7 September 2013
Rules announcement sparks WSBK silly season
Marco Melandri on an Aprilia? MV Agusta stepping up to Superbikes? Eugene Laverty heading to MotoGP? The 2014 World Superbike season is just getting underway...
With the announcement of new rules and regulations being made during the summer break, the resumption of World Superbike action at the Nurburgring was also a chance for the reconvened paddock to reverberate to the sounds of rumour and gossip as speculation as to whom will land where for 2014 began to gather pace.
As it stands, just one rider has been confirmed to the World Superbike grid in 2014, with Tom Sykes putting any prospective MotoGP rumours to bed by penning a new deal with Kawasaki. However, things are proving less clear-cut around him with several interesting murmurings coming out of Germany this weekend…
Kawasaki has previously suggested that it wants to expand its line-up in 2014, whether that comes in the form of a three-man team or with leading Supersport outfit Mahi Racing stepping up. Kenan Sofuoglu has been tipped for the latter position, but while he has tested the ZX-10R, he has since played down hopes of a return to the top flight.
Instead, a three-man Provec-run team seems most likely with Loris Baz – following his impressive Silverstone performance – tipped to get the nod, alongside possibly Carlos Checa. The former champion has a good relationship with the Spanish-backed team and has become increasingly frustrated at being unable to make progress on the Ducati 1199 Panigale. With Ayrton Badovini now regularly out-pacing him on the twin-cylinder machine, Checa is rumoured to be seeking a way out of his Ducati contract.
Ducati, meanwhile, is expected to benefit from the change in the rules for next season, not least the cap in the engines which may level the playing field a little in terms of raw speed. The manufacturer has made no secret of the fact that it wants Nicky Hayden to remain an ambassador for the Ducati brand by moving into World Superbikes, though the American is apparently reluctant to do so. His recent closed test at Misano will prove critical to his final decision, but Ducati is rumoured to be offering a substantial 'carrot' if he does…
Heading in the other direction potentially, a move to MotoGP has been tipped for Jonathan Rea and Eugene Laverty. Having been so loyal to Honda over the years, the Ulsterman has been mooted for a long-awaited switch to the premier class riding, either with Gresini Honda in place of Alvaro Bautista or riding one of the manufacturer's production racers. With Bautista's results having improved recently, the latter appears more likely, though Scott Redding's appointment on the Gresini Honda production racer does take away another option.
Laverty, meanwhile, has stated that he is committed to staying with Aprilia, whether that is in World Superbikes or MotoGP. It is common knowledge that Aprilia is on the verge of upping its involvement in MotoGP in the wake of Aspar's ultra-successful endeavour with the RSV4-based CRT machine and Laverty is a leading candidate to join his brother Michael in the series.
Indeed, much of the 2014 grid could hinge on Aprilia's decision to stay in World Superbikes. While the hot paddock rumour at Silverstone suggested Aprilia would follow BMW out of the series at the end of the season, the less drastic gossip coming out of Germany is that Aprilia will leave as an official entity but create a 'semi-works' satellite outfit in its place, much like Althea Racing was to Ducati when the Italian manufacturer left in 2010.
Should this occur, 2013 standout Sylvain Guintoli is expected to stay put, possibly alongside Laverty, while Marco Melandri – left without a ride following BMW's withdrawal – has made no secret of the fact he wants to join the manufacturer for 2014.
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