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.
In a typically robust column written at the end of last week, David Miller, editor of Bikesportnews.com, suggested that the time which double World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea had set on Thursday at the combined WorldSBK and MotoGP test at Jerez had made the MotoGP bikes look a bit silly. Rea had ended the day as the fastest rider on the day, setting a time of 1'38.721, nearly a quarter of a second faster than Alvaro Bautista, who was riding the Ducati Desmosedici GP16 at the track.
Rea had set the time on a modified version of a road bike, costing something in the region of €300,000, beating the satellite Ducatis (estimated lease price, just shy of €2 million), satellite Hondas (official lease price €2 million, actual cost to lease about 50% higher than that), and the factory Suzuki, KTM and Desmosedici GP17 ("I'm sorry sir, you'll have to put your checkbook away, this one isn't for sale").
Miller draws a number of conclusions from this, some sound, some based more on hyperbole than reality. The claim that MotoGP is no longer a prototype series is unfounded. MotoGP bikes (and their predecessors, the 500cc two strokes and four strokes from whence they came) have never been prototypes, as Grand Prix racing was hobbled by rules from the birth of the series in 1949. The ban on forced induction, imposed in the 1930s when the excess of horsepower made possible by supercharging far outweighed contemporary braking technology, was left in place.
Press releases from the World Superbike teams after the test at Jerez:
Rain in Spain Halts Pata Yamaha Jerez Test after Positive Two Days on Track
With MotoGP and WorldSBK sharing the track Jonathan Rea led the way for most of the day. We sought out three opinions on the differences between the bikes....
As the sun set on the third day of the Jonathan Rea hogged the limelight with the second fastest time of the day. With MotoGP bikes sharing the track with WorldSBK runners the big story was that Rea spent most of Wednesday leading the way.
The question in the aftermath however was how does this reflect on both championships?
Rea was a tenth of a second off the fastest time of the day set by Hector Barbera. The speed and performance of the Kawasaki rider was hugely impressive but is this a sign that the production bikes can hold their own or is it a fortuitous confluence of circumstances?
It took Kawasaki until last year to finally win a WorldSBK manufacturers title. Having retained the crown in 2016 the Japanese factory will have to dig deep in 2017
Winter testing is a time to take stock of what worked well on your bike in the past and what now needs to improve. Kawasaki has won over half of the races in the last three years, 39 victories from 76 races, but despite these successes the team are working hard to find improvements.
The final four rounds of the season saw Chaz Davies and Ducati dominate proceedings and the Italian manufacturer's renaissance over the last 12 months has made it the early favourite for title success in 2017. New regulations will see split throttle bodies now outlawed and there are also changes to the battery regulations.
While Jonathan Rea has been running his bike in this specification for most of 2016 his teammate, Tom Sykes, has not. The Englishman spent last off-season commenting about the lower inertia engine he is now having to deal with a significant change in the mass around the engine unit. Whereas in the past Sykes used a battery in his ZX10R to maintain lower inertia he will now have to revert to a crankshaft with a generator that will increase the engine inertia. The higher inertia was a problem for Sykes in 2015 and he had hoped that the changes for this year would offer him advantages compared to Rea. That didn't transpire and now the Yorkshire rider is clearly feeling the pressure.
The second day of the Jerez test dawned in similar circumstances to yesterday. With dense fog and cool temperatures it looked as though there would be sparse action on track but almost immediately Ondrej Jezek rolled down pitlane. With Grillini team only running for half of the allotted time Jezek was keen to get out and gain some experience on a WorldSBK machine.
While the Czech was spinning laps the majority of the field was waiting their time for the conditions to improve. Though the KRT riders stayed in the pits all day yesterday, they did get some wet weather running today.
2016 has been a strange year. New tires have made teams have to gamble much more on set up. New electronics have drawn the teeth of Honda and Yamaha, making it easier for Ducati, Suzuki, and to a lesser extent, Aprilia to catch up. The wet and wild weather has made it even more difficult to get set up right, with session after session lost to the rain. A wider range of competitive bikes has upped the level of competition even further. So we enter the final race of the year having already seen nine winners, and with dreams of a tenth.
That seems vanishingly unlikely. The three riders on the front row at Valencia have won ten of the seventeen rounds, with two more winners on the second row, and other two on the third row. At a track like Valencia, with so few passing opportunities, it is hard to see how a rider who hasn't won yet can make their way past the previous winners to claim victory. They will not get any assistance from the weather – the forecast looks steady and constant, not particularly warm, but dry and sunny. The only way to win the Valencia round of MotoGP is the hard way.
And then there's Jorge Lorenzo. The Spaniard has been up and down all season, at the tender mercies of available grip levels and the nature of the tires Michelin have brought to the races. At Valencia, everything has fallen into place. The rear tire Michelin have brought uses the more pliable carcass which was also available at Brno and Misano. The new profile front tire the French tire maker has brought is stronger in the middle of the corner, which plays to Lorenzo's strengths. And boy, is Lorenzo strong at Valencia.
“It's going to take time to sink in,” was the immediate reaction of Jonathan Rea upon winning his second WorldSBK title. The Northern Irishman has led the standings all year but despite this it has not been an easy title victory.
Rea has faced some challenges with his Kawasaki ZX10R throughout the 13 round championship. A spate of false neutrals-including three at Donington and also one in Germany-robbed Rea of confidence and points at crucial junctures of the year. As a result the champion said that his second title means more than 12 months ago.
Jonathan Rea confirmed his status as one of the all time WorldSBK riders by claiming back to back crowns on Saturday but in the final race of the season it was Chaz Davies who claimed the spoils.
For Davies was a seventh win in the final eight races of the season and sixth in a row but ultimately the Welshman came up just two points short of Tom Sykes in the fight for second in the standings.
Press releases from the teams and series organizer after the final round of the season for the WorldSBK series:
Double Champion Rea Makes Superbike History With Kawasaki
Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team) secured his second FIM Superbike World Championship in succession thanks to a second place finish in the opening race at Losail in Qatar. The last time this feat was achieved was 17 years ago. Tom Sykes (KRT) finished fourth in the race to remain second in the championship standings, with one race remaining tomorrow.