From crowning Champions to bringing iconic battles and unpredictability, the Pirelli French Round awaits the next instalment of a sensational WorldSBK season
The 2022 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship returns to racing action after the paddock enjoyed a summer break, with the Pirelli French Round at the Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours. A staple on the calendar, this will be the 20th consecutive season at the iconic French venue, which has seen crowning moments, title twists and, last year, a battle for the title played out on-track and off it. In 2022, the ‘titanic trio’ arrive with the gap shrinking and them getting closer and closer, making for an even more interesting dynamic. Who will be ‘magnifique’ at Magny-Cours?
LEADING THE WAY: Bautista the underdog going to Magny-Cours?
Returning to Ducati in 2022 has seen Championship leader Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) revitalise his aspirations and ambitions of becoming World Champion; leading the way by 31 points, Bautista hopes that his hand injury from Donington Park has gone, although at the recent Barcelona test, he stated that it wasn’t 100%. He’s never won at Magny-Cours, nor has he had a podium there, so will this be a weekend of damage limitation for the 37-year- old, or will he and the Ducati work well in 2022? Teammate Michael Ruben Rinaldi enjoyed a positive test in Barcelona but will have his future in the back of his mind coming into the round; just 14 points off fourth overall, will Rinaldi surprise in France?
MAGNIFICENT AT MAGNY-COURS: another Razgatlioglu vs Rea duel ahead
Giving chase in the standings is six-time World Champion Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK). He’s been majestic at Magny-Cours over the years, notching up nine wins, more than anyone else. Although he only won one last year – the Tissot Superpole Race following a race direction sanction for Toprak Razgatlioglu – Rea has still won five of the last seven races there and is keen to claw back the Championship lead. In 2019, the last time Bautista was aboard a Ducati, the points swing between the two was 38, with Rea taking the title in Race 2. Teammate Alex Lowes always features strongly at Magny-Cours and has been on the podium five times, with four coming since 2019. He’s yet to be a winner at the circuit though; could Lowes be the dark horse?
Whilst Jonathan Rea has the stats at Magny-Cours, reigning World Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) has the recent form and the poetic story. In 2014, as a wildcard in Superstock 600, he won after an incredible final lap battle, his first win in the WorldSBK paddock. Then, in 2019, from 16th on the grid, he blasted through to beat Rea in an epic final lap thriller in Race 1, his first WorldSBK win, before repeating it in the Superpole Race. A wet 2020 saw him off the podium but in 2021, he was back with a bang and two full-race victories. Can he do the triple at his favourite circuit in 2022? He has six wins in the last eight races and is 38 points behind Bautista. For teammate Andrea Locatelli, he’ll hope for a podium chance, having taken a third in Race 1 last year.
HONDA AND BMW: are they about to join the battle for regular podiums?
Team HRC are fresh from a positive test in Barcelona, with Iker Lecuona ready to get back in the chase for a top five overall in the Championship. A new chassis bracing and new swingarm are just some of the items that have been brought in recent rounds, confirmed and trialled further in testing and now ready to further improve results. For Lecuona, Magny-Cours is yet again a circuit he doesn’t know but after quick learning at Donington Park and Most, expect him to be strong come Saturday’s Race 1. For Xavi Vierge, he’s now got his future secured, remaining with Honda for 2023, meaning that he’ll have his mind relaxed and can now focus on a strong end to an injury-hit but impressive rookie season. He too hasn’t been to Magny-Cours, but with Honda enjoying a top six last year, a strong weekend awaits.
Over at BMW – like for Honda – it was a strong test in Barcelona which saw Scott Redding (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) work extensively on electronics and also a new Nissin braking system, whilst it was also the return of Michael van der Mark from injury. Redding is a race winner at Magny-Cours from Race 2 in 2020 in the wet but struggled in 2021, whilst with the BMW M1000RR, it will be a new challenge again, although the bike does work well at the circuit, with a top five achieved last year. That was achieved by van der Mark, who enjoys the Magny-Cours circuit with six podiums, all since 2016, missing out last year. Now the team is back at full strength, expect to see the BMWs make good ground on their rivals.
INDEPENDENT CHARGE: can anyone catch Bassani in the second half of 2022?
Leading the Independents, it’s Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing), with the Italian continuing his quest for a factory seat, just 19 points behind Rinaldi. Loris Baz (Bonovo Action BMW) is in 11th place overall and aiming to have a home round to be proud of, whilst he’s ten points clear of Garrett Gerloff (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team), who shows well at Magny-Cours. Philipp Oettl (Team Goeleven) is next in 13th ahead of home-hero Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing); Mahias has three wins at the track (two in WorldSSP and one in STK1000). Behind them, the ever-improving Luca Bernardi (BARNI Spark Racing Team), who has had a back operation during the break following a long injury after a crash at Magny-Cours in 2021’s WorldSSP Race 2.
Roberto Tamburini (Yamaha Motoxracing WorldSBK Team) gives chase behind the Independents ahead of him and hopes for a career-first top ten, whilst Eugene Laverty (Bonovo Action BMW) gears up for his final French Round as a rider. Kohta Nozane (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) has his sights on a first top ten of 2022, whilst fellow Yamaha rider Christophe Ponsson (Gil Motor Sport-Yamaha) is keen to show strongly at home. Hafizh Syahrin (MIE Racing Honda Team) and teammate Leandro Mercado hope Magny-Cours is a turning point in their season, with Mercado coming from a difficult Barcelona test. Oliver Konig (Orelac Racing VerdNatura) continues his chase for first points whilst Oscar Gutierrez (TPR Team Pedercini Racing) will make his debut in WorldSBK.