Rea comes out on top again
The World Superbike Championship ended last weekend with the familiar sight of Jonathan Rea being crowned World Champion but despite having its season cut from 13 rounds to eight, there was plenty to be excited about.
Rea again took more wins and podiums than anyone else to deservedly pick up his sixth straight world title in a row – a phenomenal achievement – but the Kawasaki man was pushed harder than before with Scott Redding, Toprak Razgatlioglu, Chaz Davies and Alex Lowes just some of the riders to get the better of the Northern Irishman during the course of the year.
Johnny reigns supreme
The bottom line of the season though was that Rea was simply better than anyone else and the best rider on the grid. True, the championship did go to the final round but his final winning margin was a commanding 55 points and he won almost 50% of the races, taking 11 victories from the 24 races held.
Unflustered by crashing out of the opening race at Phillip Island back in February, Rea’s response was to finish on the podium, in first or second, in 14 of the next 15 races and it’s that kind of consistency that no one else can match.
Although less points are awarded, Rea also seems to have total command of the short Sprint races, taking five out of the eight wins this year, whilst his work ethic, and that of his close knit KRT team – where crew chief Pere Riba and former rider Fabien Foret were again instrumental – remains as high as it can possibly be. Motivation, dedication and determination have never waivered despite his success.
At 33, Rea still has many years ahead of him, if he wants to race for that long, and that can only be a concern for his rivals.
They keep lining up to topple him and they keep falling short.
It remains a shame the Ballyclare rider never got an opportunity in MotoGP but he’s overcome that to be the best rider in the history of World Superbikes.
Close but not quite
Having won the British Superbike Championship last year, Redding was keen to return to the world stage and was duly given the opportunity to do that by Ducati, not in Grand Prix racing, where he’d been a mainstay across the classes from 2008 to 2018, but in a debut appearance in World Superbikes.
Expectations were high, both from inside and out, with the Englishman seen as the man most likely to challenge Rea for the title and that’s exactly what happened. He ultimately fell short but with five wins and a total of 13 podiums on the Aruba Ducati, it’s a season the Gloucestershire rider could be proud of.
A crash at the sixth round at Aragon hit his title aspirations hard but he also suffered in the Sprint races, where Rea was so dominant, with his early race pace keeping him back in the pack and meaning he only finished on the podium in three of the eight races. He’ll most certainly need to improve upon these results in 2021.
He also had to learn several new circuits, circuits where Rea has ridden and been so strong for many years, but with a year’s experience under his belt, Redding will only be stronger next year.
Fiercely determined to succeed, Redding is only 27 and will do what it takes to get the better of Rea and he still looks the man most likely to do that.
Whilst Redding was having his first WSB season with Ducati, team-mate Davies was having his seventh and what would prove to be his last, the Italians opting to go for the impressive, and younger, Michael Ruben Rinaldi for 2021.
Having an Italian on an Italian bike is always an attractive proposition with the 24-year old deserving his chance with the factory team after claiming his maiden series win this year.
But Davies’ experience saw him take two wins, to move on to a career total of 32, and finish third overall in the championship.
That tally of wins makes the Welshman the most successful rider never to have won the World Superbike title and after seven years with Ducati, it’s most probably that statistic that has seen them look elsewhere for 2021.
Where he goes next year remains to be seen, with all the factory rides already taken, but there’s no doubt he’s still one of the few riders on the grid capable of beating Rea and win races.
Michael van der Mark remained at Yamaha for a fourth successive year but he had a new team-mate in the shape of Razgatlioglu, the Turkish rider moving across from his independent Kawasaki team with whom he’d claimed his first WSB wins the year before.
A factory ride was what led him to switch from Yamaha – Lowes taking the Kawasaki seat alongside Rea and winning at the opening round in 2020 before his season faded away – and it proved to be a good decision as he finished the year in a strong fourth overall.
It could have been better had he not missed two races at Catalunya and it was several low finishes that prevented him from mounting a serious title challenge.
His pace is without question but some circuits still seem to suit him more than others with a bad day seeing him finish seventh or eighth; that’s something he needs to fix as a bad day for Rea is third or fourth.
Toprak still took three wins though and with his first year with Yamaha now under his belt, he should be better placed next year where he’ll have a new team-mate with World Supersport Champion Andrea Locatelli replacing the outgoing van der Mark.
It was another strong year for the Dutchman as he finished in fifth overall, only five points behind his team-mate, with one win and seven additional podiums, the majority of those coming in the Sprint races.
However, he’s decided to move to pastures new next year with a surprise move to BMW so will hoping their fortunes take a considerable upturn after a disappointing 2020.
Ruben Rinaldi took the Independent Rider of the Year award, subsequently being promoted to the factory Aruba Ducati team but Rookie of the Year went to American Garrett Gerloff who lined up for the GRT Yamaha World Superbike Junior team alongside Federico Caricasulo.
The Italian had finished second in the 2019 World Supersport Championship after a ferocious battle with Randy Krummenacher which went all the way down to the last round and the Italian was expected to be the lead rider in the team.
However, Garrett was far and away the lead performer outscoring his team-mate by 103 points to 58.
It took the Texan a while to get acclimatised to the European circuits and way of life but he was soon finishing inside the top ten and it’s both notable and impressive that his best performances came at circuits where the majority of riders were seeing the circuits for the first time – Catalunya and Estoril.
On a level playing field for once, where his inexperience was removed, he proved to be a revelation, taking podiums at each circuit.
He looked comfortable running with the regular front runners, albeit with an all-action style, and could have had more podiums had he not crashed out at both Magny Cours and the final race of the season at Estoril.
The challenge for 2021 is to finish on the top three on a regular basis.
Struggle for BMW
It was the second year for the factory BMW Motorrad team after returning to the World Superbike Championship in 2019 but the promise shown then wasn’t built upon and they slipped back in 2020 with not a single podium taken, a disappointment for all concerned.
Tom Sykes, eighth overall with four podiums in 2019, slipped back to 12th this time around with the 2013 World Champion taking a best finish of fifth whilst team-mate Eugene Laverty fared even worse, ending the year in 15th overall with just two three top ten finishes to his name.
Not the results the German manufacturer would have expected.
True, luck was sometimes in short supply – witness the opening race at Magny Cours when they were both taken out at the first corner by Gerloff after qualifying first and second – but the bike never improved and was still some way down on top speed despite the considerable financial input from the Bavarian giant; grip, or lack of it, was also a regular issue with the S1000RR.
Laverty was released at the end of the year with his place going to van der Mark and he’ll hoping to see a marked improvement after being a regular front runner on the Yamaha.
Sykes, meanwhile, is, arguably, in the twilight of his career and won’t want his impressive career to fizzle away – 2021 will be a big year for BMW where there’ll be using the new M1000 RR machine.
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Racing, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, RAF Regular & Reserve Kawasaki, Dafabet Devitt Racing, John McGuinness, Lee Johnston and KMR Kawasaki. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.