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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Choose Your (WorldSBK) Weapon

It has been said before, and I will say it again, it is a welcome feat of logistics and determination that there is a 2020 WorldSBK season going on, and a near miracle that we media types are allowed in to cover it from inside. Thank you to all involved, without exception.

Given my shockingly bad air travel experiences at the first two ‘season comeback’ rounds in Jerez and Portimao, my media enterprises empire (a laptop and the soft machine that thumps its keyboard) quite literally set sail for the rest of the championship, by motorcycle. Which is fair enough, as I am covering a championship that is indeed based on production-derived motorcycles.

Somewhere between the Picos de Europa mountains of Asturias and the swimming pools of Calpe near Valencia - and exactly between the Teruel and Catalunya rounds in chronological terms - my mind was distracted from a heat-induced intermittent loss of friction between throttle grip and throttle barrel by thoughts of a much more extreme version of the real road bike scenario; WorldSBK racing.

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Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Privateers Progress

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.

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Andrea Dovizioso And Michael van der Mark: Different Series, Similar Story?

Andrea Dovizioso on the podium at the 2019 round of MotoGP at Spielberg, Austria - Photo Cormac Ryan Meenan

A strange week in the rider market took another turn with the threat from Simone Battistella, manager of Andrea Dovizioso, claiming that his rider would sit out 2021 in search of the right opportunity the following year.

It’s a brave gamble to take, but with Dovi set to be 36 years old by the time the season starts in 2022, it looks like a hollow threat. If Dovi sits out a year at this stage of his career, he would find it very difficult to get back on a competitive bike in the MotoGP field.

As things stand who has more leverage? Ducati, with Jack Miller under contract - not to mention having Johann Zarco, Pecco Bagnaia and a host of other riders waiting in the wings - or a 34-year-old veteran threatening to call time on his MotoGP career?

Youth vs experience

The answer seems pretty much self-evident. Speak to MotoGP managers about riders, and they will tell you that age is a big factor, preferring youthful potential over age and experience. This is one reason managers give when you ask them about signing riders from the WorldSBK paddock: they are too old, is the general consensus, with teams preferring to take a risk on a young rider from Moto2.

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The Whys And Wherefores Of Van der Mark's Decision To Leave Yamaha

Michael van der Mark at the 2019 WorldSBK round at Assen - Photo by Tony Goldsmith

The WorldSBK rumour mill spun into action by the news that Michael van der Mark would leave Yamaha at the end of this season. The Dutchman has enjoyed a very successful three seasons with the Crescent Racing-run operation, and there’s little to suggest that he won’t be winning races this year.

The news was first broken by Speedweek, with Ivo Schutzbach reporting that Van der Mark would switch to BMW. The website has always had their finger on the pulse of what’s happening at BMW, so it would be little surprise if this rumour turns into fact very soon. The news, though, is still a surprise.

How did it all come to this?

Van der Mark and Yamaha had seemed like a perfect match for much of their time together. The 2014 Supersport World Champion arrived and formed one of the strongest line-ups in WorldSBK when he was paired with Alex Lowes. There was little friction between the two, and their relationship grew into one of great respect and, as much as is possible in racing, friendship.

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2020 WorldSBK Preview: All Change In World Superbikes?

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.

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Jerez WorldSBK Test Notes: What To Watch Out For At The First Test Of 2020

Testing resumes today at Jerez for the WorldSBK class. At least, it will if the track dries out enough to make conditions usable. Heavy overnight rain has soaked the track, and more rain is expected over the next two days.

The WorldSBK field will be hoping for dry track time for a lot of reasons, not least because it will be the first time that the Honda CBR1000RR-R will be seen at a public test. Alvaro Bautista and Leon Haslam have ridden the bike at private tests already, the bike getting a run out at Aragon and Portimao, and reports were that the bike was very quick, but the rest of the WorldSBK field will want to see a direct comparison with the bike.

Photos of the Honda CBR1000RR-R have already been floating around social media. Here is one photo, with some of the engine visible.

Besides the Honda, there are plenty of other things to keep an eye. At Kawasaki, Jonathan Rea will be continuing his transition to a thumb brake, working on getting used to that feel. Alex Lowes, meanwhile, will be trying to unlearn some of the things he learned about braking on the Yamaha, and find the limits on the Kawasaki ZX10-RR. Corner entry has been Lowes' biggest problem so far.

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