a joke.

I refuse to buy Foxtel for say 36 hours of TV per year...

Total votes: 110

I agree, the visual coverage is improved.

However, as a Eurosport subscriber, please, please, PLEASE!! - not Jack Burnicle! His inane bits of biography of riders, their families, their breakfast and their television preferences, along with his dinosaur sexism have always driven me nuts.Now he's making mistakes in his commentary and it's just so distracting.

I like the studio team, and the build up and punditry is interesting and engaging. In the box, James Witham is knowledgeable and interesting (as his work at the TT bears witness) but the daft arguments, the constant need to correct Jack, and the silly banter put me in mind of fingernails on the blackboard!

And I'm paying for it!

Total votes: 135