If the second round of the 2018 WorldSBK season is anything to go by the regulation shake-up could see an absolutely compelling season. Buriram gave plenty to talk about...
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The opening round of the 2018 WorldSBK season is in the books and certainly provided us with plenty of excitement and plenty to talk about.
The 2018 season will see three free practice sessions on Fridays, and from the outset we saw the benefit of this schedule. In the past, if a rider crashed or had a technical problem on Friday it severely hampered their weekend. Any time lost was magnified because you could easily lose 60 minutes of track time. The new schedule sees three 40 minute session, to ensure the riders have the same amount track time. A crash on his out lap in FP2 saw Alex Lowes miss the entire session and while the loss of track time hampered the Englishman, getting out in FP3 allowed him to set a time good enough for entry into Superpole 2. The schedule will also allow riders to use Friday afternoon for a race simulation, whereas in the past this was harder to achieve.
Year three of Yamaha's return to WorldSBK will see the team expected to produce race wins, but are they ready to deliver?
For Alex Lowes and the Yamaha WorldSBK squad the goal is clear in 2018; to win races. Since joining the Crescent team in 2014 Lowes has been able to grow into a front running WorldSBK rider, but hasn't quite made the step to winning races. The package underneath him has rarely been one capable of delivering victories, but the progress of Yamaha last year offers hope that finally the illusive first win is possible.
“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 and I'm not really starting the year with any expectations other than to get the best we can at every round. The chassis is working really well but we need to keep working on the electronics of the bike. The plan is that we'll go to Phillip Island with an older electronic specification and then try to change the electronics for Thailand where we'll have some extra technical support and staff from Japan.
The official start of the WorldSBK season is less than two weeks away, with practice for the first round set to kick off at Phillip Island on Friday 23rd February. And to get fans in the mood for the return of actual racing, the coming week sees a full program of testing take place.
The week kicks off in Jerez, where the full grid of Moto2 and Moto3 has now assembled. After skipping the Valencia test last week, the Marc VDS Moto2 team, Sky VR46 team, and Swiss Innovative Investors team are all on track together in Jerez. The test will last for three days, from Monday through Wednesday 14th February, with the Moto2 and Moto3 classes taking to the track in separate sessions.
No team has undergone more change than Ten Kate Honda this winter. With a new team manager and rider line-up will they have a change of fortunes?
It's hard to imagine a more tumultuous season than the one Ten Kate went through in 2017. On and off the track the team faced incredible challenges. The death of Nicky Hayden robbed the team of their leader and hindered the developed of a troubled bike. They had a season unlike any other and the winter has seen them make drastic changes for the 2018 WorldSBK season.
The introduction of the new Fireblade was supposed to be a game changer rather than a headache. A season that saw a best finish of seventh illustrated the task ahead of the team and wholesale changes have been made for 2018. Kervin Bos has been promoted to team manager, and Leon Camier has been brought in to lead the team as a rider.
For Bos, a long-time Ten Kate employee and former rider, the challenge is huge. The 30 year old replaces Ronald ten Kate, and inevitably with any change of management, the vision and direction of the team also changes.
There have been few projects as ambitious as the £30m development for the Lake Torrent circuit but the foundations seem solid
Ireland is a land of legends and tales. Many of these relate to finding paradise, but few are actually about creating paradise. That's the goal for David Henderson, the man behind the project to take WorldSBK to Northern Ireland. Yesterday's announcement of a three year deal to host a WorldSBK has put Henderson on the clock, but having spent 15 years working on the project he's keen to get started.
“I've wanted this for a long time,” said Henderson. “I've been involved in motorcycle racing for 40 years and unfortunately some of my dearest friends were killed road racing. I always felt that there had to be a safer way to go racing in Northern Ireland. When Joey Dunlop died in 2000 I was given an extra incentive to develop this circuit.
“Road Racing is special and unique but you would look at the circuit and think what lamp post can we remove? What cats eye can we take off the road? What changes can we make to improve safety? As a civil engineer I could see all the dangers, but I also knew that you couldn't remove most of them. I wanted to build a circuit with the feel of the roads but the safety of a closed circuit.
The WorldSBK series is set to go to Northern Ireland in 2019. Dorna have come to an agreement with Manna Developments, the company behind the brand new Lake Torrent Circuit near Coalisland, County Tyrone, to host a round of WorldSBK starting next year.
The announcement will be welcomed in Northern Ireland, given the very strong motorcycling heritage of the region. The northern part of Ireland - both north and south of the border - has produced some of the great names of motorcycle racing, and one of the great dynasties in the Dunlop family.
The area plays host to one of the most prestigious races held on public roads, the Northwest 200, and many other races are held in the area, including at Cookstown and Dundrod. Dundrod is also the site of the Ulster Grand Prix, which was on the Grand Prix calendar until 1971. Both reigning WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea and Milwaukee Aprilia rider Eugene Laverty hail from the region.
With the holiday season receding into the rear view mirror, that means that we are getting closer to seeing bikes on tracks. Testing starts this week for both the MotoGP and WorldSBK paddocks, and before testing, the Movistar Yamaha team will present their 2018 livery later on this week as well.
The action starts on Tuesday in Jerez, where virtually the entire WorldSBK paddock is gathered for a two-day test. The Andalusian track will see the first real test of the 2018 WorldSBK machines, with the teams all having had the winter break to develop their bikes under the new technical regulations - new rev limits, and better access to cheaper parts.
All eyes will once again be on triple and reigning WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea, the man who dominated at Jerez in November. Rea was seemingly unaffected by the new rule changes, saying less top end merely made the bike easier for him to ride. Teammate Tom Sykes will be hoping to match Rea's pace, and adapt to the new character of the bike.
Provisional entry list for the 2018 World Superbike class:
The entry list for the WorldSSP class appears below:
Jake Gagne is to join PJ Jacobsen as the second American on the WorldSBK grid for 2018. The 24-year-old Californian is to join Leon Camier at the Red Bull Honda WorldSBK team next year, contesting the Honda CBR1000RR for the coming season.
Gagne is no stranger to world championship paddocks. The American started his career in the Red Bull Rookies, winning that championship in 2010, his third season in the class, beating former Moto3 world champion Danny Kent. After a year racing in the CEV Moto2 championship, he headed back to the US, where he raced a Yamaha in the AMA Pro Daytona Sportbike championship, winning the title in 2014. He followed that up in 2015 with victory in the MotoAmerica Superstock 1000 championship, before switching to the Superbike class.
In my article analyzing the Jerez private tests, which took an in-depth look at the times set by the WorldSBK bikes and the MotoGP bikes, I set out several reasons why I thought Jonathan Rea would not be moving to MotoGP, despite obviously being fast enough. Though Rea has good reasons of his own to prefer to stay in WorldSBK, a good portion of the blame lies with MotoGP team managers, I argued.
That argument was based in part on a press conference held during the last round of the season at Valencia. In that press conference, the heads of racing of the six manufacturers in MotoGP gave their view of the season. During that press conference, On Track Off Road's Adam Wheeler asked Yamaha's Lin Jarvis, Ducati's Paolo Ciabatti, and KTM's Pit Beirer whether they regarded WorldSBK as a viable talent pool, or whether they were looking more towards Moto2 and Moto3 as the place to find new riders.
The Superbike Commission, the rulemaking body for the WorldSBK series, met in Switzerland last week to review the rules for the 2018 season. The meeting came to approve the changes agreed earlier, and introduce a couple of minor tweaks to the rules.
The most significant act of the Superbike Commission was to approve the rev limits, performance balancing and so-called concession parts (the provision of approved and homologated parts to private teams at a fixed cost) agreed earlier, with some clarifications appended. What those clarifications are is not made clear in the press release, but should be apparent once the rules are published.