2014 SBK Season Preview: Can Sykes Go Back-to-Back?


They say reaching the top of the mountain is the easy part, staying there is the real challenge. In 2014, Tom Sykes will put that theory to the test as he defends the World Superbike title won in such glorious fashion last October.

The season didn’t start too well for Sykes but in the end, the Yorkshireman took the title with something to spare as neither factory Aprilia rider proved able to mount a season-long challenge, Sylvain Guintoli starting well before fading while Eugene Laverty’s hot streak came a little too late. Marco Melandri also chased hard in an attempt to give BMW something to remember their final season by but it was all to no avail with Sykes and Kawasaki simply too strong.

For the world champions, much remains the same with continuity on the rider front as Loris Baz partners the new number one but Aprilia have tweaked their line-up in the hope of regaining their crown. Guintoli retains his place despite winning last year’s opening race before failing to win again with Melandri slotting in alongside him after BMW’s exit from the sport.

Laverty & Lowes will be charged with bringing success to Suzuki (Photo Credit: Suzuki Racing)
Laverty & Lowes will be charged with the task of bringing success to Suzuki (Photo Credit: Suzuki Racing)

Losing the Aprilia ride might be seen as a blow to Eugene Laverty’s title hopes but he appears to have landed well and truly on his feet at Voltcom Crescent Suzuki who have produced a strong package for the Irishman. Eugene’s first challenge will be to keep his new young teammate quiet with Alex Lowes looking to add the world title to his British crown. The pair were second and third behind Sykes in testing this week and their rivalry will be a fascinating subplot to the 2014 season.

PATA Honda also field a British dream team with Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam together again while the new factory Ducati squad are also pinning their hopes on a British rider as Chaz Davies joins the explosive Davide Giugliano.

The series welcomes two new manufacturers this season with American outfit Team Hero running EBR (Erik Buell Racing) motorcycles for Aaron Yates and Geoff May while Italian marque MV Agusta moves up into the Superbike class with Supersport championship winning squad Yakhnich Motorsport. Claudio Corti will be their sole representative.

Thankfully, grid numbers have been bolstered for 2014 and much of that owes to the introduction of an EVO class in World Superbikes, a concept seen before in the British championship. The new class, which allows Superstock engines in Superbike chassis, is aimed at bringing the cost of entering SBK down and with restrictions on gear ratios and price caps on suspension and brakes also imposed this year, grid numbers are significantly up on twelve months ago. EVO entries will be limited to six engines per season, two less than the full factory entries, while they will choose a single set of gear ratios which they must use all season.

Another area that sees restrictions imposed is the rubber underneath the bikes. In any given weekend, riders are allowed a maximum of 24 tyres (10 fronts, 14 rears) with no more than thirteen allowed to be used in any one session, prompting fears that free practice sessions may see reduced track action as riders save their tyres.

So all change on the technical front and the calendar has received something of a makeover too. Monza bids a sad, albeit unsurprising, farewell while the farcical scenes at the Nurburgring last year mean we’ve seen the last of World Superbike racing in Germany for the time being. Poor attendances have caused Silverstone to drop off the schedule but Donington Park ensures British fans will still see their heroes close up in May.

Istanbul Park is the fourth 2013 venue missing from this year’s calendar but Misano returns to SBK after being absent last season. Sepang hosts the championship’s first Malaysian round for 21 years while South Africa’s Phakisa circuit in Welkom will stage the penultimate round, two weeks before the season finale at an as-yet undecided venue.

2014 eni SUPERBIKE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP – RACE SCHEDULE
TBC
23/2 13/4 27/4 11/5 25/5 8/6 22/6 6/7 13/7 7/9 21/9 5/10 19/10 2/11
TWO RACES PER WEEKEND

 

The format of the race weekend has been tweaked to bring it in line with the Dorna-run MotoGP championship. Whereas before, two practice sessions would be accompanied by two qualifying sessions which determine the field for Superpole, Friday and Saturday morning now sees three practice sessions where the top 20 advance to a two-part qualifying session on Saturday afternoon. As in MotoGP, the top ten from combined free practice move straight through to Q2 with the remaining ten battling it out in Q1. The quickest two riders in Q1 will then be promoted into the second session, allowing them to battle for pole position.

In recent seasons, the front of the grid has seen plenty of green with Tom Sykes unstoppable at times on Saturday afternoons. 2013 proved that he is equally formidable on Sundays these days and wrestling the number one plate from his motorcycle will not be easy. Being the hunted rather than the hunter is no small challenge too and time will tell as to how Tom copes with the eyes of the Superbike world all on him. In a matter of hours, we’ll start to get some answers.

 

2014 ENI SUPERBIKE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP – TEAMS AND RIDERS
KAWASAKI RACING TEAM – KAWASAKI ZX-10R
1  TOM SYKES 44  DAVID SALOM EVO
76  LORIS BAZ
TEAM ALSTARE – BIMOTA BB3
2  CHRISTIAN IDDON EVO 86  AYRTON BADOVINI EVO
DUCATI SUPERBIKE TEAM – DUCATI 1199 PANIGALE R
7  CHAZ DAVIES 34  DAVIDE GIUGLIANO
MAHI RACING TEAM INDIA – KAWASAKI ZX-10R
9  FABIEN FORET EVO
BMW TEAM TOTH – BMW S1000RR
10  IMRE TOTH 56  PETER SEBESTYEN EVO
MRS KAWASAKI – KAWASAKI ZX-10R
11  JEREMY GUARNONI EVO
TEAM HERO EBR – EBR 1190RX
20  AARON YATES 99  GEOFF MAY
TEAM PEDERCINI – KAWASAKI ZX-10R
21  ALESSANDRO ANDREOZZI EVO 23  LUCA SCASSA EVO
VOLTCOM CRESCENT SUZUKI – SUZUKI GSX-R1000
22  ALEX LOWES 58  EUGENE LAVERTY
RED DEVILS ROMA – APRILIA RSV4 FACTORY
24  TONI ELIAS
IRON BRAIN KAWASAKI SBK TEAM – KAWASAKI ZX-10R
32  SHERIDAN MORAIS EVO 84  MICHEL FABRIZIO EVO
APRILIA RACING TEAM – APRILIA RSV4 FACTORY
33  MARCO MELANDRI 50  SYLVAIN GUINTOLI
BMW MOTORRAD ITALIA SBK TEAM – BMW S1000RR
52  SYLVAIN BARRIER EVO
ALTHEA RACING – DUCATI 1199 PANIGALE R
59  NICCOLO CANEPA EVO
PATA HONDA WORLD SUPERBIKE TEAM – HONDA CBR1000RR
65  JONATHAN REA 91  LEON HASLAM
MV AGUSTA RC–YACKNICH MOTORSPORT – MV AGUSTA F4 RR
71  CLAUDIO CORTI