Crash.Net WSBK News
WSBK 2011 Preview - Honda
23 February 2011
Perhaps the best example of the shift in power at World Superbike level, while relative newcomers Aprilia and BMW each have their own satellite entries in 2011, Honda will persevere with just its factory-nominated Ten Kate machines this year.
Indeed, it was only two years ago when the Japanese manufacturer commanded a significant presence of seven full-time bikes, but the popularity of the CBR1000RR has seemingly waned amongst customers.
Even so, Honda will enter a new era by revisiting a former one following the return of Castrol, one that will see the Dutch-based team renamed Castrol Honda as a result.
The distinctive white, green and red colours are back in a clear nod to the period in which Honda enjoyed possibly its greatest success as a World Superbike team.
Stylish on the outside, the changes to the bike haven't been restricted to a mere paint job, with the Ten Kate team working hard to iron out some of the set-up issues that caused the bike to fluctuate uneasily between unbeatable and well off the pace in 2010.
Once more, Jonathan Rea is charged with fronting Honda's bid to reclaim the title, the Ulsterman keen to carry the positives of his somewhat inconsistent 2010 campaign and eradicate the negatives.
Testing has gone well so far, but then it did last season, only for a modest start to the season to put Rea out of the running before he had barely left the blocks… His recent hand injury during the Phillip Island test hasn't helped matters either.
As such, judgement will be reserved for the moment, though he is the man Max Biaggi is likely to fear most in 2011.
One of the bigger surprises during the off-season was the announcement that the second Castrol Honda seat was to be assumed by Ruben Xaus. Surprising in that there were murmurs that Honda would focus on just one bike in 2011, the decision to place Xaus on the bike after two unspectacular years at BMW, during which he was comprehensively outshined by fellow veteran Troy Corser, also raised some eyebrows.
While it is often easy to forget that Xaus is an 11-time race winner at this level, the fact that this is probably his best WSBK break since 2002 at a time when his career is possibly in its twilight years makes this an interesting choice.
On the flip side, Xaus brings a huge amount of experience to the team and given he has spent much of his career on either a Ducati twin and the BMW S1000RR – two fairly tricky beasts at the best of times -, this could do a 'Checa' and revive his fortunes.
While Hondas may be thin on the ground in the WSBK class, there are plenty of 'winged' crescents in the Supersport class with the CBR600RR proving the overwhelming bike of choice for another season.
Champions Ten Kate Racing return having retained its HANNspree backing with the all-French pairing of Fabien Foret and Florian Marino, while a bevy of privateer entrants also make up an impressive Supersport entry list this year.
While the choice of Foret – who won the title back in 2002 – was another Ten Kate-initiated surprise, he should be the frontrunner he couldn't be with Lorenzini Kawasaki in 2010.
Of the privateer contingent, 2009 and 2010 title challengers Parkalgar Honda return with an ambitious four-man squad this season, with reigning British Supersport champion Sam Lowes charged with getting the title Eugene Laverty just missed out on. Additionally, James Ellison is a welcome addition on the PTR Bogdanka, arranged as part of a deal with between PTR and the Polish Bogdanka operation. Both British riders are tipped to challenge for the title, while Miguel Praia and Pawel Szkopek will provide respective support.
Elsewhere, 2010 standout rookie Gino Rea remains with Intermoto and with the team – known as Step Racing - now benefitting from Ukrainian backing, the youngster is another expected to break into the winners' circle this season.
The very experienced Robbin Harms is also back on a sole Harms Benjan Honda, with former team-mate Bastien Chesaux going solo aboard a Moto Academy Swiss machine, while Alexander Lundh is another sophomore contender on the Cresto Guide bike.
Finally, Kuja Racing and Team Toth plan to enter a pair of bikes over the season, while Ondrej Jezek will ride for newcomers SMS.