How close can WorldSBK get in 2020?

Friday, 17 July 2020 08:51 GMT

As the season’s return enters the horizon, finite differences between the stars are getting smaller…

The 2020 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship isn’t far away from resuming action after the thrilling opening races back in March, and those gaps which split the leading riders could be about to shrink. Any one of ten riders could be race winners this year and we’ve already seen three; add into the mix the fast nature of the revamped calendar and the determination for each rider to showcase their ability, and this season really could be one of the most open in many years.

The combined winning margins across the three races at Phillip Island was the same as the closest single race finish of 2019, suggesting that we have got the most unpredictable Championship coming up. The fact that we had three different winners in Australia means that it is extremely open, but not just in terms of who will win, but in terms of who will actually be in the mix for victory. Both Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) and teammate Alex Lowes took victory, along with Toprak Razgatlioglu (PATA YAMAHA WorldSBK Official Team), but there were four different manufacturers that led the way in the opening round.

On the very note of manufacturers, the steps that each one has made to be more competitive in 2020. Kawasaki and Ducati have been caught a great deal in comparison to past seasons; Yamaha have brought the new R1, BMW have tested a huge amount on chassis and electronics and that seems to be paying off after the bright start by Tom Sykes at Phillip Island and by both him and Eugene Laverty (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) in recent testing and Team HRC’s new Honda is already a firecracker and competitive. In all, 2020 really could see five different bikes winning.

With all of that, there’s also how closely packed in the Championship’s calendar is. One mistake could be crucial; one injury could cost you more than it would at any other time – we’ve already seen Leon Camier sidelined from the Barni Racing Team before the season is back underway. Then, there’s the physical demands of doing so many races in so many weeks in such high heat, with the temperatures all over Europe rising. These factors add unpredictability and bring a new attitude in approaching the year, meaning that the Championship’s close action will be even closer.

So, what are the actual numbers of all of this so far? The aforementioned combined gap between first and second in Australia was 0.111s, the same as Race 2 at Portimao last year. Race 1 at Phillip Island was the second closest podium of all time, with 0.041s covering Razgatlioglu, Lowes and Scott Redding (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati). The top speed records were smashed in the one round of 2020 too, with Ducati now at 330.3km/h, Kawasaki at 329.3km/h, the same as the new Honda. The top seven speed records are now from 2020, whilst the top nine feature all manufacturers from 2020.

One more thing that has got closer is the distance between the Independent teams and the factory teams; Loris Baz (Ten Kate Racing Yamaha) was a race leader, Garrett Gerloff (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Junior Team) has been fast in testing and had a strong Race 1 in Australia, whilst Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Team GOELEVEN) was also strong in Round 1 and had a strong Misano test. Now, there’s the return of Marco Melandri (Barni Racing Team), who is bound to be a contender.

So, in all, what’s the end result? The closest points gap at the end of the season is 0.5 points, between Max Biaggi and Tom Sykes in 2012. That’s unlikely to be bettered, but the last time a points gap was in single figures at the end of the year was in 2014, when it was six between Sylvain Guintoli and Sykes. Could this year be even closer than that?

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