What championship is the biggest box office draw? MotoGP. What championship is the most likely to give box office drama throughout the year? In 2020 it could be WorldSBK.
It’s a far cry from recent years where we’ve traded Jonathan Rea’s domination for Alvaro Bautista’s purple patch and then seen Rea rise from the ashes. The stick to beat WorldSBK with in recent years has always been that one man has won five titles in a row and won so many races. This year that could all change.
Scott Redding comes in as the reigning British Superbike champion. There’s a level of expectation heaped on his shoulders. Honda are back as a full-factory team and they are sure to be strong over the coming seasons. When HRC race they race to win. Yamaha has a brand new bike that has found a small step forward that could leap them into regular contention. BMW is in the second year of their programme. Kawasaki showed they are still the benchmark for consistency. This year in WorldSBK all five manufacturers will feel they can be competitive. Their riders will all think that they have a chance.
The season kicked off in the small hours of Friday morning, but don’t be surprised if the audience for WorldSBK is a lot bigger than in recent years. This championship has the potential to really surprise in 2020 with the randomness of results. At the preseason test Yamaha look very strong-Michael van der Mark and Loris Baz have shown impressive speed and consistency-while Redding looks very comfortable within the Aruba.it Ducati squad. Jonathan Rea will obviously be a contender.
We should have these four riders, and Toprak Razgatlioglu and Tom Sykes close to the front in the early stages, fighting it out for the win. Can Leon Haslam, racing as Bautista’s Honda teammate, challenge? He certainly believes he can and is quietly confident of being able to spring a surprise. While all of the attention has been on the Number 19 of his teammate it’s been Haslam that has driven the development of the new Fireblade.
Speaking in Australia he enthused about the importance of the team listening to him and “whether you’re first or last they give you what you ask for.” There are eight electronics engineers within the HRC garage this year for their return to Superbike racing. If there is a bigger indication of their level of investment it’s hard to find. They are taking the project as seriously as they take MotoGP and the goal isn’t to make up the numbers.
The numbers will be key all the way through the season because the target is to be able to be as consistent as possible. Rea has used this as the foundation stone of his title successes; on his bad days he still finishes on the podium. In 2020 the goal will be to be inside the top five every race. If you can do this you can win the title.
Mistakes will be heavily punished by Rea but they will come. Rivals will peak and trough. Points will come in bunches for some riders. The races will come thick and fast in the early rounds but Australia and Qatar are opportunities to get the season off to a strong start. There are a number of riders that will be looking at the opening two rounds of the year and thinking “a strong start can make me a title contender.”
Will this lead to desperation if you’re in the lead group to capitalise on a good weekend? Will this mean some riders take a long game approach and focus on scoring points? It’s not clear just yet but as it stands the buzz in the WorldSBK paddock is that we’re set for a cracking year.
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