OPINION: "Since starting to work in WorldSBK in 2016 I’ve never seen the Championship in a healthier position" – Steve English

Wednesday, 12 June 2024 06:25 GMT

WorldSBK commentator Steve English gives you plenty of reasons to be excited about racing resuming at Misano.

As a World Championship, the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is now entering middle age. It’s moved from being the fresh upstart in 1988 trying to redefine what a Championship could be. Two races on a Sunday with production bikes created an easy narrative of “race on Sunday, sell on Monday.” It moved into adolescence in the Foggy Era, with rowdy fans on sun-soaked banks at Assen or Brands Hatch cheering on their heroes.

THROUGH THE YEARS: WorldSBK’s different eras

The teenage years saw one of the best title deciders in any Championship; Imola 2002. No need for any more to be said. After that, WorldSBK had a difficult time. Trying to separate itself from MotoGP™ has provided challenges during the four-stroke era of Grand Prix racing. The Jonathan Rea-Kawasaki era showed the power of man and machine but over the last five years the series has entered a new period. 

The era of parity. Regulations have been written to bring balance to the Championship. There will always be inherit advantages for one bike over another but now the rider is making the difference again. Toprak Razgatlioglu (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) has shown this with the BMW M 1000 RR and his incredible performances in Barcelona and at Assen. The Turkish superstar is the man of the moment in WorldSBK; he has a talent unlike any other and he proves that the man on the machine is still the defining characteristic in racing.

THE CURRENT SITUATION: a title fight and questions about the future

Sitting six points behind Alvaro Bautista ( Racing - Ducati), winner of the last two titles, heading into Misano shows that Toprak means business. This is typically the stretch of circuits that suit his style. Misano, Donington and Most are all places where he’ll feel he can make a difference. Will it be enough to overturn the deficit? Time will tell but he’s ready and aiming for three wins this weekend. Bautista is fighting for his life in WorldSBK at the moment. He might be leading the Championship but two race wins from nine isn’t the strike rate he expects, nor experienced last year. A home round for Ducati brings with it pressure and this is a big weekend for him. With question marks about his future and a possible retirement, it will be imperative to win races this weekend.

Nicolo Bulega ( Racing - Ducati) is hot on his heels. Winner at the opening race of the year, the Italian is third in the standings. Is he the heir to Bautista? He wasn’t expected to be, but fate has played its hand and the WorldSSP Champion has looked a class act. Superpole speed has been impressive from Bulega and with Andrea Iannone (Team GoEleven) trying to stake his claim to the seat, it should be a good battle between them. Throw into the mix Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Team Motocorsa Racing), Sam Lowes (ELF Marc VDS Racing Team), Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team) and the wildcarding Michele Pirro ( Racing - Ducati) and it could be an ominous weekend for the Bologna manufacturer.

YAMAHA AND KAWASAKI’S CHARGE: who will lead their fight?

Who will lead the Yamaha charge? So far in 2024, it’s been Andrea Locatelli (Pata Prometeon Yamaha) but teammate Jonathan Rea made steps at the recent Misano test. It’s been a miserable year for Rea, but circumstances have played a part too. He needs to find some form and start proving his decision to switch to Yamaha wasn’t a foolish one. It won’t be easy to turn around his fortunes but it’s certainly a story to keep an eye on. Remy Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) and teammate Dominique Aegerter should also be strong at the GRT Yamaha squad’s home round.

Rea left Kawasaki after a hugely successful stint together. He has had to watch on as the green machines have made progress over the winter. Now is the time for Axel Bassani (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) to prove himself at the Provec Racing-run outfit. With a contract option for 2025 expected to be exercised, he will be part of the exciting Bimota project next year. Results in Superpole have been lacking, so one-lap speed on Saturday morning will be the key to his home round. Teammate Alex Lowes, winner of two races in Australia, will know Misano will be a tough round so top fives would be a sign of another strong weekend.

WORLD SUPERSPORT: a first-time winner on the cards?

In the FIM Supersport World Championship, the change to the Next Generation regulations has certainly created an interesting dynamic in recent years. This year though, the show has moved on with four riders separated by just two points following six races of action. Adrian Huertas ( Racing WorldSSP Team) and Stefano Manzi (Pata Yamaha Ten Kate Racing) have been boom or bust riders while Marcel Schroetter (MV Agusta Reparto Corse), who crashed at the recent test, is the steady rider collecting points. The Bavarian is chasing his first victory, and it could easily come this weekend.

CONSISTENCY IS KEY: how to master WorldSSP300

In WorldSSP300, the form of riders is always interesting. On your good weekends, you need to take podiums and on your bad weekends you need to be inside the top six. Petr Svoboda (RT-Motorsport by SKM - Kawasaki) and Loris Veneman (MTM Kawasaki) hit those notes, but both know that winning races is what’s required of them. Last time out, Dani Mogeda (Team#109 Retro Traffic Kawasaki) won both races and the he'll be out to continue his impressive start to the season. Jeffrey Buis (Freudenberg KTM-Paligo Racing) and Matteo Vannucci (AG Motorsport Italia Team) know they need to get their stuttering campaigns off the ground this weekend.

A NEW ERA BEGINS: the debut WorldWCR round

Misano also marks the first round of the new FIM Women's Circuit Racing World Championship. With a full field, it’s important to have riders like Ana Carrasco (Evan Bros Racing Yamaha Team) and Maria Herrera (Klint Forward Factory Team) on the grid to set the mark for what we can expect from the rest of the grid. Overall, the WorldSBK paddock looks to be in great shape as we get ready for the start of the summer season.

DON’T MISS OUT: watch every moment from Misano LIVE and UNINTERRUPTED using the WorldSBK VideoPass!