WHAT WE LEARNT: 4 rounds complete with surprises and shocks, a whole lot more to come

Friday, 5 July 2024 06:22 GMT

2024 has been memorable already for World Superbike but with 8 rounds still to go, there’s time for a lot more to happen

It was billed as a new era ahead of the season and we’re getting it with interest; the 2024 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship has been absolutely off the wall and there’s still a whole lot of room for a whole lot more stories. We take a look at some of the biggest stories of the year so far after just four rounds, to see where we’re at as we head for the halfway point.

TOPRAK AND BMW’S SUCCESS: mesmerising achievements after four rounds

One thing that’s clear is that Toprak Razgatlioglu’s (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) gamble to join BMW has been one that has paid enormous dividends. Six wins from 12 races, including the last four, he’s leading the Championship by 21 points over rookie Nicolo Bulega ( Racing – Ducati). What has been a surprise to many is that Toprak’s success comes so early on in the journey with BMW and at tracks he and the manufacturer had never previously won – Barcelona and Assen are tracks neither had won at, whilst Misano welcomed the manufacturer’s first ever triple despite never winning there before. Toprak’s proving his worth and making the difference and with the successive tracks coming up, he’s in the driving seat of the World Championship.

STRUGGLING MORE THAN BEFORE: Bautista competitive but not in control

He came into the preseason injured following a testing crash at the end of last year and with the new weight rules, hasn’t quite struck a sweet spot with his Ducati Panigale V4 R – we’re talking about Alvaro Bautista ( Racing – Ducati). The reigning double World Champion has struggled at times in 2024, particularly in Superpole, where his best effort came at Misano but was still only fifth. Besides that, he’s been a third row starter at best. In the racing however, he’s been able to pull through but hasn’t looked convincingly like he’ll dominate like he did at the start of 2023. Barcelona’s Race 2 and Assen’s Superpole Race are all that he can celebrate in terms of wins so far, with him not even his beloved leaving Phillip Island as a winner. His future hangs in the balance: does he stay? Does he leave? He’s focused on returning to winning for the timebeing.

FEELING BLUE: Rea’s switch to Yamaha has been far from a dream

When it was announced that Jonathan Rea (Pata Prometeon Yamaha) would leave Kawasaki after nine seasons in pursuit of a seventh World Championship but with Yamaha, everyone instantly got excited and optimistic. However, so far, it couldn’t have been further from what he had wished for and what we expected. A solitary pole position at Assen is about the highlight of the season for the #65, whilst he was fifth in the Superpole Race at Assen, albeit by his own admissions in a “conditions” weekend. Six races to just score points and so far, no threat of a podium, Donington Park will hope to offer a reprieve for the 37-year-old. Although, podiums are in his words, ‘out of the question’ right now and instead, just finishing races and challenging for the top ten are his targets, as of Sunday afternoon at Misano. Other Yamahas suchas teammate Andrea Locatelli and Remy Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) have been on the rostrum and are having good seasons, so the potential is there for Rea too.

BULEGA IMPRESSIVE: the best WorldSSP graduate we’ve ever seen?

Coming up from WorldSSP as Champion, Nicolo Bulega ( Racing – Ducati) is punching above what was perhaps expected of him. The #11 has been something of a revelation, winning his first-ever WorldSBK race – which was a flag-to-flag nonetheless and his only win so far – and going on to lead the Championship and take six further podiums. However, they’ve all been in P2 and when he’s not been there, he’s been outside the top four more often than not, hence why he’s trailing Toprak in the standings, albeit a solid Misano weekend saw him comfortably the fastest Ducati. An improvement consistency and notching up a couple more wins will help Bulega, who’s already made a step in opening lap aggression to keep himself in contention early on from Misano.

MARKED IMPROVEMENTS FOR ALEX LOWES: consistent and podiums put him P4

It was a majestic start to the season for Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) as he took a double win at Phillip Island, something of a solid foundation to build from. Now the team leader within KRT and working with new crew chief Pere Riba, Lowes managed to put the bike in the top five in Barcelona – a circuit it has historically struggled at – whilst podiums have come at both Assen and Misano since. Kawasaki’s upgrades have helped but along with working with Riba, being the team’s captain and all the experience and understanding of the ZX-10RR have all worked together to put Lowes fourth in the standings, just 31 points behind Bautista in P3 and 55 from Razgatlioglu who leads.

OTHER STORIES: Iannone strength, BMW overall rise and Honda struggles and a surprise winner

A myriad of other stories include Andrea Iannone’s (Team GoEleven) rather seamless return to World Championship action, having had a podium in his first-ever race at Phillip Island and another in Barcelona. However, Assen and Misano were more challenging for the #29 even if he was able to fight for the podium in the former and make amends at the latter. BMW’s overall uptick in form has been echoed by Michael van der Mark (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team), with the Dutchman having taken nine top ten finishes and a best of fourth in Race 2 in Barcelona.

It's been a tricky season so far for Honda as Xavi Vierge (Team HRC) and teammate Iker Lecuona struggled to make an impact early on, the latter being injured. However, since the Cremona test in May, there’s been an improvement and at Misano, Lecuona was in the top ten in every race. A second strong test came at Cremona whereas team boss Jose Escamez claimed ‘little by little, we’re getting there’ after a Barcelona test. Now review of the opening third is complete without a mention to Nicholas Spinelli either, who was in the right place at the right time but crucially, on the right tyre to take a historic WorldSBK win at Assen, the first for Marco Barnabo’s Barni outfit.

DONINGTON PARK IS UNMISSABLE: watch the battles unfold in 2024 with the WorldSBK VideoPass!