ROOKIE REVIEW: how well did the new kids do on the WorldSBK block?

Thursday, 29 February 2024 09:58 GMT

Round 1 was a belter with new names coming to the fore, with some rookies tearing up the form book

The 2024 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship stormed into action last weekend and what a start to the season it was, with records smashed at every possibility as well new characters emerging into contenders. We look at the rookies and how they went over the weekend, with a pretty obvious place to start.

Nicolo Bulega ( Racing – Ducati) – second in the standings, a maiden race winner

The reigning WorldSSP Champion became the first rider to achieve a WorldSSP and WorldSBK pole in consecutive events but that isn’t the big claim; a maiden pole and maiden win in his maiden race, only John Kocinski managed that before. He looked comfortable on the bike in Race 1 and had to deal with a pit-stop, which he got absolutely perfect too. After that and once he broke clear of the pack, he eased to victory. However, there’re still aspects to learn; dealing with being bullied in the opening laps is one, as he dropped down to P10 in Race 2 as well as not being afraid of scrapping it out in the first stages. It’s a dog eat dog world in WorldSBK, there’s no time to chill.

Andrea Iannone (Team GoEleven) – fourth overall, maiden podium and good race craft

What can we say about Andrea Iannone? ‘The Maniac’ is back to World Championship competition with a bang and got the holeshot in his first two races back too. He rolled back the years with some vintage Iannone passes and it really was like he’d never been away. A podium in his maiden race was sublime and it was a story of what could have been in the Superpole Race, had a handlebar grip not come off; he was looking on for a victory. That shoved him down field on the grid for Race 2 but he came through and was still near to the podium, so the race craft is there and he’s not ring rusty like we perhaps expected him to be. Let’s see how he goes in Barcelona and beyond but it was a promising start for life in WorldSBK for #29.

Sam Lowes (ELF Marc VDS Racing Team) – 11th overall but results don’t tell the story

It was a solid debut for Sam Lowes in WorldSBK, with he and the ELF Marc VDS squad in the mix throughout the weekend and taking a double top eight on Sunday, with a best result of P7 in Race 2. All the results came after a huge crash at Turn 12 in Free Practice 3, so it wasn’t the most ideal way to kickstart the first of two race days. The pit intervention time was something new for him and the team and he lost 5.4s there, which may have put him inside the top ten for Race 1. However, good time in the lead pack and an encouraging base to build from on slightly more indicative tracks.

Tarran Mackenzie (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda) – the hardest round out the way

There was little to expect from Tarran Mackenzie, given that he’s had limited testing and that it’s the first weekend of the year but having been 3.9s off in Superpole to then, after 11 laps, being 3.6s off Scott Redding (Bonovo Action BMW) ahead of him. All in all, Tarran can be satisfied and again, with more ‘normal’ tracks ahead and places he knows well like Donington Park and Assen, he’ll be a bit closer to the front.

Adam Norrodin (PETRONAS MIE Racing Honda) – similar to teammate Mackenzie

Again, for Malaysian hopeful Adam Norrodin, there was very little he could have hoped for more. Maybe the target for him was to be closer or ahead of Tarran but with the #95’s Superbike experience, it wasn’t a bad display for Norrodin to be where he was. Both will be wanting more one-lap performance and to work their way closer to the points but as we’ve seen in previous years with Midori Moriwaki’s team, that will come through the season. Let’s see how their gap evolves to the factory Hondas throughout the year.

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