Movement, reformation and questions regarding the WorldSBK puzzle
The MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship prepares to take on the final third of the 2017 season and as anticipation builds for the last four Rounds, attention has moved over to who will be going where in 2018. WorldSBK.com takes a look at what the outline of the grid is starting to look like ahead of next season.
Guaranteed: There will be no changes in the official Kawasaki, Ducati and Yamaha teams. Both Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes renewed their two-year contract with the Kawasaki Racing Team during the 2016 season, and will therefore continue as a duo in 2018. Meanwhile, Aruba it.Racing - Ducati Team renewed Marco Melandri’s contract in mid-August for another season, continuing the partnership with Chaz Davies, who’s seat was already secure following his two year contract renewal which was signed in mid-2016.
During the summer break the Pata Yamaha Official WorldSBK Team announced the extension of Alex Lowes' contract for the 2018 season, which didn’t come as a bit surprise, given the Brit has played a key role in the development of the R1 since Yamaha's return to the Championship in 2016. Lowes will continue to share a garage with Dutchman Michael van der Mark, who joined the team this year and has a contract with the Japanese factory for another year.
Following the blow of the tragic loss of Nicky Hayden, Red Bull Honda World Superbike Team bosses face the challenge of putting together a project for 2018, one which meets the ambitions of the official structure of the Japanese factory. North American Jake Gagne tentatively climbed Hayden's saddle at Laguna Seca, with Davide Giugliano stepping in at Lausitzring, but the CBR1000 RR saddle has not yet been filled by a permanent rider for the next season. As for Stefan Bradl, the team led by Ronald Ten Kate only confirms that he is currently negotiating his position for 2018.
There are some notable changes coming for the Kawasaki Pucetti Racing team in 2018. Plans to have two bikes in the WorldSBK class are in motion, and team owner Manuel Puccetti has confirmed they are in advanced talks with Toprak Razgatlioglu – who is currently locked in the title fight for STK1000. On top of this, the team are in talks with Leon Haslam, who secured a podium finish for the team this season, as wild card at Donington Park. Another option for the second bike is former French World Champion Sylvain Guintoli, which could be a strong option if Haslam chooses not to make the step back over to WorldSBK. Despite all this talk, it is worth noting their current rider Randy Krummenacher won’t stay in the premier class, with a move back to WorldSSP in the pipeline.
In the Milwaukee Aprilia Team box, Eugene Laverty is the only rider to have signed for 2018 so far, but he could be joined again by Lorenzo Savadori as negations continue. The Italian has expressed his desire to continue with the British-based team, and despite recently testing the Aprilia RS GP around Misano he isn’t looking to be making the jump over to MotoGP just yet.
We are yet to hear an announcement regarding Leon Camier, and with MV Agusta Reparto Corse looking to run two bikes in WorldSBK, it will be interesting to see if he decides to stay with the Italian team. On top of this, Argentinean rider Leandro Mercado’s contract with IodaRacing Team comes to an end this season.
Xavi Fores (Barni Racing), Jordi Torres (Althea BMW Racing) and Román Ramos (Team Go Eleven) are among those who are yet to sign with a team for 2018, as their contracts come to an end this season.
Fores currently sits in sixth position in the championship standings, but he is aware of other factors: "With my current team I am happy, but it is not yet known how the team will be established for 2018. At the moment everything is still in the air.” It is the same case for Torres, as regardless of the results so far this season, the Spanish rider doesn’t know the position of his team in regards to entry for 2018. Torres is yet to make a decision as to whether he will compete in his fourth season in WorldSBK. Compatriot Ramos would also be heading into his fourth season as the rider for Team Kawasaki Go Eleven, and the Spaniard is yet to hear anything regarding next year: "I have no news yet. I hope to continue in WorldSBK next year; I want to be a good rider in WorldSBK and to get very far in this Championship.”
As WorldSBK racing action returns in two weeks time at the Portimao circuit in Portugal for Round 10, it is likely we are set to hear about the final pieces of the 2018 puzzle with the paddock getting together for only the second time since July.