2022 WorldSBK Season Preview

Yes fans, the new superbike season is nearly here, and if it’s anything like last season, we’re in for a real treat.

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WSBK Navarra 22.08.2021
Picture courtesy of Ducati Racing

Thirteen rounds of action packed racing await, and hopefully we’ll have a Phillip Island round, which has been pencilled in at the back end of the year, which as of yet we still await the dates to be announced. Round 13 is also unknown as of yet. It seems that we won’t be returning to Navarra in Spain this time round.

So the season kicks off for round 1 in Aragon, Spain on the 8th of April. We will have another Spanish round in Catalunya on the 23rd of September, and as mentioned above it seems no Navarra round.

After that we’ve got Assen, then the first of two trips to Portugal, for Estoril and Portimao later in the year. The UK round at Donington Park is smack bang right in the middle of summer on the 15th July. Will we have bright sunshine, or a complete washout? Either is possible lets be honest. Returns to Misano, Most in Czech Rep, Magny- Cours, France, Argentina, and Mandalika in Indonesia are all on. With question marks above round 12 Phillip Island and 13 still to be announced.

WorldSBK Portimao 03.10.21 Race 2 Bautista Picture courtesy of Aruba.it Ducati

There has been a couple of changes to rider line-ups so far, a few of the most notable are Scott Redding switching the red of Ducati for a blue, red and white livery of BMW Motorrad. Alvaro Bautista will take the seat vacated by Redding, and will join the Aruba.it Racing Ducati team. Honda HRC will have two new Spanish riders join them, Iker Lecuona from MotoGP and Xavi Vierge from Moto2. Eugene Laverty is back on a BMW for the Bonovo action team and he will be joined by Loris Baz who makes a return to WorldSBK.

It will take some doing to replicate last season, but I am really excited to see how the new riders for Honda HRC will handle the jump to WorldSBK. They’re both young but definitely talented. Honda didn’t produce one of their finest seasons last year, with both Bautista and Haslam struggling for form most of the year, although Bautista did improve in the last few rounds. If Honda can get their bike working, I think both riders can challenge for good results this season.

Bautista had blistering speed when he made his WorldSBK debut on a Ducati in 2019, and was challenging Jonathan Rea for the win every race in the early part of the season. Although he couldn’t maintain the form right through the season, he did pick up a good few wins early on. Rinaldi had a couple of good races last season, and if Bautista can pick up where he left off last season, I think both riders will provide a stiff test for Toprak and Johnny.

2021 WorldSBK Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu. Picture courtesy of Yamaha Racing.

Scott Redding was a thorn in both Toprak and Rea’s side last season, providing us fans with one of the most exciting seasons ever. There was no doubt that the Ducati was an absolute missile last season and Scott knew exactly how to inflict the most amount of damage with it. Finishing 3rd behind two of the most talented riders ever to grace WorldSBK is definitely no mean feat. I really hope BMW can provide Scott with a fast bike, because we all want to see him charging hard every race.

Johnny will still be seeking world championship number 7 next season and he knows full well Kawasaki will have to improve their bike if they are going to wrestle that title away from Toprak.

Is it too early to make a prediction? Of course it is, but why not, so here is mine.

Championship result top 3:

  1. Toprak Razgatlioglu
  2. Jonathan Rea
  3. Alvaro Bautista

Race Dates:

  1. Aragon Round – MotorLand Aragon – 8,9,10 April
  2. Dutch Round – TT Circuit Assen – 22,23,24 April
  3. Estoril Round – Circuito Estoril – 20,21,22 May
  4. Emilia – Romagna Round – Misano World Circuit – 10,11,12 June
  5. UK Round – Donington Park – 15,16,17 July
  6. Czech Round – Autodrom Most – 29,30,31 July
  7. French Round – Magny – Cours – 9,10,11 September
  8. Catalunya Round – Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya – 23,24,25 September
  9. Portuguese Round – Autodromo Internacional do Algarve – 7,8,9 October
  10. Argentinean Round – Circuito San Juan Villicum  – 21,22,23 October
  11. Indonesian Round – Mandalika International Street Circuit – 11,12,13 Nov
  12. Australian Round – Phillip Island – TBA*
  13. TBA*

Rider and Team line-up so far:

  • Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK: Toprak Razgatlioglu / Andrea Locatelli
  • Aruba.it Racing Ducati: Alvaro Bautista / Michael Ruben Rinadi
  • Kawasaki Racing Team: Jonathan Rea / Alex Lowes
  • BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team: Scott Redding / Michael van der Mark
  • Team HRC Honda: Iker Lecuona / Xavi Vierge
  • GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team: Garrett Gerloff / Kohta Nozane
  • Motocorsa Racing: Axel Bassani
  • TeamGoEleven: Philipp Oettl
  • Kawasaki Puccetti Racing: Lucas Mahias
  • Barni Racing Team: Luca Bernardi
  • Bonovo action BMW Racing Team: Eugene Laverty / Loris Baz
  • OUTDO TPR Team Perdercini Racing: Loris Cresson
  • MIE Racing Honda Team: Leandro Mercado / Hafizh Syahrin

* Race Calender and rider/team line-up taken from http://WorldSBK.com

 

What Next For JR 65 ?

So for the first time in over 5 years, the number 65, not number 1, will adorn the front end of Jonathan Rea’s Kawasaki ZX-10R. In the immediate aftermath of the Indonesian race, Rea looked shell shocked, yet as always was gracious in his praise for the new champion.

Jonathan Rea Misano WSBK. Picture courtesy of Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK

No one can argue that the Northern Irishman is a proper gentleman both on and off the track. Look beneath the grin and cordial demeanour however, and you’ll discover a burning desire to win. It can hardly come as a surprise that winning means so much to the 6 time world champion, yet more than anything, it is his relentless hunger to keep proving himself, which is really awe-inspiring.

In Toprak Razgatlioglu, Rea has met an opponent just as hungry as he himself is. An opponent who leaves nothing behind on the track and pushes Rea to another level. Yes the Kawasaki struggled in a lot of areas, out performed in terms of top end speed, by not only the Ducati’s, but also by the Yamaha’s. What was of more concern, certainly of trying to find a solution, was the stability issues, especially into hard braking corners which plagued the Kawasaki all season. Rea was using “Marc Marques” skills saving what could have been several nasty crashes. The save at Donington Park springs to  mind, as Rea somehow managed to “motocross” his way off-road down the Craner Curves, still managing to rejoin the race. He was not as lucky in Portimao and was involved in a really scary high speed crash, walking away from a mangled ZX-10R.

Michael van der Mark, Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes at Magny-Cours WSBK 2019. Image courtesy of Yamaha Racing

A certain Valentino Rossi finally hung up his leathers this year at the age of 42, putting a bookend to 3 decades of racing. Rossi never lost his hunger for competing at the top level, and when new, younger opponents came onto the scene, he was able to reinvent himself, applying what the younger riders were doing and honing his craft.

I could see Rea doing something similar, extending his career for several more years. Certainly the talented crop of young riders in WorldSBK at the moment, will push Rea further. Not only Toprak and Scott Redding, but also the likes of Axel Bassani, Andrea Locatelli, Garrett Gerloff and the talented Iker Lecuona who comes from MotoGP.

Jonathan Rea at the 2020 Philip Island Test. Picture courtesy of Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK

The future is a hard thing to predict, but what does look certain is WorldSBK continuing to provide action packed racing, whether or not Jonathan Rea is still there. Although as fans of the sport, we all still hope he is there for many years to come.

 

Round 13 WorldSBK Indonesia Race 1

After the torrential downpour yesterday, both races 1 and 2 would be decided on Sunday, while the Superpole race was cancelled. Conditions were once again mixed, with dark clouds on the horizon, and the track was still damp in some places.

2021 WorldSBK Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu. Picture courtesy of Yamaha Racing.

With a points advantage of 30, Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha) knew 2nd place would be good enough for the championship win. Jonathan Rea (KRT Kawasaki) meanwhile, knew he’d have to try get the win, and force the championship to race 2.

Lights out and its Rea with the hole shot, followed by Redding (aruba.it Ducati) in 2nd, Toprak in 3rd, Sykes (BMW Motorrad) 4th and Locatelli (Pata Yamaha) 5th. Toprak knew he had to put Rea under pressure, and maybe force him into a mistake.

With 18 laps to go, the pressure pays off and Razgatlioglu gets past Rea. Bassani (Motocorsa Ducati) made a brilliant start and was up to 3rd, 0.3 seconds behind Rea.

With 16 laps to go Bassani was flying, and gets through on both Rea and Razgatlioglu to take over the lead. Rea meanwhile sensed an opportunity and returned the favour, getting back in front after passing Bassani and Toprak. This was no holes barred racing at its best, the riders were leaving nothing behind.

With 15 laps to go, Rea sets a fastest lap of 1:37.418, the track was now mostly dry, and the riders were confident. Next was the turn of Toprak to post a fastest time of 1:36.772, the lap times now tumbling down.

Rea had the hammer down and was pushing, setting a new fastest lap of 1:35.830. With Toprak on his wheel however, Rea knew he’d need help from somewhere else if he was to keep his hopes of a 7th title alive.

And then with 12 laps to go Razgatlioglu slides up the inside of Rea, both wheels of the Yamaha looked completely out of line, yet somehow as he has done all season long, the Turk gets it stopped and makes the apex to retake the lead. Meanwhile Redding was getting quicker every lap and moves through on Bassani to take 3rd.

Redding was finding his groove, and with 10 laps to go the Ducati rider gets past Rea to take 2nd. He was only 0.1 behind Toprak, and was hunting him down. Again, it was this trio of riders who would be having the final showdown, as has been the story all season long.

The pressure pays off the next lap, as Razgatlioglu is forced into running wide, and Scott accepts taking over the lead. Rea now in 2nd, while Toprak gets back into 3rd, but had Bassani all over the back of him.

2021 WorldSBK Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu. Picture courtesy of Yamaha Racing.

All the riders were feeling the pressure ramp up, and with 5 laps to go it was the turn of Redding to run wide into turn 10, Rea seized the momentum and retook the lead. As it stood, Toprak would need to get past Redding if he was to take his first championship title.

With 3 laps to go, Redding again runs wide, allowing Toprak to come through and take 2nd. Rea meanwhile could do no more, and was having a great race, but it would not be enough ultimately.

Rea crosses the line in 1st, followed by Toprak Razgatlioglu in 2nd and with it claiming his first ever WorldSBK championship title. Redding gets 3rd.

Result top 5:

  1. Rea (KRT Kawasaki)
  2. Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha)
  3. Redding (aruba.it Ducati)
  4. Bassani (Motocorsa Ducati)
  5. Locatelli (Pata Yamaha)

 

Championship top 3:

  1. Razgtlioglu – 551
  2. Rea – 526
  3. Redding 481

 

The end of an era: Grazie Vale!

How do you sum up this Entertainer, this Role-Model, this Legend?

He has entertained audiences for the past 26 years, winning races and fans throughout the world, bringing new and old supporters to watch the spectacle that is Moto GP. His undying enthusiasm and passion for the sport that he loves has brought smiles and tears to many. His ups and downs shared and felt by all.

The infectious smile. Courtesy of: Autocarindia.

Starting in 125’s (now equivalent to Moto 2) on the Aprilia in 1996:

The young boy from Tavullia, Italy, who entered into the 1996 125cc World Championships didn’t start off lighting the world on fire, but little did we know he soon would. Starting his pattern of one year to watch and learn and second year to win, he went into 1997 with his first championship title, collecting 4 poles and 11 race wins, which would crown him Champion. It was here that we first saw the entertainer that fans would adore, dressing up as Robin Hood at Donington – one particular celebration that stands out and also adopting the iconic Sun and Moon design that he has carried with him through the years.

Winning the 125’s Championship – 1997. Courtesy of: Aprilia website.

Progressing to 250’s (now equivalent to Moto 3) again on the Aprilia:

Rossi took another year to watch and learn and then became champion in 1999. Ditching the name Rossifumi and emerging as Valentinik. He continued to entertain the crowds with his celebrations on track, with the infamous Chicken riding pillion and the porta-loo gag. During the championship winning season he accumulated five poles and nine wins.

The Porta-Loo gag. Courtesy of: MCN

Following the pattern – watch and learn then win the next year, he moved up to the premier class: 500’s (now Moto GP):

With the dominating force of Mick Doohan winning everything in the premier-class, the racing was taking a bit of a lull and audiences were lacking in their numbers but even though the dominating force was due to change no-one was quite prepared for just how much!

Enter: The Doctor.

Another name change for Rossi saw him become The Doctor, a name that has become synonymous with him, just as much as the number 46 has.

Rossi teamed up with Doohan’s ex-crew chief Jeremy Burgess, who proved to be just what he needed. An impressive rookie season saw Rossi take 2nd in the championship and then in 2001 he became the last 500cc (2-stroke) World Champion. Taking 11 wins and 4 poles and along with that Honda’s 500th victory.

Enjoying the win. Courtesy of: Successbod website.

Spectators began to grow in their masses to watch this mesmerizing force that is Valentino Rossi, bringing with them a sea of yellow.

Moto GP – 2002: (the biggest-ever change in technical regulations):

Rossi was on the Repsol Honda – the first year of 990cc (4-stroke) and he pathed his way to glory once again, claiming 11 wins and 7 poles. Remaining with the same team for 2003, but with new team-mate the late Nicky Hayden, Vale again claimed the Moto GP crown with 9 wins and 9 poles.

Victory celebration- issued with a speeding ticket, to poke fun at being told he had the fastest bike on the grid. Courtesy of: Pinterest.

But then when he was on top of the world he did what many people thought was the impossible and decided to do a ‘ridiculous move’. Many times we watched in awe at his talent but nothing more than when he switched teams. Why would he leave a championship winning team, one that had dominated for so long and ride for an under-dog team?

The under-dog team = Yamaha. The reason = A challenge.

The relationship between Rossi and Honda had slowly deteriorated, with Honda claiming that it was all the bike and not much to do with the rider. Rossi taking offence by this lack of respect up and left to prove a point and prove a point he did.

Taking along with him his crew chief and most of his team, they went into the 2004 championship with very little testing during the winter period leaving Rossi to ride his first race on the Yamaha in 2004 at Welkom and incredibly he won! Breaking Yamahas longest losing streak and beating Giacomo Agostini’s record run of 22 consecutive top-three finishers in the process. Finishing the season with 9 wins and 5 poles.

Many people thought it would be too difficult or nearly impossible to win a race let alone the entire championship. But, Valentino is no normal rider. If people weren’t supporting Rossi already then they were now.

The iconic moment. Courtesy of: GP-Inside.com

Staying with Yamaha for 2005, Rossi was joined by another American – Colin Edwards. Vale won for a second year in a row alongside Yamaha and clinched  his 50th premier-class win. At Donington he mesmerized us by winning on water and miming playing a violin over the line. He took a total 11 wins (the highest number of premier class victories in a season on a Yamaha) and 5 poles.

2006 was a close year for the title and went right down to the last race in Valencia to see who would be crowned. It was between the reigning champ – Rossi and old team-mate Hayden. Consistency was key for Hayden and he became the only other rider other than Rossi to win the 990cc era. Rossi finished 2nd overall.

Another hard year for Rossi and Yamaha in 2007, saw them finish 3rd in the championship, only securing 4 race wins. Casey Stoner became another new champion. But, not letting any of this get to him Rossi won back his crown in 2008 becoming the most successful rider in the top-class with 69 wins, overtaking Agostini’s record total of wins. He accumulated 9 wins for the season, 2 poles and another title under a different formula – 800cc. He became the first rider to become champion on four different types of motorcycle and with that – Yamaha’s most successful rider.

8x Champ. Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

The showman carried on his winning streak and in 2009 remained Moto GP World Champion for the 9th time (in all classes), accumulating his 100th win of his career, 6 wins for the season and 7 poles. In 2010 Rossi announced it would be his final year with Yamaha as he decided he would switch manufactures once again to Ducati. He missed the most races of his whole career during that season after breaking his leg, when he did return though it was like he had never left. He was strong but couldn’t quite catch up.

9x champ – 2009. Courtesy of: GPone.com.

Ducati, as it turned out was not a great career move for the Italian, even though on paper it seemed like the dream team. The Doctor couldn’t produce miracles this time and ended up returning to Yamaha after 2 seasons with Ducati and that is where he remained. He finished 4th in 2013, being a runner-up for the crown in 2014/ 2015 and 2016. What could have been 12 championship wins was never to be. In 2017 Rossi was 5th, then 2018 rose back up to 3rd in the championship. He finished 7th in 2019, 15th in 2020 and for his last year in 2021 he finished 10th.

Even though the last few years he hasn’t been fighting for those wins we are all used to witnessing, it doesn’t matter because he transcended the sport and has become synonymous with Moto GP and can never be replaced. He has made Moto GP what it is today and even though he will leave a hole, we all know the racing will still be just as good as always and of course his VR46 team, with it’s young Italian riders will be there to carry the flag.

Final ride in-front of his yellow sea. Courtesy of: Moto GP website.

This living legend, leaves behind a legacy and fantastic memories from fans and riders alike. Ending his illustrious career the way he wanted to, having raced for 26 seasons, finishing 235 times on the podium (more than any other rider in the history of the sport) and accumulating 115 Grand Prix Victories. The stats are truly astounding!

We may never again watch the iconic rituals of The Doctor or the sheer joy of his winning celebrations and the on-track battles but the memories will stay with us forever. Etched in our minds are the fights between him and his rivals – Max Biaggi, Sete Gibernau, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Marquez. Who could forget the moment on the corkscrew at Laguna Seca between Vale and Casey? Which had us all on the edge of our seats, or the last corner at Jerez with Sete? Holding our breath.

Laguna Seca – Cork Screw. Courtesy of: Blogspot.com

He has inspired so many people, not just celebrities like F1 driver Lando Norris or fellow Moto GP champion Fabio Quartararo, but millions of people around the world. You say Valentino Rossi and people just know. He has a natural ability to make people want to support and cheer him on with his charisma and affection for all his fans. The whole Moto GP paddock admire him and it showed with the last race in Valencia 2021. The whole pitlane came out for him and every rider got a private hug – his popularity is unhinged.

For us that have had the joy to watch his incredible career, it has been a privilege. He has become a Titan of Motorbike racing and we all know God-like status’s never fade, his name will be there along with Sheene and Agostini forever.

You have written the most amazing story and you will be missed. But as we all know “it’s not the end, it’s the next chapter” – Rossi.

Thank you Vale for the memories. Courtesy of: Moto GP BT Sport twitter page.

 

 

(Featured image. Courtesy of: Moto GP website).

Images Courtesy: Moto GP website/MCN/ The Guardian/ Blogspot and Daily Star.