Last year’s Superbike World Championship (aka WorldSBK) was a corker, and even though Carole Nash ambassador Jonathan Rea narrowly missed out on an unprecedented seventh (successive) title, it’s a championship which will live long in the memory banks thanks to the high octane cut and thrust racing.
Now we are just a few weeks away from the start of the 2022 campaign and we can’t wait. Not only is JR set to resume his battle with the spectacular Toprak Razgatlioglu, there’s a whole host of new talent emerging and rider team changes to add even more spice to things.
There are five manufacturers vying for honours this year, so ahead of first round (held at Aragon in Spain) we decided to take a look at who’s riding for each brand and who might make a breakthrough. We also asked Moto2 star Jake Dixon for his thoughts, which you can hear in our exclusive video interview.
It was a pretty special year for Yamaha in 2021. As well as taking the MotoGP crown with Fabio Quartararo, the Iwata manufacturer took the four main superbike titles with its YZF-R1 – the American, British and Japanese national titles, and the WorldSBK crown with the brilliant Toprak Razgatlioglu.
The 25-year-old Turk will run the number one plate as he not only defends his crown, but also takes on a summer of speculation around his future - with many expecting him move to MotoGP in 2023.
Whether that inspires or distracts him remains to be seen, but either way he’s a real superstar in the superbike paddock.
Toprak’s brilliance meant that his Pata Yamaha team-mate, 2020 World Supersport Champion Andrea Locatelli, flew under the radar a little bit, which was a shame as fourth in the end of season standings was remarkable in his rookie season. No-one’s really talking about him going into 2022 but, at 25, he could well make a breakthrough which will see him at superbike’s top table for years to come.
There are plenty of other Yamaha riders in the field, most notably Garrett Gerloff. The American is going into his third season in the class and has progressed steadily, scoring five podiums so far and showing signs that the top step may not be too far away.
British fans should also look out for national champion Tarran Mackenzie, who is expected to enter selected races as a reward for his BSB title.
Having won six straight titles going into the 2021 campaign, Kawasaki lost its crown last year, but not for the want of trying.
The factory Kawasaki Racing Team retains its line up of six-time world champ Jonathan Rea and former British champion Alex Lowes.
Carole Nash ambassador Rea told us recently that the production based homologation rules mean that there’s little more Kawasaki can do to extract more power from the ZX-10RR motor, however he’s pleased with the progress made with chassis development and electronics strategies.
Despite losing his title in 2021, Rea rode as well as ever and remains hungry in 2022 – when he can expect even tougher competition than before. Lowes is a proven race winner at this level, having won twice in 220 starts, and should provide solid back-up to his team leader throughout the campaign.
As in previous years, there are a host of privateer ZX-10RRs bolstering up the back end of the grid. Of those, French journeyman Lucas Mahias is likely to be the most competitive. The former supersport specialist is riding for the factory-supported Puccetti Racing squad and although he’s suffered a number of crashes and injuries in recent years, the former stunt rider made his full-time debut in the premier class in 2021 and scored a trio of top 10 finishes.
Can you believe that it has been 11 years since Ducati last won a Superbike World Championship title?
The Italian marque dominated the production bike series throughout the 1990s and early 2000s but, despite plenty of race wins, Carlos Checa’s 2011 title was the last time they won the championship.
The Panigale V4R is considered to be the fastest bike in the class and for 2022 Alvaro Bautista returns after two barren years with Honda. The Spaniard came close to winning the 2019 title on the Panigale, only to fall apart in the second part of the year, and Ducati will be hoping that going back to the future will finally give their V4 its first world title.
Bautista’s backed up by Italian Michael Rubin Rinaldi, who has shown plenty of pace in recent years despite never really looking like a title contender. Exciting young Italian Axel Bassani is one to watch on his private machine, he was ninth overall last year with a best of second in Barcelona, while Germany’s Philipp Oettl is an exciting class rookie who has Grand Prix pedigree and has been fast in pre-season testing.
Despite some high profile entries over the years, BMW have never quite managed to scale the WorldSBK heights since debuting in 2009.
This year sees British star Scott Redding, third on a Ducati last year, sign up to ride the latest M 1000 RR, joining former Supersport World Champion and SBK race winner Michael van der Mark at the British run factory squad. They’re backed up by a tasty satellite squad, where a pair of former race winners in France’s Loris Baz and Irish veteran Eugene Laverty are behind the ‘bars.
Between them, there’s plenty of pedigree and if the German manufacturer can make a small step there’s every possibility of some race wins, even if challenging Ducati, Kawasaki and Yamaha over a season looks like a tall order.
In many ways, what stands for BMW stands for Honda too.
The company had minimal involvement in the series for the best part of two decades, before coming back with a factory run effort in 2020, with Leon Haslam and Alvaro Bautista in the saddle.
Like the BMWs, the Fireblades have looked fast but hard to handle. Bautista went from title contender to mid-pack contender, with a best of three third places to his credit in two seasons, but Honda’s HRC race division can never be counted out.
This year there’s a new, all-Spanish, line up and although both riders are superbike rookies, they’ve got big reputations from other classes.
Xavi Vierge moves to the production class from Moto2, where he’s been a regular top 10 runner, while 22-year-old Iker Lecuona could consider himself unlucky to lose his MotoGP seat after running a number of top 10s on a KTM last year. There are a lot of unknowns about the duo in superbike terms, but if it clicks they may put in a few surprising results.
There are also a few privateers running the latest CBR1000RR Fireblade, most notably another former Moto2/MotoGP runner in the form of Malaysian rider Hafizh Syahrin.