18 riders set to lock horns for the top prize of production-based motorcycle racing
After the venues, rules and manufacturers for next season were announced several weeks ago, all that was left was to find out who will be the faces of WorldSBK in 2019. Now that the provisional entry lists for all three categories have been released, we know that eighteen of the best talents in motorcycling racing will be on the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship grid at Phillip Island in less than six weeks’ time.
These 18 competitors – who will surely be joined by wild cards and other riders throughout the season – start the year with one goal in mind: lifting the winner’s trophy in Qatar by the end of October. A whole 10 will do so with full factory-backed teams – four more than last season – while many of the rest will compete with some sort of factory support.
Nine countries find a spot on the 2019 grid, with the United Kingdom providing the most representatives with six riders. They are followed by Italy with three riders, with Spain and Germany producing two apiece.
The latter will actually be returning to the championship this year after no German riders took to the track throughout 2018 (only the fourth time this has happened in 31 years of WorldSBK). They do so in style, with two champions in Sandro Cortese (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK) and Markus Reiterberger (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) bearing the German flag around the world.
The European nation is far from the sole returnee however, as Japan brings a full-time rider – Ryuichi Kiyonari (Moriwaki-Althea HONDA Racing Team) – to the series for the first time since Hiroshi Aoyama in 2012.
The Asian rider’s return is a welcome one for many reasons. WorldSBK now boasts a whole 10 different WorldSBK race winners with Kiyonari and fellow legend Leon Haslam (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) on the 2019 grid. A whopping 181 WorldSBK races have been conquered by one of these ten men, topped by one Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) at 71.
As for the rest, they include three former STK1000 champions, one 125cc World Champion, one Moto3™ and WorldSSP champion, and two riders with multiple WorldSBK podiums to their names.
The one rider not on either of those lists is also not by coincidence the youngest on the 2019 entry list, as Alessandro Delbianco (Althea Mie Racing Team) steps up to the world stage off the back of a promising maiden STK1000 season. Aged 21 and hailing from Rimini, the Italian will be one of three riders making their WorldSBK debuts this year – the others of course being Álvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) and Cortese.
On the flip side, Marco Melandri (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK), born on August 7th, 1982 will be the most experienced rider lining up at Phillip Island, with the Italian edging out Kiyonari from the top spot by a mere month and a half. To put that into context: Delbianco was exactly one month old when his countryman debuted in the 125cc World Championship. Overall, the average age in Australia will be 29.61 years old.
But strictly in WorldSBK terms, Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) will be the most veteran man on the grid next season, with 259 races started just inching him ahead of former teammate Rea (243). Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Barni Racing Team) and Toprak Razgatlioglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) – 16 and 24 respectively – have enjoyed the least appearances, new riders excluded. In total, fifteen riders totalling 1949 starts amongst them.
We know the names, we know the places and we know the machines – time to get those engines roaring! Pre-season testing gets back underway next week at Jerez on January 23-24 and Portimao from January 27-28, as we gear up for the opening Australian Round next month. Follow the first steps into the 2019 season thanks to WorldSBK VideoPass.