With the curtain having recently come down on this year’s World Superbike Championship season, thoughts are already turning to 2019 with nearly all of the leading teams having finalised their plans.
Kawasaki Racing, with four-time Champion Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam, and Aruba Ducati, with Chaz Davies and Alvaro Bautista, announced their line-up some time ago as did Pata Yamaha who will continue with Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes.
A lot of rumour surrounded the fate of a number of leading riders including race winners Tom Sykes and Marco Melandri, the future of the Milwaukee Aprilia team and what Honda would do to re-ignite their challenge but recent weeks have some everything come a lot clearer.
Sykes moves to BMW
The biggest news of late sees the return of BMW with an official team for the first time since 2013, their effort being run by Shaun Muir Racing, the Guisborough man returning to the brand after two years with Aprilia.
The team made their WSB debut in 2016 with BMW but this time around it should be a lot different as they have full factory support with 2013 Champion Sykes and winner of this year’s European Superstock 1000 Championship Markus Reiterberger replacing Eugene Laverty and Lorenzo Savadori and given the task of putting the German manufacturer back on top.
There’ll have an all-new S1000RR at their disposal and BMW will be looking to make an instant impression in the World Superbike series with the number one plate clearly their aim. The bike should be a major contender so Sykes will be hoping to get the spring back in his step after four, challenging years playing second fiddle to Rea.
Yamaha expand line-up
Since returning to WSB in 2016, Yamaha have continued to run just two riders on factory-backed machinery but with the rumour mill having been in full swing for a long time about a second team being launched in 2019 that has subsequently become reality.
World Supersport Championship front runners GRT Racing will make the step-up to WSB for the first time next season with Melandri and newly crowned World Supersport Champion Sandro Cortese duly signed up.
It throws Melandri, a double race winner in 2018, a lifeline just when it looked like he’d be on the sidelines once more. And having finished second overall for Yamaha in 2011, he’ll be hoping his second spell with the YZF-R1 will be equally successful.
Honda’s decision in question
2017 was a disappointing year for the new Honda Fireblade and a lot was expected of them this year with increased sponsorship from Red Bull and former podium finisher Leon Camier signed to spearhead the team. Unfortunately, they stood still and the results were no better.
However, the Japanese giant has signalled their intentions for 2019 with HRC directly involved with a WSB team for the first time since 2002. They’ve been ruthless too with long-time Honda team Ten Kate dispensed with and replaced by a joint effort between Althea Racing and Moriwaki.
But whilst that all sounds positive, what’s left many scratching their heads is the signing of Ryuichi Kiyonari to run alongside Camier. There’s no doubt that Kiyonari was a class act on his way to winning three British Superbike Championship titles but the last time he ran at the front was in 2014 and since then he’s been a shadow of his former self.
His previous spell in WSB in 2008 and 2009 wasn’t the most spectacular either and it’s highly likely it’ll be even less so this time around. HRC’s loyalty is well known but on this occasion it may back fire particularly as they could have gone with a number of top class riders – currently unemployed – instead.
Having lost his ride with SMR Racing (see above), Laverty was the favourite to land the second Honda seat but the signing of Kiyonari dashed those hopes and he’s one of five, high-profile riders currently out of work for 2019.
Laverty’s 2018 campaign was hit by injury but he finished on the podium twice and his pedigree in the series is without question. The same applies to team-mate Savadori and Ducati’s Xavi Fores who was the leading independent rider this season although that wasn’t enough for him to keep his ride with Barni Racing. Frenchman Loris Baz, a former race winner, and Spaniard Jordi Torres are also out of work at present.
It’s not clear yet whether a new team will continue to run the Aprilia effort previously run by SMR or if the Italian manufacturer will focus on their MotoGP effort instead whilst Ten Kate are rumoured to be in talks with Suzuki to bring the GSXR1000 back into WSB.
With all the other top rides gone, the five riders mentioned above will hope at least one of those teams comes into fruition otherwise there’ll have to seek employment elsewhere which won’t be easy given many of the other teams, whether in WSS or BSB, have already finalised their line-ups for next season.
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 Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. 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.