WorldSBK ready to erupt into life at Phillip Island to kick-start 2020

Wednesday, 26 February 2020 07:00 GMT

The dust has settled, and the talking has stopped: after a long winter, the time has come for one of the most anticipated and unpredictable seasons in years to ignite

The 2020 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is finally upon us and after three months of winter testing, the new year looks set to bring World Superbike action closer than ever before. New teams, new riders, new motorcycles, new circuits, new challenges and new team line-ups headline 2020, which starts at a traditional WorldSBK venue: celebrating 30 years since WorldSBK’s first race at the track, Phillip Island welcomes classic action for the season-opening Yamaha Finance Australian Round.

Kawasaki headed the most recent test at Phillip Island; Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) put the reigning Manufacturers’ Champions on top as he searches for his first win in Australia since 2017. Rea topped some pre-season tests but had limited dry running due to weather; he’s still however the man to beat. His teammate Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) will make his anticipated KRT racing debut and aims for a first podium of his career at Phillip Island. Both crashed during the Phillip Island Official Test however, showing they make errors.

One of the biggest stories from pre-season is that the new Yamaha YZF R1 is a weapon to be taken seriously, particularly in the hands of Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Official Team). The Turk has been electric, topping the Portimao test and the opening day at Phillip Island. Toprak’s proven that Yamaha are title-challengers in 2020, and with a breakthrough in his Q tyre performance, all eyes are on the 23-year-old. On the other side of the garage, Michael van der Mark showed phenomenal race pace and will be in contention from round one in 2020.

Over at the ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati squad, the big news is that Scott Redding is the big-name rookie in 2020. The Brit topped testing in Portugal on day one, whilst making major improvements on day two of testing in Australia. A circuit he likes and one where the Ducati Panigale V4 R stormed to three wins in 2019, Redding is tipped as Rea’s biggest challenger. Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) had a tricky pre-season, with fifth at Portimao yet outside the top ten at Phillip Island. However, don’t discount Davies, as he has six podiums to his name on ‘The Island’.

Honda’s all-new CBR1000RR-R has proven to be an enormous surprise in testing, with the first public test at Jerez leaving it on top after one day. With Leon Haslam (Team HRC) and Alvaro Bautista (Team HRC), the Japanese constructor returns as a factory effort to WorldSBK for the first time since 2002. Both Bautista and Haslam have been vice Champions in World Superbike and both have incredible form at Phillip Island, with Haslam winning his first race there in 2010 (WorldSBK’s closest finish), whilst Bautista took three wins in 2019 debut. Can they conquer the Honda this weekend?

Enormous gains have been made by BMW and the new S1000 RR, brought out last season. Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) has incrementally worked his way through testing and feels far more prepared for Phillip Island this year. A best result of second, three pole positions but yet to win, Sykes looks like he may be able to change that. Eugene Laverty (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) is Sykes’ new teammate for 2020 and is searching to get back to the front of the field. Laverty has won at Phillip Island twice, of which the last one in 2014 was his last… so far.

The Independent teams have been looking strong in the pre-season, with Loris Baz (Ten Kate Racing Yamaha) in particularly being a revelation. The Frenchman has been consistently in the top three and was lapping in a metronomic fashion during testing. Who would bet against a strong opening weekend for Baz, especially given his previous Phillip Island podium?

Another former Phillip Island podium finisher returns to WorldSBK this year, as Xavi Fores (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) sets his sights on the top positions. Sandro Cortese (OUTDO Kawasaki – TPR) has been strong at the Phillip Island Official Test, the only time he has had on the Kawasaki ZX-10RR. Other Independent riders include Leon Camier (Barni Racing Team), who comes into 2020 with a shoulder injury, and Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Team Goeleven), who has been inside the top eight.

Besides Scott Redding, there’s more rookies making their full-time debuts in WorldSBK this weekend. MotoAmerica Superbike race winner Garrett Gerloff (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Junior Team) joins the grid and has 2019 WorldSSP runner-up and fellow rookie Federico Caricasulo as teammate. Chile has representation as Maximilian Scheib (ORELAC Racing VerdNatura) makes the step up and he’s been quick in testing, whilst Takumi Takahashi (MIE Racing Althea Honda Team) will also be stepping into the class for the whole season.

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