February 24th, 2017 marks the start to the 30th year of World Superbike Racing and it’s already shaping up to be one for the books. With several changes between both rules and teams, there is a fair amount to be excited for. Here’s a quick rundown of what’s to come:
New Grid positions for Race 2
The biggest change for 2017 is the addition of a new grid rule for race two. Up until now, WSBK has always followed the same pattern, a double header race weekend where all riders qualify with their fastest lap, called Superpole, and this decides the grid positions for both races over the weekend. With this new rule change, Superpole will decide the grid for race one, and the second half of the grid starting at 10th place for race two. The first three rows will now be determined via the results from race one. In layman’s terms, this means race one’s podium finishers will start on row three in an inverse order, 3rd starting in 7th position and 1st in 9th, while the riders that finished 4th through 9th will make up the first two rows starting 1st through 6th. Confusing, I know.
How will this affect race two? Well, over the history of WSBKs only 64 participants have won from the 3rd row or further back. In 30 years that’s a fairly small piece of the pie. Realistically this could go one of two ways, it could potentially make for more exciting racing in race two every weekend or it could backfire horribly, marring the entire season and butchering the points championship. Time will be the deciding factor in any event. Let’s just hope it actually works.
Teams and rider changes to keep an eye out for
The Ducati’s are currently very fast. Pre-season testing finished with 3 Ducati’s in the top 5. Oh boy. Marco Melandri led the charge, adapting to his new Aruba Ducati team with considerable ease. Factor in his years of premier experience and that makes for something to watch out for. His teammate Chaz Davies is also looking in good form. If he can continue where he left off last year he will be very hard to contend with. Also worth noting is Davies ability to filter through the pack, this could come in handy with the new starting grid changes of race number two.
The new Red Bull Honda team. They have a considerable mountain to climb at the moment, with both riders and crew still getting used to the new Fireblade from Honda. When you account for both of their rider’s GP experience, and the ability to show pace on an old machine last year, it’s up to the team to get the new bike up to speed. If they can get the new bike dialed they could be a force to be reckoned with. Only time will tell.
Team Kawasaki. Will the domination continue? Jonathan Rea is looking to become the first rider in WSBK history to win three consecutive championships and his pace currently looks like he might. Consistency will be key for Rea, as well as managing his starts on the second race of each weekend. Sykes needs to bounce back from a rocky 2016 season, although his pace has improved he still has a fair amount of work to do. I feel like the new grid rule will be in Sykes favor; his ability to squeeze to the front of the pack will surely come in handy.
The dark horse: Lion Camier. Showing up top 6 at the end of preseason testing definitely turned some heads. But in reality, Camier has been slowly creeping his way into contention since the beginning of 2016. Being a bigger rider he is at an instant disadvantage, although he always shows pace later in the race, presumably due to lighter fuel loads. If MV Agusta has found some top end he could be one to watch to shake things up.
All things considered, it sure looks to be one hell of a season.