The 25th anniversary of World Superbikes was marked in the grand manner with the closest championship race ever in 2012. A title that for so long seemed Max Biaggi’s before falling into the lap of Marco Melandri was almost pinched at the last by Tom Sykes. Biaggi hung on after a thrilling finale at Magny Cours but he couldn’t have cut it finer, clinching it by half a point.
With that, an emotional Biaggi called time on a glittering career, riding off into the sunset with possession of the number one plate. But as the door closes on the career of the Roman Emperor, another opens as nineteen riders begin a nine-month marathon to succeed Biaggi as champion. However, this marathon will see nothing but sprints, and it promises to be one of the most open seasons in years.
The Superbike World Championship is entering a new era under the jurisdiction of Dorna with CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta confident the series will go from strength-to-strength. With grid numbers falling since 2012, that remains to be seen but the upheaval isn’t restricted to off-track affairs with a number of tweaks that will change the way the teams go racing.
Pirelli’s role as sole tyre supplier hasn’t prevented innovation on the part of the Italian company with this year’s bikes the first to run on 17 inch tyres with new profiles, sides and a larger tread contact patch. The early feedback would certainly suggest that exciting racing is in the offing with Eugene Laverty and Leon Haslam among those expecting tyre management to be crucial in the closing stages of races. Late drama is sure to follow.
The most visible change will become apparent as the riders take up their places on the grid this Sunday, only three will make up each row from now on but the decision to impose a 165kg minimum weight for all motorcycles, twin cylinder or four cylinders, may well have a more significant effect on shaking up the pecking order. A bit of rain usually does that job too and wet races are going to play out rather differently too.
In years gone by, a dry race interrupted by a sudden shower would’ve brought an instant red flag and delay while the riders fitted wet tyres, anticipating a restart. For 2013, this type of race is no longer with new MotoGP flag-to-flag style rules taking over. Should rain fall during a race this year, riders will now have the option to dive into the pits for a change of rubber. Riders will be forced to dismount their motorcycle with three designated mechanics allowed to work on the machine during the pit stop, although the rider may help if he wishes to. Extreme circumstances though, such as the monsoon at Silverstone, would still result in a stoppage.
The season starts in the familiar surroundings of Phillip Island but the calendar welcomes three new venues for the 26th season, some more familiar than others. After a nine year absence, Laguna Seca replaces Miller Motorsports Park as the Stateside venue for SBK in September while Jerez joins Aragon as a second Spanish venue, pencilled in for October 20th. If the season lives up to last year, the one truly new circuit for World Superbike racing will play host to a championship decided in November in the form of the Buddh International Circuit in India. Originally, the Indian stop was scheduled for March 10th but to allow the marshalls and medical staff to be sufficiently trained, the round has been pushed back to mid-November. The United Kingdom will continue to host two rounds, Donington Park on May 26th before the summer stop at Silverstone at the beginning of August.
|2013 eni Superbike World Championship Calendar – Two Races Per Weekend|
As always, the supporters will have a healthy contingent of British riders to cheer on at home and throughout the season, including a dream team at Honda. The newly renamed PATA Honda squad have retained Jonathan Rea for a fifth full season and following BMW’s streamlining of their Superbike operation, Leon Haslam has taken up the second seat alongside the Ulsterman.
BMW aren’t out of the championship altogether but their hopes will now solely rest on the shoulders of the Italian BMW Motorrad GoldBet team. Marco Melandri, leader of the German-based squad in 2012, remains as part of a two-man line-up with Chaz Davies whose maiden win at the Nurburgring went some way to earning him a factory ride. With Biaggi taking up a new career in TV commentary, defending champions Aprilia have promoted Eugene Laverty to team leader status although new signing Sylvain Guintoli will certainly be planning to challenge that. The Frenchman was another rider to join the winners circle in 2012 but will have plenty to prove this season given the acrimonious U-turn which saw him choose Aprilia over FIXI Crescent Suzuki.
Paul Denning was left fuming by what he perceived to be a “lack of integrity and respect” from Guintoli and has instead turned to another Frenchman in Jules Cluzel, runner-up in last year’s World Supersport Championship. Leon Camier provides continuity on the other GSX-R1000 and if testing is any indicator, he may well be the dark horse in the upcoming season.
When drawing up a list of title favourites, it would be tough to look past 2012 runner-up Tom Sykes who makes up an unchanged Kawasaki team with Loris Baz. Pre-season testing hasn’t been kind to the Yorkshireman with a crash on Thursday fracturing his left wrist but Tom returned to finish third fastest on the last day of testing action, suggesting he’s ready to go one better than his agonising 2012 campaign.
The fastest man of all this week turned out to Carlos Checa, the only world champion in the field, but while Team Ducati Alstare may have an experienced rider in their ranks, the same can’t be said for their motorcycle. 2013 sees the competitive debut of the Ducati Panigale 1199RR with Checa and Ayrton Badovini on-board and it remains to be seen how well it handles over the course of the season. The first impressions are certainly positive.
Come Sunday afternoon, there will be no hiding place though as pre-season potential will begin to be turned into points and prizes. One weekend won’t make a championship but if last year taught us anything, it’s that every single point (or half point) counts and with the field looking as closely matched as ever, anyone of a dozen riders could hit the ground running this weekend.
MotoGP must wait six weeks for its curtain raiser so the eyes of the motorcycling world will be fixed on Phillip Island in a few days’ time. With thirty races, nineteen riders and six different makes of motorcycle, the 2013 eni Superbike World Championship promises plenty. Now, it’s time to deliver.
|2013 eni Superbike World Championship: Teams And Riders|
|Aprilia Racing Team – Aprilia RSV4 Factory|
|50||Sylvain Guintoli||58||Eugene Laverty|
|Kawasaki Racing Team – Kawasaki ZX-10R|
|66||Loris Baz||76||Tom Sykes|
|BMW Motorrad GoldBet SBK – BMW S1000RR|
|19||Chaz Davies||33||Marco Melandri|
|Team Ducati Alstare – Ducati Panigale 1199RR|
|7||Carlos Checa||86||Ayrton Badovini|
|PATA Honda World Superbike – Honda CBR1000RR|
|65||Jonathan Rea||91||Leon Haslam|
|Althea Racing – Aprilia RSV4 Factory|
|FIXI Crescent Suzuki – Suzuki GSX-R1000|
|2||Leon Camier||16||Jules Cluzel|
|Team Pedercini – Kawasaki ZX-10R|
|5||Alexander Lundh||23||Federico Sandi|
|Red Devils Roma – Aprilia RSV4 Factory|
|Grillini Dentalmatic SBK – BMW S1000RR|
|MR-Racing – Ducati Panigale 1199RR|
|HTM Racing – BMW S1000RR|