World superbike gets a massive boost with Increased manufacturer support, new bikes and new riders, which will make for a stellar 2019 season
13 November 2018
World champion Jonathan Rea beware! That’s the message ahead of the 2019 Motul FIM Superbike World Championship opener at Victoria’s Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit from February 22-24 following a massive week of grid-strengthening announcements for the production-based series.
In a considerable shot in the arm for the championship, Rea, chasing a fifth consecutive WorldSBK crown in 2019 on his all-conquering Kawasaki, will now start his defence against all-new power-packed bikes from Ducati and BMW, while the mighty Honda Racing Corporation (HRC) has signalled its intentions to return to the arena where it was once a staple.
Ducati and BMW unveiled their new high-revving V4 R and S 1000 RR four-cylinder machines at the EICMA motorcycle show in Milan on November 5 and 6 respectively. Although both model launches were open secrets, the numbers disseminated by the companies in terms of outright horsepower and light-weight packages still left many observers in awe.
In Ducati’s case it’s the most powerful motorcycle to ever leave its factory, and the company – which has the most amount of WorldSBK titles with 14 – has already announced that current MotoGP rider Alvaro Bautista will join Chaz Davies in its line-up for 2019.
Bautista finished a superb fourth in the recent MotoGP round at Phillip Island filling in for the injured Jorge Lorenzo, which will give the Spaniard added confidence when he returns to Australia.
BMW also announced in Milan that it will be collaborating with Shaun Muir Racing (which ran the Milwaukee Aprilia squad in 2018) for a major tilt at the 2019 WorldSBK title. The riders will be Rea’s erstwhile Kawasaki teammate and 2013 world champion Tom Sykes, as well as German Marcus Reiterberger who is returning to the championship after a two-year break.
BMW Motorrad Motorsport will be responsible for the development of engine, electronics, chassis and aerodynamics on the new S 1000 RR.
Meanwhile, HRC will return to WorldSBK competition in 2019 alongside Althea Racing and Japanese high-performance firm Moriwaki Engineering, with Leon Camier and Ryuichi Kiyonari the two riders. Camier has already been campaigning the Honda CBR1000RR SP2 in 2018, while Kiyonari will be returning to the series for the first time since 2009.
HRC was once a regular on the WorldSBK trail and won three titles with John Kocinski in 1997 and Colin Edwards in 2000 and 2002.
The supremely gifted Rea, who is based in Australia during the summer with his Phillip Island-raised wife Tatia and their two sons, will certainly be keeping a keen eye on recent proceedings as he prepares to campaign alongside a new teammate in 2019: current British superbike champion Leon Haslam
Other confirmed riders for next year include factory Yamaha pair Michael van der Mark and Alex Lowes, while the GRT Yamaha satellite team will field recently crowned world supersport champion Sandro Cortese and Italian Marco Melandri.
Italian Michael Ruben Rinaldi will also ride a Panigale V4 R for this year’s leading independent team, Barni Racing.
WorldSBK observers will be able to get an early feel for the 2019 form guide when pre-season testing begins in Spain in November, ahead of more official outings in Europe next January.
The WorldSBK teams will make their way to Australia for a final hitout at Phillip Island before round one commences – and the debut of the new ‘triple treat’ format where an extra sprint race will be held on Sunday morning in between the two longer hitouts on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.