Phillip Island WorldSBK season 2016 opener at Phillip Island set to be a cracker
A former MotoGP world champion, a throng of new faces, a couple of red-hot Aussies and the traditional top guns — that’s a snapshot of the 24-rider field which will contest the 2016 Motul FIM Superbike World Championship, beginning at Australia’s Phillip Island circuit from February 26-28.
The international line-up will land in Australia late next week in preparation for the final pre-season test on Monday and Tuesday, February 22 and 23, with the season kick-off just days later at the Yamaha Finance round (Feb 26-28).
The FIM’s official entry list for the 29th edition of the production-based series features riders from 11 different countries representing seven manufacturers: Aprilia, Kawasaki, Honda, MV Agusta, BMW Motorrad, Ducati and Yamaha, returning to the championship after a four year absence with their all new Yamaha YZF-R1.
Three of the riders are current or former WorldSBK champions: British Kawasaki Racing Team pair Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes, as well as Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli who has joined Pata Yamaha to spearhead the Japanese manufacturer’s official return to the championship alongside Alex Lowes.
The entry list confirms the participation of 2006 world MotoGP champion Nicky Hayden, who has joined Honda’s factory team alongside Dutchman Michael van der Mark, after calling time on his exalted grand prix career.
Two other MotoGP riders from 2015 have also made the switch to WorldSBK: Czech rider Karel Abraham, who will be teammate to Aussie big hope Josh Brookes at Milwaukee BMW, and Alex de Angelis, who will be on an IodaRacing Team Aprilia.
De Angelis is also a 39-time podium finisher in the 125 GP and Moto2 ranks, but will be returning from a big crash at the 2015 Japanese Grand Prix which left him with serious head injuries and multiple fractures. De Angelis won the 2010 Moto2 race at Phillip Island.
Brookes returns to WorldSBK after an eight-year break, and on the back of an utterly dominant victory in the 2015 British superbike title. German Markus Reiterberger also joins WorldSBK after winning his own national superbike title last year. Reiterberger’s teammate in the Althea BMW Racing Team is Spaniard Jordi Torres, who won a WorldSBK race in 2015.
Taree native Josh Hook is the second Australian rider, and his rookie year in WorldSBK will be played out on a Grillini Kawasaki alongside Swiss rider Dominic Schmitter. Hook was Japanese-based in 2015 and finished a brilliant second in the Suzuka 8-Hour endurance race — which helped him garner the attention of international teams. Kawasaki’s ZX-10R is also the newest bike in the field.
British and Spanish riders dominate the grid with nine riders between them, and joining Rea, Lowes and Sykes in the British assault will be reigning world No. 2 Chaz Davies (Aruba.it Racing Ducati) and Leon Camier (MV Agusta Reparto Corse).
Davies’ teammate will be highly regarded Italian Davide Giugliano, whose 2015 season was decimated by long-term back injuries.
Torres is the star Spaniard, but Xavi Fores (Barni Racing Team Ducati) is also a very solid campaigner as well.
With 29 WorldSBK victories to his credit, reigning world champion Rea has the most winning form of the 2016 roster, just ahead of Sykes (26) and well clear of Davies (9), Guintoli (9) and Torres (1).
In world supersport (WorldSSP), a massive 34 riders will take part in the 2016 championship, with three Australians — Aiden Wagner, Glenn Scott and Lachlan Epis — taking on the cream of 2015 including world champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing), American Patrick Jacobsen (Honda World Supersport Team) and Frenchman Jules Cluzel (MV Agusta Reparto Corse).’
Swiss rider and former Moto2 punter Randy Krummenacher is a new face and will ride alongside Sofuoglu, and Cluzel’s sidekick will be Lorenzo Zanetti.
Wagner has joined a new MV Agusta team (GRT Racing) with Briton Gino Rea, Scott will collaborate with the experienced GEMAR Balloons -Team Lorini outfit, while teenager Epis — who will be the youngest ever full-time WorldSSP rider — is running in the Australian-sponsored Response RE Racing Kawasaki team. Epis only turned 16 on December 22, and joins WorldSSP after competing in the European 600cc superstock title.
At Phillip Island, the Aussie full-timers will be joined by local wildcards Mike Jones (Ducati) in WorldSBK, and Anthony West (Yamaha), Kane Burns (Suzuki), Mitch Levy (Yamaha) and Alex Phillis (Honda) in World SSP.
That’s a total of 10 Australians — the biggest representation at Phillip Island in many years.
Race formats for WorldSBK have been rejigged for 2016, with the traditional double header race-day Sunday jettisoned in favour of one race each day, with a 22-lap race on Saturday at 3pm and the second 22-lap battle scheduled for Sunday at 3pm (Feb 27 and 28).
WorldSBK will practice and qualify Friday and Saturday, with Superpole moving up the Saturday agenda to a 12.30pm timeslot, ahead of the 3pm race one.
The WorldSSP race at Phillip Island will be held over 21 laps at 1.20pm Sunday, with qualifying Saturday.
Also competing will be Australian superbikes, Australian supersport, Australian Moto3 and a line-up of Historics, with all world and national categories on track on Sunday to make it a bumper race-day.
Pre-purchase entry to the 2016 Motul FIM Superbike World Championship, Yamaha Finance round, at Phillip Island from February 26-28 will cost $115* for a three-day pass, $80* for a Sunday only pass, while kids 15 and under are free**. On circuit camping is just $100* for four nights, with kids 15 and under free**.
* Advance ticket prices only, delivery and processing fees may apply.
**Children must be accompanied by a paying adult