The Superbike World Championship was full of action in 2022, featuring a stunning three way battle for the title between Ducati’s Alvaro Bautista and the two previous kings, in the form of Yamaha-mounted Toprak Razgatlioglu and SBK legend Jonathan Rea.
With the top three staying put in 2023, we’re hoping for more of the same when the action kicks off in Australia later this month. There’s plenty to get excited about, with five manufacturers onboard and a return to a calendar in line with the pre-Covid years we can’t wait for the bikes to line up at Australia’s Phillip Island circuit on the weekend of 24-26 February.
But can anyone beat the big three? We’ve taken a manufacturer-by-manufacturer look at the runners and riders for what will be the 36th season of the championship.
Alvaro Bautista gave Ducati its first world superbike title in more than a decade in 2022. The combination of the diminutive Spaniard and the powerful Panigale V4R proved staggeringly quick and consistent, meaning they’ll almost certainly feature at the sharp end again this year.
The championship winning combination topped testing in Jerez earlier this month, and the Italian factory will be hoping to see more red bikes backing up Bautista this season.
Michael Ruben Rinaldi, a distant fourth in the 2022 title chase, ended up third at the Jerez test, and the V4 ranks will be backed up by a number of privately entered Panigales in 2023.
The highest profile of these will be ridden by former MotoGP race winner Danilo Petrucci. The 32-year-old will have a factory spec machine at his disposal, run by the Barni Racing Team, while 23-year-old Axel Bassani – a three time podium finisher in 2022 – and German rider Philipp Oettl are both capable of making a real breakthough on Ducatis this year.
It’s strength in depth for Yamaha this year, with six quality riders lining up on R1s in 2023.
Leading the sextet is 2021 champion Toprak Razagatlioglu. The Turk had a slow start to his title defence last year but by the end of the season was arguably the form man, winning 14 out of the last 26 races to finish as runner up to Bautista. Much will be expected of the 26-year-old, around whom much speculation is likely to be made around a possible move to MotoGP for 2024.
Backing up Razgatlioglu at the factory PATA Yamaha team is Andrea Locatelli. Born on the same day as his team mate, the Italian has proved super consistent in his two years in the class, having finished fourth and fifth in the standings in 2021 and 2022, but will need to make a small step to be a serious title contender.
Yamaha’s second team, GRT, has two high profile new riders in 2023. Double supersport champion Dominique Aegerter steps up to the main class and has impressed in testing, and he’s joined by 2021 Moto2 world champ Remy Gardner – the Australian moving to superbikes after an unhappy year riding a KTM in MotoGP.
Another former Moto2 front runner, Italian Lorenzo Baldassarri, makes his superbike debut in 2023, racing an R1 for the French GMT94 team who, like their rider, are graduating from the intermediate supersport class.
Finally there will be plenty of interest in the Italian Motoxracing squad, who will be running British superbike champion Bradley Ray in the European rounds. The 25-year-old is keen to make a full-time switch to the world series and will be looking to make his mark when the Euro rounds start at Assen in April.
There’s no major change at the factory Kawasaki squad as Brits Jonathan Rea and Alex Lowes line up in green for a third successive season.
Along with Razgatlioglu and Bautista, the Carole Nash insurance backed Rea was again one of the championship’s ‘Big Three’ in 2022, winning six times and finishing third overall despite the ZX-10RR’s visible lack of top speed against the combination of Bautista and his Ducati. The championship’s greatest of all time, going into the season with 118 race wins and six world titles, is faster and hungrier than ever and if Kawasaki can find some more speed will undoubtedly remain a title challenger. Lowes was sixth last season and should again be a reliable number two to Rea.
Backing up the works duo, former champion Tom Sykes makes a return to the brand with whom he won the 2013 title, riding for the factory supported Puccetti squad, after a tough season in the 2022 British series.
There’s also no change at Honda, with Spaniards Iker Lecouna and Xavi Vierge continuing with the factory HRC squad.
The pair impressed last season on the still developing CBR1000RR-R Fireblade SP, which proved fast but difficult to manage over a race distance. With some pre-season development planned, the Honda squad will be hoping to step up and make the jump from top 10 regulars to podium challengers.
Backing up the official team will be the Japanese MIE squad, with an international line-up with Brazilian Eric Granado and Malaysia’s Hafizh Syahrin at the controls.
BMW go into the 2023 season with an updated M 1000 RR for Britain’s Scott Redding and Dutchman Michael van der Mark.
'VDM’ had an injury plagued 2022 campaign, while Redding’s campaign started disastrously but improved as the year went on – cumulating in three mid-season podiums and eighth overall.
New concession rules, allowing BMW and Honda to make small chassis tweaks, should benefit the German bikes while a strong satellite squad with Loris Baz and American Garrett Gerloff lining up for the Bonovo Action squad should also help speed up development.
In addition to the main Superbike World Championship, the middleweight supersport class promises plenty of interest.
The series received a shot in the arm with the introduction of new machines in the form of the Triumph Street Triple RS and the Ducati Panigale V2 last year and, for 2023, the grid looks even more competitive.
Dominant Dominque Aegerter, champion in 2021 and 2022, has moved up to the superbike class, paving the way for a new middleweight king.
A number of ex-Moto2 riders lead the charge, with Stefano Manzi, Jorge Navarro and Nicolo Bulega among the pre-season favourites.
There’s plenty of British interest too. Tom Booth-Amos has a second year in the class, on a Kawasaki, while John McPhee makes the move from Moto3 to supersport also on a ZX-6R. British championship front runner Harry Truelove joins Triumph for his first full international season, while 2021 British Superbike Champion Tarran Mackenzie makes a surprise switch to the series, riding a Honda for the MIE – MS Honda team.
Other supersport riders to look out for are Maiki Abe, son of 500GP legend Norick Abe, and Oli Bayliss, son of superbike hero Troy. European rounds will also feature the Supersport 300 class, with British fans able to watch all three classes live on Eurosport with the UK round taking place at Donington Park on the weekend of 1-2 July.