WorldSBK came back with a bang in the opening round of the 2017 season. With five different leaders and four manufacturers in the scrap for the podium the Phillip Island crowd was treated to a superb season opener that eventually saw Jonathan Rea come out on top.
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Kenan Sofuoglu's World Supersport title defense is off to a rough start. The Kawasaki rider has been forced to withdraw from the first two rounds of the 2017 season to have surgery to fix a hand injury he suffered in a training crash.
Jonathan Rea is seeking history in 2017 but it's a clean sheet of paper as the champion strives for a third title
For the last two years Jonathan Rea has been as consistent as the tides and wrapped up the WorldSBK crown with almost a complete season of podium finishes. Since joining Kawasaki in 2015 the 30 year old has notched up 23 wins and 46 podium finishes from 52 races. To put his number of victories into perspective Rea's two year reign would place him in the top ten for career wins.
Last year Rea became only the fourth rider to successfully defend a WorldSBK crown and this year the Northern Irishman could write his name in the history book as the only rider to ever win three titles in a row.
The 2017 WorldSBK calendar is close to being finalized. When it was announced at the combined WorldSBK/MotoGP test in November of last year, the calendar featured thirteen rounds of racing, only twelve of which had been confirmed. The missing round, many present at the test felt, was a Jerez-shaped hole waiting to be filled. Now, MotoMatters.com has learned, the penultimate round of World Superbikes will indeed take place at Jerez.
Far from sitting on their laurels after winning seven of the last eight WorldSBK races of 2016 Ducati came out of the blocks swinging at Jerez with a busy testing program. Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri had a host of upgraded parts in the Spanish sun.
Davies spent the majority of his time working on chassis development with Melandri focusing on the engine. Afterwards the Welshman gave a revealing insight into the makeup of the mindset of one of the world's top racers.
After their return to WorldSBK in 2016 Yamaha did not shy away from admitting that there is plenty of work to be done to turn the YZF-R1 into a front runner. That work was certainly being undertaken at this week's Jerez test with Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes the busiest riders on track over the two days.
The pair completed a total of 283 laps of the Spanish circuit and with a host of new parts on the bikes it's clear that the bike should be more competitive in 2017. Lowes trialled a new underslung swing arm and while the Englishman commented that it didn't offer an immediate lap time improvement it did offer greater consistency over a race distance. For Van der Mark the improvements came with setup changes that improved his feeling on turn in.
It's been a turbulent 12 months for Shaun Muir Racing. Their much touted move to WorldSBK in 2016, as reigning British Superbike champions, proved to be an exceptionally trying campaign that ended with infighting between the team and their lead rider, Josh Brookes. Armed with the BMW S1000RR, expectations were high for the British squad but ultimately they struggled to find a consistent balance, and the season and their relations with the German manufacturer petered out.
The first week of 2017 has come and gone, and we are a week closer to the MotoGP bikes hitting the track again at Sepang for the first test of the year. Though little of consequence is happening publicly in the midst of the winter break, there are the first few signs of activity. So below is a round up of the news from last week: most of the things that matter, all in one place.
Triumph to Moto2
The New Year has officially started, the real world of contracts finally lining up with the world of motorcycle racing. Riders who swapped factories are now free of their old contracts, their new contracts having commenced as the world greeted 2017. That also leaves them free to post about the new season on social media again. Aleix Espargaro was so keen to do so that he posted right on the stroke of midnight.
If the riders are excited, that gives fans reason to be excited too. Here are 10 reasons to look forward to 2017.
1. Six factories
For the first time since 2004, MotoGP has six different manufacturers* competing again. Unlike 2004, however, the level at which those manufacturers are competing is much more equal. In 2004, only Yamaha and Honda won races, though Ducati were regular visitors to the podium, and would win more consistently in 2005 and 2006. In 2016, four different manufacturers won races in the dry – Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, and Ducati – and all four were consistent podium threats.
Top ten lists are by their very nature subjective; beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all. From the moment the season started in Australia until the very end there was a great scrap for the title, with the fight going down to the wire in Qatar. But who was the best rider of 2016? This is the MotoMatters.com top ten riders of the 2016 WorldSBK season.
The Superbike Commission, governing body for the WorldSBK series, met at Madrid to introduce a number of changes to the rules for the World Superbike and World Supersport championships for 2017. There were some minor changes to the sporting regulations, as well as a couple of tweaks to the technical regulations. But there were also two major changes which will have a significant impact for next season and beyond.
The biggest change is also the most surprising and the least comprehensible. There is to be a major shake up in the way the grid for the second World Superbike race is set. The Superpole session run on Saturday morning will continue to set the grid for Race 1. The grid for Race 2, however, will be partially set by the results of Race 1, using a slightly complex formula.
If ever there was a time to be disabused of any notions of the glamorous life a professional motorcycle racer leads, the weeks immediately following the end of the racing season, after testing has been completed, is surely it. Riders around the world head into operating theaters and physical rehabilitation facilities to have more permanent fixes applied to the temporary patch up jobs done to allow them to keep racing during the season.