The World Superbike series kicks off in just under a weeks’ time and we’re finally starting to shake off the winter blues as bike racing beings again. Traditionally starting at the legendary Australian circuit of Philip Island we get our first taste of how 2016 will go.
It’s hard to look past Kawasaki domination once again this season as both Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes head into this season with something to prove with the top machinery and the targets on their back. Domination would be the only way to describe the Kawasaki Racing Team in 2015, winning 18 races and only finishing off the podium once all season they are the team to beat.
Rea has chosen to run with the #1 plate, a risky decision for those who are superstitious; the last rider to retain the championship running the #1 was Carl Fogarty back in 1999. Sykes will hope to be back on the top step and who better to have as your main rival then your team-mate.
Ducati return with Davide Giugliano and Chaz Davies, who have both proved to have podium and race wining pace aboard the Panigale R. Welshman Davies had a surge of form towards the end of 2015 which saw him finish in second position in the championship standings overall, whilst Giugliano was forced to sit out of the second half of the season due to injury.
There were just two rounds in which Davies did not stand on the podium last season, showing his impressive consistency which he will no doubt take into 2016. Pre-season tests indicate the team-mates have made solid progress with the Italian machine, in terms of both electronics and qualifying stints, so they will certainly be a team to keep an eye on in 2016.
Former MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden comes into the WSBK with Honda for 2016 the Japanese giants will be hoping to reignite their championship potential. A tough year for rookie Van Der Mark and reigning champion Guintoli, 2015 saw the Pata Honda team finish on the podium on just four occasions. Despite this, young Dutchman Van der Mark finished seventh in the championship standings on the Honda CBR1000RR SP in this tough series. Now without Pata’s backing the team will hope to be fighting for wins as Hayden returns to his Superbike roots but all eyes will be on the American as he makes the tough step from a GP bike to a Superbike.
Taking on board the Pata name, Yamaha return to the paddock with two former champions in their ranks as Sylvain Guintoli joins Alex Lowes aboard the YZF R1. Yamaha’s last success was in 2009 when American rider Ben Spies secured the championship in the final round in Portugal. The Japanese factory, last in the paddock back in 2011 are now back with Crescent Racing and following success with their R1 in 2015 they’ll be a strong contender this season.
British based team Crescent, with 20 years of racing experience behind them continue their relationship with Lowes. Team-mate Guintoli returns to Yamaha, with whom he raced back in MotoGP and after a tough year defending his world title with Honda he’ll hope to be back up fighting at the front.
BMW are entering two teams into WSBK for 2016, one with the backing of Milwaukee and Shaun Muir’s team. Bringing reigning BSB champion Josh Brookes with him, Muir breaks onto the world scene with the German manufacturer. Heading into the unknown this season but with plenty of racing experience, pre-season testing at Aragon provided the team with some strong timings and useful data.
With the final test this Monday it will enable the team to see if they can be truly competitive in the first round the following weekend. Joining Brookes will be Czech rider Karel Abraham as he makes the move over from MotoGP, which will be a tough test for the 26 year old.
Spaniard Jordi Torres and German Markus Reiterberger will make up Althea BMW. Despite winning the championship with Ducati back in 2011, Althea have now joined forces with the German company and with 2015 race winner and podium finisher Torres on board they may be able to surprise a few people once the season gets underway.
With changes to the electronics, two more manufacturers in MV Agusta and Aprilia, some former champions and rookies it looks set to be an exciting year.
Stretched across 14 rounds the World Superbike championship is set to be an incredible season full of surprises and toe to toe racing. With 15 champions on the grid whether it be in a national or global series you’ll see close racing throughout the field.
Listen below to WSBK commentator Steve English’s thoughts on the season ahead, who he thinks is going to be strong and how riders will perform under pressure this season.