World Superbike returns for its 25th championship with a diverse field and expanding global audience. So what are the major intrigues for 2012, and who went where in the silly season shuffle? Get up to speed with Motorcycle USA’s 2012 World Superbike Season preview.
Carlos Checa whistled his way to the 2011 SBK title, the first world championship of the 39-year-old’s near 20-year career.
Several familiar names are absent from the SBK 2012 roster. Fan favorite Noriyuki Haga couldn’t secure a 2012 SBK ride and will instead contest the British Superbike Championship this year. Another veteran culled from the ranks is two-time champion Troy Corser, the Aussie hanging up his leathers after a final season with the factory BMW squad. James Toseland, also a two-time SBK champ, had to call it a career as well – the Englishman exiting the 2011 campaign early due to wrist injury.
The most conspicuous 2012 SBK absentee, however, is Yamaha. The Tuning Fork brand dismantled its team at the end of last season despite consistently fielding a title-contending team (its 2011 riders Marco Melandri and Eugene Laverty placed second and fourth in the championship). The factory Yamaha SBK squad also served as a launching board to Grand Prix for riders like 2009 SBK champ Ben Spies and most recently Cal Crutchlow.
Despite the MotoGP grid expanding with its CRT entries (more on this later), no big name SBK riders moved up to GP. Instead, the influx of GP talent into the SBK field continues. This year Hiroshi Aoyama is the MotoGP refugee, falling in with the Honda World Superbike squad. And while he didn’t come direct from GP, John Hopkins brings MotoGP-level experience, and talent, aboard the new Crescent Fix Suzuki. The Suzuki squad has graduated from British Superbike, where in 2011 its ace, Hopkins, came heartbreakingly close to becoming the first American to snap up a BSB title.
Another big name promotion on the SBK grid is 2011 World Supersport champ Chaz Davies, who marks his rookie SBK campaign aboard the ParkinGO Aprilia. Otherwise, it’s the usual suspects in the SBK hunt, with the biggest roster shuffle necessitated by the Yamaha pull-out: Melandri
Noriyuki Haga will not be running in SBK for the first time in years, with Nitro Nori landing a ride in British Superbike.
migrated to BMW Motorrad, filling Corser’s vacancy, and Laverty now teams with Max Biaggi on the Factory Aprilia (replacing Leon Camier, who landed with the new Crescent Suzuki squad).
Several important new rules kick in for 2012. Foremost among these is the switch to a single bike per rider. The WSB series has previously mandated the single-bike rule for the Supersport and Superstock classes, with the intent to reign in competition costs. The rule could prove a title-altering one, as the lack of a fully-prepped backup bike could have dire consequences during the 14 SBK doubleheaders this season.
The biggest change in technical regulations is raising the minimum weight for Twins to 171 kilograms (377 pounds). This saddles an extra 6 kg (13.2 pounds) to the Ducatis compared to its Inline Four rivals. The weekend program format has also been altered, with practice and qualifying sessions shortened from 60 minutes to 45.
The 2012 World Superbike schedule breaks new ground in August, holding its first Russian round at the Moscow Raceway circuit (with a trio of Russian racers contesting the World Supersport series). All told there will be 14 rounds and 28 SBK races in 2012. While WSB remains overwhelmingly a European series, the SBK paddock will head overseas for the Phillip Island opener in Australia, as well as its now familiar Memorial Day visit to the U.S. and Miller Motorsports Park.
GP Rivalry Set to Simmer
At the opening of the 2011 season, tension was rife between SBK and MotoGP over the proposed Claming Rule Teams (CRT). World Superbike boss Paolo Flammini was not satisfied that the CRT concept, which uses production-based engines in MotoGP, didn’t crowd in on his series’ exclusive rights to production-based racing under FIM sanction. Later Bridgepoint (the owner of Dorna and rights holder of MotoGP) acquired Infront Motor Sports (owner of World Superbike). The CRT concept remains controversial, but the once bellicose rumblings from World Superbike seems to have faded.
One concern of the CRT proposal was that it threatened to pull away SBK talent. This came to fruition, to some extent, during the off-season. After being dropped by Kawasaki to run the factory team, Paul Bird Motorsport jumped to GP to campaign an Aprilia-based CRT piloted by British rider James Ellison. Max Biaggi also saw his crew, and long-time crew chief, Giovanni Sandi, defect to GP to back another Aprilia-CRT squad.
While the CRT saga in Grand Prix may yet siphon away talent, World Superbike boasts a robust paddock for 2012. The entry list sees 24 full-time riders. And though Yamaha pulled up stakes, six manufacturers remain in the premier class (three Japanese and three European).
The following pages offer a closer look at the SBK entries broken out by manufacturer.