In less than two weeks time, the 2016 racing season bursts back into life with the opening round of the World Superbike Championship – and where better to start than the stunning Phillip Island circuit in Australia.
A circuit that promises excitement:
The venue has traditionally played host to the first race of the season and this year will be no exception so we can again expect to witness some close racing. Devoid of chicanes and the same modern-day designs that can be seen on many other circuits, Phillip Island remains largely untouched from its original layout and has a natural flow that’s the envy of many circuit promoters elsewhere in the world. Close racing is the norm and seldom do you get a boring race on the circuit situated on the edge of the Tasmanian sea.
Two clear winners?
However, whilst the racing at the front will no doubt be highly entertaining, it will take a brave man to bet against one of either Jonathan Rea or Tom Sykes claiming the number one plate come season’s end.
The Kawasaki duo each have one title to their name with Rea starting 2016 with the number one adorning his machine and both he and Sykes will be fired up to serve up a repeat performance – Rea will want to retain his title (and become the first man since Carl Fogarty in 1998/99 to do so) whilst Sykes will be desperate to reclaim the crown he won in 2014 and ensure he doesn’t have to play second fiddle to his team-mate once more.
Kawasaki has proven to be the manufacturer to beat in recent years with their ZX-10R a cut above the rest whatever the conditions and whatever the circuit. And there’s no denying that there absence from the MotoGP grid has allowed them to devote all their resources to making the ZX-10R the best on the grid.
But the rest are getting ever closer and they certainly won’t have it all their own way this year. Indeed, there are plenty of interesting sub-plots to this year’s series that will maintain everyone’s interest throughout.
Kawasaki’s closest challengers should be Ducati who also retain their 2015 line-up of Chaz Davies and Davide Giugliano. Davies proved to be best of the rest last year, eventually getting the better of Sykes for second overall, and with the 1199 Panigale’s development now at its highest level, he’ll be expecting to challenge from the outset. Likewise Italian ace Giugliano who will be hoping for an injury free season after missing much of 2015.
A welcome return:
One of the most interesting aspects of the new season is the return of Yamaha to the series for the first time since 2011. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s the Crescent team – who have years of history with Suzuki – that were chosen to run the operation and not Shaun Muir’s Milwaukee squad who won last year’s British Superbike Championship. Paul Denning’s team are vastly experienced though and with 2014 Champion Sylvain Guintoli and Alex Lowes on board the R1, they certainly have two potential champions.
Are Hayden’s days behind him?
Honda and Ten Kate are back for another effort and they’ll be under scrutiny with Nicky Hayden making the switch from MotoGP, the highest profile rider to do so for many a season. It was ten years ago that the Kentucky rider won the MotoGP Championship and some will argue his best days are behind him whilst his cause won’t be aided by the ageing CBR1000R Fireblade. Only time will tell if 2016 is his swansong or if it re-ignites his career and, if nothing else, he’ll be kept on his toes by Dutch youngster Michael van der Mark who quietly impressed last year.
Ones to watch:
BMW have a greater presence this season, great for all concerned, with the Milwaukee and Althea squads running similar efforts. BSB Champ Josh Brookes remains with Milwaukee and will be delighted to be back on the world stage whilst Jordi Torres, leading rookie and race winner in 2015, heads Althea’s two-man team. Both can be expected to get stronger as the season wears on.
Contrary to many reports, Aprilia will again have a presence on the grid with Alex de Angelis spearheading Ioda Racing’s first foray into the Championship. The San Marinese rider had a nasty fall at the back end of the 2015 MotoGP season but once back to full fitness, he should show well.
It’s true that the depth of the WSB field isn’t what it once was but a decent 24-man field has been assembled and the racing at the head of the field and for the top ten places should be as keenly fought and as competitive as ever.
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.