World Superbikes on the horizon

January 19th, 2017 | In: Motorsport racing, Track racing, WorldSBK, WSBK

The first race action of 2017 will again be the World Superbike Championship with the opening round again taking place at its traditional Phillip Island slot in February. Indeed, it’s now only a month before the series fires into life at the exhilarating Australian circuit and with plenty of changes in the off season, both on and off the track, here’s our lowdown on what’s new and what you need to know.

Jonathan Rea WSBK 2016, image credit @jonathanrea Twitter

Change in format for race two grid:

Arguably, the biggest change in the 2017 WSB series is the new format for race two grid positions. Unlike its British Superbike counterpart, where race two grid positions are determined by the fastest laps in race one, WSB will now see the first three rows determined by the race one results – but in reverse order.

In a bid to make the racing closer than ever, the top three finishers in race one will now move back to the third row and in reverse. So, the winner of race one will start the second race from ninth on the grid, the runner-up will start from eighth and the third place finisher will start from seventh.

Subsequently, riders who finished in 4th, 5th and 6th will be promoted to the front row and riders who finished in 7th, 8th and 9th will start from the second row. Needless to say, this move has been met with a mixed response with both riders and fans offering different opinions. As the season unfolds, we’ll certainly get to see if it has had the desired effect!

New riders set to challenge established guard:

Whilst series regulars including double World Champion Jonathan Rea, Tom Sykes and Chaz Davies all return, the grid sees an influx of new names with some returning after a hiatus and some making their debut in the class.

Two former title challengers are back in the field with Eugene Laverty lining up for Milwaukee Aprilia after two years in MotoGP and Marco Melandri on board the Aruba.it Racing Ducati, the Italian having been out of racing completely for the last two seasons.

They both have considerable pedigree with Laverty having 13 WSB wins to his name and Melandri 19 so there’ll line up for round one more than hopeful of challenging for both race victories and the title.

The highest profile newcomer is 2011 Moto2 World Champion Stefan Bradl with the German lining up alongside Nicky Hayden at Ten Kate Honda after five years in MotoGP whilst 2016 World Supersport Championship contender Randy Krummenacher makes the step up to WSB with his Puccetti Kawasaki Racing team. Leandro Mercado, eighth overall in 2015, returns to the series, this time with Ioda Racing Aprilia.

Stefan Bradl, image credit @stefanbradl Twitter

Old faces leave whilst some switch camp:

Two high profile regulars have dropped out of the series with 2014 World Champion Sylvain Guintoli and Ducati’s Davide Guigliano both moving over to the British Superbike Championship instead.

Guintoli’s spot at Pata Yamaha has gone to Michael van der Mark, formerly with Ten Kate Honda, whilst Guigliano’s berth has been filled by the aforementioned Melandri.

Impressive 2016 rookie Lorenzo Savadori has left Ioda Racing in order to join Laverty on the factory Aprilia with his former team-mate, Alex de Angelis, also moving onto pastures new at Pedercini Kawasaki. Meanwhile, former race winner Ayrton Badovini returns to the series, this time riding for the Grillini Kawasaki squad.

Technical changes:

WSB teams are now required to run standard throttle bodies, the same that are found on the road going versions of the bikes. A limit has also been set for battery capacity due to the difficulty air freighting larger lithium based batteries. This also means the machines will now be required to have working generators fitted in order to maintain the level of charge in the battery.

Flag to flag for World Supersport:

The supporting World Supersport Championship races will now adopt the flag to flag rule like WSB. This means there will be no red flag when there’s a change in weather conditions; instead riders will need to come into pit lane to change tyres.

Portimao back on the calendar:

After a year’s absence, Portimao is back on the calendar with the undulating Portuguese circuit expected to provide one of the closest meetings of the season. The British round will again take place at Donington Park over the May Bank Holiday weekend (26-28 May) although it’s long term future is less clear now that MSV have taken over the lease. They’ve refused to pay the substantial fee to series organisers Dorna in the past, hence Brands Hatch no longer seeing any WSB action and with recent attendances at Donington being low, only time will tell if the British round will continue.

Are you excited for this year’s WSB season? What do you make of the swapping and changing of teams? Why not share your thoughts.

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.