High hopes amidst a new era: WorldSBK in 2020 was just the start…

Friday, 4 December 2020 09:00 GMT

After an unpredictable season of racing, commentator Steve English reflects on yet another record-smashing World Superbike season

When the 2020 WorldSBK season opened in Australia, we were treated to a classic weekend. After the hype of winter testing and the promise of a much more competitive era in the Championship, three great races in the Superbike class offered proof that the Championship was on the cusp of something special. A combined winning margin of one tenth of a second showed that this wasn’t the same as what we’d seen in the early years of Jonathan Rea’s (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) dominance. The Champion would be challenged in 2020. Unfortunately, the entire paddock faced a massive challenge when collective excitement was sucked out of the air by a global shutdown. When would racing resume? Nobody knew.

Five long months passed before the paddock reassembled at Jerez for Round 2. The excitement of Australia had been replaced by the relief of resumption. Getting back to work was the sentiment of the paddock; for Scott Redding (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati), it was about getting back to winning races. After opening the campaign with three podiums in Australia, he restarted the season by dominating the full-length races and finishing second to Rea in the Tissot Superpole Race. The ex-MotoGP™ rider had immediately proved his ability to adapt to WorldSBK.

The battle between Rea and Redding would ultimately be the story of the season but 2020 was about more than just the favourites. This was a season where the human side of racing was more evident than ever. The combination of uncertainty and hope was as present in the paddock as it was in every other walk of life. What would happen next? What could we look forward to? Could you afford to be optimistic or should you expect the worst?

In WorldSBK, we opted for hope and why not? Yamaha were winning races; a full factory Honda challenge was battling at the front and finishing on the podium; Ducati and Kawasaki were once again the class of the field but with BMW unveiling a new bike, every team had reason to be excited as 2020 progressed.

Rea and Redding might have dominated the Championship standings but with seven riders winning races, including Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Team GOELEVEN) claiming his first career victory, the future was as bright as we had hoped twelve months ago. We are living in a golden era of WorldSBK and whilst Rea was able to march to his sixth consecutive title during the final round at Estoril, the field is breathing down his neck and Kawasaki have had to take steps to maintain their position.

A brand new ZX-10RR has been launched and Rea will hope that it makes enough of a step forward to maintain their position. With an upgraded engine producing more revs and a new aerodynamic package, the bike is an evolution rather than a revolution. Step by step progress though has been more than enough for Kawasaki in recent years.

Over that period of time however, there’s been a new breed of WorldSBK stars in the making. The likes of Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes have matured into race winners while Toprak Razgatlioglu (PATA YAMAHA WorldSBK Official Team) has won races on Kawasaki and Yamaha material and this year, Rinaldi made the step forward to be a winner. Who’s next? Look no further than Garrett Gerloff (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Junior Team). The Texan firmly established himself as the year went on with three podiums in the final three rounds. 

Gerloff proved MotoAmerica is a talent pool that should be farmed and with Cameron Beaubier finally leaving America for a stint in Moto2™, it won’t be long until the star spangled banner is heard to mark a race winner on the world stage for the first time since Nicky Hayden in 2016.

It’s been even longer for BMW since they last won a race, but they’ve shot for the stars with Michael van der Mark joining Tom Sykes on the M1000RR. The Dutchman has firmly established himself as a world class rider and he’s sure to shake things up at the Shaun Muir Racing operation, but with two satellite teams added to the grid, BMW has doubled their ranks for next year with Jonas Folger and Eugene Laverty forming a potent quartet of riders on the Bavarian machines.

The sense of hope and excitement that was felt at the start of 2020 disappeared from the paddock until racing resumed but since the first race back at Jerez, there has been more and more reason to get excited about the potential within WorldSBK, making for a phenomenal 2021 Championship season.

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