How the new normal has become normal

Wednesday, 7 October 2020 12:08 GMT

WorldSBK will head to Estoril to crown the 2020 World Champion. Steve English looks at how quickly we’ve become accustomed to multiple winners and new challengers coming to the fore.

Has there been a phrase used more in 2020 than “the new normal”? Adapting to a new way of life, adjusting to changing circumstances and understanding how the new normal has quickly become normal.

It’s the same in WorldSBK this year where the Championship has enjoyed a true renaissance. It’s easy for people to scoff at another season of Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) dominance but that’s only on the surface. When you scratch deeper you can see that the Championship is in rude health. Seven winners, ten podium finishers and more competitive bikes on the grid than ever before. The next few years have the potential to be a true golden era of production racing.

Factory teams and Independent squads have the opportunity to win races. Ten Kate Racing Yamaha have shown with Loris Baz, two podiums in France, that they are back to the fore of the superbike field. GRT Yamaha with Garrett Gerloff have had an action-packed couple of rounds but one thing is clear; the American is making waves and showing his potential. Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Team GOELEVEN) has illustrated that the Ducati V4R can win with more than just the factory team.

What’s caused this? Parity. Gone are the days of trick factory specification bikes. Instead they’ve been replaced by customer teams running the exact same bike. If you want to run a ZX10R-R that matches what Jonathan Rea lines up with you can buy that bike. You don’t have to spend tens of thousands of euros trying to tune an engine any longer. Instead you just need to stump up the cash and get the right people in place.

It’s meant that the competitive balance of WorldSBK has changed. The depth of quality in the championship is now very impressive. Kawasaki, Ducati, Yamaha and Honda have all had opportunities to win races. BMW has had two pole positions and has recently launched an all-new bike that will form the basis of its Superbike programme going forward.

Investment from manufacturers is the clearest sense of their commitment to any championship and WorldSBK has seen just how serious each of these five manufacturers are taking things. The economy has changed a lot in the last six months due to Covid-19 but it’s clear that there is a genuine belief within the paddock that we’re only at step one with regards to how far the championship can go.

Rea and Scott Redding (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) have been the headline makers this year but the series has been about far more than just them. Rinaldi’s performances and Chaz Davies’ upturn in form, he’s all but matched Redding over the last four rounds, shows the potential that Ducati can tap into. All that’s missing for the red machines is a little consistency.

Kawasaki and Rea are on course for the title by sheer consistency. Their ability to get the most from the bike over a full season, despite some tough races, is unparalleled and for next year they’ll hope that Alex Lowes can hit the ground running and show his full potential.

BMW has a great line-up with Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team), the 2013 World Champion, and regular front runner Michael van der Mark. Honda has so much potential with its bike and if it works track to track Alvaro Bautista could be back at the front. Yamaha holds the aces in the rider market with a host of top riders all lined up to race the YZF-R1 next year. Andrea Locatelli (BARDAHL Evan Bros. WorldSSP Team), Gerloff and Baz are all but certain to be on blue machines next year alongside Toprak Razgatlioglu.

It’s a mouth-watering prospect that what we’ve seen this year might just be the tip of the iceberg of what WorldSBK can become. The new normal? Where do we sign up for more of the same?

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