The World Superbike season is finally underway, with the first round of the championship being held at Philip Island, Australia, this weekend.
Only a handful of riders braved the track for what was a particularly wet morning session on Friday, but conditions improved and all bikers hit the circuit for afternoon practice. It was rookie Brit Alexander Lowe that reigned supreme by the end of the second practice run, riding for Voltcom Crescent Suzuki on a GSX-R1000. Lowe finished in an impressive 1m 31.100s on his first practice lap, with Marco Melandri (Aprilia Racing Team) finishing just 0.037s behind him.
Let’s take a look at what can be expected from this year’s season:
This year sees the introduction of the EVO class. Organisers made the decision to include this class in an aim to garner more teams and keep running costs as low as possible. The EVO machines are essentially Superbikes with Superstock engines. The EVO class road-based Superbikes have stricter chassis and engine guidelines, and whereas the standard SBK class can use eight engines per season, EVO bikes can use only three. Over one third of this year’s entries are EVO bikes, and by 2015 this will be the standard spec for all bikes competing in the championship.
The quickest EVO-spec bike in the practice rounds was the Ducati Panigale 1199 R EVO, ridden by Niccolo Capnepa, who finished in 12th place.
This year’s Sunday race day schedules are different than in previous years, following talks between organiser Dorna and the Superbike Commission. Now the main races will take place late morning and early afternoon so that they don’t clash with other major sporting events like the F1 and MotoGP. For European races, this means that the second World Superbike race will finish just as other sporting events start – such as the F1.
There is a total of eight manufacturers for this year’s season. The line-up includes: Aprilia (RSV4), Ducati (Panigale R), Honda (CBR1000RR), Suzuki (GSX-R1000), BMW (S1000RR), Kawasaki (ZX-10R), the return of MV Agusta (F4 RR), and new kid on the block Erik Buell Racing (1190 RX). Bimota was on the original line up but failed to make homologation. The manufacturer still hopes to compete mid-season.
There has been a notable team change-around for this year’s season. The Aprilia racing team has changed half of its riders, with the new line-up including 250cc World Champ Marco Melandri. Voltcom Crescent Suzuki has a new sponsor and two new riders: World Supersport Champion Eugene Lavery (who finished second place overall last year) and British rider Alexander Lowes.
The first official race of the season will take place this Sunday Australian time. The second round will take place on April 13, with the race arriving at England’s Donington Park on May 25. British rider Tom Sykes has been hotly tipped to take the title, but judging by fellow Brit Lowe’s practice performance, Sykes might be in for a challenge.
Image: EvrenKalinbacak / Shutterstock.com