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2024 WorldSBK preview: can JR get back on top?

Jonathan Rea

The 2024 Superbike World Championship, now known as WorldSBK, kicks off this weekend at Australia’s epic Phillip Island circuit. It is one of the most eagerly anticipated seasons in recent years but now it is time for the talking to stop and the racing to start.

High profile rider changes saw six-time champion Jonathan Rea make a dramatic switch from Kawasaki to Yamaha, where he takes over from 2021 champion Toprak Razgatlioglu, who in turn takes on the challenge of making BMW’s M 1000 RR into a winner.

The package they’re all looking to beat remains Alvaro Bautista and the Aruba.it Ducati. The lightweight Spaniard has been dominant in the last two seasons, prompting some rule changes which look like clipping the rapid Panigale’s wings, although the red bike will certainly still be the benchmark in the class.

Add in a whole pack of riders looking to upset the order and we can’t wait for this year’s racing to begin. Who’s going to be lining up on the grid? Here’s our manufacturer-by-manufacturer guide to this year’s contenders.

 

Toprak

 

BMW

Despite having an absolute weapon of a road bike in the M 1000 RR, BMW has always just failed to hit the mark in superbike racing. For 2024 they’re looking to address that with a star-studded line-up led by 2021 champion Toprak Razgatlioglu.

 The spectacular Turk surprised race fans by taking on the BMW challenge after a number of successful years with Yamaha, and he’s proved fast in testing so far – having topped the timesheets at the final pre-season test in Australia earlier this week. It would be a major surprise if Toprak doesn’t win races on the BMW but the big question mark will be if he can find consistency out of the traditionally fickle M 1000 RR. The German company is very serious in its race effort, not only hiring one of the most gifted riders around but also putting together a high profile test team headed by former world champion Sylvain Guintoli and ex-MotoGP rider Bradley Smith.

Razgatlioglu will be joined in the official Rokit BMW Motorrad team by Dutch rider Michael van der Mark. Like the Turk, ‘VDM’ was a Yamaha mounted race winner before switching to the Bavarian manufacturer. He’s endured two miserable, injury struck, years on the BMW but will be hoping to get back on the podium in 2024.

The changes at BMW means that there’s no place in the factory team for Brit Scott Redding, who went from title contender to occasional podium finisher after moving from Ducati to BMW at the start of 2022. He moves to the well supported Bonovo Action BMW squad, where he partners up with American Garrett Gerloff, who lines up for a second year on the M 1000 RR.

 

BMW_Riders

 

Ducati

Champions for the past two seasons, Alvaro Bautista and Ducati will be looking to make it three-in-a-row in 2024.

The diminutive Spaniard has been off form in winter testing, citing a back injury sustained at the end of last season, and he’ll also find himself handicapped by rule changes which look likely to shackle the Panigale V4s more than other machines. With revised weight limits, which combine the rider and motorcycle together, and a reduced fuel capacity, the Ducati is expected to remain competitive but should lose the clear dominance it has enjoyed in recent years.

Perhaps Bautista’s biggest competition will come from within. Rookie team-mate Nicolo Bulega has been blisteringly fast in practice and could well be a championship contender. The 24-year-old dominated last year’s supersport championship on a Panigale V2 last year and has earned a spot on the factory superbike team as a reward.

As usual, there are a number of strong entries on privately entered Ducatis. The most interesting WorldSBK ‘rookie’ is British former MotoGP rider and Moto2 race winner Sam Lowes, whose well funded MarcVDS squad will be making their debut in the series. The 33-year-old from Lincoln should be a podium contender, with his battles with twin brother Alex likely to create a great deal of interest.

Other high profile Ducati privateers capable of landing on the podium include Michael Ruben Rinaldi, who will be keen to prove a point after losing his ride in the official Ducati team, and former factory MotoGP riders Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Iannone, the latter making his WorldSBK debut and returning to the sport following a four-year doping ban.

Ducati

 

Honda

It’s been a pretty miserable experience for Honda since returning to WorldSBK in an official capacity in 2020.

This year sees Spanish duo Xavi Vierge and Iker Lecuona retained, but with a new team management structure and an updated CBR1000RR-R Fireblade at their disposal. Testing hasn’t proved particularly strong for the duo but the modifications to this year’s ‘Blade, combined with rule changes, should be to their advantage. A second Honda squad, the Petronas MIE Racing team, also lines up with Malaysian rider Adam Norrodin and former British superbike champion Tarran Mackenzie on board.

 

Honda

 

Kawasaki

Kawasaki suffered a major blow when talisman Jonathan Rea bought himself out of his contract last summer to start a new challenge with Yamaha in 2024.

From being the most successful machine of the 2010s, Kawasaki’s once-dominant ZX-10RR Ninja is starting to fall behind the competition. The hard-riding of Rea delivered a win and regular podiums in 2023, but that wasn’t enough to keep their star rider for another year.

Alex Lowes takes on the unofficial team leader role at the factory KRT (Kawasaki Racing Team) squad in Rea’s absence, even gaining the Ulsterman’s former pit crew, although with just two wins in 285 starts few are expecting the popular 33-year-old from Lincoln to be a title contender.

He’s joined by Italian hot shot Axel Bassani, a 24-year-old who has ridden and private Ducati and finished on the podium in each of his three previous seasons in WorldSBK. There is only one private team running the Ninja this season, such is Kawasaki’s slide in the championship, with long time satellite team Puccetti Racing fielding former Moto2 world champ Tito Rabat in a single bike entry.

 

Kawasaki

Yamaha

If Toprak Razgatlioglu’s switch to BMW was unexpected, his replacement in the PATA Prometeon Yamaha squad created even more of a shock.

Desperate to find a talent worthy to replace their star man, they turned their attention to six-time champ Jonathan Rea to ride their R1. The most successful WorldSBK racer of all time, the evergreen 37-year-old has turned blue for 2024 after nine winning seasons in Kawasaki green. He’s super motivated as always and keen to break even more records, including potentially Giacomo Agostini’s record for the most world championship race wins.

Alongside Rea will be 2020 World Supersport Champion Andrea Locatelli. The 27-year-old Italian has been rock solid since moving to the main class, finishing fourth, fifth and fourth again in his three seasons on the R1. It won’t be easy, but he will be hoping to make the small step to become a race winner for the first time and potentially fight for the title.

There is a plethora of fast riders on R1s this year too. The second tier GRT squad features two former world champions in its rank, with double supersport king Dominique Aegerter and 2021 Moto2 champ Remy Gardner in their ranks. Both showed well in their rookie 2023 campaign, finishing inside the top 10 of the points and with Aegerter ending the year with a pair of podium finishes in Spain. They could both be contenders in 2024.

Other Yamaha runners include 2022 British Superbike Champion Bradley Ray, who undertakes his second season with the MotoX Racing Team, and former Moto3 race winner Philipp Oettl, who lines up for the experienced GMT94 outfit.

 

Torpak_VDM

Support classes

The WorldSBK series will also have a number of support classes appearing at races throughout the year.

The Supersport World Championship (WorldSSP) is again the main support series, with a wide range of middleweight sportsbikes competing under the New Generation rules.

Nicolo Bulega dominated last season and moves up to WorldSBK with the official Ducati team, leaving the series wide open. British interest in WorldSSP is centred on former Moto3 riders Tom Booth-Amos and John McPhee, who are both riding Triumphs this year, but with strong entries from MV Agusta, Kawasaki, Ducati, Honda and Yamaha, we’ll need to wait until this weekend’s first round to really see what’s what.

European rounds will also feature the Supersport 300 series, with young riders mounted on Kawasaki Ninja 400s, KTM RC 390s and Yamaha R3s, while the inaugural women’s world championship will be taking place at six European rounds, with former Supersport 300 champion Ana Carrasco the most notable entrant in the 24 rider field.

 

Rea_Riding

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