The World Superbike Championship season gets under way at Australia’s Phillip Island circuit this weekend and, with some rider reshuffling and new technical regulations, it should result in an unpredictable season.
The 13-round championship will unfortunately not include a South African round as was hoped, due to lack of funding.
With reigning world champion Sylvain Guintoli jumping ship from Aprilia and joining the Pata Honda squad with 2014 World Supersport title winner Michael van der Mark, former Honda riders Jonathan Rea and Leon Haslam have gone for a change and moved to Kawasaki and Aprilia respectively.
Rea will have 2013 World SBK champion Tom Sykes as team-mate while Haslam will share his new garage with former Moto2 Grand Prix winner Jordi Torres from Spain.
Torres makes up just a quarter of the Spanish rookie contingent that will try to follow in the footsteps of Carlos Checa. The 125cc world champion of 2011, Nicolas Terol (Althea Racing Ducati), Santiago Barragan (Team Grillini SBK) and Roman Ramos (Team Go Eleven Kawasaki) are eager to prove their skills aboard superbike machines.
Former Grand Prix ace Randy de Puniet from France will be on double duty this year, tackling his maiden World Superbike season with the Voltcom Crescent Suzuki team alongside 2013 British Superbike champion Alex Lowes while retaining his job as Suzuki MotoGP test rider.
The newly-named Aruba.it Racing-Ducati SBK Team has kept things unchanged on the line-up side, with Chaz Davies and Davide Giugliano showing great speed aboard their Panigale R machines during pre-season testing.
Elsewhere, there are welcome returns to the championship.
Argentina’s Leandro Mercado steps up with the Barni Racing Team with which he claimed last year’s FIM Superstock 1000 Cup, while Matteo Baiocco partners the aforementioned Terol at Althea Racing. In single-rider teams are the likes of David Salom (Team Pedercini), Leon Camier (MV Agusta Reparto Corse) and Sylvain Barrier (BMW Motorrad Italia SBK Team), while the Hero EBR (Pegram Racing) outfit moves into its second season with team manager-rider Larry Pegram and Niccolò Canepa.
There are cost-cutting technical revisions which will make the championship more attractive to privateer teams and are expected to result in a generally more competitive grid.
The supporting World Supersport series for 600cc bikes has many potential title contenders including three-time champion Kenan Sofuoglu (Kawasaki) and twice runner-up Jules Cluzel (MV Agusta), while South Africa’s Sheridan Morais (Honda) is also in contention.