Over the years, the greatest rivalries have been formed by having familiarity just as much as change and World Superbike in 2023 promises exactly that
The 2022 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship may only be five rounds in out of 12 but there’s already plenty of talk about 2023. Following the announcement that Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) will remain in green and with KRT for 2023 and 2024, it confirms that the ‘titanic trio’ of him, reigning World Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) and Championship leader Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) all staying in their current teams for next year. Bautista’s announcement was made after Misano, whilst Razgatlioglu already had a contract, but Yamaha’s MotoGP™ boss Lin Jarvis confirmed that there’d be “no spot” for a potential Toprak move in 2023. That means that for at least another year, we’ll have more of the same drama and excitement we’ve enjoyed from the edge of our seats in 2022 so far. We remind you of some of the best battles that we’ve already enjoyed from an epic year to this point.
If the 2022 season had been hyped up and billed as being potentially one of the best, it was confirmed in the opening race of the season. After a tense race from the start, Jonathan Rea seemed to have it in the bag but Alvaro Bautista, on his return to Ducati, had other ideas and put in a Superpole-style lap of the Gods to close down 0.6s to Rea and pass him going into Turn 16 on the final lap. He ran slightly wide, Rea turned under him and beat him on the short burst to the line. Just the start of what would be a mega 2022 to-date…
After edge-of-your-seat drama in 2021 which saw the pair collide on several occasions in what was some of the hardest racing the Championship had ever seen, as Bautista went on to say, “one day, it had to happen.” On Lap 6 of Race 2 at Assen, reigning World Champion Razgatlioglu went deep at Turn 1 but picked his bike up on the kerb, staying on track; however, Rea had already committed to the racing line and as Toprak re-joined the racing line, he found Rea’s ZX-10RR under him. The pair collided and crashed, the first time both of them would fail to finish after an on-track clash. At odds over the incident, relations were tense until it was put to bed on the Thursday of the Estoril Round.
It could be described as not just the best round of the year, nor the decade but perhaps WorldSBK history. Race 1 at Estoril saw Razgatlioglu and Rea constantly swapping paint with nine changes for the race lead in ten laps. However, closing in behind was Alvaro Bautista and he arrived on the scene with just four laps to go. As Rea faded, Toprak looked in control, but the power of the Ducati came to fruition and Bautista powered by on the exit of the last corner of the last lap to take victory.
In the Superpole Race, it was damp but dry tyres were used by the titanic trio; Razgatlioglu looked like he had it in the bag but a huge front-end save going into the chicane on the final lap cost him the time, as Rea zipped through. Rea held on and Razgatlioglu was denied a first win of 2022 once more, forced to wait again and mugged on the last lap again.
In Race 2, it was Rea vs Bautista again and on the final lap, Rea made a lunge at Turn 7 but ran wide and Bautista was back ahead. Into the chicane and Rea barged ahead, shoving Bautista wide but surely, the power of the Ducati – like in Race 1 – would come good again. A huge slide for Rea coming through the final corner put Bautista back in the picture, but he couldn’t out-drag the Kawasaki to the line. Rea had done the unthinkable for one of his finest career wins.
Heading to Ducati’s home and the Misano World Circuit “Marco Simoncelli”, Alvaro Bautista was sure to deliver the goods for Ducati. He eased clear in Race 1 for a memorable win, whilst in Race 2, he had to fight off Razgatlioglu, who in-turn had just won his first race of the year in the Superpole Race. Bautista eventually broke clear to make it a double for Ducati at home – just like teammate Michael Ruben Rinaldi managed 12 months previous. In other news, Razgatlioglu retired from a podium placing in Race 1 with a tech problem, whilst in Race 2, Rea was only fourth, beaten by home-hero Rinaldi.
Entering the fifth round with a 36-point lead over Rea and 79 over Razgatlioglu, Alvaro Bautista knew that Donington Park could be tricky for Ducati, particularly with Razgatlioglu and Rea’s recent form there. Despite having the pace on Friday, Rea couldn’t live with Toprak and Yamaha in Race 1 as the Turk eased clear for a first full-race win of 2022. However, Bautista had got into second but with nine laps to go, our first reminder of 2019’s title race came through, when he crashed at the final corner. Rea took second behind Toprak to slash the deficit. Razgatlioglu dominated the Superpole Race before going on to triumph in an early battle with Rea in Race 2, completing his first hat-trick, whilst with five laps to go, Bautista got ahead of Rea. All in all, Donington Park saw game back on in the title race between the three.
BRIEF HISTORY: iconic rivalries formed by familiarity
Looking back, there’ve been some of the best rivalries formed by riders staying put and refusing to break up winning packages. In the 90s, despite a year out at Honda, Carl Fogarty’s biggest rivalries came with him at Ducati, as well as other Ducati riders for many years such as Troy Corser and Pierfrancesco Chili. Colin Edwards vs Troy Bayliss is another, stretching almost three years from 2000 to 2002. Skipping to 2006 and 2007, Troy Bayliss on his Ducati and James Toseland on the Ten Kate Honda produced magical moments whilst if we look at 2008, Bayliss, now in his third year with Ducati, took on Noriyuki Haga, who was in his fourth season with Yamaha. In recent years, Jonathan Rea battled Ducati’s Chaz Davies for the title in head-to-head combat from 2015 to 2018, whilst from 2020, he and Yamaha’s Toprak Razgatlioglu have put on a real show, with some of the most spectacular motorcycle racing ever seen on any world stage. What makes 2022 and 2023 so special is the fact it’s a three-horse race – and the familiarity continuing means the epic battles will too.
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