The FIM today released the provisional 2018 WorldSBK version. Just as last year, the schedule contains thirteen rounds, spread out from February to late October. Two circuits visited in 2017 are out, Jerez and the Lausitzring, while Brno makes a return to the WorldSBK schedule, and a brand new circuit in the west of Argentina, near the border with Chile.
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The World Superbike championship has moved to address the performance disparities which have seen Kawasaki and Ducati dominate in recent seasons. The Superbike Commission, the rule-making body for the WorldSBK series, today announced a series of measures to ensure greater parity among teams and factories. The measures, which will enter into force in 2018, see rev limits replacing weight penalties and air restrictors as a performance balancing mechanism, and a performance-based concession point system for allowing engine updates during the season.
The changes fall into three main categories: the performance balancing system, a system of concession points, and the price capping of a range of suspension, chassis, and engine parts related to performance. The performance balancing system and the concession points system are aimed at creating more parity between different manufacturers, while the price capping of certain parts is aimed at both limiting costs, and of ensuring that all teams have access to the same parts.
The WorldSBK grid at Jerez will be full of replacement riders, as injury takes its toll, not just on the regular riders, but also on possible replacements. Sylvain Guintoli is to step in and replace the still injured and departing Randy Krummenacher in the Kawasaki Puccetti team for the rest of the season, the Swiss rider having previously fractured his wrist. Guintoli will ride for the Puccetti team in both the remaining rounds this year, at Jerez and at Qatar.
A major surprise out of Borgo Panigale this afternoon. Ernesto Marinelli, the man behind so much of Ducati's World Superbike success, is to leave the company at the end of 2017 for pastures new.
Marinelli has been a lynchpin in Ducati's WSBK operation, working with the company for 22 years. He started as a track engineer, working with both Carl Fogarty and Neil Hodgson, but soon took on a major role in Ducati's racing operations. The Italian led Ducati's AMA racing program at the end of last century, working with such legendary riders as Troy Bayliss, Ben Bostron, Anthony Gobert, and John Kocinski. After returning to Europe, he took over the role of technical director, then project manager of Ducati's WorldSBK project.
Notes from the second World Superbike race in France, from our man on the scene:
Notes on Jonathan Rea wrapping up his third WorldSBK title from our man on the ground at Magny-Cours:
Stefan Bradl is to miss the rest of the 2017 WorldSBK season. The Red Bull Honda rider's wrist injury, sustained in a crash at Portimao, is more serious than initially thought, and the recovery period required means he will not be fit for either the Jerez or Qatar rounds of WorldSBK.
The decision was taken after surgery on Bradl's right wrist. Pins were inserted and a torn scaphulonate ligament reattached, damage sustained in the crash. The surgeons who performed the operation have ordered Bradl to keep his wrist immobilized to allow the damage to heal. This effectively makes it impossible for him to ride for the rest of the season.
Pirelli will continue to supply tires to all classes in the World Superbike championship for the foreseeable future. The Italian tire manufacturer has extended their current contract with Dorna through the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
Andrea Iannone has been something of an enigma since joining Suzuki. The Italian was blisteringly quick last year on the Ducati, which is one of the reasons Ducati took so long to choose between him and Andrea Dovizioso after they signed Jorge Lorenzo to the factory team. He was fast when he jumped on the Suzuki GSX-RR for the first time at the Valencia test, then carried that speed to Sepang, where he finished as second quickest overall.
Things have gone downhill since then. The Italian slipped down the order at the Phillip Island, then trailed further behind at the Qatar test. His season has gone from bad to worse since racing started: he has five DNFs from 13 races, and when he finishes, he usually ends up around tenth. His best result so far has been a seventh place in Texas, but that was the exception, not the rule.
He currently sits in sixteenth in the championship, with a paltry 33 points. Iannone, race winner in Austria last year, sits behind both Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rookies, and behind a total of seven riders on satellite bikes. His rookie teammate, who has spent most of the season banged up with injury, is threatening to beat him more and more regularly. How to solve an issue like Andrea Iannone?
Notes from Portimao from our man on the ground:
Notes on WorldSBK race 1 from our man on the ground at Portimao:
After the tragic death of Nicky Hayden, the Red Bull Honda team has struggled to fill the American's place in their WorldSBK team. Jake Gagne filled in at Laguna Seca, putting an American on the bike at the US round. Davide Giugliano had a modest outing on the Honda CBR1000RR at the Lausitzring, but he was not the long-term solution for the Ten Kate squad either.
The first round after the summer break is always one that fans and paddock personnel get excited about. But the German round of the WorldSBK calendar hasn't captured the imagination, because of its remote setting and, for the riders, the bumpy track surface.
With Jonathan Rea easing his way towards the history books as the first rider to win the championship three years in a row, there was a feeling from some quarters that it was merely a matter of marking time rather than making a mark. That being so, once the weekend got underway it did throw up plenty of excitement in what appears to the final race at the Lausitzring.
Notes on the second WorldSBK race of the weekend from our man on the ground at Lausitzring:
Notes from the first WorldSBK race in Germany from our man on the ground: