Part of a family with a long motorcycling tradition, the Spanish WorldSBK debutant aspires to show strength on the Orelac Racing VerdNatura Kawasaki
Isaac Viñales had the opportunity to compete in the premier class of the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship at the right time. At 27 years old, the rider, born in the town of Llansa, graduates to WorldSBK after completing two solid campaigns in the FIM Supersport World Championship. Yielding podiums and leading on occasion, the step up to WorldSBK will be a much bigger challenge but it is one that Viñales is ready to embrace.
A member of a family where two wheels have always been present, Isaac is a cousin of MotoGP™ rider Maverick Viñales, who started his 2021 MotoGP™ campaign with victory aboard the factory Yamaha. The family’s presence in the WorldSBK paddock extend to WorldSSP300, where his uncle, Angel, has started a team in which he will compete the youngest member of the family, Dean Berta Viñales.
“Yes, we are very much a ‘biker’ family,” said Viñales. “When our parents were young, they were already riding motorcycles but they didn't do races, they just rode motorcycles. Then my older cousins started riding motorcycles, Maverick and I got together with them and we started racing when we were little; our parents took us with them. The truth is that we never imagined that we were going to end up where we ended up!”
Viñales came to the World Superbike paddock in 2019, looking for a turn in his career after three seasons in Moto2™ in which he found it difficult to excel and push on like he had previously in Moto3™, where he was a podium finisher on five occasions. A few results in the top ten – of which his best was ninth on two occasions – between 2016 and 2018 were a meager balance for a rider who wanted to fight at the front. It was time for Viñales to choose a different path, one which would eventually see him bare the fruit of hard work and a courageous switch.
He clinched three podiums in his first season with the Finnish Kallio Racing outfit, aboard the Yamaha YZF-R6 which had won the title just one year previous with fellow Moto2™ switcher Sandro Cortese. In 2020, he took another two in a course that showed not only his progression in the category but also that he maintained his competitive spirit. He did not win, but he became established at the sharp end with his fierce fights at the front of the group, catching the attention of Orelac Racing boss Jose Calero. The Valencia-based team was looking for a good rider to head its premier class Project and banked on Viñales, following the philosophy of offering new opportunities to young riders with potential.
The challenges that Viñales has discovered since his arrival at the Orelac garage are not minor: new displacement, new equipment, new manufacturer, new motorcycle, new tyres, new team, new expectations; electronics on the new Kawasaki ZX-10RR are proving tricky for the Catalan too. "We have only ridden two days with the new bike, but we’re really looking forward to seeing what happens," explained Viñales, already on the final stretch of the preseason. “In the Barcelona test I was still very lost, it was the first time I had raced with the new bike and with these electronics, but the impression is that this is another level, people go very fast, and they will have to clench their fists.”
However, his and the team's approach is to avoid the rush of mistakes that often come with rookies who arrive on a new grid with excessive eagerness and youthful exuberance in abundance: “I intend to do my best and learn, without getting nervous. The important thing is to progress and at the end of the year, begin to push harder and be bolder. But for now, we are going to start very calm.”
There will be no pressure for Viñales in his first battles on the ultra-competitive WorldSBK grid, which features 11 WorldSBK-class race winners and a whole host of World Champions: “At ORELAC, they have told me to go step-by-step, that you have to learn and that the riders with whom I’m going to compete against have been here for many years with the same bike, and we have come from competing with a motorcycle that was without electronics, therefore now we have to learn. We're going to do it race by race, that's where we'll really learn and see the differences, so I'm really looking forward to the first one.”
Although at the beginning Viñales could not fight at the head of the group, his intense duels last year with rivals such as Andrea Locatelli or Lucas Mahias - now again on the same grid also as rookies - suggest that where he has to fight there will be a guaranteed show, adding to what is sure to be a special spectacle in 2021’s World Superbike season.
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