Aprilia have finally confirmed that they will be providing factory backing for the Milwaukee SMR squad in WorldSBK in 2017. It had been an open secret for months that the Milwaukee team were looking to make a switch to Aprilia, and they had signed Eugene Laverty and Lorenzo Savadori to contest the championship for them. But it took a long time for the official confirmation to come through.
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It was a weekend of contrasts in Germany. Four weathers in a race weekend is usually something associated with Phillip Island, but with 30°C temperatures having welcomed the WorldSBK paddock from their summer break, the heat gradually transitioned to a downpour on a cold and windy Sunday.
With Chaz Davies and Jonathan Rea claiming the spoils in the races there was little reason to think that this was a standout weekend, but in many ways the German round of WorldSBK could prove pivotal when the season concludes.
In the latest round of poorly-kept secrets emerging at last, Yamaha have announced that they have signed Michael van der Mark for the 2017 season. He will join Alex Lowes in the Pata Yamaha WorldSBK squad for next year, replacing Sylvain Guintoli.
The move had been long expected. It became clear over the summer that Van der Mark would be leaving the Ten Kate Honda team, with whom he has had a long relationship. Once the signing of Stefan Bradl alongside Nicky Hayden at Honda was announced, there was only one destination Van der Mark could be heading.
The final piece of the MotoGP puzzle has finally dropped. Eugene Laverty has decided that he will be switching back to WorldSBK, where he will ride a factory-backed Aprilia RSV4-RF with the Milwaukee Racing SMR squad. The departure of Laverty means that Yonny Hernandez will get to keep his place in the Pull & Bear Aspar Ducati team, filling the final empty slot on the MotoGP grid.
It may seem strange for Laverty to abandon MotoGP, just as his star has been rising in the class. Since Aspar switched from Honda's RC213V-RS Open Class machine to the Ducati Desmosedici GP14.2, the older Ducati working very well with the Michelin tires, more rear grip helping to reduce the understeer the GP14.2 suffers from. He is currently eleventh in the championship, and has a fourth and a sixth as best finishes, Laverty being annoyed that early traffic cost him the chance of a podium at Brno. It took the factory Ducatis on their brand new GP16s six races to get ahead of the Irishman in the championship standings.
So why has Laverty decided to abandon MotoGP in favor of WorldSBK? There are a number of reasons, but all of them boil down to a single issue: Eugene Laverty is a winner, and he likes to win. On two-year-old machinery, in a private team (though with good factory support, unlike other satellite set ups), Laverty's only chance to win in MotoGP would come when the weather acts as the great neutralizer.
In the first of a two-part announcement, the Honda WorldSBK team, run by Ten Kate, have announced that they have signed Stefan Bradl for the 2017 season. He will join Nicky Hayden for next year on the Honda CBR1000RR.
The Aruba.it Ducati WorldSBK team have confirmed that Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri will be their riders for the 2017 season. Davies has signed with Ducati for two more seasons, while the (nearly) 34-year-old Melandri has only a one year deal.
The announcement had been widely expected, as we wrote in our latest round up of WorldSBK Silly Season. Melandri had been working on a return to the World Superbike paddock ever since his ignominious exit from Aprilia's MotoGP team in the middle of 2015. His return has come at a price: informed paddock sources say that Melandri is to ride for free, and is bringing money to the team through sponsorship deals. Melandri is a proven commodity on a competitive bike, the only question mark being the effort he is willing to put in if he believes the bike is not capable.
While the MotoGP grid is as good as settled, Silly Season for World Superbikes is in full swing. With the Kawasaki riders' contracts settled before the summer break, attention has turned to the other seats, most of which are up in the air. In addition, there could be some changes in machinery, with some teams eyeing a switch of manufacturers.
The biggest news – still unofficial, but widely believed to be a done deal – is that Marco Melandri is set to make a return to the World Superbike paddock, this time in the factory Aruba.it Ducati team alongside Chaz Davies.
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.
The Kawasaki World Superbike line up will remained unchanged for the next two years. On Monday morning, the Kawasaki Racing Team announced they had signed Tom Sykes to another two-year contract for WorldSBK.
Sykes will line up alongside Jonathan Rea in 2017 and 2018, as he has for this season and last. There had been a lot of speculation that Sykes could jump ship to Ducati, after the Italian factory had handed him a de facto blank check for his signature. Sykes preferred to remain with Kawasaki, however, despite the animosity in the Kawasaki garage between the two riders.
There are races that are thrilling, and there are races that are tense. Saturday's World Superbike race at Misano was the latter. After the two Kawasakis escaped from the pack – a pack where Misano's notorious Turn 1 chicane had wreaked havoc on the grid, as usual – Tom Sykes and Jonathan Rea were never separated by more than a few tenths. You could feel that an attack was inevitable, that the status quo could not stand. Something was coming, and that made the race feel excruciatingly tense.
Attending races of series you don't normally cover is always informative and instructive. To paraphrase a famous quote, the World Superbike paddock is a foreign country, they do things differently there. While I feel I have a reasonable grasp of the workings of MotoGP, coming to WorldSBK at Misano both makes me all too conscious of how much I don't know, and lets me look at the Grand Prix paddock with fresh eyes.
World Superbikes is a much more human experience. The paddock is a friendlier, more relaxed place. The hospitality units are more modest and therefore more inviting, rather than the great gleaming monstrosities in the MotoGP paddock. That also creates more of a feeling of space: you are no longer jammed in between towering facades, but can still see the sky.
Then there's the paddock show. Free on Friday, but €20 extra on Saturday on Sunday, World Superbike fans at Misano get access to the paddock, and can watch the proceedings on screens set up in a giant tent, complete with live interviews with riders and commentary by host Michael Hill. It brings fans and riders together, and turns them into beings of flesh and blood, rather than the unapproachable and aloof status some MotoGP riders can attain. World Superbikes is very much the people's championship.