A New Hope for WorldSBK – A Season Preview

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

The 2018 WorldSBK season is just around the corner, and Asphalt & Rubber has you covered for the latest within the paddock. After a winter of change for the WorldSBK paddock, normality will resume with the opening round of the season.

The biggest technical shake-up in series history should ensure closer competition throughout the field and the goal is to ensure that Jonathan Rea and Kawasaki are given a stern test throughout the campaign.

With rev limits imposed on a manufacturer by manufacturer basis, the performance weighting of each bike can be adjusted throughout the season.

The changes have been criticised by some Kawasaki brass recently, but for Rea the changes are a source of motivation.

“Everyone is convinced at the start of the season that it’ll be their year,” said Rea. “I’m the same and get really excited about it. My motivation for this year comes from a fear of not being ‘the guy’ anymore.”

“I’m really worried about that. My time at the top is going to run out at some point so I’m going to try and enjoy it as much as I can.”

American fans should also be able to enjoy that action with PJ Jacobsen and Jake Gagne both lining up on the grid.

“It’s incredible and surreal to be racing in WorldSBK,” said Gagne. “I know that it’s time to get the work done and make progress. I’ve had a lot to get used to; mostly electronics.”

“This is a great opportunity for and I wake up every morning knowing what this opportunity means. I know other riders in the United States have bigger reputations, but I’m a lot happier to be the MotoAmerica rider on the WorldSBK grid rather than watching someone else do it!”

With two Americans on the grid for the first time since 2014, Jacobsen is keen to get back on a big bike. The former Supersport race winner has experience from the Endurance World Championship and from racing in British Superbikes.

“I’m really happy to step up to the Superbike for the first time in WorldSBK,” said the New York native. “I’ve always enjoyed riding a Superbike in the past when I’ve had the chance. It’s exciting to be able to join a new team too where we can all grow together.”

“It’ll be important to understand the electronics, and I need to study and learn how the bike works. The goal is to keep learning and, if I’m realistic, it’s about what I can do in the second-half of the season. We’re a new team with a new bike, so it’ll take time to get the most from the bike.”

With both American riders racing on Honda machinery they will be leaning heavily on Leon Camier throughout the season. The Englishman has jumped ship to the Red Bull Honda team and will be entrusted with leading the development of the Fireblade.”

“Last season saw the team struggle and development of the bike stalled but with a fresh start and major changes within the structure of the team there is growing confidence that Honda should see some progress.

“At the end of the day it’s not easy to win in WorldSBK,” said Camier. “Kawasaki and Ducati are the target, but we’re looking at the long term with this project.”

“It’s difficult to know the potential of the Honda because of everything that happened last year, but we’ll see in Australia, and then Thailand, and then the rest of the season what our development is like.”

While Honda is searching for progress Yamaha is searching for trophies. The 2017 season saw Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes race at the sharp end and claim seven podiums. While a win eluded the team it’s clear that they have been trending in the right direction.

A first win since 2011 is on the cards and the varies experience of both riders has been key to the development of the R1.

“I found riding the MotoGP and the Suzuka bikes really helped me understand some areas we can improve for the WorldSBK bike,” said Van der Mark.

“The target is to make everything smoother on the bike. Last year we were competitive at the end of the season, when found a good base setting and didn’t need to make a lot of changes.”

“Last year we got stronger and stronger as the year progressed, and we finished the season on the podium, so hopefully we can start the year like that and continue to improve.”

Both Yamaha riders are chasing their first WorldSBK victory. Having finished the season with podiums at each of the final four rounds, they will go into the campaign filled with confidence.

“The second-half of 2017 was quite good, and we were able to challenge for the podium in most races,” said Lowes. “We’re still a little bit behind Kawasaki and Ducati, but testing has been OK, and it’s still clear that Kawasaki has a significant advantage.”

“Johnny is the best rider on the best bike, there’s a lot of great riders in WorldSBK, but Kawasaki has two world champions on their bike. It’s a strange time in WorldSBK because no one wants to see the same rider winning races, but you also have to give him credit for what he’s been able to achieve.”

In the past it was the Aprilia that was getting the credit for winning in WorldSBK. Last year however it was the Italian machine that was lacking performance.

With Eugene Laverty unable to finish on the podium throughout the season, an unwanted career first, the pressure will be on the Milwaukee Aprilia squad to turn around their fortunes. Testing has been inconsistent, but there has been flashes of potential from the package.

“It’s tough to know where we stand at the moment, but I’m really looking forward to Australia,” said the Irishman. “I’ve always been strong at Phillip Island and we know what we need from the bike for that race.”

“It’s a very unique weekend, and a circuit unlike any other but I’m confident for the start of the season.”

“It took us too long to understand the correct direction of the bike last year, and in racing you have to have the right package, but this bike has the potential to win races. When we hit the sweet spot with this bike it’s still great but it’s very sensitive now.”

The WorldSBK grid will also see the return of MotoGP refugee Loris Baz. The Frenchman was a front-runner in 2014 before moving to the Grand Prix paddock. Ultimately his time in the series came to an acrimonious ending, but he’s excited to be back on the grid.

“My experience in MotoGP has definitely made me a much better rider,” said Baz. “If I had this level of experience when I was last racing in WorldSBK I would have been winning more races.”

“I was already fighting at the front in every race then and I’ve only gotten better since then. Of course everyone wants to be on the Kawasaki or Ducati because they’re in front but the base of the BMW is actually quite good.”

Photos: © 2018 Jensen Beeler / Asphalt & Rubber – All Rights Reserved

This World Superbike story is made possible by our A&R Pro members. If you like reading WorldSBK stories on Asphalt & Rubber, you should consider supporting this content by signing up for A&R Pro.

Steve English

"Superbike Steve" is known best for his on-air hosting of the WorldSBK race feed, but when he's not looking pretty for the camera, he is busy writing stories and taking photographs for Asphalt & Rubber.