The WorldSBK season goes on its annual summer break with the championship suddenly poised on a much finer edge than was imaginable just a week ago.
Jonathan Rea's dominance of the current campaign has been almost unparalleled. However, his run of 17 consecutive podium finishes to open the season is now over and suddenly he faces a threat from within for his title defense.
An engine issue left Rea on the sidelines in Race 2, his championship lead immediately cut to 46 points. It is still a comfortable margin for Rea but suddenly doubt can creep into the Team 65 side of the Kawasaki garage. Tom Sykes' win on Sunday marked a return to the winner's circle for the former champion and while he is still an outside bet for the title he is at least back in realistic range of Rea.
Equal spoils for Kawasaki riders?
A win apiece for Rea and Sykes left them both with reason to cheer in California but it was Sykes that will leave the happier rider. The 2013 champion left Laguna Seca with 45 points and some momentum entering the summer break.
Sykes followed his teammate home in Race 1 but took advantage of Rea's retirement to take 25 points from his rival. Having crashed in Assen earlier in the season the tally stands at one retirement each but the 46 point lead still gives Rea a very healthy title cushion.
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.
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.
We are racing at last. The first round of World Superbikes at Phillip Island means we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The long, dark winter is over, and motorcycles are circulating in earnest once again.
What to make of the first weekend of World Superbikes in the new format? Those who worried that spreading the racing over two days would hurt attendance and ruin the series have not seen their fears realized. Attendance at Phillip Island was around 75% of the MotoGP attendance there, really strong figures for the track.
Some caveats apply, of course: firstly, the Phillip Island MotoGP round is one of the most poorly attended on the calendar, though last year numbers improved. Secondly, the combination of Australian Superbikes with World Superbikes meant there was a full program of racing, and plenty for fans to see. The real test of the new format will come at tracks like Donington and Jerez, where attendance has been dismal. If they can get more people through the gate there, the Saturday-Sunday format will be more of a success.
Press releases from the World Superbike and World Supersport teams after the first day of practice at Phillip Island:
WorldSBK: Yamaha are BACK!
The Milwaukee BMW and Kawasaki World Superbike teams issued the following press releases after their final private test in Europe at the Motorland Aragon circuit, before flying off to Australia for
A new year is upon us, and with it, a new season of motorcycle racing, full of hope, opportunity and optimism. What will 2016 hold for motorcycle racing fans? With testing still weeks away for World Superbikes, and a month away for MotoGP, it is far, far too early to be making any predictions. But why let common sense stand in the way? Here are some wildly inaccurate predictions for 2016.
1. Doubling down: Honda falls into the horsepower trap again
2015 was a tough year for Honda. Despite proclaiming at the end of 2014 that their goal for the coming year was to build a more user-friendly engine, HRC found it impossible to resist the siren call of more horsepower. They built an engine that was even more aggressive than their already-difficult 2014 machine, and all the Honda riders struggled. By the end of the season, they just about had the situation under control, but it was far from ideal.
Surely, after a season like 2015, Honda will have learned their lesson? Apparently not. The latest version of the engine Honda tested at both Valencia and Jerez was still way too aggressive, though the engine was now aggressive in a different way, with more power off the bottom.
Making things worse was Honda's inability to get to grips with the new unified software. HRC technicians were finding it hard to control the RC213V engine using the new software, or create a predictable and comprehensible throttle response. Given that neither Yamaha nor Ducati had suffered the same problems, the issue was not with the software, but the way it was being used.
The World Superbike championship promises to bring new excitement for 2016. New bikes, and above all, new riders are adding an international flavor and much more interest to the series. WSBK had already gained a top-flight American rider, with Nicky Hayden joining the Ten Kate Honda team, but now they have a top Australian rider as well.
Today, the Milwaukee team run by Shaun Muir announced they will be making the switch from the BSB championship to World Superbikes, taking reigning BSB champion Josh Brookes along with them. Brookes had been angling for a ride in WSBK for a couple of seasons now, but with the Milwaukee team moving up, the choice was made very simple. Brookes was very impressive throughout his 2015 BSB campaign, lifting the title by a comfortable margin, despite the tortuous Showdown process used by BSB to settle the title.