The Honda World Superbike team come into the 2017 World Superbike season with an all new bike to play with. The much awaited new Fireblade will be used to try and propel the team to their first championship victory since 2007 and James Toseland. The team took 10 podiums in 2016 on the old Fireblade, so can they have a more successful and champagne littered year in 2017.
The bike is a beauty. A more sophisticated chassis, more horsepower and more agility is just what the team wanted and needed to play with in order to fight for the championship. Honda however haven’t endured too much of a bad World Superbike campaign in the last year, as they took their first win since Jonny Rea in 2014 with Nicky Hayden at Sepang. The bike also had one final swansong in British Superbikes with Jason O’Hallaron taking the machine to 5th in the title just in behind teammate Dan Linfoot.
The riders that are guiding the bike to potential success bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team. Nicky Hayden retains his seat for a 2nd season in WSBK, as he looks forward to getting back up the sharp end of racing. The American took one win last season in the wet and took a further three podiums. The Kentucky Kid only retired four times and when he did make it to the finish, it was never outside of the top 10. If he can cut out the mistakes, bag some wins and podiums and keep in the top four, the American could become the first rider ever to win MotoGP and World Superbike titles.
Hayden has a new teammate in 2017, with a fellow MotoGP refugee in Stefan Bradl, who leaves the Gresini Aprilia Team and makes the transition over to the production based class. The German will be wanting to get straight down to business, but as ever with change, there are new challenges. Besides the bike, it will be the tracks that the MotoGP podium finisher will need to learn during the Free Practice sessions. Tracks he hasn’t been on at a competitive level include Buriram, Imola, Lausitzring, Magny Cours and Portimao. However, the former Moto2 champion is a quick rider, and a seasoned campaigner and although his recent career may not be a lot to shout about, Bradl on a quick bike could be something worth watching. Maybe, a potential dark horse?
The new Honda is more or less unproven on the tracks of the World Superbike calendar. However, recent history shows that Phillip Island, Buriram, Assen, Sepang and Laguna Seca to be good tracks, but Imola seems to be their favourite, with a double victory with Rea back in 2014, although 2 lacklustre results at the track last season do throw that statement into disrepute. The season opening round at Phillip Island was good last season, with a double podium for the departing Michael Van Der Mark, but a win hasn’t occurred since 2007 and James Toseland. Can Bradl and Hayden use their MotoGP experience at the track to re-write Honda’s history books?
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Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko