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.
These are the first signs that WorldSBK's silly season is about to accelerate over the summer. There are still a lot of open questions left in the WorldSBK series, and a lot of open seats. Complicating issues is the fact that there could be an influx of riders from the MotoGP series now that rides are all tied up in that championship.
With the Kawasaki and Yamaha seats filled, all eyes will now turn to the Aruba Ducati squad. Chaz Davies is likely to stay at Ducati, though the Welshman would really like a chance to ride the 1000cc Panigale V4 before he makes up his mind, a desire which Ducati is not inclined to indulge. Marco Melandri could stay put - Ducati like to have an Italian rider, and Michael Ruben Rinaldi is not quite ready for a full-time gig in the factory Ducati squad - but he is also being linked to the new Yamaha squad to be run by GRT, currently racing in WorldSSP. Melandri could line up alongside Sandro Cortese, who is expected to enter WorldSBK in 2019.
The Honda line up for 2019 is an open question. Leon Camier is certain to return, but Jake Gagne, who has failed to adapt to WorldSBK, will not. Tom Sykes could be a fit in the Red Bull Honda squad, though that would require him to ditch his long-term connection to Monster Energy. The SMR Milwaukee squad is considering dropping Aprilia for Ducati, in part over a lack of support from the Noale factory, which is set to diminish even further for next season, and in part at being forced to sign Lorenzo Savadori for 2018, who has failed to live up to expectations. Eugene Laverty would help smooth the way for a switch to Ducati, as Laverty has very close ties to Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna, and would be an effective player in helping to develop the Panigale V4.
Though the summer break means that meetings will mostly take place by phone, there is every chance that when the WorldSBK paddock reconvenes in Portimao in September for the next round of the series, many more deals will be ready to be finalized. In the meantime, make sure you keep up with the latest developments in WorldSBK by listening to the last episode of the Paddock Pass Podcast with Steve English and Jensen Beeler, who take a deep dive into the WorldSBK series.
Below is the press release from the Pata Yamaha team:
Yamaha retains van der Mark and Lowes for 2019 WorldSBK Campaign
Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes will again lead Yamaha's assault on the FIM Superbike World Championship in 2019, after the two riders agreed terms with Yamaha Motor Europe during the recent Misano race weekend.
The 2019 season will be van der Mark's third in Yamaha colours. The former European Superstock and FIM World Supersport champion secured two podium finishes during his debut season aboard the Yamaha YZF-R1 in 2017, an achievement he has already surpassed in 2018.
The 25-year-old Dutch rider has finished on the podium seven times already during the first half of the 2018 season, including a career first WorldSBK win in Race 1 at Donington Park. Van der Mark then went on to take victory in Race 2 at the British round to secure his first double win during what was his most successful WorldSBK event to date. Van der Mark currently lies third in the 2018 championship standings with 248 points.
Van der Mark has also enjoyed success at the Suzuka 8 Hour endurance race, winning on three of the five occasions he's contested the race, with his last victory coming in 2017 when he rode for the Yamaha Factory Racing Team alongside Lowes and Katsuyuki Nakasuga.
For Lowes the 2019 season will be his fourth with Yamaha's official WorldSBK team, of which he's been an integral part since Yamaha made their official return to the FIM Superbike World Championship in 2016.
The 27-year-old British rider has secured seven podium finishes for Yamaha since the start of the 2017 season, including a first race win at this year's Czech Republic round in Brno. Lowes currently lies equal fifth in the 2018 championship standings with 193 points.
The former British Superbike Champion is also a two-time winner of the prestigious Suzuka 8 Hour endurance race, having taken back-to-back victories for Yamaha in 2016 and 2017.
Having secured their rider line-up for the 2019 season, Yamaha's official WorldSBK team is fully motivated to return to action after the summer break, for Round 10 of the 2018 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship at the Algarve International Circuit in Portimão, Portugal, which takes place from 14-16 September.
Michael van der Mark
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team
"I am really happy to have signed for a third season with Yamaha. I trust in this project, Yamaha believes in me as a rider and this makes for a strong combination. While we're still working to improve, it is clear that we have made significant progress, to the point where we're now winning races and fighting at the front every weekend. I am looking forward to continuing this trend and making the next step forward as we work towards our main goal of fighting for the World Championship title together."
Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team
"I am really happy to continue as a part of Yamaha's World Superbike project, having been involved since they returned to the series in 2016. Since then we've been through a lot together; some ups, some downs, but we're definitely on an upward trajectory now. It was great to get my first race win this season but, of course, this success just means we expect more every weekend. I believe so much in this project, my ambition has always been to see it through to a World Championship title and I don't think that's unrealistic given the progress we've made. I have never enjoyed racing as much as I do with this team and I will continue to give it my all to get to where Yamaha needs to be. Massive thanks to Eric de Seynes, Andrea Dosoli and Paolo Pavesio at Yamaha and to Paul Denning from the team for believing in me."
Eric de Seynes
President, Yamaha Motor Europe N.V.
"We are delighted to pursue our cooperation with both Alex and Michael for the 2019 WorldSBK season.
They have done a fantastic job for Yamaha in the FIM World Superbike Championship so far and the 2018 season has been our most successful since our return in 2016, with three race wins and 10 podium finishes halfway through the championship. And obviously, Alex and Michael have played an important role in our success.
We look with confidence ahead to the upcoming season and work towards our ultimate goal: the FIM Superbike World Championship title for Yamaha."