World Superbike Silly Season Update: Melandri's Back, Bradl Switches, Aprilia Arrives

While the MotoGP grid is as good as settled, Silly Season for World Superbikes is in full swing. With the Kawasaki riders' contracts settled before the summer break, attention has turned to the other seats, most of which are up in the air. In addition, there could be some changes in machinery, with some teams eyeing a switch of manufacturers.

The biggest news – still unofficial, but widely believed to be a done deal – is that Marco Melandri is set to make a return to the World Superbike paddock, this time in the factory Aruba.it Ducati team alongside Chaz Davies.

Melandri has been angling for a ride ever since his departure from the factory Aprilia MotoGP squad, a move he had never wanted to make in the first place. Over the past twelve months or so, he has been linked to rides with Yamaha, Aprilia, BMW and Kawasaki in World Superbikes, and – possibly the most bizarrely inaccurate rumor to be published in a while – to a ride with BMW in MotoGP. (The fact that BMW have no intention of racing in MotoGP, and the break up with Melandri in 2013 so acrimonious that they would not have him back anyway is what made that particular rumor so entertaining.)

Melandri's return to the fold

In recent months, it was looking like Melandri would finally get his chance to return to WorldSBK, as he had a deal on the table with Puccetti Racing, who run Kawasaki's World Supersport effort, and were keen to expand into World Superbikes. Melandri would have made financing such an expansion much easier, as the Italian is still a big draw for sponsors.

It now looks like Melandri will be taking those sponsors (and more importantly, their money) to Ducati. According to German website Speedweek, the Italian has agreed terms with the factory Aruba.it Ducati squad. Melandri will ride alongside Chaz Davies in 2017 aboard the Panigale R. Melandri's signing meets the requirements of Ducati and their Italian sponsor Aruba.it for an Italian rider in the team, where he will replace Davide Giugliano. Giugliano is looking at options in Moto2, he told GPOne.com, though he has not discounted staying in the WorldSBK paddock.

The more interesting rumor is that Melandri will be riding for Ducati for free. Informed WorldSBK sources suggest that the Italian will be bringing money to the team as part of the deal for the ride. Ducati's World Superbike effort has come under pressure in recent months, especially since the signing of Jorge Lorenzo to the MotoGP team. Lorenzo's salary has placed a financial burden on Ducati which they are having to spread out through their entire racing program to absorb. Added to this, Ducati are having to offer Chaz Davies more money to stay, the Welshman currently carrying the weight of the Italian factory's WorldSBK challenge.

A German in Honda

Over at Honda, Stefan Bradl looks set to join the Ten Kate squad alongside Nicky Hayden. The German admitted to Speedweek that he no longer had a future in MotoGP, despite having an option to ride a Ducati Desmosedici GP16 with the Avintia squad. In the interview with Speedweek, the German dropped hints that it would be Ten Kate Honda where he would end up. That would please both Dorna, who are trying to make the WorldSBK field more international and end the domination by British riders, and Honda, who would have a popular rider to use in the important German market.

At the Sachsenring, before the deal had been done, Bradl talked in general terms about a switch to World Superbikes. "I have not been there many times, to be honest," he said. "I think it's a professional championship, that's for sure. There is the first Bundesliga and the second Bundesliga, it's like that with MotoGP and Superbike, it's not a secret that the Superbike category is a bit lower than MotoGP. But if you can be very successful there, if you can fight for the podium in every race, it makes it interesting. That's the goal." The desire to contend for podiums and wins again is what motivates him, the German said. "If I don't aim for that, I might as well stay home."

Van der Mark can't afford to wait

Bradl's arrival at Ten Kate is made possible by Michael van der Mark's departure. Though an official announcement has not been made, the young Dutchman had an offer on the table from Honda which expired at Laguna Seca. Re-signing Van der Mark had been a priority for Honda, but doubts over the competitiveness of next year's bike has made him look elsewhere. Though Honda are rumored to be introducing a new Fireblade for 2017, it is not expected to be the kind of radical upgrade needed to match the supremacy of the Kawasakis. With only media rumor and leaks to go on, Van der Mark is believed to be looking elsewhere.

Elsewhere is most likely to be the Pata Yamaha squad. Though nothing has been confirmed so far, it appears that Sylvain Guintoli is on the way out, leaving an empty seat for Van der Mark to take on. The Dutchman has ambitions to head to MotoGP, but the available seats are limited to Avintia and possibly Aspar, depending on what Eugene Laverty decides to do. With a year of experience under their belts, the Pata Yamaha team are starting to get a handle on the YZF-R1M. Strong backing from Yamaha should help them make the bike into a truly competitive package in 2017.

The return of Aprilia?

Factory support is exactly what is needed to help turn the Aprilia RSV4 into a competitive package. One current World Superbike rider, speaking off the record, told us at Misano that they believed that the Aprilia had the potential to be the best bike on the grid. What was missing, they told us, was support from Aprilia. It took factory technicians to get the best out of the RSV4, as they had both the data and the intimate knowledge of the bike to get it set up right.

As our WorldSBK reporter Kent Brockman wrote after Laguna Seca, more factory involvement could be on the way from Aprilia, but it will mean a switch of teams. The IODA team made their decision to switch to World Superbikes for the 2016 season at the eleventh hour, leaving little room for Aprilia to budget for any support. However, the Italian factory is currently in talks with SMR, currently running the Milwaukee BMW squad. SMR have been unhappy with the support they have received from BMW, and the German factory's hands off strategy in world championship racing. They are now close to a deal with Aprilia to run RSV4s with direct factory backing.

That support comes at a price, however. SMR would only have one seat to fill themselves, as Aprilia are keen to hang on to Lorenzo Savadori. The Italian youngster has been impressive in 2016, if a little inconsistent. He has been close to the podium a couple of times, finishing fourth at Donington and Assen. But he has also fallen outside the top ten.

Choices, choices

Who gets the seat beside Savadori is an interesting question. SMR is believed to be in talks with both Eugene Laverty and Leon Camier. Both men have history with Aprilia, and are looked on favorably by the factory. Camier has to decide whether to stick with MV Agusta, and hope that the troubled Italian factory can raise the cash to finance its racing properly. Laverty, meanwhile, must decide between staying in MotoGP with Aspar Ducati on a GP15, and switching to World Superbikes and hoping for strong backing from Aprilia.

With some of the teams at a private test at the Lausitzring in Germany, and some of the riders on the other side of the world, competing in the Suzuka 8 Hour endurance race in Japan, discussions are in full swing. Decisions are likely in the next week or two, with press releases to follow shortly afterwards. The natural place to make announcements would be at the next race, but the WorldSBK series is in the middle of its seemingly endless summer break. They do not convene again until the middle of September, for the German round at the Lausitzring.


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Total votes: 135
Total votes: 142

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Comments

Superbikes are so interesting, in their own fashion. First information I have seen re the next Fireblade. Such a small and vague thread, but discouraging. Holding out hope. Kawasaki will be getting a challenge at some point from someone.

Inversely, the Aprilia piece is a bit optimistically vague. Yes, it is positive that they are looking at factory involvement again. The Milwaukee squad is a good one. The engine rule change a bit ago seemed to hinder the Aprilia the most - they had that motor in a very high state of tune relative to stock prior to the changes. It is a good bike, sure, but a rider that has perhaps never ridden it nor had anything to do w tuning to the rulebook may have made an under informed statement.

Camier and Van der Mark are both riders I would like to see on front running bikes. Melandri? Not as enthused, but it is understandable. Also understandable that VdM not wait around for future improvements from Honda. It has been the case for a while (just ask Rea). The Yamaha looks good and with more potential (just a bit more power, and some sorting?). Still though, I can't help but think VdM has potential for greatness that we might not see actualize. There are only so many seats avail that can win championships. Just the way it is. Then again, we have seen VdM's ability to get the very most out of a bike, and Yamaha could use JUST that.

Total votes: 154

about Melandri returning? Are you mad?!

I have one word for you, sir: MANU!

Total votes: 140

I hope that the rumours of a not so strong Honda for next year prove wrong - I'd love to see Hayden fighting for podiums every weekend, the guy deserves it.

Total votes: 175

Conversely, I'm very happy to see Kawasaki show everyone the way home each weekend.  I've always hated Honda and Hondas.

Total votes: 160

I'm happy to see the return of Marco. He is an awesome racer & should make the Kawasaki's work a little harder for the podium. I'm also looking forward to see how Bradl fairs. I really hope he eventually puts himself in the title hunt along with his new team-mate. Along with these new changes to WSBK, it would be nice to see more races added. That huge summer break could easily be filled another race or two here in North America. 

Total votes: 156

I agree that Marco is an awesome racer, but as far as making the Kawasaki boys work harder for their podiums... I don't think so. Sykes and Rea are at the top of their game, and both are good enough to be top ten in MotoGP on satellite/customer bikes. Rea on a factory MotoGP bike might even be a regular podium contender, given his performances when he did step up to MotoGP.

The Kawasaki is fast, but it's not just the bike that's keeping those two at the front.

Total votes: 147

It will be good to see a bit more quality in both riders and bikes at the top. But mainly, Dorna need to improve the calendar. And they need to do work on the technical regs to make the various manufacturers more competitive. And can we please get back to 2 WSB + 1 WSS + Support races on Sunday.

Total votes: 162

Any word on a full time ride with Pedercini? He has earnt it

Total votes: 154

Track record speaks for itself. The bike will be a dawg. Honda is not interested in WSBK. They believe MotoGp will sell their street bikes. Stupid. I have never understood their lack of serious marketing sense. Winning as many championships across the globe in one season would be epic! 

Total votes: 127

never understood this hate for a manufacterer, seems so childish to me. But there you go...

Total votes: 153

Also, whilst I'm unsure if Marco M can still cut it in a factory team (time will tell). It's really good for the championship and for Dorna to have as many top names as possible on good bikes that can win races.   So welcome back Marco.  

Just need the return of fast wild cards with a bilateral agreement with BSB and Superbike will be very much heading in the right direction.

Total votes: 137

... would be a 100%-Bavarian-BMW-Factory-Team with 100% involvement of Bee-Em-Double-You, baby!

I live in Bavaria and simply would love to see a team based on a S1000RR with two guys from Bavaria: Stefan Bradl from Zahling and Reiti (Markus Reiterberger) from Obing. Little villages in the south of Bavaria (= South of Germany), not far away from Munich (or Minga as it used to be called by the Romans). Munich - as some here might know - is the town where BMW was founded and where their international headquarters is.

I simply don‘t get it: BMW is making enough money to have a true WSBK-Bavarian-Factory-Team with full dedication from the factory. The have the financial power, the man power, the brains, fantastic engines etc. And two good (Reiti is a great talent, do not underestime this 21 year IDM champion from 2015) riders from the neighborhood... Instead they got discouraged after two or three years and "only" some race wins (as far as I know Marco Melandri is the successful BMW-WSBK-rider)...

And now Bradl is flirting with HONDA without knowing what the sudo-new (only the engine, the suspension - electr. Öhlins - and the electronics itself will change, outside we will have the pleasure to look at a 2008 Fireblade...) Fireblade will bring in the first year(s). I thinkl it‘s a shame...

Torres currently is showing us that the BMW is not as bad as Milwaukee, Josh Brookes (the guy who is whining and complaining about the bike instead of riding it hard... watch Eurosport 2 UK and you will understand what I am talking about...) are trying to tell us. Nobody to this day was really able to show us the true potential of the S1000RR (Melandri maybe?), a bike which is loved (well, I know about the problems they had with the 1st gen.) by most of it‘s riders on the streets out there. Potentially the most rideable (commuting etc.) of all 1000s on the streets (ask "Baron Von Grumble", "44 Teeth" on youtube etc.).

Viele Grüße from Bavaria

Total votes: 136

No I don't hate Honda. What I will say is I definitely don't like how they treat loyal riders. Then they bitch and moan about MotoGp rules but refuse to use their massive resources where they are allowed to to develop their electronics package WSBK. They should be fighting Kawasaki tooth and nail at the front instead they field a 5th or 6th place bike at best. Poor VDM throwing the bike down the road because he has to over ride it constantly to even keep the Kawasaki's and Ducati's in sight. If you can't see that look back on recent history. Rhea on basically the same bike was 4th or 5th race after race. He moved on to Kawasaki and BOOM! It's not hate Honda should be damn ashamed of itself.

Total votes: 134

In 2014 Jonathan Rea on the honda had 4 wins, and 5 top 3 places and was 3rd in the championship.

 

Total votes: 143

I certainly don't hate Honda but they do irritate me. By far the biggest motorcycle manufacturer in the world and one that has pushed boundaries and released stunning, socially defining motorcycles and filled the dreams of many.

 

Now, despite "The Power of Dreams" they seem to have zero interest in making motorcycles that are genuinely interestingly or exciting. Instead they release dull, pointless machines that fail by any objective measure and offer little obvious over any of their competitors.

 

For the company that defined the 1990s with the CBR600F, ruled the privateer racing world with the RC30, took on Ducati and their perceived rules advantage - and won. And now.... What? A low revving (allegedly) super economical motorcycle that is stupidly expensive and not as eceonomical as my girlfriends 10 year old supermini (that holds four peoapl and luggae, weighs 4 times as much and manages nearly double the mpg.) The only sports bikes on offer are those nearly a decade old and counting ot over priced toys for the super rich.

 

What a waste. What a failure. Hate is still too strong a word but pointless seems fitting.

Total votes: 132