With the season about to start, Phillip Island will soon be home to World Superbikes. Testing is getting underway and line-ups have been finalised, so what can we expect from the series now it’s owned by Dorna? So far, it looks very familiar, with the promised 17” wheels and headlight stickers, but the reigning champion has left while Ducati have a new bike to unleash upon the grid. The six kilos that plagued the 1098R have been consigned to history as Ducati bring back their factory team to challenge for the title with the new Panigale 1199R. When the world champion leaves a series, it leaves a vacuum that needs filling and both nature and motorcycle racers abhor a vacuum. Max Biaggi has left the series with at least half a dozen riders that think they can challenge for the crown.
Riders and teams
Team Ducati Alstare: Ducati Panigale 1199R
A new bike heralds the return of the Factory Ducati team, headed by the familiar face, and glasses, of Francis Batta.
Carlos Checa (7)
Suffering in the last year of the 1098R, the Spaniard failed to retain the crown, pushing his bike beyond its limits on too many occasions. The all-new Panigale 1199R is a different beast and Checa was fastest man in the last day of winter testing, in spite of missing the first part of the test. If the reliability issues of the Althea Panigale in Superstock last year were just because they were finding the limit, this could be a very good year for Checa and Ducati.
Ayrton Badovini (86)
Dropped by BMW Italia when they became the main BMW team, the former Superstock champion grabbed the second-best Panigale in the paddock. After a crash in testing that nobody would describe as out-of-character, the Italian will not be at full strength for the first race. Expect lots of slides and crossed-up wheelies coming out of fast corners, exactly unlike Checa, as Badovini tries to ride the Panigale in his usual style.
Aprilia Racing Team: Aprilia RSV4 1000 Factory
Having won the manufacturer’s championship, they are well placed for a strong season.
Sylvain Guintoli (50)
With the retirement of World Champion Max Biaggi, Guintoli dropped his proposed Suzuki ride and took the Italian’s place, to the surprise of no one. Considering how well he did both before and after being dropped by Effenbert, it wouldn’t be a stretch to predict a few race wins for the Frenchman on the factory Aprilia.
Eugene Laverty (58)
Suffering from electronics issues at the beginning of the 2012 season, the Irishman kept towing the factory line about how good his bike was even when it was obviously letting him down. When the fixes came, it was easy to write off his statements that a corner had been turned, but his form showed that his bike was finally doing what he wanted it to and it rewarded his patience with results. After succumbing to team orders in Russia, he bounced back to podiums and a win. If Laverty posts some early strong results, like his winter testing hints he could, he should be one of the many contenders of the year. Both Laverty and Guintoli are fighting to be the number one rider for the team and smart money is on Laverty.
BMW Motorrad GoldBet SBK Team: BMW S1000 RR HP4
BMW have closed their official factory team and handed the reins to BMW Italia.
Chaz Davies (19)
Having raced in America for a few years, the Welshman had precious little wet race experience, proving to be a huge problem in 2012 when there was barely a weekend’s racing that wasn’t touched by the rain. As the season progressed, the 2011 World Supersport champion posted better results, culminating in a deserved win. Moving from a small team with an Aprilia to a larger one with both a BMW and a fast team-mate, Davies is well-placed for strong results. While Davies may have benefitted from Ben Spies deciding to stay in MotoGP, instead of taking his firm offer from the German marque, he is a rider with plenty of talent and potential.
Marco Melandri (33)
Too many DNFs at the end of the season put paid to any chance of the title for the Italian. It would be easy to say that the pressure got to Melandri, but it appeared to be more that he was trying too hard. As a man cast aside by Ducati’s MotoGP effort, having been sent to a psychologist for having a bike nobody but Casey Stoner could ride, Melandri’s return to the sharp end of a world championship has been entertaining, if a little aggressive at times.
Kawasaki Racing Team: Kawasaki ZX-10R
Kawasaki return with the same race-winning team with which they ended last season.
Tom Sykes (66)
The surprise package of last year, qualifying a head and shoulders above the rest on a bike many had written off, he ended the year only half a point behind the winner, Max Biaggi. Starting the season with a bike that had a voracious appetite for tyres, the lantern-jawed Englishman and his Kawasaki spent the year taming the rear wheel to the point it would not only finish races, but win them too. Sykes on Saturday was always the man to beat, but by the end of the year, he had Sundays in the bag, too. With nine pole positions and four wins in 2012, he starts the season as the man to beat, even though he fractured his wrist just a week before the season starts.
Loris Baz (76)
Brought in from SuperStock for a race or two after Joan Lascorz’s career-ending accident at an Imola test, the lanky Frenchman proved that it would be difficult to find a better rider. His wet weather performance showed a maturity that belied his years and if 2013 is cursed by the weather in a similar manner to 2012, Kawasaki will, once again, have two race winners in their team.
Althea Racing: Aprilia RSV4 1000 Factory
Left without a bike but saddled with a rider, the Althea team managed to get an Aprilia for the former Ducati rider.
Davide Giugliano (34)
Last year was a series of results and DNFs for the 2011 Superstock champion. With two podiums without wins, it would require a lucky series of events for the Italian to get his first World Superbike win. Still, he’s young and hungry.
Pata Honda World Superbike Team: Honda CBR1000RR
The Honda Fireblade in its last year in World Superbike, with promised extra power and a new sponsor for 2013.
Jonathan Rea (65)
Having ridden Casey Stoner’s Honda RC213V for a couple of races, Rea was tipped for a ride in MotoGP, but luckily for World Superbike fans, willing bums outnumbered the available seats and the Northern Irishman will see the Fireblade out. In 2012, Rea suffered from having to push an underpowered bike too hard and from other peoples’ accidents. Wins are a near-certainty, but a lot will depend on the bike if Rea is to be in with a shot at the title.
Leon Haslam (91)
Honda and Leon Haslam’s relationship dates back to before the Englishman was born, with his father, Rocket Ron Haslam, having put a 500cc HRC Honda on the podium twice in Grands Prix before Leon came into the world. Leon Haslam himself rode Hondas in GPs as a young rider, and assisted at his father’s racing school at Silverstone and Donington on Hondas. After missing out on a win in his two years at BMW, Leon will be pencilled in to at least win at his home track, Donington.
Fixi Crescent Suzuki: Suzuki GSX-R1000
In their second year in World Superbikes, Fixi Crescent Suzuki are looking for their first win.
Leon Camier (2)
Winter testing has cemented Camier’s status as Suzuki’s number one rider, the Englishman having topped timing sheets. A dark horse for the title, but unfortunately one of many. Constantly in the shadow of a Grand Prix superstar in World Superbikes, its easy to forget that the Englishman won a record-setting 19 races out of 26 in the 2009 British Superbike series.
Jules Cluzel (16)
At the end of the 2012 World Supersport championship, former Moto2 race winner Jules Cluzel stated, in Parc Fermé, that he would go one better than his second place in the title. With John Hopkins taking 2013 out of racing, Suzuki filled his seat with the Frenchman, robbing his fans of the chance of a Supersport title, but tantalising them with something much better. Cluzel is a hard rider that doesn’t give up and is a shoo in for the rookie of the year, but this will be his first year on a big bike and expectations need to be managed.
Red Devils Roma: Aprilia RSV4 1000 Factory
Switching from Ducati to Aprilia and from former Ducati MotoGP and test-rider Niccolò Canepa to the popular Michel Fabrizio, it’s a fresh start for the Italian team.
Michel Fabrizio (84)
BMW Italia took over the factory BMW team for 2013 and Fabrizio was without a ride. Winter testing has shown that the Italian isn’t just filling up the grid, even if he’s on his fourth bike manufacturer in as many years. He may be destined to be on the third fastest Aprilia, but as Chaz Davies showed last year, sometimes that’s enough.
Pedercini Team: Kawasaki ZX-10R
In their fifth year using Kawasakis, Pedercini will be trying to crawl out from being the other green team.
Alexander Lundh (5)
The Swedish former Moto2 rider hasn’t had enough of a career to hint at how his first year on Superbikes will go.
Federico Sandi (23)
After starting out last year on an Althea Ducati Panigale in Superstock, having been dropped by Effenbert Liberty’s Superstock team before the year even started, he didn’t get many races before the team closed, but the Italian was one of the string of riders that replaced Mark Aitchison at Grillini Progea Superbike.
MR-Racing: Ducati Panigale 1199R
The independent Ducati team are fielding the only customer Ducati Panigale 1199R.
Max Neukirchner (27)
The outspoken German returns to World Superbikes after a lackluster two years in Moto2. A broken femur in 2009 ruined Neukirchner’s rise up the ranks in World Superbikes and sidelined him from factory rides thereafter.
Grillini DENTALMATIC SBK Team: BMW S1000 RR
From Progea to Dentalmatic, this isn’t a BMW team at the sharp end.
Vittorio Iannuzzo (31)
After two years in Supersport, the Italian will be trying to better his 2009 40th place in his last complete World Superbike year.
HTM Racing: BMW S1000 RR
A new team to World Superbikes.
Ivan Clementi (18)
Returning to World Championship racing after a four-year absence the veteran Italian will hopefully not get in anyone’s way. He could challenge Iannuzzo on a similar bike.
The usual reasons for leaving World Superbikes are promotion, firing, retirement through age or health. Effenbert Liberty Racing are responsible for three riders leaving, although one of those was almost ruled out due to a bad accident and it is his heroic recovery that we have been denied by the Czech beer company’s incredulous departure.
The Roman Emperor won the World Superbike title twice and retired after the second. The well-groomed Italian leaves a void not only as champion, but as the mustache-twirling villain of the series, a role that Marco Melandri looks keen to fill.
The American’s return to World Championship racing was fraught with injury, much like the years leading up to it. After a brilliant title-challenge in the British Superbike series, Hopkins was tipped for race wins that never came. At the end of 2012, he announced he’d take 2013 off to get healthy, but if he’s true to form, he will most likely injure himself on his way back. A talent that needs to be fit and on a motorcycle.
As one of the many riders ditched by Effenbert Liberty Racing, race-winner and qualifier-extraordinaire Smrz landed a ride in the British Superbike series. The Czech rider will be riding for Splitlath Redmond Aprilia in the 2013 British series, having signed for the whole year.
Another rider left in the lurch by Effenbert, the Frenchman has been picked up by the highly-respected Yamaha France GMT94 team to compete in the 2013 FIM Endurance World Championship.
The Canadian suffered from a broken neck midway through the season, but he was back racing with Effenbert before they pulled the rug from under everyone’s feet. McCormick has nothing lined up for 2013 yet.
The last 250cc World Champion disappointed in World Superbikes. While his bike wasn’t as good as the machines of some of the field, it was better than the Japanese racer made it look. Aoyama has signed to Avintia Blusens in the 2013 MotoGP championship, but broke his wrist motocrossing before testing began.
While the Spaniard won’t be racing, his number will be as many riders carry a 17 sticker in support. After a near fatal crash at Imola, Lascorz was diagnosed with a broken C6 vertebrae, ending his racing career and giving him a serious uphill struggle to deal with. Updates will be reported if they are made public.
Photos from the 2011 and 2012 World Superbike seasons.