2023’s NEW TECH: engine specs, new swingarms, gearboxes, homologations, staff changes and big bosses

Thursday, 23 February 2023 03:16 GMT

WorldSBK testing gave us a first glimpse of what to expect for the year ahead, whilst there was plenty of technical developments and senior engineers in attendance

The 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship back on track this weekend after a load of pre-season testing, and one thing was clear: plenty of new tech has been seen across the winter. Whether it was newly-homologated motorcycles, swingarm variations, chassis tweaks or upgraded engines, we had a feast to get into across all five manufacturers and plenty of Independent teams too. 

Ducati: new engine, new exhaust and winglet refinement

Starting with the reigning World Champions, it was all about evolution and not revolution. The new Panigale V4 R features an upgraded engine with what Ducati’s CEO Claudio Domenicali said featured “sexy, high-spec engineering” during the manufacturer’s launch in Madonna di Campiglio. They also had new winglets; the new two-element wings (main + flap) guarantee the same aerodynamic load but are more compact and thinner (respectively by 40% and 50%). The new exhaust means that the total potential horsepower of the bike is 240.5 and both factory bikes had the new exhaust and like it (both in performance and look).

The priority for both riders was to get used to the new bike, with Alvaro Bautista ( Racing – Ducati) hailing the new engine as more “linear and smooth” and after back-to-backing the old and new bikes at Jerez before focussing only on the 2023 bike from Portimao onwards. However, Bautista had hoped to improve turning, but said that “nothing had changed”, but in terms of stability – another area he was hoping to improve – that he had gained something. He said the engine in 2022 “was too strong and aggressive”, but now it’s a “step forward”. For Rinaldi, it was about getting to grips with the new bike, whilst also working on engine and strategy. There were also developments for Philipp Oettl (Team GoEleven), who was trialling a new exhaust and also fuel tank winglets.

BMW: winglet revamps, wheel covers, new gearbox and switch brake supplier

Another new bike for the 2023 is the BMW M 1000 RR; one of the key differences for them in 2023 will be the aero package, which has been radicalised. In terms of the aero however, all BMW riders said that they could feel the difference in the corners, with van der Mark branding it “really strong and nice” but that he did have to get used to it. One benefit will be top speed but that won’t be clear at Jerez, whilst in terms of grip coming out of corners and getting the bike to turn – a main complaint from BMW riders in 2022 – a step had been made with this package. With turning the bike, van der Mark commented: “It helps, especially when you dive into the corner”, whilst team principal Shaun Muir said that “over the course of the year, it’ll be a benefit to the team”.

One of the other key changes is that BMW have decided to switch from Nissin brakes to Brembo. Van der Mark worked with Nissin exclusively on day one to back-to-back test the two brands, whilst he said it’s “hard to say” whether it’ll be a clear step up just yet, with more feeling needed. Loris Baz (Bonovo Action BMW) however was adamant that it’ll be a positive change: “It’s something that I was pushing for a little bit because we had some problems in some races last year. I think we can take this out of our mind with Brembo, so I’m looking forward to races, especially in hot conditions.”

There was also a new gearbox too, which allowed for quicker changes with upshifts and downshifts, making the life easier for the riders. Muir also gave comment to this, saying: “It’s been tested by all riders from BMW in the December test at Jerez and that it was beneficial as well. It’s to suit the power gains that we’ve had over the last 12 months. It’s optimising; we have to select our gear ratios at the beginning of the year to suit the season, so we’ve refined that from where we were in 2022. The change in characteristics, the quick shift characteristics, has been modified as well and the riders are happy with all of that.” Besides that, there’s a new engine mounting point which was confirmed last year and Shaun Muir said to expect benefits from a variation of the swingarm from December’s test to come for the European rounds, whilst one of the homologations – the K66 MU Competition – has wheel covers homologated, as seen with Redding at Portimao.

Kawasaki: updated engine, major staffing changes, corner exit speed and suspension items

Kawasaki focused on improving acceleration out of the corners and new ideas regarding electronics. Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) re-tested some items that Showa had bought regarding suspensions, something that teammate Alex Lowes stated too, with Lowes working on a variation of an upgraded rear shock, with it being the first test with the latest evolution. Rea stated that he had re-confirmed a wheelbase setting at Jerez, as it’s something that influences the ZX-10RR “a lot” from track to track. For the six-time World Champion, there was a lot of back-to-back testing to confirm that items and solutions that they thought were better were actually better. For Lowes there was also chassis items, as well as electronic updates. There was a neutral lever too, to help with regards to preventing false neutrals. One thing that was noteworthy was that both riders stated that they’d prefer harder tyres to test instead of the softer compounds that Pirelli brought to the test, with the ZX-10RR characteristics meaning that hard rubber would be favoured.

However, one of the standout elements for the entire factory Kawasaki team was that there was new personnel in the team. Christophe Lambert moved over from Toprak Razgatlioglu’s (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK) crew and now takes on a more central role within KRT with regards to electronics – Alex Lowes had worked with him before and stated that having a previous working relationship with him helped and is excited for the new ideas to come through. There was also a new electronics engineer, Sander Donkers, who Rea would be working with. One of the focal points of the test was to understand the communication within the team from riders to the new members, and to build on the working environment within the box. 

Ahead of the new year, Kawasaki have additionally got an updated homologation, with the ZX-10 RR sporting an upgraded engine. Officially, the model code is ZXT02T – ZX1002T and it should help with acceleration coming off the corners to carry the speed down the straight. It’s not a complete revolution, but Kawasaki are keen to get their gap to Ducati down. Guim Roda explained more here.

Yamaha: new swingarm, links and electronics

At Yamaha, there was a new swingarm and linkage, with Toprak Razgatlioglu getting down to near lap record pace on day two at Jerez, having stated on day one that he’d target a 1’37. Then at Portimao, he was one of four riders under the existing lap record. He was also working on a variety of things such as electronics, as was Andrea Locatelli, who had new swingarms too. The core focus for Yamaha was to work on rear grip and acceleration out of the corner, in order to carry more speed down the straight and rival the power of the Ducati. For other Yamaha teams, the GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team debuted their new line-up of Remy Gardner and Dominique Aegerter and the GMT94 Yamaha of Lorenzo Baldassarri all have the same spec Yamahas at the start of the year. 

Honda: big bosses from Japan, engine specs and swingarms

All eyes were on Honda, as some of the biggest HRC bosses were in attendance across both Jerez and Portimao tests. Along with HRC engineers Yuji Mori and Tomonori Araki, Masamune Ohigashi, chief engineer of HRC’s race operations was also keeping an eye on proceedings. Engine specification variants, along with slightly different swingarms to try. They also had new Nissin brake calipers to try. There was also a new weld point on the chassis, something team boss Leon Camier confirmed as their super concession, around the swingarm pivot. This gives them more options with regards to geometry settings with swingarm and headstock positioning. There were as well as electronic strategies in order to get more grip in the corner. The engine configurations are aimed at more torque and acceleration out of corners. For the PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda Team, they have received the factory Honda swingarm which started last year for the 2023 season, whilst in terms of personnel, vastly-experienced crew chief Mick Shanley is the team’s new technical director.

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