Rea faces rookies, returnees and archrivals, all set on dethroning the four-time champion
In 31 seasons of the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship, no rider had managed to even come close to winning four consecutive titles – until 2018. Jonathan Rea’s (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) unprecedented, four-season strong feat can only be explained as a combination of the Northern Irishman’s otherworldly talents and an undeniably strong foundation built by the Kawasaki Racing Team since the start of the decade. Since 2015, this match made in heaven has overcome everything – and everyone – that has stood in their path.
But could all that change in 2019? KRT and Rea’s dynasty has forced everyone else to increase their efforts tenfold. Becoming world champion is an attractive prospect by itself, but the opportunity to end a game-changing streak? It’s much more than just the icing on the cake. Every rider wants to be the one to dethrone Rea – and this season there won’t be a lack of serious candidates.
Much has been said already about new arrival Álvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati), not just because of his very successful journey through the MotoGP™ paddock. The Spaniard has been personally handpicked by Ducati to headline a new era for the Borgo Panigale squad in WorldSBK, as he takes control of the potentially groundbreaking Panigale V4 R. Alongside him will be three-time WorldSBK runner-up Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati), a man who has managed to rise above injuries and other setbacks year after year to remain as Rea’s main challenger.
The men in blue have also prepared their season accordingly, doubling the number of riders from the 2018 grid. Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark will again lead the charge for Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team. The main difference from 2018? They are both now WorldSBK race-winners; the next step is the championship. Alongside them, WorldSSP champions GRT Yamaha step up to WorldSBK with a full factory set-up and two wildly different – but extremely competitive – riders: WorldSSP titleholder and WorldSBK rookie Sandro Cortese, and SBK® legend Marco Melandri.
The Italian rider may be facing one of his last chances to claim the WorldSBK crown. KRT recruit Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) is in a similar predicament, as he returns to WorldSBK on the brink of turning 36. But the Englishman has already proven during testing that age will not be an issue – and with championship-winning machinery below him, there may not be a bigger danger to Rea’s position out there.
That’s just a handful of the men expected to be battling for wins and podiums week in, week out in 2019. Expectations are sky high for BMW’s full factory return with the new S1000 RR and the tandem of Tom Sykes and Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team), while Moriwaki Althea Honda Team’s Leon Camier and Ryuichi Kiyonari could be set to stun the world after a low-key pre-season. And that’s not to mention the sextet of privateers on the grid with machinery on par with their factory counterparts. It’s all talk until the lights go green, but the championship looks set to be a scorcher – Phillip Island can’t come soon enough.
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