15 February 2015
Testing to raise curtain on 2015 WSBK season
Two days of official pre-season testing in Australia will provide the first clues of who to watch for the 2015 World Superbike Championship season.
The opening round of the 2015 World Superbike Championship is now less than a week away, with the teams already stationed in Australia for the traditional Phillip Island opener.
The curtain raiser will take place on 20-22 February, but first the teams will participate in two days of official pre-season testing at Phillip Island – taking place on 16-17 February - for the first true indicator of those to watch for the coming season.
With the interim EVO class having been amalgamated into a single-category format again, complete with revised regulations designed to reduce costs, standardise features and level the playing field amongst factory and privateer teams, WSBK 2015 features a healthy starting line-up of 26 full-time riders across eight manufacturers – the largest single-class field of bikes since 2010.
Despite all signs pointing towards a full-scale defection to MotoGP, reigning champions Aprilia Racing will still be present in World Superbikes, albeit supporting Red Devils Roma. Though it wasn't initially clear whether Red Devils – which has signed Leon Haslam and Jordi Torres – would merely be an inflated satellite effort, Aprilia's decision to bring on Max Biaggi and Michael Laverty as test riders suggests this is very much a de facto works team in a set-up seemingly not dissimilar to the title-winning Althea Ducati campaign of 2011.
Not that Aprilia was able to retain its title-winning rider, Sylvain Guintoli refusing to wait around for the Italian firm to make its final strategic decisions and instead favouring a switch to PATA Honda for 2015. Replacing Jonathan Rea, Guintoli faces an uphill task to defend his title and score Honda's first championship win since 2007 on a bike that has struggled in all but Rea's hands in recent years. A pre-season injury won't help matters either, nor will the attentions of highly-rated team-mate Michael van der Mark, but Guintoli is as capable as anyone to get the best from the CBR1000RR consistently.
With Guintoli in, Rea has made the much publicised move to Kawasaki Racing for 2015, a combination that will likely be the most keenly watched in Australia. The Ulsterman has already proven quick in pre-season testing, at least a match for 2013 title-winning team-mate Tom Sykes in what is likely to be a formidable rider line-up for a firm still chasing its first manufacturers' title success.
Following a two-year victory drought with the 1199 Panigale R, Ducati is leaving no stone unturned in its quest to return to winning ways in 2015. The general consensus is that the change in the regulations will work in Ducati's favour, with Chaz Davies and Davide Giugliano on the rebranded Aruba.it Racing bikes proving scintillating in testing. With Althea expanding to two bikes for Nico Terol and Matteo Baiocco and Barni making its long-awaited move into World Superbikes with Tati Mercado, the healthy contingent of Ducatis on the grid at least harks back to more successful years…
With Eugene Laverty heading to MotoGP, Randy de Puniet comes in the other direction to join Crescent Suzuki and attempt to replicate the success of Biaggi, Carlos Checa and Marco Melandri before him. He will have Alex Lowes keeping him on his toes though, the Englishman eager to string together greater consistency from his flashes of pace in 2014.
After a point-less first year in a works capacity, EBR's decision to enlist Larry Pegram as team manager-rider and sign Niccolo Canepa to its fold proved one of the more intriguing off-season developments. Testing suggests the 1190RX is still a bike very much in development, but the signs show it is at least looking more likely to score points in 2015.
Sticking it out with just a single bike, MV Agusta will persevere with development of its F4RR, but this time in the hands of welcome WSBK returnee Leon Camier.
Though there is no official factory effort on the grid, BMW will still have five bikes on the grid in 2015, with BMW Motorrad Italia and Team Toth Racing fielding unchanged rider line-ups. More interesting is the all-new Dominican Republic-funded JR Racing effort, which will enter Toni Elias and Ayrton Badovini, though it will have to wait until Thailand to make its first impression having opted out of the Australia opener.
Beyond the factory entries, the 2015 season will see an impressive array of satellite entrants looking to get amongst the better funded efforts. Beyond the aforementioned Althea and Barni Ducati efforts, Pedercini will get backing from Kawasaki for the first time by running KRT-backed David Salom on its bike.
Sylvain Barrier is also tipped as a rider to watch on the BMW Motorrad Italia machine following an injury interrupted 2014 season, while Kawasaki's grid numbers are bolstered by two bikes from Grillini Racing – Christophe Ponsson and Santiago Barragan – and Supersport graduates GO Eleven, who will field Roman Ramos.
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