WHAT WE LEARNT: new names emerge, a rivalry continues and one star struggles
2023 is off and running and after two rounds and six races, we analyse the key talking points
The 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is well underway with two rounds down and plenty of stories, records and intrigue already being discussed. In a season that’s bringing a topsy-turvy feel right from the off and with pre-season title contenders seemingly struggling, we debrief the opening two rounds and look at some key patterns and findings from Australia and Indonesia.
KAWASAKI STRUGGLE: a disaster in green to start 2023
Seven titles, over 100 wins, more than 300 podiums and a place firmly in the history books, Kawasaki have been the modern benchmark in World Superbike, but the start of 2023 has been a troubled one. Two podiums from six races, no wins in the opening six races for the first time since 2019 (when Jonathan Rea finished second in all opening six races) and no Kawasaki inside the top five in the Championship, it’s rather perplexing. The Japanese manufacturer brought an upgraded engine for this year, with it giving more power on the exit of corners. That step was visibly made at Phillip Island, with the Kawasakis able to stay in front of the Yamahas – even when they were with a slipstream. However, pace at the end of the race has been something Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) and teammate Alex Lowes have struggled with, whilst they’ve also continued to be at a deficit in hot temperatures. It’ll be an important test at Aragon and Barcelona…
BAUTISTA VS TOPRAK: early form makes for interesting reading
With Jonathan Rea struggling, it’s been reigning World Champion Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) who has been doing the lion’s share of the winning – five wins from the opening six, whilst 2022 title rival and 2021 World Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) is the other winner. Whilst it was a slower start to the season for Toprak, he came back strong at Mandalika, although Bautista is still leading him in the Championship by 37 points. However, despite only winning one race, Razgatlioglu outscored Bautista in Indonesia: 52 points vs 50. Of course, we expect that Rea will come back into the fold and that others could be in with a shout, but could it be already that it’s a battle between Bautista and Razgatlioglu this year? And if so, who will triumph?
RISE OF THE TEAMMATES: pecking order rearranged, or the same when we return to Europe?
There have been some fantastic battles already in 2023 but one theme has been that the previously established ‘number ones’ within a team have been pushed hard in the opening part of the year. At Ducati, Bautista may have five wins from six but Michael Ruben Rinaldi’s (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) step up in form has been clear for all to see. He really will be a force to be reckoned with when we get to circuits such as Barcelona and Misano. Then at Yamaha, Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) was second in the Championship after Australia and is third after Indonesia and just five points behind Razgatlioglu, whilst he’s also the only rider in the Championship to finish all races inside the top five. He’s had podiums at Assen in the last two years, is a win possible?
At Kawasaki, Alex Lowes has given Kawasaki their only dry podium of the year so far with third in the Superpole Race in Indonesia, whilst Xavi Vierge (Team HRC) bagged a first WorldSBK podium in Mandalika Race 2, outshining teammate Iker Lecuona across Mandalika and is just a point behind Rea in the standings. For BMW, Michael van der Mark (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) has had the measure of teammate Scott Redding so far in 2023, giving BMW their only top six of the season so far, although Redding is ahead on points. Will this continue as Assen awaits, where results in the past have often been turned on their head?
STRONG ROOKIES: Petrucci and Aegerter shine, Gardner in the mix
It’s been a fine start to the 2023 season for Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team), who ended the Barni team’s four year wait for a return to the top five with fifth at Mandalika in Race 1. He’s eighth in the Championship standings, although he’s yet to score points in the Tissot Superpole Race. Dominique Aegerter (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) had a solid first round with a front row start, and podium potential, and his late race pace – whilst he was concerned about it before the season started – has been strong. Teammate Remy Gardner has had a best of seventh but a wet debut, taking his teammate out in Australia and food poisoning in Indonesia have all made it a tough opening two rounds. Elsewhere, Lorenzo Baldassarri (GMT94 Yamaha) scored his first points at Mandalika last time out whilst Eric Granado (PETRONAS MIE Racing HONDA Team) chases his first.
STRONG STARTS, KEEP AN EYE: Bassani and Oettl with good pace
After podiums in his first two seasons of action, Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing) is enjoying his best start to a WorldSBK season with fourth overall in the standings, despite not achieving a rostrum just yet. The charismatic Italian has been a stand-out front runner and even a race leader already, but a best of fourth so far means he’s just missed the podium. Perhaps more of a surprise at round one was Philipp Oettl (Team GoEleven), with the German continuing his form from pre-season testing and shining for a career-first top five in Australia. Just three points came during the Mandalika weekend but next up is Assen, a circuit where he showed strong potential last year.
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