The Kawasaki World Superbike line up will remained unchanged for the next two years. On Monday morning, the Kawasaki Racing Team announced they had signed Tom Sykes to another two-year contract for WorldSBK.
Sykes will line up alongside Jonathan Rea in 2017 and 2018, as he has for this season and last. There had been a lot of speculation that Sykes could jump ship to Ducati, after the Italian factory had handed him a de facto blank check for his signature. Sykes preferred to remain with Kawasaki, however, despite the animosity in the Kawasaki garage between the two riders.
Attending races of series you don't normally cover is always informative and instructive. To paraphrase a famous quote, the World Superbike paddock is a foreign country, they do things differently there. While I feel I have a reasonable grasp of the workings of MotoGP, coming to WorldSBK at Misano both makes me all too conscious of how much I don't know, and lets me look at the Grand Prix paddock with fresh eyes.
World Superbikes is a much more human experience. The paddock is a friendlier, more relaxed place. The hospitality units are more modest and therefore more inviting, rather than the great gleaming monstrosities in the MotoGP paddock. That also creates more of a feeling of space: you are no longer jammed in between towering facades, but can still see the sky.
Then there's the paddock show. Free on Friday, but €20 extra on Saturday on Sunday, World Superbike fans at Misano get access to the paddock, and can watch the proceedings on screens set up in a giant tent, complete with live interviews with riders and commentary by host Michael Hill. It brings fans and riders together, and turns them into beings of flesh and blood, rather than the unapproachable and aloof status some MotoGP riders can attain. World Superbikes is very much the people's championship.
Donington Park has become the personal playground of 2013 WorldSBK champion Tom Sykes. Sykes has now claimed an incredible eight wins in a row at his home circuit, and after Sunday's races he explained how much it meant and also what it means going forward. Marcel Duinker offers his insight into whether Sykes has an advantage at Donington Park due to his riding style.
For the majority of last year PJ Jacobsen was the sole American riding in the WorldSBK paddock but last weekend the numbers swelled to three with Cameron Beaubier joining series rookie Nicky Hayden on the Superbike starting grid. The MotoAmerica champion aquitted himself well and we will assess what it means for the domestic championship.
As the world of motorcycle racing has gone made with speculation over who is to replace Jorge Lorenzo at Yamaha, and by extension, either Maverick Viñales at Suzuki or Dani Pedrosa at Honda, focus has also turned on the World Superbike paddock. There has been much talk of which riders could make the transition to MotoGP, and in turn, which MotoGP riders could try the switch to World Superbikes.
The one name that was consistently raised was reigning World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea. Given Rea's previous experience standing in for an injured Casey Stoner in 2012, there had been much speculation that Rea had both the ability and the interest in making the switch to MotoGP.
Today, Rea put an end to any such speculation. The man from Larne extended his contract with Kawasaki to remain in World Superbikes for another two years. Rea will now be racing for Kawasaki until at least the end of 2018.
It seemed like a foregone conclusion. Since Austin, when it became apparent (if not official) that Jorge Lorenzo was off to Ducati, the idea that Maverick Viñales would take his place went from being likely to seeming almost inevitable. After all, Yamaha already have a seasoned veteran in Valentino Rossi, and as 2015 showed, a rider capable of winning a MotoGP championship when the circumstances are right. What they need is someone who can make an immediate impact, a rider who can perhaps win races, and who they can develop into a world champion. That description has Maverick Viñales all over it.
Until today, that is. On Tuesday, UK publication Motorcycle News reported that the Viñales deal could be called off entirely, after a failure to agree financial terms. Instead, in a shock revelation should it turn out to be correct, MCN is linking Dani Pedrosa to the empty seat at Yamaha, with Viñales remaining at Yamaha.
How much credence should we place in the MCN story? Journalist Simon Patterson is sure of his sources, and the details are in line with what I have heard when speaking to Yamaha sources about Viñales. Paddock gossip suggest that Yamaha offered Viñales €4 million to make the switch to the Movistar Yamaha team, but that the Hamamatsu factory upped their offer to €5 million to keep the rider they regard as their future at Suzuki. Paying over that amount for a rider who is yet to score a single podium in MotoGP may have been a little too much for Yamaha.
Four rounds into the WorldSBK season we have seen three different race winners, two manufacturers vie for the title but unfortunately one man proving the dominant force.
After eight races it’s hard to imagine Jonathan Rea’s title defence having gotten off to a better start, but it’s happened despite his lack of comfort with the new Kawasaki ZX10-R Ninja. The Northern Irishman has not been comfortable with his new mount. The much discussed “low inertia” engine has clearly taken some of the edge off Rea’s confidence in the bike. With a different engine braking characteristic it has forced him to adjust his riding style to get the most from the bike.
Rea has a very natural style on the bike that has been similar on everything he has ever ridden. Whether it’s a Supersport, Superbike or even a MotoGP machine Rea has been able to ride in the same way. He’ll continue to adapt to the new bike and mould it to allow his style to flourish.
Good clean racing or overstepping the mark? That was the question being asked on Sunday night in Thailand after a thrilling race long duel between Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea.
For many the sight of Sykes fighting tooth and nail and refusing to cede the win to his teammate was something that was hoped for but not expected this year. The Kawasaki teammates fought a war of words over the winter but after Rea's dominant title victory last year, many expected something similar this year.