While the line up for the 2019 MotoGP season was settled surprisingly early in the year, the opposite has been the case for WorldSBK. With just two weeks to go to the first full test of 2019, there are still a whole range of seats open, and questions going unanswered.
One of the reasons for the delay became clear at the EICMA show in Milan last week. While the manufacturers were presenting their newest bikes, including some of the key machines that will star in World Superbikes next year, a couple of manufacturers also presented their racing programs for 2019.
Perhaps the biggest story came from Honda, where HRC presented Althea and Moriwaki as their new partners in running their WorldSBK program. After a partnership of three years, and a relationship going back nearly two decades, Ten Kate are out, with the Italians and Japanese taking over.
It wasn’t just Ten Kate: title sponsor Red Bull were also out. The energy drink firm had signed up when Nicky Hayden was with the team, a big name draw for sponsors, and a rider with a long connection to Red Bull.
It was Red Bull who brought in Jake Gagne, the American who never really found his feet in the WorldSBK championship. After two years of poor results, Red Bull withdrew.
I wouldn’t call it the worst-kept secret in the motorcycle industry right now, but the fact that BMW is bringing a new S1000RR to market for the 2019 model year isn’t exactly new information.
In fact, we thought that we would see the new RR break cover last year, as spy photos of the machine showed it out testing, and looking close to production form. A no-show at EICMA however, the timetable on expecting the S1000RR had to be adjusted.
Now, we get confirmation of what we already expected, with Althea Racing’s bossman Genesio Bevilacqua confirming the new BMW S1000RR for the 2019 season in an interview with GPOne.
Jordi Torres is one the big personalities in the World Superbike Championship, and he has done well this season on the Althea BMW S1000RR. For the 2018 season though, Torres – that’s “Spanish Elvis” to his fans – will be on a factory bike, getting a ride with MV Agusta Reparto Corse.
Torres will have big boots to fill at MV Agusta, as Leon Camier has impressed in recent seasons, putting the MV Agusta F4 RC into points positions no one thought possible. Camier leaves MV Agusta, for greener pastures at the Red Bull Honda WorldSBK team.
It looks set to be a quiet year on the rider market for World Superbike, with the leading seats already filled for 2018, but there will still be some significant deals announced in the coming weeks and months.
Jonathan Rea, Tom Sykes, Chaz Davies, and Marco Melandri are all secure in their seats for next year, but Sykes had been linked with a move away from Kawasaki earlier this summer.
Prior to winning two races before the summer break, the 2013 World Champion had been touted as a potential target of Yamaha, but with wins in the bag it looks highly unlikely that he will make a switch.
For Ducati there is little reason to change their status quo, and the only change in their ranks could be the addition of a second bike to the Barni squad.
The Italian entry has thrived with Xavi Fores in the last year, and came close to adding a second machine for this year. If there is a fourth Ducati on the grid it will likely have a rider bringing money to the table for Barni.
It is tough luck for Markus Reiterberger, as the German rider will be sitting out the remainder of the 2017 World Superbike season, after not being able to recover fully from a crash he suffered last season at the Misano Circuit.
Reiterberger fractured two vertebrae (T10 & T12) in the crash, and has since struggled to get back to fitness and back to the pace for the 2017 season. Accordingly, the Althea BMW Racing rider has come to the decision to sit out the rest of the WorldSBK season.
This shuffle in the Althea team will take affect immediately, with a still unnamed rider set to replace Reiterberger at the upcoming round at the TT Circuit Assen.
We are racing at last. The first round of World Superbikes at Phillip Island means we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The long, dark winter is over, and motorcycles are circulating in earnest once again.
What to make of the first weekend of World Superbikes in the new format? Those who worried that spreading the racing over two days would hurt attendance and ruin the series have not seen their fears realized. Attendance at Phillip Island was around 75% of the MotoGP attendance there, really strong figures for the track.
Some caveats apply, of course: firstly, the Phillip Island MotoGP round is one of the most poorly attended on the calendar, though last year numbers improved.
Secondly, the combination of Australian Superbikes with World Superbikes meant there was a full program of racing, and plenty for fans to see.
The real test of the new format will come at tracks like Donington and Jerez, where attendance has been dismal. If they can get more people through the gate there, the Saturday-Sunday format will be more of a success.
The Althea Racing team is to switch back to Ducati from Aprilia for the 2014 World Superbike season. After their split with Ducati over development of the Panigale at the end of 2012, the Italian team are to return to the Bologna factory fold and race the Panigale in 2014.
They will do so on a different footing to their previous relationship with Ducati, however. Next season, Althea will race the Panigale 1199 R as an EVO entry in WSBK, the subclass set up to allow a more affordable entry into World Superbikes.