WSBK Season Preview - The Rookies
1 January 1901
In the latest instalment of Crash.net's preview for the World Superbike Championship, we take a look at the non-British rookies who will be aiming to re-write the rules in 2009...
Ben Spies – Yamaha Italia
There has rarely been so much of a buzz around a WSBK rookie as there is currently surrounding Ben Spies.
Even before the American's name was linked with a move to the premier Superbike series, Spies was being tipped as the country's new motorcycling star after dominating the domestic scene and catching the attention of several MotoGP teams.
Of course, Suzuki's hesitance - and subsequent refusal - to grant him a factory bike in MotoGP has been well documented, but their loss has undoubtedly been Yamaha, and WSBK's, gain.
Readers of Crash.net will be familiar with how well Spies is regarded amongst those in the know, although it is his headline grabbing performances in pre-season that have gone on to add cynics to his army of fans.
It means that while Spies heads into 2009 as a rookie - and not even one with a full MotoGP season under his belt like Max Biaggi or Carlos Checa before him -, his reputation has alone marked him out as a title contender.
Obvious talent and a fine bike aside, Spies' biggest stumbling block is likely to be his lack of knowledge around certain circuits. Although testing in Portugal, South Africa and Australia hasn't appeared to cause too many problems for Spies so far, it remains to be seen whether the pressure of a race weekend could prove more telling.
If he can overcome this, then Spies really could have a genuine shot at the title on speed alone – not to mention remind MotoGP what they have missed out on…
Shinya Nakano – Aprilia
Although it seems strange to call a rider with so many years of MotoGP experience a 'rookie', Shinya Nakano probably still has less Superbike experience than most having plied his trade in GP racing for around a decade.
Nonetheless, having been frozen out the remaining seats that were available in MotoGP, Nakano will jump at the opportunity to help Aprilia with their ambitious new WSBK project.
Nakano's ability as a development rider has been refined over the years, following spells at Yamaha, Kawasaki and Honda, and while his move to Superbikes doesn't necessarily mean the transition will be seamless, Aprilia are still getting one of the most consistent MotoGP riders of recent years.
Although it has been difficult to predict how capable the RSV-4 is during testing, crucially for Nakano, he has been matching - and occasionally beating – WSBK race winning team-mate Max Biaggi.
If he can sustain, or even improve, that comparison against Biaggi, then Nakano should certainly prove a substantial force if the Aprilia allows him to be…
Brendan Roberts – Guandalini Ducati
He is the rider that Troy Bayliss patriotically hoped would be replacing him at Ducati Xerox, but Brendan Roberts will nonetheless have to settle for the more pressure-free surroundings Guandalini Ducati in 2009.
The reigning FIM Superstock 1000 winner comes to the top flight eager to impress where other previous champions, like Alex Polita and Vittorio Iannuzzo, have failed in the recent past.
This season would be a tough one for any rookie to be making their WSBK debut, but Roberts has plenty going for him.
Having already triumphed over a large and competitive Superstock field in 2008, Roberts has knowledge of most of the circuits on the calendar, while his relationship with Ducati means he should be comfortable at Guandalini.
Guandalini's effect shouldn't be underestimated either, having turned Jakub Smrz from an underwhelming grand prix rider into an occasional front runner at Superbike level. With an expanded line-up with which to collect data and the nous of Pierfrancesco Chili behind the scenes, Roberts has paired up with a privateer team that has plenty of potential to cause a few upsets.
The short-term goal for the 2009 season may see Roberts try and keep tabs on Smrz, but by the end of the season he should be attempting to break into the top ten on regular occasions.
Luca Scassa – Pedercini Kawasaki
Although his arrival on the World Superbike scene is unlikely to have caused too many second glances amongst those without an intimate knowledge of the motorcycle racing, Luca Scassa nonetheless arrives armed with a Superbike title under his belt.
While the Italian Superbike Championship doesn't have the same kudos as its British or American counterparts, Scassa is at least notable for having won it with the iconic MV Agusta brand.
Although he won't be returning the Italian manufacturer to the world championship this year having traded it in for a Pedercini Kawasaki, Scassa nonetheless remains a credible addition to the grid.
A former Superstock front runner, Scassa has raced in the US-based AMA series before dominating the Italian championship in 2008. He even made a WSBK debut at the end of 2009, although his single-race deal with DFX Honda was not a memorable one.
Nonetheless, with Pedercini occasionally embarrassing their PSG-1 Kawasaki stablemates in 2008, Scassa has a chance to show this year that he could be worth a shot on more accomplished machinery in the future.
Tomorrow: We preview those that find themselves in new surroundings for 2009...