As the 2013 World Superbike season ended, the question was how the series, now owned by Dorna, could once more fill the grids. With some races rewarding every finisher with points, while the cheaper Supersport and Superstock championships raced with full grids, it was clear that more seats were needed.
One part of the solution was the new EVO class. Essentially Superbikes with Superstock engines, EVO bikes are much cheaper and, from 2015, will be the standard specification of all bikes, and over a third of the full-time entries in 2014 are EVO bikes, with familiar riders taking some of the seats. Another part of the solution was the addition of several new and returning manufacturers to the series. Alongside Ducati, Aprilia, Honda, BMW, Suzuki and Kawasaki, we now have MV Agusta, Buell and, hopefully, Bimota bringing the number of marques to nine.
A new weekend schedule has been brought in, along with new qualifying rules, details are available here, with the new qualifying bringing World Superbike qualifying into line with the system used in MotoGP, for better or worse, and the Sunday races are timed to allow World Superbike not to clash with other motorsports events, with a view to increasing the audience. Along with the schedule change, Dorna has introduced a video streaming package for those without access to a broadcast of the events.
Kawasaki Racing Team returns with both Tom Sykes (1) and Loris Baz (76). World Champion Sykes will be wearing the number one plate on his bike, and he was characteristically quick in testing, with the Kawasaki looking like one of the strongest packages. The green bike is also a popular choice with EVO entries and the team fields a third rider on an EVO-spec ZX-10R.
Ducati Superbike Team is the return of a factory Ducati team and they replaced Carlos Checa with Chaz Davies (7), 2011 World Supersport champion, while bringing Davide Giugliano (34) back to replace Ayrton Badovini. The 1199 Panigale was a troubled bike last year, with no rider able to get it performing like the Ducatis of old. In this transitional year, the factory team, including the new general manager Gigi Dall’igna, formerly of Aprilia, gets one year to get the bike to work before it becomes the EVO bike. This is the third different Superbike in three years for Chaz Davies, and Checa’s retirement allows him to race with the number 7 plate.
Aprilia Racing Team sport a new silver livery for riders Sylvain Guintoli (50) and Marco Melandri (33). Melandri is new on the Aprilia, having replaced Eugene Laverty on the RSV4, while Guintoli continues his challenge for the title.
Voltcom Crescent Suzuki has two new riders this year as Eugene Laverty (58) joins the team after being dropped by Aprilia for only finishing in second place last year, while British Superbike champion Alex Lowes (22), twin-brother of current World Supersport champion, Sam, takes the other seat. With a new sponsor and new riders, the team did surprisingly well in tests and the GSX-R1000 could prove to be a surprise package.
Pata Honda World Superbike return with the CBR1000RR Fireblade and both Jonathan Rea (65) and Leon Haslam (91). Another year on the same bike may not give the results Honda want, but until they replace the Fireblade with something quicker, both Rea and Haslam will have to push harder than most.
MV Agusta RC–Yakhnich Motorsport bring back the iconic Italian brand back to motorsports with Claudio Corti (71) at the helm. After great success in World Supersport, the Yakhnich team moved up to the Superbike class with the F4 RR. Corti spent the last year in MotoGP on an FTR Kawasaki after three years in Moto2. Both the rider and the bike are an unknown, but they were performing at the same level as EVO-spec Kawasakis in testing.
BMW Team Toth return with Hungarian team owner Imre Toth (10) riding the full-spec bike while also fielding an EVO-spec S1000RR. With no factory support, and going on past form, Toth won’t be troubling the leaders for the title.
Red Devils Roma return with former Moto2 champion Tony Elias (24) on an Aprilia RSV4. Elias came close to the podium as a late arrival in the series. The tyres in production racing suit Elias better than those in GPs, and he got to grips with the Aprilia last year, but he was only mid-pack during testing.
Team Hero EBR bring a new bike to the championship. The Eric Buell Racing 1190RX is the new version of the RS that raced in the AMA championship with Aaron Yates (20) and Geoff May (99) continuing with the team in its step up to World Superbike racing. The EBR is unique in its innovative hub-mounded single-disk brake, demonstrating that innovation is still welcome.
Mahi Racing Team India are racing a Kawasaki ZX-10R EVO with Fabien Foret (9) getting promoted with the team. Kenan Sofuoglu, runner-up in last year’s World Supersport championship, did not step up to the Superbike, letting Foret ride one of the many Kawasakis, the EVO bike of choice for many teams.
BMW Motorrad Italia SBK are racing a BMW S1000RR EVO with 2012 and current Superstock champion Sylvain Barrier (52) carrying the number of is mentor, James Toseland. Unfortunately, Barrier was injured in testing a few days ago and will miss the opening round. Glenn Allerton (14), twice Australian Superbike champion (2008 and 2011), will be taking his place for the Phillip Island race.
Althea Racing, having lost the main Ducati team to the factory-anointed Feel Racing, return with an 1199 R EVO Panigale and have signed Ducati’s experienced test rider Niccolo Canepa (59) to ride the only EVO Ducati on the grid. Canepa was second in last year’s Superstock championship.
MRS Kawasaki bring another ZX-10R EVO, with Frenchman Jeremy Guarnoni (11) bringing his Superstock experience to the team, which is valuable as the EVO bikes are essentially the same as the Superstock engines with which he won the last two races of 2013. He was one of the many riders injured at testing, but he will race in spite of a fractured collarbone. Guarnoni was third in last year’s Superstock championship.
Team Pedercini have raced Kawasakis in both Superstock and Superbike classes and this year are running one of the popular ZX-10R EVO bikes. With Luca Scassa (23) fracturing his pelvis during the Phillip Island tests, Allesandro Andreozzi (21) has been drafted in to replace him.
Kawasaki Racing Team have entered their own ZX-10R EVO with Kawasaki regular David Salom (44) taking on the EVO development duties. Salom has spent the last few years on Kawasakis in both Supersport and Superbike.
Iron Brain Kawasaki SBK bring regular Michel Fabrizio (84) and South African World Supersport racer Sheridan Morais (32) to the championship on a pair of ZX-10R EVOs. Fabrizio, winner of four races in his career, looked like he might not have a ride this year, but Team Grillini picked him up at the prompting of their sponsor, Iron Brain.
BMW Team Toth tatch their full-fat BMW with an S1000R EVO ridden by newcomer Peter Sebestyen (56). Hungarian Sebestyen will require medical clearance to race on Friday as he was one of the many injured riders during the Phillip Island test.
Team Alstare also returns, but not just yet. Ayrton Badovini (86) and Christian Iddon (2) will ride Bimota BB3s, as soon as Bimota has made enough to pass homologation rules. The Italian marque failed to produce enough of their BMW-powered superbikes to ensure entry in the first round. As there are seven weeks between Phillip Island and the second round at Aragon, it is hoped that enough bikes will be produced to be allowed to race.
World Supersport has a firm favourite as Kenan Sofuoglu (54) stays in the series on a Kawasaki ZX6R, hoping to regain the title he missed out on last year, with Michael Van Der Mark (60) sticking with the Pata Honda team continuing on from his strong debut last year. Jules Cluzel (16) returns to the series on a MV Agusta F3 675 as title-winners Yakhnich switch from Yamaha.
Newcomers Ratthapart Wilairot (14) and PJ Jacobsen (99) arrive on a Honda and Kawasaki respectively. Wilairot comes from Moto2 while Jacobsen comes from BSB. Both riders were in the top five times in testing, ahead of Yamaha’s Kev Coghlan (88).
The series starts at Phillip Island, Australia tomorrow and continues seven weeks later in Aragon, Spain. With full grids, new bikes, new rules and new riders, it is one again an unpredictable and potentially exciting series.