Top ten lists are by their very nature subjective; beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all. From the moment the season started in Australia until the very end there was a great scrap for the title, with the fight going down to the wire in Qatar. But who was the best rider of 2016? This is the MotoMatters.com top ten riders of the 2016 WorldSBK season.
1 - Jonathan Rea
(WorldSBK Champion, 9 wins, 23 podiums)
It's always easy to go with the champion for any top ten list, and while Chaz Davies would also have been a very deserving candidate, ultimately Rea's title defense was superb. The Kawasaki rider was clearly not as comfortable with the 2016 bike as its predecessor but Rea won nine races and was in constant control of the title fight.
He did this by winning fewer races than Davies, leading fewer laps than Davies or Sykes, and having fewer pole positions. Despite these factors Rea won the title by being consistently on the podium. Nine wins and 23 podiums from 26 races showed his consistency, but another measure was that Rea spent 442 laps of the 481 that he completed riding in podium positions. Compared to his title rivals, Rea spent 40 laps more than Sykes and a whopping 109 more laps in rostrum positions than Chaz Davies.
Despite Davies leading races for 81 laps more than the champion it was Rea's ability to consistently be on the podium that earned Rea the title and the first WorldSBK title defense of this millennium.
2 - Chaz Davies
(3rd in standings, 11 wins, 17 podiums)
There wasn't much more that Davies could have done in 2016 to elevate his standing in the WorldSBK paddock further. The Welshman took 11 wins, 17 podium finishes, 10 fastest laps, five doubles and two pole positions. Davies' dominance of Aragon and Imola was so total that he claimed a clean sweep of wins, pole, and fastest laps. Reeling off six consecutive wins to close out the year he will arguably start the 2017 season as the title favorite.
With all this in mind, how did Davies only finish third in the final standings? A mid-season bout of inconsistency and crashes due to setup problems were to blame, and ultimately proved decisive in the title fight. Three retirements in the space of five races were in the end what stood in his way of the title for Davies.
Ducati and Davies performed incredibly at times this season but Donington, Misano, and Laguna Seca saw them lose their way, and a spate of front end crashes proved costly. Over the summer break, while many were sunning themselves on the beach, Ducati were working hard testing in Italy. They came back with a much improved setting and front end feel and a run of Davies dominance began in Germany. Claiming seven of eight race wins, it was an absolutely stunning end to the season.
3 - Tom Sykes
(2nd in standings, 5 wins, 20 podiums, 8 poles, 402 laps in podium positions, led 17 races)
Second in the standings and taking the title fight to the final round once again showed that Sykes is one of the best Superbike riders on the planet. but questions still surround the former champion. His five wins, including a stunningly dominant Sepang success, showed again that when Sykes is on form he is superb. Unfortunately for the Yorkshireman these days weren't frequent enough. Up against Rea and Davies he was simply outgunned on far too regular a basis.
On numerous occasions Sykes was in a perfect position to take wins but had to settle for podium places, as he was unable - or unwilling - to make overtaking moves. Misano was a perfect example of this with the title all but decided during Race 1. With Sykes second behind Rea this was a crucial race in the championship. Rea was on a run of form that saw him start the season with 17 consecutive podiums and had opened a commanding lead over his teammate.
Sykes felt that there wasn't an opportunity to make a clean move on his teammate, but ultimately this belief was the difference between the Kawasaki riders once again. Over the second half of the season Rea's season became more challenging and Sykes was able to get back into contention, but Misano could be seen as the turning point of the year.
4 - Nicky Hayden
(5th in standings, 1 win, 4 podiums)
America's former MotoGP world champion came to WorldSBK with plenty of expectation on his shoulders. An aging Honda Fireblade meant that he didn't quite come armed with equal equipment, but the steps made by the Ten Kate squad this year certainly made them much more competitive than had been expected.
Hayden changed the pace of the Dutch squad and brought a new intensity. From his first test, the work ethic that made him a champion was to the fore. From that opening day in Aragon, Hayden outlined exactly what kind of commitment he expected with the team being made certain that when the green light was on in pit lane it was time to get to work.
“They found out pretty quickly that I'm a pretty intense guy,” was how the 34 year old summed up preseason testing, but once the season began the team also saw they had a world class racer. From the opening round, where he narrowly missed out on the rostrum, Hayden was impressive. His first podium came at Assen but it was in Malaysia that we saw just how awesome a rider Hayden still is.
In treacherous conditions he pinned it in the early laps and while the rest of the field waited to find the grip Hayden trusted the new track surface and Pirelli tyres. It was an opportunistic win but came from good judgment, “I saw in World Supersport practice how fast PJ Jacobsen had been so I pushed hard in the wet,” Hayden said after that victory.
5 - Leon Camier
(8th in standings, 8 top six finishes)
MV Agusta are still awaiting their first podium in WorldSBK, but the Italian manufacturer are no longer on their knees praying for rain. Instead, they're on their feet praising Leon Camier.
In 2009, Camier changed the face of British Superbike by dominating to such a degree that the organizers felt they had no choice but to bring in the Showdown, the complex system were the title is only decided in the last three rounds. Since then, the Englishman has had an up and down time in WorldSBK, with moves from Aprilia to Suzuki to BMW, before finally looking at home on the MV.
This year he took eight top six finishes and came close to the podium a couple of times. It was a tremendous season and no-one exceeded their preseason expectations more than Camier. For next year he will stay with the Italian manufacturer as a single bike entry and the challenge of standing on the rostrum starts once again. Resources are scant at MV, but the work being done on a shoestring is hugely impressive.
6 - Michael van der Mark
(4th in standings, 6 podiums, 1 pole)
As a rookie Van der Mark was paired alongside Sylvain Guintoli and could learn from a WorldSBK champion. This year the role of tutor was filled by former MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden. For Van der Mark the lessons have come thick and fast since joining the WorldSBK grid and the Dutchman has put together an impressive resume.
Six podiums and a first career WorldSBK pole position were the headlines of 2016 for Van der Mark as he put together an accomplished season. The 24 year old spent almost half of the season inside the top six and was a constant threat to spring a surprise result. Finishing fourth in the championship was his reward, but despite having more podiums than his teammate it was hard not to feel that the Honda rider did most of his good work at the start of the season.
Australia and Thailand saw him collect three podiums and his pole position, and while there were other highlights there were also some chances that slipped away. In the final rounds of the year, when he had signed for Yamaha, it seemed that problems started to develop in his relationship with the Ten Kate team. His final podium with the team came at Magny-Cours in a damp race where he timed his switch to slicks perfectly.
This was a solid campaign from Van der Mark, and the move away from Honda shows that he has matured and is looking to make his mark on the series.
7 - Jordi Torres
(6th in standings, no podiums, 6 top five finishes)
The BMW was a beast at times in 2016 and results were understandably inconsistent as riders struggled to deal with the complex electronics of the S1000RR. Torres was the pick of the German marque's riders and completed more laps than anyone in the championship.
It was only a crash in the wet of Lausitzring that stopped Torres completing every lap of the 2016 season, but his run to sixth in the championship standings was built on more than just consistency with six top five finishes from the former Moto2 race winner.
Having moved to the Althea team following a successful rookie campaign aboard the Aprilia, a lot was expected of Torres and more often than not he delivered. Teamed with double IDM champion, Marcus Reiterberger, it had been expected that the German's experience of the bike would make a telling difference. As it happened Reiterberger struggled for most of the season and Torres scored nearly four times as many points as his teammate.
8 - Xavi Fores
(9th in standings, first ever podium, 6 top six finishes)
A first career podium and first ever rostrum for the Barni Ducati squad will be what people remember from Fores in 2016, but the Spaniard put together a solid campaign.
Six top six finishes and ninth in the championship came on the basis of those strong results but inconsistencies meant that there was certainly a point this season when it felt like the season could have been moving away from the Ducati rider. However, the final four rounds saw him outperform Lorenzo Savadori and edge his rival in the championship standings.
For next year the relationship between Barni and Ducati will be crucial if they are to progress. In 2016 they started the season with similar equipment, but it wasn't until they made the switch to Ohlins suspension that Fores found his best form. That upturn in fortunes in the second half of the year was the reason for Fores edging Savadori in the top 10.
9 - Lorenzo Savadori
(10th in standings, 8 top six finishes)
As a WorldSBK rookie Savadori did a splendid job. The Stock 1000 champion stepped up to the class with no experience and claimed eight top six finishes and came close to finishing on the podium on a couple of occasions.
Having never sat on a WorldSBK machine or used slicks prior to arriving in Australia for the opening round, it's hard to remember a less prepared rookie! As a result his six retirements can be excused as he learned how to get the most from his package, but his performances at some rounds made the rest of the paddock sit up and take notice.
The potential of the Aprilia package is such that many teams and riders have said that it could still be the best on the grid. For 2017 Savadori will move from the Italian IODA squad to SMR and will be teamed up with Eugene Laverty. That will be a true test of the Italian rider's mettle, but there were certainly more than enough positives from his rookie season.
10 - Sylvain Guintoli
(11th in standings, 1 podium, 8 top six finishes)
This was a hugely challenging season for the former WorldSBK champion but his strong performances in Australia and Qatar bookended the Frenchman's campaign. His podium in the penultimate race of the year was hugely impressive and gave his team a much needed lift during what was a very difficult season.
Guintoli suffered serious injuries during a vicious Superpole highside at Imola and saw Guintoli forced to spend five rounds on the sidelines. The battle between Guintoli and his Yamaha teammate, Alex Lowes, was close for most of the year and the highlights of Guintoli's season saw him edge his teammate in the standings and the top ten.
Both riders suffered from more than their fair share of injuries this year and there were times when Guintoli was clearly lacking the decisiveness of his younger teammate. Ultimately the difference between the Yamaha riders was Guintoli's Qatar podium. With eight top six finishes, and two front row starts, Guintoli makes his return to BSB in 2017 on the back of a solid WorldSBK campaign.
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