While it has hardly been surprising to see Ducati and Kawasaki maintain their position as the dominant forces at play in WorldSBK, the battle for best-of-the-rest has been an interesting subplot for 2017.
Over the course of the opening three rounds of the campaign, the form of Honda and Yamaha has been marked by their stark contrast in fortunes.
Last year, Honda had been a podium and front-row regular as the season moved into the European swing, and Yamaha looked to be clutching at straws and looking for any positives they could find on their return to the series.
This year has seen their roles have reversed, with Yamaha consistently the best-of-the-rest and in position to fight for a rostrum finish. Honda on the other hand have had a disastrous start to the campaign with an all-new Fireblade.
Having spent the winter working on finding consistency, Alex Lowes arrived in Australia hoping for two Top 5 finishes.
At the end of Sunday evening, it was a case of mission accomplished for the Englishman, but having been in the middle of the podium scrap, he could be forgiven for having been slightly disappointed to come away with a brace of fourth place finishes.
Jonathan Rea may have claimed a victory-double at the season-opener, but the case could have been made for Lowes being one of the stars of the weekend.
The Yamaha YZF-R1 looked a potent weapon in the hands of the 26-year-old, and speaking to the people closest to him in the Crescent Racing run squad, it’s clear that they feel this could be only the beginning of a strong campaign.
After their return to World Superbike in 2016, Yamaha did not shy away from admitting that there is plenty of work to be done to turn the YZF-R1 into a front-runner.
That work was certainly being undertaken at this week’s Jerez test, with Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes the busiest riders on track over the two days.
The pair completed a total of 283 laps of the Spanish circuit, and with a host of new parts on the bikes, it’s clear that the R1 should be more competitive in 2017.
Setting the fastest time on the opening day of the season put smiles on the faces of everyone in the Pata Yamaha garage, but the rest of the weekend wasn’t quite as smooth.
While Sylvain Guintoli converted his opening day speed into strong race finishes, the challenge facing the team is clear: getting the most from the YZF-R1.
As with any racing Yamaha, the key to generating speed and performance from the R1 is corner speed. Watch the bike on track and it’s very similar to what you can expect when you look at Jorge Lorenzo in MotoGP.
Yamaha riders need to carry corner speed and momentum at all times and be as smooth as possible.
An announcement that has been expected for quite a while now, Yamaha is officially returning to the World Superbike Championship for the 2016 season.
The news comes after nearly a season of competition for the Yamaha YZF-R1 in other classes, which has seemingly given Yamaha Motor Europe the confidence to support a factory team in the premier production racing series.
Helping Yamaha in that endeavor will be the experience WSBK outfit of Crescent Racing, who will run the day-to-day operations of the team, while Yamaha Racing develops the racing platform and strategy.
Yamaha’s return is already well-formed, as both Sylvain Guintoli and Alex Lowes will be riding for the factory team. Additionally, Yamaha Racing has already secured PATA as the team’s title sponsor.
When Suzuki announced that they would be pulling out of MotoGP at the end of the 2011 season, they were keen to emphasize that the withdrawal was only temporary, saying they were planning a return to MotoGP in 2014. Though many paddock regulars were sceptical about such a suggestion, Suzuki is sticking to its guns, it seems. In an interview with Italian website GPOne, Suzuki Racing’s technical director Shinichi Sahara reaffirmed that they were still working towards a 2014 return to MotoGP, based on the motorcycle the factory had been developing before the decision was made to pull out.
Bad fortune continues to follow John Hopkins, as the Anglo-American rider broke his hand today during a high-speed crash at the Phillip Island World Superbike test. Again breaking his right hand, Hopkins tweeted the following after the incident: “Well I’m absolutely devastated to announce that after a high speed crash I’ve broke a bone in my R/ hand ! Severity is yet to be determined.” Hopper would continue, saying that he would fly back to the United States today, where he will have his hand examined and treated.
John Hopkins continues his stepping-stone return to MotoGP, and accordingly will compete in the 2012 World Superbike Championship with Paul Denning’s Crescent Fixi Suzuki team (note the newly announced title sponsor). Campaigning on the 2012 Suzuki GSX-R1000, Hopper will have a steep nine-fingered challenge this season, as Suzuki has pulled its official race support out of WSBK. As such, Yoshimura has been tapped by Crescent Suzuki to help develop the GSX-R’s motor, while the team will continue to employ its lessons learned from both the British Superbike Championship and MotoGP paddocks.
Showing briefly the bikes that John Hopkins and Leon Camier will campaign in World Superbike this season, Crescent Fixi Suzuki is already on the road and headed to Phillip Island for the WSBK pre-season test that is scheduled for February 26th. For those that don’t know (and there is no reason you should), co-title sponsor Fixi is not an urban-oriented bicycle company, but instead provides foreign exchange solutions to Tier 1 investors — whatever those are.
With the news that Crescent Suzuki would make a move from the British Superbike Championship, and enter into the World Superbike Championship, all eyes have been on whom the British team would field as riders. Anglo-American John Hopkins was heavily favored to be the still-unannounced teammate to Leon Camier on the squad, provided the former-MotoGP racer didn’t find his way back into the premier class. With Suzuki withdrawing from MotoGP last week and effectively ending Hopper’s 2012 MotoGP bid, Crescent Suzuki has now confirmed that Hopkins will make his return to World Superbike racing with the all-British team.
The World Superbike team roster will grow a little bit next year, as Crescent Suzuki, formerly of British Superbike fame, will join the premier production motorcycle racing series. While there was considerable chatter over whom would ride for Crescent Suzuki, the British team has confirmed that Leon Camier will race on the company’s Suzuki GSX-R1000 race bike. Leaving some room for more paddock speculation, Crescent Suzuki says it will announce Camier’s teammate at a later date, an announcement that surely is influenced by whether or not John Hopkins makes a move to the MotoGP Championship for the 2012 season.
With just one more round left in the 2011 British Superbike Championship, John Hopkins has undergone more surgery, again having his hand operated on for injuries he sustained after crashing at the Czech GP back in August. The surgery comes as a surprise as the BSB season is so close to completion, along with the fact that Hopkins’ dominate wins at Donington Park shoved him to the front of the points leader board in the Championship standings.
“There was a lot of pain in my fingers at Donington Park and I knew it wasn’t right and in fact I was very worried I’d aggravated the injury. So I rushed back to see my surgeon on the Monday,” explained Hopper. “The X-Rays showed that my middle finger wasn’t locating properly in the second knuckle. Fortunately the bone area that had previously been crushed was now nicely healed and so my surgeon was able to put in screws and plates so as to stabilize the finger.”