Photo Courtesy of World Superbike
If Jonathan Rea can defend his title in 2016, he will add his name to the list of a select few who have won back-to-back titles in the championship – Carl Fogarty, Doug Polen and Fred Merkel.
The anticipation is high. In less than a week’s time the battle for the 2016 World Superbike title begins at Phillip Island, Australia. Although this season doesn’t have the drastic change of technical regulations that 2015 did, the new year brings its own set of unknowns – new bikes, new teams and new players. Begging the question: Who will lead the way in 2016?
THE USUAL SUSPECTS
If you were looking for a safe bet before the wheels turn in Australia, you can look to the top three in 2015, starting with the reigning champ Jonathan Rea. Last year the Ulsterman absolutely dominated the class in his debut season with the Kawasaki Racing Team, winning 14 races out of 26 and missed the podium only three times. It was a near perfect season for Rea, one that he’d like to repeat. If he can, Rea would be the first back-to-back champ since Carl Fogarty in 1999, and the fourth rider to do so (Doug Polen and Fred Merkel were the other two).
Some of that competition is the man across the garage – a rejuvenated Tom Sykes, who is also looking for a second title of his own. The 2013 World Champion struggled last season on a bike that had changed with the new technical regulations. But Kawasaki brought a new weapon to the table in 2016 – the all-new ZX-10R – and Sykes feels right at home on his new steed.
Photo Courtesy of Kawasaki
One of Rea’s biggest challengers comes from across the garage – 2013 World Champion Tom Sykes.
His teammate not so much. Rea has admitted to struggling a little during testing while he worked on adapting his style to the new machine. A sort of reversal of fortunes it seems, but Rea assured that he’d be ready in time for Phillip Island.
Although the Kawasaki duo look strong, lurking in their midst is Welshman Chaz Davies. The Aruba.it Ducati rider made great strides last season, taking home five wins and finishing second, 17-points ahead of Sykes. Davies and his Panigale have also shown good form in the off season, and Davies is confident that they have a good base to grow from this year. Adding to that confidence, Davies has finally enters his third-straight season with the team, his longest tenure at a team in the Superbike class. Before that he only had one-year stints in the class on a privateer Aprilia and the BMW before the German brand pulled its support.
THE NEW PLAYERS
There are a lot of new players in the World Superbike game for 2016, and in the U.S., no one more important than American Nicky Hayden. The former World Champion and AMA Superbike Champion returns to his Superbike roots after a 13-year stint in MotoGP, and the anticipation is high as to how he will fare on the Ten Kate Honda. In the past the Honda hasn’t been very competitive (excluding flashes from former rider Rea and the young Michael van der Mark), but Hayden has shown good pace and his trademark solid work ethic. As a rookie, Hayden enters the series as a big question mark, but he will be guaranteed to come out swinging and vie to be the first rider with a MotoGP and World Superbike Championship to his resume.
Photo Courtesy of Ducati
Chaz Davies is looking to improve on last year and take the crown.
Also big news in 2016 is the long-awaited return of Yamaha. After it’s departure at the end of 2011, the factory jumps back in with Paul Denning’s Crescent Racing Team. The team brings a mixture of youth and experience to the table with Superbike up and comer Alex Lowes and veteran Sylvain Guintoli. Lowes, 2013 British Superbike Champion, has shown a lot of promise over the course of his two seasons on a struggling Suzuki in the World Championship. People expect him to be fast, but his ability to be consistent is the unknown factor. Will he find it on the Yamaha?
On the flipside, Guintoli has a proven record – the 2014 World Championship as well as some solid finishes during his tenure. The Frenchman struggled last season on the Honda, so his big question is whether he’ll be able to rebound to competitive form with the new team.
The other question is, how long will it take the Yamaha’s to get up to speed? Although both riders are quite happy with the Yamaha straight out of the gate, the reality is that it still needs development time. The new R1 proved to be a powerful weapon in 2015 at the national level, but exactly how will match up to the strong Kawasakis and the more seasoned Ducatis has yet to be seen.
Also new for 2016 is the Milwaukee BMW team. The former British Superbike title-contender made the move to the World Championship and with that move the switch to BMW from Yamaha. They brought with them their reigning BSB champ Josh Brookes and former MotoGP racer Karel Abraham. Although the team has a strong record in the competitive British national championship, they have a whole new bike to develop in a short amount of time, a big ask even with BMW Mottorad support.
Photo Courtesy of Honda
Everyone is waiting to see how Nicky Hayden will fare on the Ten Kate Honda.
In the early stages, Brookes said that it will take until Phillip Island to really tell, but felt that the bike was similar in characteristics to the new R1. So the Australian was feeling far more comfortable with the switch compared to his rookie teammate Abraham, who has a much steeper learning curve on the Superbike after spending the last five years on a GP machine.
The BMW itself is an unknown as the factory has stepped up support, not only for Shaun Mir’s Milwaukee squad, but Althea Racing as well. The longtime Ducati squad is also adjusting to the BMW but they bring some beemer experience with two-time IDM Superbike Champion Markus Reiterberger. They also have 2014 World Superbike Rookie of the Year Jordi Torres, who showed great potential on the Aprilia last year.
OTHER WILD CARDS
The nice thing about World Superbike is that in recent years (with exception of Rea’s near-perfect season last year) it has been highly competitive. And on paper, the competition looks even more stacked. So there are a few players that aren’t new or on new machines, but are still unknown quantities. Hayden’s young teammate Van der Mark and Ducati’s Davide Giugliano top that list.
Photo Courtesy of Yamaha
Sylvain Guintoli is looking to rebound from a lack luster season with a switch to the Pata Yamaha team.
Van der Mark enters his sophomore season not far off Hayden’s pace. The Dutchman showed flashes of brilliance last season, the question is will he find more consistency in year two? And like Hayden, the biggest question lies with the machinery itself… Can Honda help Hayden and Van der Mark by closing the gap on the competition?
As for Aruba.it Ducati’s Giugliano, he has shown the speed but has lacked the consistency. So as the Ducati continues to evolve into a powerful weapon in its own right, you can’t rule the Italian out. After spending most of last season sidelined with injury, Giugliano is eager to back to racing. If he can keep it on two wheels, he will be a force to be reckoned with.
Leon Camier returns as MV Reparto Corse’s sole rider, but new for ’16 is the partnership with former MotoGP squad Forward Racing who brings some money and operational expertise. Also coming over from the MotoGP paddock is Ioda Racing, which will field Alex De Angelis and Lorenzo Savadori on Aprilias. Last year’s fill in for injured Ducati rider Giugliano, Xavi Fores, returns in 2016 with the Barni Racing Ducati squad. Also campaigning a Ducati is Fabio Menghi for VFT Racing. Team Toth made the switch to Yamahas and will field Hungarians Imre Torh and Peter Sebestyn. Sylvain Barrier returns to World Superbike with Pedercini Kawasaki team and is joined by Saeed Al Sulaiti. Dominic Schmitter and Australian Josh Hook will represent Grillini Kawasaki and rounding out the 14th team on the grid is GoEleven Kawasaki with Spaniard Roman Ramos.
Photo Courtesy of Yamaha
Many see Alex Lowes as the future of World Superbike. He keeps the same team but is on a new machine for 2016. Will a more competitive Yamaha make the difference?
While the technical rules stay the same, there are some new sporting rules that are a bit controversial in its move away tradition – races are now split between Saturday and Sunday.
There are both the positives and negatives to the switch. The positives being better for TV and fan attendance to spread racing over two days, as well as making it easier for setup with both races held at 1 pm (no longer an a.m. race condition guessing game). But others point to the tradition of two races on Sunday, that it separated those who were prepared or not, including their fitness.
Either way, that’s how it will run and will be another factor thrown into the mix to see who adapts to the new schedule best.
While World Superbike rules were mostly untouched, the Supersport class starts 2016 with a whole lot of changes. New for ’16 is the addition of a class within a class – Supersport and the FIM Europe Supersport Cup. As the name suggests, the Supersport Cup will only compete in the European rounds and they will race together, but be scored separately.
Photo Courtesy of Ducati
Another wild card in the mix… If Davide Giugliano can keep it on two wheels, he will be a force to be reckoned with.
Also, new for 2016 is the addition of Superpole in the class. They will not get the use of qualifying tires, but have the same system of qualifying as the big bikes. The new year also brings new technical rules, most notably standard electronics with no traction control.
All of this newness makes the Supersport championship a bit of an unknown as well. Kenan Sofouglu will look to defend his crown and try for a fifth title. MV Agusta’s Jules Cluzel and Lorenzo Zanetti are also raring for the crown, but with the new regulations, will they be able to make the adjustments to a less sophisticated electronics package and battle with Sofuoglu once again? Also hungry in 2016 is American PJ Jacobsen who finished second in the championship last year and returns with backing from Honda.
Joining Jacobsen from North America is Canadian Braedon Ortt who moves up from the MotoAmerica KTM RC390 Cup class to the new Europe Supersport Cup. Ortt progressed through the year to make himself a stand out in the championship, ending the year on a high note with a third-place finish in the championship and a second-place finish in the World KTM RC 390 Cup at Silverstone.