Gordon Ritchie has covered World Superbikes for over a quarter of a century, and is widely regarded as the world's leading journalist on the series. MotoMatters.com is delighted to be hosting a monthly blog by Ritchie. The full blog will be available each month for MotoMatters.com subscribers. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.
As far as seasons go, the 2020 WorldSBK version will be a short one. Even after three down and five to go in terms of full rounds, there have still been enough changes of fortune and unusual happenings to make for more than enough talking points.
First of all we had the usual wildfowl-dodging opener in Australia. Three different race winners, including two riders who had just signed with new manufacturers (Toprak Razgatlioglu on a Pata Yamaha, Alex Lowes for KRT), plus one old hand showing his mettle and a very human mistake on what was a testing weekend in many ways (KRT fixture Jonathan Rea). Then we – finally - came back to action in the scalding paella pan that was Jerez in very late July.
Scott Redding and Ducati built two winning extension and one runner-up mezzanine at Jerez atop their three podium foundations from Oz. Rea won the short race again though, and in some style considering how he could not get close to Redding in the long races. And then there was also a mystery rear-grip drop off for the five-time champion in race two, an unwelcome trek back down one of WorldSBK’s dimly-lit and seemingly sealed-off back alleys.
Redding was 24 points ahead already after Spain, Ducati finally looked strong from stem to stern, and another hot pot of genuine competition at Portimao was looming.
At Rea’s favourite track (officially now, in terms of stats) he left with three race wins, and it was Redding and Ducati’s turn to face the pressure. They did so admirably for the most part, with natural-born Superbike rider Redding using all of his career-long MotoGP experience as best he could at Portugal’s own Cadwell-near-the-sea to tame his bike’s wandering tendencies.
(BTW, part of me cannot wait to see the MotoGP bikes potentially aviate there, but maybe they won’t after all, not with all those wings poking out).
The podium frolics were added to in the first three WorldSBK rounds by various other players of full works fiddles, with Razgatlioglu and, in Iberia, Michael van der Mark also being right in there, and Chaz Davies posting a second place.
But, behind the understandably heavily promoted Rea v Redding battle, which is shaping up nicely with four points of advantage to Rea and still many more races to come than have already been, there are even more factors happily at work in this disrupted 2020 campaign.
And question marks all over, even inside the factory riders’ battles.
What we also witnessed in the season re-start was the unmistakeable sight and smell of podium capability from some of the private riders and teams.
The Independent teams’ as they are called. I can only imagine that the word ‘Privateer’ still has connotations in certain areas of Iberia that won't let them write it down formally, even centuries after all that Elizabethan state sponsored larceny. Hence, ‘Independent Teams’ is used and not the more swashbuckling motorcycling term of ‘Privateers’.
The independently minded really came over all podium-capable in Jerez and podium actual at Portimao; with Loris Baz finally catching a top three step for the resurgent and frankly indefatigable Nieuwleusen heavy crew, Ten Kate Racing Yamaha. (Yes, after a million years of writing the word Honda after the name Ten Kate I may have finally managed to get it through my mind that they are now almost winning with Yamahas instead of serially winning with Hondas in WorldSSP and finally becoming WorldSBK Championships with James Toseland.) Third on the Portimao sprint was an important moment for the whole of WorldSBK, not just the latest Ten Kate expeditionary force.
There have been a few missing pieces from the WorldSBK jigsaw of late, compared to the days when everybody had to take notice of the production-derived street fighting men, even if some of them really didn’t want to give it the time of day.
In the topsy-turvy world of WorldSBK, its ever changing tech base, capacity limits, balancing rules, waxing and waning fortunes in general, there has been a flight case full of past examples of Independent riders (nee Privateers) taking away race wins and podium places.
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