MotoGP riders have changed the game in WorldSBK before but is Alvaro Bautista the next coming of Max Biaggi, or is he like Garry McCoy, a winner who put together a decent SBK campaign? Is the answer somewhere in the middle?
When Biaggi came to WorldSBK, he changed a lot about how riders approached the series. No longer was good, good enough. He demanded more from his team and any small issue was a big issue for Biaggi. He was trained from his 250GP days to understand that any small problem can become a big problem very quickly. He motivated himself and his team to make everything perfect for the race.
He wasn’t more professional than his rivals - he was up against Troy Bayliss, Troy Corser and a host of others - but he worked in a different way. MotoGP was the pinnacle then and it’s still the best class in the world. It’s the deepest championship with the deepest pockets. There’s always riders biting at your heels and you have to get the most from your package at all times. That’s only exacerbated at the moment with the Golden Era we’re witnessing.
You can’t race in MotoGP now and be anything less than 100% committed on every lap. You ride everything like it’s your last lap, because with such competition that’s the only way to stay sharp. Bed yourself in with an easy session? There’s no chance of that any longer. For Bautista, he arrived in Australia with that mentality and it showed.
Testing paints a picture but it’s never a complete one. It shows only what the artist wants you to see with their work in progress. The winter is a time to work through your program and do it at your own pace. This year that has been even more the case. With new bikes for Ducati and BMW there is plenty of change in the air of the World Superbike paddock, and after eight days of testing there are arguably more questions than answers.
The Ducati V4R was billed as the weapon to finally end Jonathan Rea’s dominance of WorldSBK. It was a MotoGP-derived bike that didn’t pull punches. It was one that broke cover over 12 months before its competitive debut. It was expected to be a honed creation from the outset. It was expected to be seamless. But instead, Ducati’s introduction of their new machine has run aground this winter.
Circumstances have worked against Ducati. Four days of testing in November were ruined by bad weather in Aragon, and then a bad track surface at Jerez that would need to be replaced. With a brand new surface at Jerez, it was dirty for the opening test of 2019. It took time to clean and it was almost impossible for riders to do long distance stints without excessive tire wear. Coming to Portimao it was hoped that Ducati could get some information on the new bike.
The Shaun Muir Racing team had their first test with the new BMW S1000RR at Almeria, and issued the following press release:
Can he still cut it? That's the most common question that was asked in Qatar about Tom Sykes as the 2013 WorldSBK champion signed off from Kawasaki
Over the course of 228 races, Tom Sykes made himself into a Kawasaki legend. It's easy to look at the last four years and to only see the success that Jonathan Rea has achieved on the green machine, but before 2010 the Japanese firm were struggling. Chris Walker's win in the wet at Assen was a bright spot that punctuated ten years of failure.
From the turn of the millennium until Sykes joined the team had three wins, a home double at Sugo in 2010 by wildcard rider Hitoyasu Izutsu, and Walker's famous result. These weren't lean times for Kawasaki, this was a famine. With only 19 podiums in the ten years prior to his arrival, it's remarkable what the Englishman has achieved with the team.
Jonathan Rea claimed another WorldSBK double, his fourth in a row to remain unbeaten since the end of June, at the French round of the championship. With his Saturday success Rea was able to wrap up a historic fourth consecutive title and now his attention has shifted to loftier goals.
An assault on the record book
Rea's latest success has put him in a position to break the record for most points in a season, and also most wins in a year. The points record, which Rea holds from last year's campaign, is 556 points, and as a result he now needs 87 points to break that record. With 100 points available from the final two rounds of the year, including a visit to an all new circuit, it's definitely a big ask of Rea, but not one that is out of reach.
Rea is the man to beat and until his run of eight consecutive victories comes to a close, he will control his own points destiny. In addition to that he is also chasing Doug Polen's record for wins in a single season. The American's total of 17 wins in 1991 has stood the test of time, but is now seriously under threat. With Rea sitting on 14 wins thus far in 2018 he will need to win the final four races of the year to break the record. If he does, the points record is also his.
Carrasco makes history
The WorldSBK series may be on its summer hiatus, but there is still plenty of news going on. After the official announcement that Tom Sykes would not be back with the KRT Kawasaki team, it is the turn of the Pata Yamaha WorldSBK squad to make announcements. Today, the team issued a statement saying that current riders Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes will remain with the team for the 2019 season.
Though the announcement did not come as a surprise, it does close the door to Tom Sykes, who had been linked to a possible ride with Pata Yamaha, had either Van der Mark or Lowes moved to the Kawasaki team to replace him. But with Leon Haslam set to take the second seat next to Jonathan Rea, Sykes will have to look elsewhere.
Tom Sykes is to part ways with Kawasaki in the WorldSBK championship. The 2013 WorldSBK champion is to leave the team and manufacturer with which he had virtually all of his success in the series.
Sykes' departure has been coming for some time. The Yorkshireman has been increasingly unhappy in the team ever since Jonathan Rea joined Kawasaki. Since Rea arrived, development of the bike has been moving away from Sykes and towards Rea, understandably, given just how dominant Rea has been on the ZX-10R, winning three titles in a row and on his way to a fourth.
The American Frontier was about finding a way to survive. To do this, people from all over the world had to work together and find a way to coexist on the open plains and in the mountains. They did this because they knew the rewards could be massive. Unimaginable wealth lay beneath the rivers and mountains of the West Coast, and everyone believed they would find it.
Every racer in the world also believes that the trophies and points are at their fingertips once they have the tools at their disposal. Finding a way to work with a group of people from all over the world and making them believe in you is crucial. The American Dream was founded on the ideal that anything was possible and the Racer's Dream is based on the belief that you're the best in the world and any issues you're having are just a temporary delay of the inevitable.
At Laguna Seca we had proof once again that the Racer's Dream is real. Jonathan Rea was a highly regarded rider prior to moving to Kawasaki in 2015 but since then he has been all but unbeatable. On Sunday he claimed his 62nd WorldSBK and fourth victory at the American venue. The success that the Northern Irishman has enjoyed has been unprecedented but, at least for Rea, was the gold he'd been seeking in a river bed.
The US Round of the 2018 WorldSBK season highlighted once again the importance of hard work in motorcycle racing. Last year it was hard to imagine Milwaukee Aprilia standing on the podium on merit; on Sunday Eugene Laverty made his long awaited return to the rostrum. We have seen in recent rounds Yamaha win three races with the R1, but last weekend's races arguably did more to prove the potential of the bike.
Aprilia back in the hunt
After a four-year wait Eugene Laverty finally managed to scratch an itch, and spray some prosecco. The Irishman has been a title contender in the past, though he has suffered from poor machinery in recent years, but the hard work of the Shaun Muir Racing outfit paid off with a superb weekend. Laverty was on the pace throughout and looked very comfortable from FP1 as he finally converted potential into points. His 2018 season will always be punctuated by his crash in Thailand, but it now appears to be a pause rather than a full stop on his aspirations.
Yamaha making strides