Despite the loss of the factory Yamaha team, the World Superbike series is still in relatively good health, considering the financial crisis. Though the days of 30+ rider grids are gone, grid size has stabilized at around the 22 rider mark, 1 up from last year, while there are still 6 manufacturers present, Aprilia, BMW, Ducati and Kawasaki in an official capacity, Honda unofficially via Ten Kate, and Suzuki absent, with Crescent working with Yoshimura on their own bikes.
The field has seen some changes, though most of the title favorites are staying with the teams they were with in 2011. Carlos Checa remains with Althea Ducati, though the effort expands to include 2011 Superstock champ Davide Giugliano, while Max Biaggi is in the second year of his 2-year contract with Aprilia, and Johnny Rea is staying with the Ten Kate Honda squad. Championship runner up Marco Melandri has been forced to move, joining Leon Haslam at BMW, while his erstwhile teammate Eugene Laverty has been paired with Biaggi in the factory Aprilia squad. The factory Kawasaki rider contingent is cut from 3 to 2, Chris Vermeulen losing his slot, while Tom Sykes remains alongside Joan Lascorz.
Provisional rider entry list for the 2012 World Superbike series:
At Imola last year, shortly after Ducati had announced it would not be entering a factory team for the 2011 World Superbike series, hardcore Ducatisti and WSBK adepts hung a range of banners along the front straight, with such messages as "Senza SBK, Ducati Vale Meno" and "Ducati-SBK, the 46 reasons for pulling out." The withdrawal of the factory team was widely regarded as a terrible betrayal by Ducati, which had built its reputation and much of its brand on the success of its World Superbike team, creating legends such as Carl Fogarty, Giancarlo Falappa and Troy Bayliss along the way.
Reports of testing are starting to sound increasingly like a broken record, with weather being a constant factor preventing the teams from testing properly. The second day of testing for a small group of World Superbike riders at Portimao turned into another washout, with heavy rain and cold temperatures wracking the Portuguese coast.
Despite that, the teams present went out and tested anyway, focusing instead on setup and working on known issues. At the end of the day, it was Ruben Xaus who got his name atop the timesheets on his very first outing on the Ten Kate Honda, finishing three tenths of a second ahead of BMW new boy Leon Haslam, and over a second ahead of his Ten Kate teammate Johnny Rea. Alstare Suzuki's Michel Fabrizio matched the pace of Rea, who was a couple of tenths quicker than BMW's Troy Corser. Two former factory riders on new machines - James Toseland on a BMW and Noriyuki Haga on an Aprilia - propped up the bottom of the timesheets, though the conditions leave the times being set devoid of meaning.
Testing continued on Thursday for the World Superbike grid at the Motorland Aragon circuit, and with Carlos Checa having taken his leave early to head to Estoril for an outing aboard the Pramac Ducati MotoGP bike, it was Max Biaggi's turn to top the timesheets. Biaggi took nearly seven tenths of his time from Wednesday, after having spent the session testing new brakes from Brembo. The Italian judged them to be a big improvement, but the increase in braking power made the bike difficult to control on the brakes. More setup work will be required, according to the Italian, which will continue tomorrow.
The absence of precise timing saw four men tie for the 2nd fastest time, Alstare Suzuki's Michel Fabrizio, BMW's Troy Corser, Pata Aprilia's Nori Haga and the Kawasaki of Tom Sykes. Biaggi's Alitalia Aprilia teammate Leon Camier was just a tenth of a second slower, while Leon Haslam was 1.3 seconds slower than Max Biaggi.
Testing concludes on Friday.
World Superbike day 2 testing times, courtesy of WorldSBK.com:
WSBK Silly Season Update: Haga With Aprilia, Sykes With Kawasaki, Toseland To BMW, Biaggi To Retire?
After the final World Superbike round of the 2010 season, news has inevitably started to filter out of Magny-Cours about the shape of 2011. There were official announcements, cryptic hints and barroom gossip concerning who will be doing what for next year in World Superbikes and World Supersport. A round up of the latest rumors is given below:
Nori has not been very "Nitro" at all this season, and his less-than-explosive form may have helped contribute to Ducati's decision to scrap the factory team, but despite that, Haga has found sanctuary with the newly assembled Pata Racing Team Aprilia. The team consists of the former DFX Corse squad, the CEO of Pata (the Italian snack company who funded Jakub Smrz this year), and Marco Borciani, who ran the Pata B&G team for Smrz. The team is to field a single Aprilia RSV4R for Haga, and many believe that a return to riding a four-cylinder bike is just what Haga needs. The Aprilia is clearly competitive, so Haga will be hoping for a better season in 2011.
After lying dormant for much of the summer, the World Superbike Silly Season has suddenly been kicked into top gear at Imola, with a spate of contract signings and rumors emerging from the WSBK paddock over the weekend. At the heart of the various moves and switches has been the fate of the Alstare Suzuki team. Doubts have hung over the future of the team for some time now, with Suzuki apparently unwilling to continue to back the team at their current level. After a meeting last week in Japan, Alstare team boss Francis Batta came away with more questions than answers. "Even though I didn't receive any concrete guarantees, I'm still encouraged that Suzuki showed some attachment to the team," Batta told GPone.com's Claudio Porrozzi. Suzuki is likely to have the budget to run just a single rider next season, though the level of support available from Hamamatsu is uncertain.
With MotoGP due to head to Assen in just over a week, here's a taster from the World Superbike round back in April. Friend of MotoMatters.com Michel Hulshof of Sports Photography used his expert local knowledge to grab some beautiful shots from the two WSBK races. Michel grew up just a stone's throw away from the iconic Dutch circuit, and it shows. You can see more of his work on his website, or you can follow him on Twitter, under the user name @ProNikon.
The debut of the FB Corse bike at Valencia this week is perhaps best described as a moderate success. The three cylinder bike built by Oral Engineering demonstrated that it was reliable and had plenty of potential, though it was still at a very early stage of development. Garry McCoy lapped Valencia at around 1'40, well off the pace but not bad for a shakedown test run without any electronics. So far, the FB Corse has not been admitted to the MotoGP entry list, but a couple more tests should help get the bike ready to be examined again in time for the Jerez round of MotoGP at the beginning of May.
Though the gift-giving season may be past, the motorcycle racing season is still a long way off. To help ease the wait, and to aid you in planning your life around the MotoGP and World Superbike racing series, as befits a true race fan, you can still get your hands on one of our beautiful 2010 Motorcycle Racing Calendars. With January one quarter gone, you will have missed eight days of looking at Scott Jones' beautiful action shot of Colin Edwards, but February's stunning shot of Valentino Rossi, brakes lit up at Qatar, should more than compensate you for that, along with 10 other fantastic photos and a double-page spread of the 2009 World Champion Rossi.
After yesterday's instalment of Scott Jones' fantastic images from Qatar, today we have more, from the heart of Utah's stunning landscapes. The World Superbike paddock went to Miller Motorsports Park, and Scott Jones captured it all on film. With such a breathtaking backdrop, Scott is at his best. Savor round 7 of the World Superbike series all over again, and remember that you can help out by supporting MotoMatters.com in 2010.
2009's Nearly Man: Nitro Nori, and Mr March in the MotoMatters.com 2010 Racing Calendar