WSB: Is 2017 WorldSBK's chance to shine?
It’s no secret that, for whatever reason, the Superbike World Championship has been struggling to attract interest in recent years.
Big budget factories have dominated over the last decade, which wasn’t so much of an issue when there was Aprilia, BMW, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Ducati all scrapping at the front but over the last few years as we waved goodbye to full factory involvement from Yamaha, Aprilia and BMW. This left the series has something as a two horse race, with Kawasaki’s steed just having the edge over Ducati’s.
However, it could all be set to change this year as a number of factors come together to, at least on paper, present the most competitive grid WSB has seen in years.
The ingredients were there for a good season in 2016 and it while it was interesting in many ways, it was a year of two halves and that hurt the title fight. Chaz Davies undoubtedly had the pace to match and sometimes beat Jonathan Rea in the first half, but he’d often have to push Ducati’s Panigale above and over the limit which resulted in a number of DNFs. When this was put against Rea’s impeccable consistency, any chance of a title fight was over by the summer break.
While a breakthrough during that break saw Davies unbeatable when the series resumed, even seven wins from eight races wasn’t enough to bridge the gap but would see the Welshman establish himself as a credible title threat for 2017.
“The bike is more in balance and I’m getting better feedback from it,” he told MCN. “That means I’m not skirting that limit of being on the edge of crashing, I’m able to back off that few per cent which is nice as that’s going to be the key to being able to push Jonny to the championship.”
Davies will be joined at Ducati by former title contender Marco Melandri, who is looking to reignite his career after a year out. Melandri with a point to prove is a terrifying prospect, and for someone who hadn’t ridden a race bike in a year, his times in November’s tests weren’t bad at all.
New technical rules will be in force for the season ahead, which in the simplest of terms will mean WSB machines are arguably the closest they’ve ever been to their production model donors. This should, in theory, help reduce the gap to the big budget factories but something else that’ll aid this is increased involvement from the manufacturers solely represented by private teams.
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With a year under their belt with latest YZF-R1, PATA Yamaha should be able to up their ante in the year ahead with a hungrier than ever Alex Lowes and new blood in the shape of Michael van der Mark – undoubtedly two of the hottest young talents in racing.
Former series runner-up, Eugene Laverty is also back for 2017 as Aprilia look to re-join the party with Shaun Muir’s Milwaukee squad set to enjoy significant support from the Italian marque. The Irishman is joined in the British outfit by Italian hotshot Lorenzo Savadori.
Another manufacturer looking to up their game is Honda, who’ll run former Grand Prix World Champions Nicky Hayden and Stefan Bradl on the all new Fireblade SP2, which sees considerable upgrades to the previous model. While the duo aren’t expected to test the new bike until a little over a month before the first round in Australia, Hayden has told MCN he’s confident the Ten Kate team can turn things around in time to pose a threat.
On top of all of this, controversial changes to how the grid will be formed for Sunday’s second race could also see things mixed up, as the first three finishers from Saturday’s outing will move to the third row of the grid in reverse order as the man who finishes fourth gets promoted to pole.
Could 2017 be WSB’s chance to shine? There’s undoubtedly potential and with just under two months to go until the opening round, it’s not long until we’ll begin to find out.