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FEATURE: all the stories, emotion and memories of WorldSBK’s road to Race 900

Wednesday, 9 November 2022 10:13 GMT

WorldSBK’s history will grow stronger as the 900th race looms, as more iconic moments await

Two rounds to go, one Champion to be crowned and a milestone achievement when lights go out for Race 1 in Indonesia; the 2022 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship continues to hurtle towards history and a special treat awaits in the very next race. From a cold April in the UK for Race 1 back in 1988 to a hot and humid Indonesia, the 900th race in WorldSBK is coming up. 899 races down so far, there’ve been timeless classics between, with final lap thrillers, epic comebacks and emotional journeys making for some of the greatest sporting moments in history. From the tear-jerking memories to the hardest of hard-working stories, we look back at our history and those iconic spectacles that have helped shape the sport as we enjoy it today.

THE EARLY YEARS: humble beginnings in WorldSBK

Davide Tardozzi and Marco Lucchinelli – the 1981 500cc World Champion – were the first two winners on a misty April day at Donington Park in 1988, the first round of World Superbike action. From those humble beginnings, WorldSBK welcomed history and close finishes, with a stunning showdown at the end of the year seeing Fred Merkel snatch the lead of the Championship at the last round to be crowned the first Champion; he doubled up in 1989 in similar fashion but come the start of the 1990s, a new name rose to fame. Raymond Roche dominated in 1990 to take the title; he finished as runner-up in 1991 and 1992, as Doug Polen came to power.

By 1993, 100 races had already been run but what became known as the “first golden era” was soon upon us. American Scott Russell and Kawasaki had a season-long fight with Ducati’s new star Carl Fogarty, in which he’d fend-off the British rider all the way to the end. However, their rivalry was only just beginning and in 1994, ‘Foggy’ became a global star as he took the title; his no-nonsense attitude paired with his on-track tenacity making him one of Britain’s biggest sporting stars of the 1990s. With that, WorldSBK events were rammed solid with thousands of fans, particularly in the UK, Italy and America. He eased to the 1995 title but a switch to Honda in 1996 didn’t work out.

THE FIRST “GOLDEN ERA”: Fogarty, Corser, Kocinski, Edwards, Slight, Chili

Despite the move to Honda in 1996, the season saw some of the most incredible racing ever seen; Fogarty’s first win for Honda at the Hockenheimring in Race 2 against teammate Aaron Slight is still one of the best races, whilst Frankie Chili’s stunning victory at Monza in Race 2 saw him come from fourth to first in just half a lap to win at home. Then, a three-way duel at Assen in Race 2 saw Fogarty prevail ahead of eventual Champion Troy Corser and rookie John Kocinski, who’d go on to take the title a year later, when Fogarty was back at Ducati. Stunning battles continued into 1998 and the British star took the title back in 1998, although a famous clash with Chili at Assen went down as one of WorldSBK’s most iconic moments. A historic fourth title was wrapped up in 1999 for Fogarty but a career-ending accident at Phillip Island in 2000 meant that WorldSBK was a land of opportunity.

With ‘King Carl’ out for good, Colin Edwards took charge after being a race winner previously; he and Noriyuki Haga had a year-long fight which went the American’s way, although Fogarty’s replacement had also been decided: Australian Troy Bayliss. The 1999 BSB champion was an instant success with race wins, enough to spring him into 2001 as one of the favourites. He took the crown with a round to spare, the first of three (along with 2006 and 2008). However, both Edwards and Bayliss are remembered for their titanic season showdown at Imola in 2002. Edwards came from over 50 points back in the last nine races, winning them all (including the spectacular last lap battle at Imola in Race 2) to take a second title. With both moving onto MotoGP™ at the end of the year, Neil Hodgson became World Champion, winning the first nine races and taking the title.

NEW FACES, RETURNING NAMES: a blend in the 2000s

As Hodgson moved to MotoGP™ in 2004, WorldSBK was another unpredictable affair. A four-way fight between Toseland, teammate (and #1 within Ducati’s factory team) Regis Laconi, the rookie Ten Kate Honda team with reigning WorldSSP Champion Chris Vermeulen and stalwart Frankie Chili gave plenty of twists and turns. However, overhauling his teammate in the final round of the year to take the title as an underdog, Toseland became the youngest-ever WorldSBK Champion at 23, something he holds to this day. In 2005, it was the all-conquering Suzuki of Alstare Racing that took control with Troy Corser taking a second title, nine years after his first. Bayliss was back in 2006 and took a dominant crown, whilst in 2007, it was Toseland who came out on top, this time for Honda and the Independent Ten Kate Racing team. A double at Brands Hatch gave a first of his career and a last win too, in what would be one of the most iconic years of racing.  In 2008, Bayliss signed-off his career in style, becoming a triple Champion at Magny-Cours before ending with a Portimao double.

2009 rookie Ben Spies took the crown, with Haga denied again, whilst in 2010, it was the ‘The Roman Emperor’; Max Biaggi took honours, whilst 2010 also gave the closest race finish of all-time at Phillip Island, as Leon Haslam took a first win by 0.004s ahead of Michel Fabrizio. Carlos Checa dominated to become the first Spanish Champion in 2011, the most recent for Ducati, whilst in 2012, the closeness of the Championship was showcased by the closest finishing margin ever, Biaggi took a second title by half a point over Kawasaki’s Tom Sykes, who was Champion in 2013.

THE MODERN ERA: classics continue and a new King reigns

In 2014, Aprilia took their last Championship to-date with Sylvain Guintoli, before the Jonathan Rea and Kawasaki era took hold; for six years running, Jonathan Rea was unstoppable as he took title after title, setting records and becoming the most successful WorldSBK rider of all time. The first of more than 100 wins in green came in his first race for them at Phillip Island, whilst a fierce rivalry with Chaz Davies had started, the two coming to blows famously at Sepang in 2015 and going head-to-head for the next three years. In 2019, WorldSBK celebrated its 800th race, where a star was born. Coming from 16th on the grid at Magny-Cours and closing down race leader Rea by a second on the last lap, it was Turkish delight for Toprak Razgatlioglu, who took to the top step for the first time. 2019 is also remembered for the rise and fall of rookie Alvaro Bautista, who won the first 11 races before crashes in the middle of the year saw Rea take an emphatic fifth straight title, the first rider to achieve this in WorldSBK. He made it six in 2020, although it was Razgatlioglu on his Yamaha debut who won a Phillip Island thriller, heading the second closest podium of all-time.

With a full calendar returning after the pandemic-hit 2020 and a second full year at factory Yamaha, Toprak Razgatlioglu ended Rea and Kawasaki’s reign with a stunning title. After some of the hardest racing ever seen between the two, they knocked spots off each other all year, with no quarter asked or given. On a rainy weekend in Indonesia, the kid with a dream triumphed in one of the greatest seasons of the sport’s history, whilst in 2022, Razgatlioglu’s reign looks set to end with Alvaro Bautista looking certain, in his comeback year to Ducati, to take the title back to Bologna. He can become Champion in the 900th race, where he could become the 19th different WorldSBK Champion.

So, amongst the story of WorldSBK, there’s been some 78 different winners across eight different manufacturers; nine constructors have stood on the podium, with 127 riders having stood on the rostrum in the 35 seasons of racing. WorldSBK has raced at 51 circuits in 25 countries and across five continents, writing history and breaking records along the way. Iconic races such as Frankie Chili’s last win at Misano in Race 2 of 2004, Chris Walker’s stunning last to first win at Assen in 2006 and the famous wildcard wins of the early 2000s – most notable Neil Hodgson’s at Donington Park in Race 2, 2000, as well as Shane Byrne’s stunning double at Brands Hatch in 2003 – are all part of our history. As the paddock has changed and evolved, the constant of thrilling racing and unrivalled drama has remained. As race 900 promises more iconic action, we say ‘cheers’ to our history and raise a glass to our future: the next 100 to reach 1000 has begun.

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