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.
Latest World Superbike News
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.
In a typically robust column written at the end of last week, David Miller, editor of Bikesportnews.com, suggested that the time which double World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea had set on Thursday at the combined WorldSBK and MotoGP test at Jerez had made the MotoGP bikes look a bit silly. Rea had ended the day as the fastest rider on the day, setting a time of 1'38.721, nearly a quarter of a second faster than Alvaro Bautista, who was riding the Ducati Desmosedici GP16 at the track.
Rea had set the time on a modified version of a road bike, costing something in the region of €300,000, beating the satellite Ducatis (estimated lease price, just shy of €2 million), satellite Hondas (official lease price €2 million, actual cost to lease about 50% higher than that), and the factory Suzuki, KTM and Desmosedici GP17 ("I'm sorry sir, you'll have to put your checkbook away, this one isn't for sale").
Miller draws a number of conclusions from this, some sound, some based more on hyperbole than reality. The claim that MotoGP is no longer a prototype series is unfounded. MotoGP bikes (and their predecessors, the 500cc two strokes and four strokes from whence they came) have never been prototypes, as Grand Prix racing was hobbled by rules from the birth of the series in 1949. The ban on forced induction, imposed in the 1930s when the excess of horsepower made possible by supercharging far outweighed contemporary braking technology, was left in place.
The provisional 2017 World Superbike calendar has been released, but unlike the MotoGP calendar, which is unchanged, there are a couple of minor differences to the schedule. The World Superbike class will contest 13 rounds, just as they did in 2016, spread across three continents. Sepang and Jerez have been dropped, and Portimao makes a comeback.
With MotoGP and WorldSBK sharing the track Jonathan Rea led the way for most of the day. We sought out three opinions on the differences between the bikes....
As the sun set on the third day of the Jonathan Rea hogged the limelight with the second fastest time of the day. With MotoGP bikes sharing the track with WorldSBK runners the big story was that Rea spent most of Wednesday leading the way.
The question in the aftermath however was how does this reflect on both championships?
Rea was a tenth of a second off the fastest time of the day set by Hector Barbera. The speed and performance of the Kawasaki rider was hugely impressive but is this a sign that the production bikes can hold their own or is it a fortuitous confluence of circumstances?
It took Kawasaki until last year to finally win a WorldSBK manufacturers title. Having retained the crown in 2016 the Japanese factory will have to dig deep in 2017
Winter testing is a time to take stock of what worked well on your bike in the past and what now needs to improve. Kawasaki has won over half of the races in the last three years, 39 victories from 76 races, but despite these successes the team are working hard to find improvements.
The final four rounds of the season saw Chaz Davies and Ducati dominate proceedings and the Italian manufacturer's renaissance over the last 12 months has made it the early favourite for title success in 2017. New regulations will see split throttle bodies now outlawed and there are also changes to the battery regulations.
While Jonathan Rea has been running his bike in this specification for most of 2016 his teammate, Tom Sykes, has not. The Englishman spent last off-season commenting about the lower inertia engine he is now having to deal with a significant change in the mass around the engine unit. Whereas in the past Sykes used a battery in his ZX10R to maintain lower inertia he will now have to revert to a crankshaft with a generator that will increase the engine inertia. The higher inertia was a problem for Sykes in 2015 and he had hoped that the changes for this year would offer him advantages compared to Rea. That didn't transpire and now the Yorkshire rider is clearly feeling the pressure.
The second day of the Jerez test dawned in similar circumstances to yesterday. With dense fog and cool temperatures it looked as though there would be sparse action on track but almost immediately Ondrej Jezek rolled down pitlane. With Grillini team only running for half of the allotted time Jezek was keen to get out and gain some experience on a WorldSBK machine.
While the Czech was spinning laps the majority of the field was waiting their time for the conditions to improve. Though the KRT riders stayed in the pits all day yesterday, they did get some wet weather running today.