Six Aussies in P.I. WSBK

—  2013 World Superbike and World Supersport grids confirmed – Six Aussies to race at opening round

Fanned by yet another massive off-season shake-up, the 2013 World Superbike Championship begins at Phillip Island on February 22-24 as the first shots are fired to crown a replacement champion for the retired Max Biaggi.

The 2013 grid exudes class from every angle, with five of the six factory teams — Kawasaki, Honda, Suzuki, BMW and Aprilia – all starting the championship on well-sorted bikes, and fielding riders who have won 65 WSBK races between them.

The X-factor is Ducati, which is inaugurating its all-new 1199 Panigale R in 2013 — but with such an imposing WSBK heritage the Italian manufacturer is also certain to be a contender from the get-go, particularly with Phillip Island specialist Carlos Checa one of the riders.

The championship opener is set to be the fastest world superbike race at Phillip Island on record following a $3 million resurface of the 4.445km circuit. The current lap record is held by Biaggi (1:31.785), but expect to see that time obliterated as the superstars of WSBK get down to business.

There will be two 22-lap WSBK races on February 24, plus the opening race of the Supersport World Championship. A bumper crop of 35 riders are lining up for the 2013 season, all chasing defending champion Turkey’s Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki) in the race for the crown.

Local fans have plenty to cheer about at the island with six hard-charging Australians competing in the world championship classes at Phillip Island: Jamie Stauffer (Honda) and Glenn Allerton (BMW) in Superbike, with Kevin Curtain (Yamaha), Mitchell Carr (Triumph), Josh Hook (Honda) and Matt Davies (Honda) in Supersport.

All but Carr and Davies will be making one-off championship appearances, but 46-year-old Curtain certainly won’t be overawed: he’s finished on the World Supersport podium four times at Phillip Island, including a victory in 2001.

The on-track action at Phillip Island will be completed by the opening rounds of the Australian Prostock and Supersport Championships, as well as events for national Superbike and Historic competitors. The on-track action commences before 9.00am on all three days of the event.

The even spread of machinery in World Superbike is really going to put extra heat on the riders in 2013, and one man who keeps on receiving glowing reviews is Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes. The Yorkshireman only finished half-a-point behind Biaggi in the 2012 championship, and the bitter disappointment of such a narrow loss has galvanised him to step up in 2013. Sykes has consistently been at the top of every test session since losing out to Biaggi, and his warm favouritism is justified – although he will shoulder a lot of pressure at Kawasaki with teenage team-mate Loris Baz seemingly not yet at the level where he can circulate at the front of the pack with regularity.

Alongside Sykes, another rider whose deeds in 2012 didn’t require any sugar coating was Marco Melandri, who was superb in his first year at BMW. He led the championship at one stage before tailing off near the end of proceedings, but his aggressive game plan was brilliant to watch and it could deliver BMW its first championship in 2013. Melandri’s new team-mate will be Chaz Davies, who impressed in his rookie season on a privateer Aprilia.

Aprilia’s factory team retains Eugene Laverty, while the fast but streaky Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli replaces Biaggi in what could either be a boom or bust decision for the Italian operation. But Guintoli is certainly great to watch, so expect fireworks at Phillip Island as he seeks to impress in his first official outing. Guintoli shared third places with Sykes at Phillip Island in 2012, with Biaggi and Checa winning the two races. Meanwhile, Laverty finished 2012 with plenty of purpose, so he could be the rider who keeps on piling on the big points for Aprilia.

At Honda, perennial contender Jonathan Rea also has a new off-sider in the form of Leon Haslam, who was let go by BMW at the end of 2012. Rea, in particular, hasn’t set the world on fire at Phillip Island in recent years, but he’ll want to claim a few scalps at the circuit in 2013 to get his championship off to a strong start. And Haslam is already a known product around Phillip Island, having won a race in 2010 when he was Suzuki mounted.

Leon Camier is again Suzuki’s big hope in 2013, and his confidence would have been buoyed after finishing off 2012 with a real sting in his tail. World Supersport runner-up Jules Cluzel will be his new team-mate.

Meanwhile, long-time Suzuki collaborator, the Belgian-based Team Alstare, has now been appointed to run Ducati’s official WSBK team over the next two seasons, with Checa and Aryton Badovini to fill the roster in 2013. Checa, seventh on the all-time WSBK winners’ list with 24 victories, literally owns the Phillip Island real estate and has won four of the last six races around the circuit, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him give the 1199 Panigale R its best possible start on February 24.

The WSBK title also welcomes back German hard charger Max Neukirchner in 2013 on a Ducati, while Italian duo Michel Fabrizio and Davide Giugliano will be Aprilia-mounted. All three could certainly challenge for race wins at Phillip Island and during the season, especially if the conditions become a lottery.

While they won’t be on the bill at Phillip Island, three other Australians will also be racing in support categories when the WSBK title makes its way to Europe in 2013, with Mitchell Pirotta (Kawasaki) contesting the Superstock 1000 class, with Mike Jones (Honda) and Adrian Nestorovic (Yamaha) in Superstock 600.

The official pre-season test (February 18-19) will be held just prior to race weekend on the freshly resurfaced Phillip Island circuit. All eyes will be on the time sheets as the riders experience the all new and bump-free island track.

Buy now and save with a race day tickets from $75 in advance, and three day passes $135 adult advance or $270 advance for a family of four, plus a postage and handling fee.

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