With 21 entries for the 2011 World Superbike series, you’d think things were looking a little light on the grid.
Still, it’s better than the 17 entries posted for the Moto GP class, and of these 21 bikes, they’re pretty much all factory or ex-factory-with-help machines, so the racing is likely to be as good as usual – which at its best resembles a drunken brawl at closing time (that’s a good thing).
Oddly, the biggest number of entries is from the manufacturer with the least amount of WSB success in the past, with no fewer than five Kawasakis on the list.
Chris Vermeulen is the big name in the group, but he’s having a long, slow recovery from his awful knee injury at the start of last year, so look for Tom Sykes or Joan Lascorz (up from World Supersport) to be the fastest green riders out of the gate. Roberto Rolfo is also on a Kawasaki, and his team (Pedercini) plan to announce another rider soon. Aussie superbike champ Bryan Staring will be on the bike as a wild card entry at the first race.
Ducati and BMW are both on tap with four bikes. None of the Ducatis are factory-entered, but Carlos Checa on the Althea bike was often faster than the factory guys in 2010, and for sure they’ll be getting some help. Ducati resources will be light this year, due to the concentration on Moto GP with Valentino Rossi.
Rossi, supposedly, is going to help with some development work if time allows, and has made comments in the past couple of seasons that he looks at World Superbikes as his “retirement income” when he steps back from Moto GP.
Checa will be supported by former British SB champ Sylvain Guintoli, while Jakub Smrz and Maxime Berger round out the line-up.
The BMW team will be headed up by Leon Haslam, who finished second to Aprilia’s Max Biaggi in 2010. He’d likely have taken the title if Suzuki hadn’t more or less dropped the team in terms of development. The global sales crunch hit Suzuki harder than the other manufacturers (it’s the smallest company of the Japanese group), and this was one thing that had to be cut back.
Haslam will be joining veteran (and multi-time champ) Aussie Troy Corser on the factory squad, while a satellite team of James Toseland (former WSB champ, unsuccessful Moto GP racer) and 2010 European Supersport champion Ayrton Badovini on a team entered by BMW of Italy.
Aprilia has three bikes. 2010 champion Max Biaggi is back, as is team-mate Leon Camier. The third bike will be run by PATA racing for Samurai of Slide Noriyuki Haga; it’s apparently Biaggi’s bike from 2010.
There are only two Hondas and two Yamahas entered, albeit both have full factory backing. The Hondas will be run by Ten Kate of the Netherlands (with new sponsorship from Castrol) for Jonathon Rea and Ruben Xaus, and the Yamahas, courtesy of Yamaha Moto Italia, feature Moto GP refugee Marco Melandri and Eugene Laverty, up from World Supersport.
That leaves one lonely Suzuki, run by the one-mighty Alstare team for former Ducati factory guy Michel Fabrizio. Fabrizio is famous for erratic displays of talent and isn’t known for his development skills, so unless the factory really steps things up, it’s likely to be a long hard year for the team. Yoshimura Suzuki plans to do “a few” rounds, but so far have only entered for Australia, with local ace Josh Waters in the saddle.
The season starts February 27 at Philip Island in Australia and will have 13 events (26 races) finishing at Portugal’s wonderful Portimao circuit October 16. That’s also where the season kicks off, with the first formal test session for all teams set for this week, January 26-28.