WSBK Australia Preview: And The Lights Go Green


The first round of the 2017 World Superbike season is coming from Australia and the Phillip Island circuit, located around 850km away from the capital, Canberra. Three of the top ten closest finishes in the history of WSBK have come from the Australian track, including the most recent one, in race 2 in 2015, when Leon Haslam won from Jonathan Rea. With a series of changes coming in both the series and within the teams, 2017 has all the credentials to be yet another vintage season.

The preseason favourites are without doubt Kawasaki and more-so Jonathan Rea, the reigning double champion. Aiming to become the first ever rider to win three championships on the bounce, the Ulsterman has won at least one race at the track since he joined the Kawasaki Racing Team back in 2015. Rea hasn’t won since the second race at the Lausitzring last season, and if Chaz Davies’ form is anything to go by, then it might not be all in the recently-turned-30-year-old’s favour.

His teammate, Tom Sykes, set a new pole record at Phillip Island last year but came away with nothing better than a 5th and 6th place after the races. Phillip Island is one of only a handful of the current circuits that Sykes hasn’t won at and he will be looking to put an end to that statistic. Having not been on the podium at the track since 2014, he will want a return to form, as he needs to bag points early on to have a real chance of beating Rea. Can the Huddersfielder do it? Only time will tell.

Chaz Davies has been in the top three for the past two seasons, and comes into 2017 as the rider in form. Seven wins from the last eight races in 2016, the Aruba.IT Ducati Team have got every faith in the Welshman to deliver the number one plate direct to Italy. 30-year-old Davies won more races than anyone else last season, but inconsistency – crashes at Phillip Island, Donington Park and Laguna Seca most notably – lead to the bronze medal position in 2016. Having set the fastest lap in at least one race at Phillip Island since 2014, he will be looking to convert one lap speed for consistent race pace, to take his first victory at the track.

Marco Melandri has won at Phillip Island, back in 2006 in MotoGP on the Fortuna Honda. The Italian has been on the podium every season in WSBK at the track since joining the series back in 2011 and has potential to become the first Italian pole-sitter in the history of WSBK at Phillip Island. The last Italian winner was Max Biaggi in 2012 and Melandri will be hoping to rewrite that record. Ducati will also be looking for success, having not taken a victory at the Australian venue since 2012 with Carlos Checa. Melandri could become one of a select group of riders to win on four makes of bike if he manages a victory at some point this season. Keep your eyes on the #33.

Honda are sporting a new look in 2017, revamped with their new bike and with their striking appearance – fashioning a Red Bull livery – it could be love at first sight for their riders. Nicky Hayden took the old Honda Fireblade to its first victory since Portugal 2014 last season at Sepang, on his way to securing a solid 5th place in the championship. The American will be looking to add to that tally, as he begins his 2nd full season in the WSBK category after leaving MotoGP in 2015. Hayden’s best result at Phillip Island was a 4th place in race 2, although this year, the Kentucky Kid will hope for a taste of the champagne.

Joined by fellow former MotoGP star, Stefan Bradl will partner Hayden at Red Bull Honda. The 2011 Moto2 champion begins his career in WSBK at Phillip Island, a circuit he has never won at although he took 2nd in his Moto2 championship season. The German has adapted quickly during in testing for the series but expects to be playing catch up with the new Honda until Aragon in April. On his journey this year, the son of former GP winner Helmut Bradl, will be encountering new circuits such as the Chang International Circuit, Imola, Portimao, the Lausitzring and Magny Cours. Can the German be a threat?

As well as the top three manufacturers from last year, teams such as Althea BMW and Milwaukee Aprilia will be searching for victories throughout the campaign, with former GP stars such as Jordi Torres and Eugene Laverty in the mix for both teams respectively. Alongside them are Markus Reiterberger (BMW) and Lorenzo Savadori (Aprilia) – neither of which have scored their first WSBK podium.

The Pata Yamaha Team operated by Paul Denning of Crescent Racing retain Alex Lowes for a fourth straight season and introduce Dutchman Michael Van Der Mark into the fray, as Sylvain Guintoli heads back to BSB. Leon Camier stays on the MV Agusta for another season, hoping to also achieve the team’s first ever podium. He achieved a great 7th place at Phillip Island last season, wanting to do better this year no doubt.

Other riders such as Xavi Fores, who was quickest in testing Down Under, make up the grid. Alex De Angelis switches to the oldest team in the paddock at Team Pedercini Kawasaki, with Ondrej Jezek and Ayrton Badovini joining the Grillini Kawasaki outfit. Roman Ramos remains in the GoEleven Kawasaki team, the Spaniard being the only full time rider last year to finish every race he took part in. Leandro Mercado represents the whole of South America, as the Argentine teams up with Ioda Racing who in turn become a one-man outfit for this season. The grid is rounded out with Italy’s Ricardo Russo on the Guandolini Yamaha, as the team return to the championship, and by former GP star and World Supersport race winner at Phillip Island in 2016, Randy Krummenacher, who steps up to the World Superbike class with World Supersport champions from last year, Pucetti Racing.

21 riders, 13 rounds, 11 countries and over 40 international and national titles between them, it’s hard not to see competition levels on show this year. With new sponsors, new teams, returning riders and tracks, not to mention new, longer-lasting qualifying tyres and the race 2 grid system, World Superbikes is set to have a renaissance in 2017. After the conclusion of the first weekend, we will have a rough idea of who is hot and who most certainly is not, as well as knowing how good the new system for race 2 grid positions will be. The only absentee from proceedings this weekend is Leandro Mercado, who nurses an injury following a testing incident – the team opting not to replace him.

You can follow the season with us this year, with every round covered to the highest standard. Follow us online for exclusive interviews and polls, as well as competitions and live updates from events – our handle is @PitCrew_Online. You can follow me too, for all things bikes, whether it be WSBK, BSB, MotoGP, CEV or the Shell Asia Talent Cup! @MotoGPKiko is where to find me!
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

TeamByTeam WSBK Preview: Althea BMW


The final team of our big six previews is the Spanish Althea BMW Team. In 2016, the Althea Racing Team made the switch from being the satellite Ducati team to the Factory BMW team, and with a few good results, the former champions want to return to winning ways now that they have a year of experience under their belt. Keeping to the same bike is crucial but keeping to the same rider line-up is just as vital. Could 2017 see the boys in black and white reach the chequered flag first?

The BMW Factory Team withdrew from competition at WSBK after their 2012 season, leaving the GoldBet BMW squad to be the lead team for the manufacturer. However, after their collapse, it is now the Althea Team who have some backing from BMW HQ. The bike itself is a weapon. It is one of the fastest bikes in a straight line and it handles superbly through the twisty parts of the tracks. However, one issue that has occurred is that throttle control is very difficult to manage. Tyco BMW and Hawk Racing BMW experienced that issue over in the BSB series, but different regulations at WSBK level mean that the issue isn’t as prominent for Althea.

Jordi Torres remains with the team for 2nd consecutive season. The Spaniard came to the championship in 2015 aboard a semi-factory Aprilia, and took his first win at Losail. Having endured last season with no win and no podiums, Torres will feel like he needs to get back where he belongs. A handful of 4th places helped him into 6th come the season’s end, but Torres knows he is top five material, and 2017 has to be the year where he is back up front.

Partnering the former Moto2 winner is double IDM champion, Markus Reiterberger. The German had a solid rookie year at World Superbike level on a bike that is hard to get to grips with. 16th in the championship doesn’t reflect some of the more successful rides that he had in the season, with a season best 5th at Buriram in Thailand. The 5th in Thailand proved that on a more less new circuit, Reiterberger is very fast indeed. Can the 22-year-old be a spoiler from the off in 2017?

As for circuits, Thailand was a very good circuit for the team last season, highlighted by the aforementioned Reiterberger and his 5th. Imola is one of Torres’ favourites, having taken his first ever podium at the track in 2015, and a 4th place last season. The last time a BMW won a WSBK race was at Portimao in 2013 with Melandri, and that very circuit returns after a year absence in 2017.

You can keep up to date with the goings on of World Superbike here at The Pit Crew Online. Give us a follow on Twitter @PitCrew_Online, and keep up with the live text commentary of all the big meetings!

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

TeamByTeam WSBK Preview: Red Bull Ten Kate Honda


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?

You can keep up to date with the goings on of World Superbike here at The Pit Crew Online. Give us a follow on Twitter @PitCrew_Online, and keep up with the live text commentary of all the big meetings!

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

TeamByTeam WSBK Preview: Aruba.IT Ducati


The Aruba.IT Ducati Team come into the 2017 World Superbike season as one of the favourites to take not just the constructors championship, but a riders’ championship too. The bike, which has no fully acclimatised to WSBK and is up to speed, has been in the series for four seasons now without a title success. Can they go all the way?

The bike itself is a proven race winner in the hands of Welshman Chaz Davies. After initial teething problems, the machine is now firing on all four cylinders (despite it being a twin cylinder), and is ready to take championship success from national, to international race series. Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne took the Panigale to its first British Superbike Championship in 2016 at the first time of asking and Matteo Baiocco took the bike to Italian Superbike glory also. Having finished in the top three in the WSBK on two consecutive seasons, the Aruba.IT Ducati will seek to go on to finish top of the championship tree in 2017. One problem that prevailed last season was the straight-line speed of the bike – yes, you just read that Ducati struggled with top speed! It was an issue in Phillip Island and at Buriram due to the long corners that lead onto the huge straights.

But just who have Ducati hired to take the bike to the top? Unsurprisingly, Chaz Davies signed for a 4th season on the Ducati, having come so close to glory last season. Despite taking 11 race wins – more than anyone else – Chaz could only manage third in the title as inconsistencies in the mid-season put him on the back-foot. 20 wins to his name thus far, can the soon-to-be 30 year old take that all important championship victory?

Out to stop him – or act as wingman – is former 250cc champion and MotoGP winner, Marco Melandri. The famous #33 returns to a series in which he has become known as a nearly man, where the Italian has never been out of the top four, but never took the elusive title win. Having had a torrid time in 2015 for half a MotoGP season, and a retirement year in 2016, Melandri comes back hungrier than ever to challenge at the front. Having had successful surgery to fix an injured leg, he can now focus on returning to former glory and becoming the first Italian to win on the Bologna Bullet since Michel Fabrizio in 2010.

The more troubling issue for Ducati is their start of season form, as they haven’t taken a win in the opening two rounds since Carlos Checa in 2012. They’ve never won in Thailand and haven’t won at Assen since 2012 with Sylvain Guintoli. Donington Park hasn’t been kind to them either, with no win since Carlos Checa back in 2011. However, Davies comes into the championship off the back of six consecutive wins towards the end of last season – the first to win the final six races in a season since Colin Edwards in the amazing 2002 season. Both of their riders are seasoned campaigners and both will be looking for a title win, at any costs…

You can keep up to date with the goings on of World Superbike here at The Pit Crew Online. Give us a follow on Twitter @PitCrew_Online, and keep up with the live text commentary of all the big meetings!

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

TeamByTeam WSBK Preview: Kawasaki Racing Team

With the reigning constructor’s champions are fielding the top 2 riders from last season’s standings, they look the dominant force which has led them to win 3 out of the last 4 championships, and finish in the top 2 in the last 5.

The bike itself will be developed version of the all new-all conquering ZX10-R that was unveiled last season at Phillip Island. Immediately quick out of the blocks, it took the first 4 race victories of the championship before going on to take a staggering 14 race wins in total. That’s not to mention 6 ‘doubles’ and 10 pole positions.

The question is however: can the bike improve even more than last season. The answer looking on paper is obviously yes, but just how do you do it and what are the issues. One of the more prominent issues in the team’s 2016 campaign was downshifting, when Jonathan Rea suffered issues at both Laguna Seca and the Lausitzring which led to subsequent DNFs. Kawasaki have been working hard to try and conjure up a solution, and I wouldn’t put it past them if they have the problems sorted for 2017. Away from WSBK, the new Ninja ZX10-R had a good run out in other championships, with Leon Haslam finishing runner-up in the British Superbike championship and Kazuki Watanabe taking podiums on his way to 6th in the All Japan Road Race Championship.

But what about the line-up that the team has aboard the machines? Jonathan Rea has proven that 2015 was no fluke (we didn’t think it was anyway) and backed it up with his 2nd championship in 2016. Although far less dominant than in 2015, Rea led the series from lights-out in Australia to the chequered flag in Qatar and will be wanting to repeat that in 2017. Throughout the season, the reigning double champion took nine wins and two pole positions, as well as six fastest laps. No one has ever taken three championship wins in consecutive seasons, but if anyone can, then Rea is your man.

Trying to put an end to the Rea onslaught is his teammate-turned-rival Tom Sykes, who was assisted to 2nd in the championship in 2016 by Rea in Qatar. Having stamped his authority on the title by beating Rea in a head to head thriller in Thailand, Sykes failed to put in a convincing title bid, and whilst closing in on Rea at Laguna Seca and again in race one at the Lausitzring, a crash in race two effectively gifted the Ulsterman a 2nd championship trophy. The former champion and three-time runner-up will be looking to beat Rea once and for all in 2017. The Hudderfielder will want to build on the solid foundations he set up on the new bike last season and go one step further in the upcoming season. 5 wins and 20 podiums in 2016 was a great season, but it will take more top step podium finishes for Sykes to level with his teammate on the title front.

And the circuits? Not a problem. The current Kawasaki team has taken victories at all circuits apart from Losail, but they’ll hope to have yet another riders and constructors title in the bag come that time in October. Data shows that Magny Cours and Losail have been difficult tracks for them, and for Sykes, he never goes particularly well at Phillip Island.

You can keep up to date with the goings on of World Superbike here at The Pit Crew Online. Give us a follow on Twitter @PitCrew_Online, and keep up with the live text commentary of all the big meetings!

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

TeamByTeam WSBK Preview: Pata Yamaha

After a four-year hiatus from the World Superbike paddock, Yamaha returned last season with the all new Yamaha YZF-R1. However, it wasn’t quite the spectacle we all expected it to be, with a lot of midfield results, injuries and crashes for both riders. Now, having had a year under their belt, the Crescent Yamaha squad will look to fight for the top positions in the championship and take their first win on their return to the series.

The bike came into the 2016 season with much promise and potential. Carmelo Morales made it look like a real weapon in the Spanish CEV Superbike Championship and Josh Brookes stormed off with the British Superbike championship in 2015. The MotoAmerica pairing of Beaubier and Hayes showcased the Yamaha’s talents but sadly that couldn’t be transformed on to the world stage. A third place in the penultimate race of the year in Qatar for the BSB bound Sylvain Guintoli was all that could be considered good for the team in 2016. Eight DNFs in 2016 mean that Alex Lowes’ 4th year with the Crescent team is a vital one in which he must take wins and podiums and challenge for a top four placing.

Michael Van Der Mark made the dramatic switch from rivals Honda and joined Yamaha as he spearheads the 2017 team. Three podiums from the first four races and strong races at Assen led to Van Der Mark becoming hot property in 2016. Yet to take that elusive first victory, he is hoping that he can bring the glory days back to Yamaha. Magic Michael took a pole position last season as well as six podiums throughout his 2016 campaign and could be a title threat if he gels initially with the bike. The star of World Superbikes is definitely one to watch as he and the Yamaha get quicker lap by lap.

Alex Lowes joins the Dutchman in a champion line up at Yamaha. Despite a poor season in 2016, where he languished in 12th in the standings, Lowes retained his position at Paul Denning’s squad. The 2013 BSB champion had a year of acclimatisation with the Yamaha last season, and stronger results towards the end of the season suggest that the Lincolnshireman could start off the upcoming season as he means to go on. A title threat may be a little too far, but nothing is in the way of podiums and wins for Lowes, who will set out to silence his critics and prove his worth.

Circuits for the Yamaha are all fairly good, although Losail seems to be a happy hunting ground for the team. Yamaha haven’t won at the first meeting of the season since Ben Spies won race two in 2009 and that is a record that quite simply needs to be put right. A track where luck will hopefully be on the team’s side is Imola, after Sylvain Guintoli’s complex foot injury of last season. Sepang was a good meeting for the team over the course of one lap, but with the learning year done, all could be set to change in 2017.

You can keep up to date with the goings on of World Superbike here at The Pit Crew Online. Give us a follow on Twitter @PitCrew_Online, and keep up with the live text commentary of all the big meetings!

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

TeamByTeam WSBK Preview: Milwaukee Aprilia

After a difficult debut year for the team in 2016, the SMR Milwaukee set up switches from BMW to full factory Aprilia, taking on two new riders in the process. The former British Superbike champions come into 2017 with the determination to put last year complexities and troubles behind them, and take victories and podiums on a bike that is a proven winner.

After leaving the sport in 2014, Aprilia have returned to the championship two years later, with a modified version of the bike they’ve left us. Split throttle control means the likes of BMW and Kawasaki will have to work hard but the Italian manufacturers of Aprilia and Ducati can carry on as normal. Shaun Muir believes that this is one of the main reasons that can see the team challenge from the first race of the season in Australia.

The first new rider is returning World Superbike heavyweight Eugene Laverty. Like Stefan Bradl and Marco Melandri, Laverty is another MotoGP refugee, and although 2016 proved to have many top 10 finishes in the Grand Prix world, the Irishman was not accepting any poor deals, and will come back to a paddock he knows well. With 13 wins to his name thus far, it would be fair to say that Norge will be on it from the word GO! Can the former World Supersport champion prove that he can win races even after two seasons away?

Lorenzo Savadori did such a fine job on a satellite Aprilia last season, that he’s been given an upgrade to the real McCoy. Joining the official factory Aprilia team this year, the Italian is definitely one for the future. Having crashed out of podium places on a few occasions last season, he will be determined to prove that he isn’t just a rider who can challenge for top five placings, but challenge for the podium and wins. The winner of the FIM Superstock 1000 series in 2015, the Italian 125cc champ in 2007 and still only 23 years old, Lorenzo will be riding on a crest of a wave this coming season, as he enjoys a 2nd season aboard the same bike. Just the consistency he needs to become a winner.

The Aprilia team have always enjoyed success at Phillip Island and took podiums at Buriram with Leon Haslam in 2015. The last time that the machine won at Aragon however was back in 2012 with Max Biaggi, and you have to go all the way back to Regis Laconi in 2001 since the team’s last victory at Imola. Laverty and Savadori will be looking to set a few records straight when they mount the Milwaukee Aprilia in 2017.

You can keep up to date with the goings on of World Superbike here at The Pit Crew Online. Give us a follow on Twitter @PitCrew_Online, and keep up with the live text commentary of all the big meetings!

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

Yamaha WSBK Squad Launch 2017 Campaign

As the new racing season draws closer, Yamaha Motor Europe N.V. has taken a moment between preseason testing activities to gather all of the Official Race Teams together to kick-off the 2017 Road and Off-Road line up. The international racing media were invited to join the Official Race Teams Press Conference on 7th February at the headquarters of the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team in Gerno di Lesmo, Italy.

The Pata Yamaha Official Team WorldSBK were next to showcase their 2017 racing livery, with British rider Alex Lowes returning for his second year with Yamaha alongside new for this season teammate, Dutchman rider Michael van der Mark. The pairing have already enjoyed positive preseason testing alongside the WorldSSP600 team and are keen to arrive in Australia for round one of the 2017 season at Phillip Island to kick off their campaign. WorldSBK siblings the Pata Yamaha Official STK1000 Team return for 2017 ready to do battle with the YZF-R1M in the newly defined European Superstock 1000 Championship. French rider Florian Marino returns for the second year having showed impressive pace from the start of 2016- including pole position in the opening race – before an accident in the second round cut his season short. Intensive training and rehabilitation now complete, Marino is eager to get back to work with his Pata Yamaha Official STK1000 Team and confirm his skill, speed and talent. He is joined by new teammate, Italian rider Roberto Tamburini, the 2015 Superstock 1000 Cup runner up.

There was one more surprise for the gathered media to set the tone for the day, as Yamaha Motor Racing Director Lin Jarvis took to the stage to thank media and partners for their attendance and share insight into the 2017 MotoGP strategy for the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP Team, the pinnacle of the wider Yamaha commitment to Motorsport.

Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

Rea acknowledged with Outstanding Achievement Award from Kawasaki

Double World Superbike Champion, Jonathan Rea, was honoured last week as he was presented with Kawasaki Motors UK’s ‘Outstanding Achievement Award’ by Howard Dale, General Manager of Kawasaki Motors UK and Craig Watson, UK Sales Manager.

Howard and Craig flew to Ireland to hand over the award from Kawasaki Motors UK. As well as the award, Jonathan was presented with a specially commissioned oil painting too – showing a scene from the final race of Jonathan’s triumphant 2016 WSBK campaign, under the floodlights of Qatar wearing his celebration design Arai helmet.

From this unique painting, 165 limited-edition prints have been created – none of which will be sold – however, customers who pre-register to attend Kawasaki’s 2017 New Model launch night on Friday 24 February could be in with a chance of winning one. Each Kawasaki dealer will have one limited-edition print each to present. Simply visit to register for the event: Each print is numbered and comes with a letter of authenticity.

Howard Dale said: “Jonathan is always very quick to thank all those supporting him to enable him to chase his dreams. We, at Kawasaki Motors UK, felt that it is not only a nice gesture but also the right thing to do to show our appreciation of his talent, professionalism and his commitment to do his best for himself, his team and Kawasaki. His success reflects onto Kawasaki as a brand, creates brand exposure and makes our job of selling and marketing that much easier.”

Craig Watson explained the thought process behind commissioning an oil painting: “I wanted to do something that would not only be a great surprise for Jonathan, but something that he could keep forever to remember. I called ‘Billy Art’ as I’m always amazed at the work he produces and asked if we could commission a one-off painting. We used a shot from the final race of the season – and this is it. I think it looks amazing.”

Jonathan Rea commented: “This really is a shock – but a fantastic shock. I was out with Howard a few weeks ago in Kobe near Kawasaki’s Akashi Factory playing darts and he didn’t mention a thing. I’ve only had a quick look at the painting on the stage but already you can see how special it is. It’s an honour to receive the award and the painting from the team at Kawasaki Motors UK.”

The first round of the 2017 World Superbike Championship begins at Philip Island, Australia, on February 24-26.
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko

From Brands to Buriram…

Over time, surroundings change. Patterns are often tampered with or erased all together. Even when the most drastic of changes do happen though, there are somethings that persist to remain just as they were back when they were formed, or in some cases, found.

The same rule applies to what was at one point, the only 4-stroke motorcycle racing series that was international. Since its Golden Era of the late nineties and very early naughties, World Superbike has been revamped. From the forests of Hockenheim to the grandstands of Portimao, the calendar has been one of the most notable changes over the years (apart from the riders coming and going). Since Carl Fogarty’s last world championship victory, there are just five circuits that have stayed on the calendar; two of them (Misano and Assen) have seen changes and two others (Donington Park and Laguna Seca) haven’t been year in, year out fixtures. The only circuit that has stayed since the Foggy days is Phillip Island, and we most certainly aren’t complaining there!

Since 2012, a staggering 20 circuits have been used by the World Superbike boys, and 13 of them will be in use come the 2017 season. Circuits that have been lost are the iconic Brno and the historic Nurburgring, as well as the short-lived Mosco Raceway and Istanbul Park. Monza, Miller Motorsport Park and now Sepang have also vanished from the track list. But even though it isn’t as popular as it once was, the series has maintained one thing.

The crowd. The backing singers to the superbike chorus. The atmosphere inventers, and the avid supporters. Now don’t get me wrong, some World Superbike circuits, if not most of them, are nowhere near as popular as they were. Circuits like Portimao have almost no one in their stands and Imola isn’t the Cathedral it was back in 2002. Although Assen has good supporters, there is one circuit that seems more popular than any of them.

Nestled around 5946 miles away from what used to be the most popular sporting event in the whole of the UK (Brands Hatch), is the Chang International Circuit, or Buriram to us WSBK enthusiasts. Back in 2000, the ‘European’ meeting at Brands Hatch hooked in upwards of 120,000 people on race day alone, making it bigger than the FA Cup Final of that year when Chelsea beat Aston Villa. However, now there is a new hub for the crowds, and Buriram isn’t doing a bad job.

Over the two race days last season, over 100,000 came to the second Thai World Superbike meeting. On race day alone, you couldn’t get in if you tried. Fully booked out and you could hear it too. The crowds brought back that feeling of excitement and passion that had been lost somewhere around the Edwards, Bayliss, Hodgson and Xaus era. But why do people flock to what is now the biggest event on the World Superbike calendar?

Its location is key. Thailand is a nation that rides bikes as a normal mode of transport. Like neighbouring Cambodia and Vietnam further to the East, bikes make up a huge population of the total number of vehicles used on the roads. This automatically creates a love for all things two wheeled, so when it was announced that World Superbikes was coming to Thailand for the first time ever, anyone and everyone was jumping for joy and bouncing off their own rev limiters.

But one cannot simply put it down to a biking nation. Instead, maybe it’s because in both years World Superbikes has been at Buriram, there’s been local riders doing the business. Who can forget when Ratthapark Wilairot won for the first time ever in World Supersport at home. The country’s first race, World Supersport’s first Thai winner, and to top it all off, his brother Ratthapong took the 5th place in the race. The crowd was thrown into a frenzy, as they streamed onto the track to applaud him. It is quite similar to why Brands Hatch was so attractive. British wildcards like Chris Walker, Neil Hodgson, Niall Mackenzie, Steve Hislop, James Haydon and Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne to name all but a few, drew crowds in from not just all four corners of the United Kingdom, but all four corners of the globe. It wasn’t just ‘Superbike Sunday’, it was a festival of booze, tents and cheers from Friday morning to Monday noon.

The track at Buriram is also amazing. The perfect mix of fast, sweeping corners and hard braking hairpins means there’s action aplenty throughout the field. Grandstands which enable the spectators to glance not just over one corner, but 99% of the circuit are also a popular choice, and even one that Brands Hatch itself doesn’t feature. It almost feels natural. Like Brno or Mugello. Where everything is in a bowl, a valley. Like the city of Andorra La Vella, where everything is nestled tightly together in the mountains, but can explode into life at a moment’s notice. Only this time, the track is the city and the huge grandstands take the place of the mountains. The roar of the thousands above, descending and fuelling what is likely to be an already dramatic race.

However, having contacts out in Thailand is a little bit helpful. One reason why there is so many people is also because if you go on a guided tour of the local football ground (owned by the same people), then you were given free tickets for Sunday. Now, I’m not for one moment saying that the huge crowds are entirely down to that, but it will have an influence. The Thai race of people are hard workers, charmers and grafters, but once they have a day off, that is it. They have a DAY OFF. My dad lives out there throughout the year, and has seen this for himself. There’s a reason Thailand is known as the “Party capital of the Far East”.

So, whether you still see Brands Hatch as God’s stocking filler or Thailand as the future of motorsport, it is without doubt doing the business on the World Superbike front. Thailand is a destination, it isn’t just another round of the calendar. Instead, it’s a festival, just like Brands Hatch. It oozes atmosphere, passion and drama, like a good meeting should do. Thailand is the country, Buriram is the town, Chang International Circuit is the venue and the whole thing put together is one wild, World Superbike party.

You can keep up to date with the goings on of World Superbike here at The Pit Crew Online. Give us a follow @PitCrew_Online, and keep up with the live text commentary of all the big meetings! You can also follow my personal account on Twitter, @MotoGPKiko.

Kiko Giles

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