Yamaha's First Steps Towards A WSBK Return: Sam Lowes To Race An R6 In WSS With Yakhnich

Yamaha has taken the first tentative steps towards an eventual return to the World Superbike series. On Friday, the Yakhnich Motorsport team announced that they have signed Sam Lowes to a three-year contract, with the stated aim of winning the World Supersport championship before moving up to World Superbikes. Lowes contested both the 2011 and 2012 World Supersport seasons with the PTR Honda team, winning 2 races and finishing 3rd in the standings this season.

The most significant part of the press release announcing the signing of Lowes, however, is that Yamaha Motor Europe is stepping up to support the Yakhnich effort, after a hiatus from racing in 2012. The Yamaha's European distributor had been a long-time supporter of both the World Superbike and World Supersport teams, but had been forced by the financial crisis and falling sports bike sales to cut back their presence in the production championship. Factory support in World Supersport was dropped at the end of the 2009 season, and from the World Superbike class at the end of 2011. 

The bikes were still clearly competitive, however, as Chaz Davies demonstrated by winning the 2011 World Supersport title on a Yamaha YZF-R6. The very same bikes, in fact, that Cal Crutchlow had won the title on two years' earlier, and which had been in storage ever since. This year, Vladimir Leonov, riding for the Yakhnich team, had had two podiums on a Yamaha and finished regularly in the top 10.

The signing of Lowes also signals Yamaha's intent to move back into the World Superbike class. There have been hints that Yamaha would return to racing in World Superbikes when the new Yamaha R1 is released, with Valentino Rossi commenting briefly that one of his reasons for returning to Yamaha in MotoGP was to help get the all-new R1 reading for racing. Since then, Yamaha Motor Racing boss Lin Jarvis has told UK media that he factory could be open to a return if the technical rulebook were adjusted to reduce the cost of entry, something which is expected to happen for 2014. Rumors emanating from well-connected sources suggest that there will be a brand-new R1 for 2015, and that Yamaha intends to race the machine in World Superbikes that same season. The signing of Lowes and the contract with Yakhnich could be the first step on the road to Yamaha's return in 2015.

Below is the press release announcing the signing of Lowes, courtesy of Yamaha Racing:

Sam Lowes and Yakhnich Motorsport together for 2013 - 2015

22yrs old Sam Lowes and Yakhnich Motorsport team have signed a three years contract with the aim to win the World Supersport Championship and then move on to the World Superbike class.

The English rider, third in the 2012 World Supersport Championship, will ride next year on the Yakhnich Motorsport Yamaha R6 and will be teammate of 25 yrs old Russian rider Vladimir Leonov, who finished two times on the podium in 2012. The team will receive official support of Yamaha Motor Europe but will carry out its own technical development.

With these two strong riders, Yakhnich Motorsport is confident to be one of the favorite teams for the 2013 World Supersport Championship title.

Alexander Yakhnich

“I’m happy to announce that Yakhnich Motorsport takes another step in its long term program for the World Supersport class and – in the future - for the Superbike class. As was our plan, the 2013 team is even stronger than last year, adding another top rider with Sam Lowes. We are confident to obtain top results in next year’s World Supersport Championship. Our plan for the future is to bring both riders to the top level even in the World Superbike Championship. That’s why we signed a long term contract with both of them”.

Sam Lowes

“I’m very happy to be joining the Yakhnich Motorsport Team. They have given me a fantastic opportunity to compete and fight for the World title in 2013. I’ve seen how professionally they work and how their performances increased during the 2012 season and that’s why I think I’m now in the right place at the right moment to be able to win next year’s championship. I look forward to riding the Yamaha R6, a very strong bike, and starting my work with the Yakhnich team very soon. I’m very exited. Thanks to the whole team for their belief in me and support and all the fans behind me! Roll on 2013!”

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Hope to see some more consistency from him staying with the top guns in the class. The R6 is still the bike to beat imo (with factory backing). He has a good chance in the next few years, hopefully he gets the WC for Llamaja again.

What about rumors of a new triple Yamaha supersport? Any insights on that?

Just stop. Please. Just stop. You are not correct. Do not spread rumors that can easily be disproven with 5 minutes worth of research. You simply made that up or read a report from the spanish press.

There is no way that Yamaha throws away all the money they have dumped into I4 development to run a 675 I3 in Supersport. Its not as easy as lopping off a cylinder and bumping the others up to 225cc each. There are handling considerations to be had and a whole new development plan to be instigated. There is also no guarantee that a triple is more, or even as competitive as a four in the class. Why would they throw away a working formula for an untested one? It makes no practical sense and in a time of depressed profits due to a sluggish economy, it doesnt make business sense either. At the very least, this rumor, while extremely unlikely, is at least plausible by the defined SBK rules.

The R1 becoming an 1100 inline 3 is just pure fabrication and WILL NEVER COME TO PASS! How can I be so sure of this you ask? Read WSBK rules. Twin engines are allowed to be up to 1200cc, but 3 and 4 cylinder machines are limited to 1000cc. This is clearly written in the WSBK rules. There is no weight or displacement considerations for triples. And therefore there is no advantage to be gained by making the R1 a 1000cc triple. The rules blatantly prohibit an 1100cc triple.

Additionally, Yamaha has signaled no plans whatsoever on what they intend to use the I3 design for, other than a generic "street bike"" term. There was also no displacement information released.

And if you dont believe me, read here:
Rule 2.4.3

The current rulebook means nothing for 2014. Dorna have made it clear there will be a significant re-write of the rules to 'budgetise' the series. If Yamaha wished to build an 1100 triple, the rules will be changed to accommodate with provision for parity, much in the same way the rules for 1,000cc twins were changed to 1,200cc. Superbike racing reflects what is in production, not the other way around.

Yamaha have spoken to the press about this, so it may well be true for 2014 or later. See PB mag Dec 2012 - it says they are dropping the R1 for a triple......apparently stated by Kunihiko Miwa, their SEO @ Cologne MC Show.

Why is it that Yamaha spends so much on R & D for the M1 to make it what it is (central air intake, side exhaust, fuel tank under the riders ass, aerodynamics, etc.) because those are the obvious correct answers in performance, then toss that aside and do an entirely new bunch or R & D to make the R1, with it's under tail exhaust, split air intakes, standard fuel tank placement and aerodynamics that seem to be all over the place?
Why the R1 isn't a tuned down, cost effective M1 is a mystery to me. Could someone please explain?
And on the subject of production bikes - has any bike manufacturer ever offered to sell a bike with optional parts not on the bike?
Nearly everybody I know who buys a bike switched the exhaust so wouldn't it be great if you could go to your Yamaha or Honda etc dealer and say, I'd like a new bike but without an exhaust system and without front brake calipers or rotors or master cylinder. Then when the bike arrived at your dealer in its crate you could order or bring in the aftermarket parts you want on the bike, the dealer could put them on and you could ride off. That way there isn't the absurd waste of tossing the original OEM parts.
Just a thought.

Design criteria for road bikes and race bikes are worlds apart. Race bikes only ever operate on perfect tracks, at full speed, under strictly controlled conditions. Road bikes - even hypersport bikes - need to be manageable in 35 km/h traffic jams, over road surfaces which are badly damaged, or have been stripped and graded awaiting a fresh covering of tarmac. For most owners, before they get to roads where they can take their sports bike for a spirited ride, they first need to cover tens, sometimes hundreds of miles of freeways, highways, motorways, urban and suburban roads. Even when operating at highly illegal speeds, those bikes are never anywhere near the limit of their performance. Thermal dynamics of the bike are totally different. Chassis performance is totally different. The balance of the bike is totally different - the rider spends just a tiny part of his time in a racer's crouch, unlike a race bike.

The truth is that an M1 on the road would be awful. Too stiff, too harsh, the engine would never reach operating temperature, and the balance of the bike would totally wrong. Nobody would buy an M1 after a test ride. It's cheaper to design and build a bike which is fit for purpose. The fact that they sell several thousand R1s easily offsets the R&D effort that goes into it.