WSBK’s worldwide television audience grew by 33% from the 2009 to 2010 season. According to Infront, the “championship reached a cumulative audience of 498 million” for the 2010 season, meaning each WSBK race garnered around 40 million viewers. While still a considerably smaller number than MotoGP, which claims around 300 million viewers for each race, this is the sort of jump in audience that makes sponsorship dollars appear more easily. The official WSBK website had “a 30% increase of unique visitors compared to 2009,”with a total of four million individual visitors in 2010.
Chris Vermeulen is back home in Australia after participating in only one shortened day of riding during the Kawasaki WSBK test at Sepang this week. While the rest of the WSBK riders for both Paul Bird Racing and Team Pedercini will complete the scheduled test, Vermeulen was forced home to continue with his physical therapy.
He tweeted, “My knee reacted a bit after riding just a few laps, was fun back on a bike though!!” According to the team, Vermeulen will remain in Australia until the final Infront test at Phillip Island just before the season opener. He will miss the late January test in Portimao to concentrate on his recovery.
With red-headed lady spies, the Winter Olympics, a Formula1 race in 2014, and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, it is time to trot out some more James Bond references, and turn to thoughts of
Mother Russia. Word is spreading that Infront Motorsports has begun talks to take World Superbike further afield than Western Europe with a future round in Russia. The 2011 WSBK season has only two flyaway races (Miller Motorsports Park in the US, and the season opener at Phillip Island in Australia). Thus, a future round in Russia would help expand both the physical and marketing reaches of the series.
With no track built yet, it is clear that there is still a long way to go before racing could happen. Then there are the always tricky negotiations that could easily scupper plans, no matter how public they might be. Once the F1 track is completed at least one of the obstacles to this dream will be removed, though a F1 circuit built around a Winter Olympics site (yes, that is exactly what is going to happen, complete with February to autumn turnaround) might not be the first choice for two-wheeled racing enthusiasts.
Chris Vermeulen is finally back on a racing bike at the official Kawasaki test in Sepang this week, after only beginning to walk “a couple of weeks ago,” according to his personal Twitter account. According to Kawasaki on this first day of their week-long winter test, “Vermeulen had never ridden the new bike before today and was instantly impressed with it.” Both factory teammates Joan Lascorz and Tom Sykes had already ridden their Kawasaki World Superbike machines, but had not used the Sepang facility as Vermeulen has.
The factory team is joined by Team Perercini riders Gabor Talmasci and Roberto Rolfo, as posted at A&R last week. This is Vermeulen’s first time on his new WSBK ride after his knee surgery. He was quoted by the team as saying, “I eased into it today and only did a limited number of laps, over three separate runs…The last bike I rode around Sepang was a GP machine, so to be impressed with this motorbike already shows it is a very good start.” He also made a point of praising the team for their hard work and good development.
For kids too old for Santa, the beginning of racing season often brings about more excitement than a jolly man delivering presents. Winter testing often fills the gap for race fans. A long season of private and series-sponsored tests for World Superbikes get underway beginning next week, stretching until just days before the season opener at Phillip Island on February 27th.
The Kawasaki factory team and and satellite Team Pedercini get the season started off with their test, this coming Monday, January 10th through 14th, at the Sepang Circuit in Malaysia, while Liberty Racing Ducati will be riding around at Guadix, Spain on Tuesday and Wednesday. Ten Kate will be at Motorland Aragon, which was highly praised at its MotoGP inaugural round last season, two weeks from now on January 20th and 21st.
After dipping a toe into the waters at Monza last season, Yoshimura Suzuki will race a wild card entry at Phillip Island for the opening round of WSBK racing in 2011. Riding for the team is 2009 Australian Superbike Champion Josh Waters, who will get to compete in front of a home crowd. There is no word yet as to the team’s entrance in other rounds, despite attempts to do so last season, which saw a lack of funding keeping the team from their previously scheduled racing at Imola and Magny-Cours.
After a moderately successful Moto2 season in 2010, Gabor Talmacsi has switched his focus to World Superbikes. Currently in talks with Team Pedercini, Talmacsi will be testing for Pedercini with a phalanx of other Kawasaki riders at the Sepang circuit in the middle of January. Though the Hungarian won a podium position at Motorland Aragon and finished the 2010 championship in sixth, he was left out in the cold after Speed Up pulled out of Moto2 for 2011, as did so many other teams with too few funds to go racing in 2011. Despite spending 2009 in both the 250 and premier GP classes, Talmacsi seems to have joined the list of riders unable to remain in MotoGP and looking for work in WSBK.
This off-season would have been bumpy enough for Marco Melandri, moving from the Gresini Honda MotoGP team to the factory Yamaha WSBK squad, but he’s been suffering from a “big pain with no reason,” that forced him to go for a scan on December 17th, and then have surgery on his right shoulder. Originally, even the official WSBK site posted that it was a “false alarm,” as “a scan did not reveal anything.” However, the Italian underwent a successful surgery just before Christmas. It appears that Melandri will be ready for racing when the season begins in two months’ time.
According to the Yamaha Racing, “the Italian opted for a clean-up procedure in order to reduce risk of further aggravation…there was no damage to ligaments therefore a straightforward ‘tidying’ took place and a ‘staple’ attached – that will erode naturally over time – will add extra stability.” Melandri’s doctor, Giuseppe Porcellini, recently performed surgery on Valentino Rossi’s shoulder. Melandri was restless in the hospital after the surgery, as most would be, simply tweeting on Christmas Eve, “paìnfull [sic] night but in a very good mood.. Wanna go home! :-)”
Last week, in what was an apparently frigid outdoor press call and party, Althea Racing showed off its new 2011 livery. The bike, ridden by Carlos Checa in next season’s World Superbike championship, showcased more red than the team’s livery last season, with “Althea” and most of the blue having disappeared from the bike entirely. While main sponsor Unibat, a battery company, kept its name placement from the 2010 season’s livery, quite a bit of what had been white on the bike was filled in with Ducati red. So much so, the 2011 livery could nearly be mistaken for the 2010 Ducati Xerox livery.
Althea will use the same livery on the Ducati, ridden by Lorenzo Baroni, in both the Superstock 1000 and Italian Superbike championship. According to the team in its press release, “The presentation of Althea Racing’s Ducati gave added value to an already impressive line-up of bikes”, commented Team Principle Luigi Termignoni. ‘The Italian motorcycle manufacturer has always participated in SBK and we are proud to be able to equip Genesio Bevilacqua’s Ducati outfit in 2011.”
After rumored and real strife at the end of the WSBK season, BMW Motorrad continues to rearrange their team structure. The team, according to a recent press release, has continued on with the restructuring. BMW Motorrad Motorsport announced Thursday that Rainer Bäumel is the new Head of Race Operations, after being the Technical Director, with Stephan Fischer Head of Development, and Josef Hofmann the Managing Director of the factory. After leaving Ducati at the end of the 2009 season and signing on as team manager for BMW for the 2010 season and producing something a turnaround for the team, Davide Tardozzi either left or was forced out due to “different ideas regarding the structure of the team,” leaving Bernhard Gobmeier to named as BMW Motorrad Motorsport Director in October.
According to Gobmeier, Thursday’s announcement might just be the end of the restructuring, “In filling these three key positions we are concluding the restructuring of the team management.” He also noted that this “new formation is leaner and the division of labour more clearly delineated,” which is either a statement of the obvious or a bit of a slap to Tardozzi’s management style, since “All three report directly to…Gobmeier.”
Tucked away in the Friday press release from the World Superbike Commission, along with other changes to the technical and sporting regulations, was the news that only sixteen bikes would be eligible to compete in Superpole qualifying. In the 2010 season, the fastest 20 riders during the qualifying practices competed to move on to Superpole 2 and 3 to vie for the pole position for the Sunday races.
With the lower numbers of entries this past season, many if not sometimes all of the riders gained entry into the first Superpole session. This coming, 2011, season, only the sixteen fastest riders will be in the first session of Superpole, with the slowest four getting knocked out of the running for Superpole 2 (allowing the fastest twelve to move onto Superpole 2).