Alanf’s blog…
Scattered thoughts

Friday, December 3, 2004

Thoughts on the \’05 WSBK line-up…

Author: site admin
Category: WSBK

WSBK made for some great racing last season but I think everyone was disappointed that so much of the grid was filled with customer Ducatis, rather than a mix of factory teams. It appears that things are turning around in ‘05 with a lot of non-Ducati factory-supported teams. Diversity on the grid is sure to generate excitement…

That said, I think the Pirelli spec tire rule will still be controversial. While there is no doubt it provided closer racing in 2004, it also provided slower lap times and spectacular (rider injurying) high sides as the power of the bikes overwhelmed the traction of the rear tires. MotoGP went through this (witness the injuries to Rainey, Schwantz, Doohan, et al) and WSBK doesn’t need to as well.

  • First, the kings of World Superbike, the factory Ducati squad:
  • So, for 2005 we have:

      Leaning tower of Toseland

      1a) James Toseland - James had what is perhaps the most unconvincing championship season in years. At a time when the Fila Ducati squad had about three times the budget (and access to the only factory bikes) of anyone else on the grid, Toseland failed to dominate. This is only excusable because of the complete mess his pre-season favorite team-mate made of it. I think another year, and one with a lot more competition, in WSBK will help him continue to step it up as a rider. If he can dominate in 2005, then he’ll be able to hold the title with pride since he’ll have beaten a exponentially more talented field to do it. But I don’t think he’ll do it and will end up third or fourth.

      1b) Regis Laconi - Jeez, what happened to him? Last season he came unglued like a cheap paperback book. Regis has spent the off-season riding a mondo-powerful GP bike, so hopefully that will help him make the factory 999 a better bike. I think it will also give him a lot more focus because he will know what the Ducati ride can offer in the future if he can bring home the bacon now. I think he’ll win the title in 2005, like he should have in 2004. If he can’t he’ll be out of a Ducati ride and maybe out of any ride. If he does win, expect him to pack his gear for a Ducati GP ride in 2006.

  • Second, Ten Kate Honda, who nearly pulled out a championship last year without any major factory support:
    • 1a) Chris Vermeulen - Whoo hoo, what a star this kid turned out to be. With the power of Ten Kate’s engine builders behind him, he put a bitch-slapping on Ducati that hasn’t been done since Colin Edward’s thrilling 2001 WSBK championship. In fact, it may actually be a mistake for Honda to officially help Ten Kate since their underdog status in 2004 made them an instant fan favorite. I think Chris, especially if HRC starts helping the team, will be the biggest challenge to Fila Ducati for the championship.

      1b) Karl Muggeridge - Carl has loads of talent, as his Supersport championship shows, and he’ll be on a rocket of a bike. Still, I don’t think he’ll be able to pull it off in his first season, if only because his teammate already has a year of WSBK under his belt. Additionally, Muggy spent a lot of time crashing in Supersport before putting it together for a season and I think he may have the same over-enthusiastic throttle hand his first year on the big bike. Either way, expect the two Ten Kate bikes to be spectacular…

  • Third, the Foggy Petronas team with all new riders:
    • 1a) Garry McCoy - If McCoy couldn’t get it done on a customer Duc, he ain’t gonna get it done on the Petronas. In fact, I was hugely disappointed in McCoy in 2004, since at early rounds it looked like he was going to regain the form he’d lost after getting punted off the WCM 500 GP bike for two straight seasons. Sadly, that didn’t happen and he spent most of his WSBK season fighting with people he should rightfully have spanked. Now he’s on the finicky Petronas and riding for Foggy, neither of which I think will improve his results.

      1b) Steve Martin - Its a worse disappointment that Martin is on the Petronas that McCoy, as Steve showed impressive tenacity all during the 2004 season. Sure, he had the advantage of being Pirelli’s WSBK development rider for the past two seasons but with things more on an equal footing he also showed he could dice for the podium. I think he’ll slip backwards in 2005 because of the bike. 2004 may have been his career high water mark…

  • Alstare Suzuki steps back into World Superbike with:
    • 1a) Troy Corser - This is the best new development for the series. Alstare is back and this time with a rider that has more hunger that anyone. After languishing for years as the lead development rider for Petronas, Corser knows he only has one season to restore his reputation before he’s sent packing for the old folk’s home. He’s perhaps the most talented rider on the grid and probably the most determined too. Unfortunately, I think Suzuki will struggle getting the GSXR into WSBK trim and learning the Pirelli tires and that will ultimately spoil Corser’s season. Still, I’d love to see Corser, along with the Ten Kate boys, booting the Fila guys off the podium for a season.

      1b) Yukio Kagayama - Yagayama had a up and down season in the British series. He was often winning and always spectacular but also managed to get hurt when his wild riding went a little too far. Sadly, I think he’ll suffer the same fate in 2005, though I suspect his on-the-edge riding style will get plenty of camera time but his Pirelli inspired highsides will probably be what make the Sunday footage highlights.

      1c) Gregorio Lavilla - This hasn’t been announced but I’d guess that Lavilla will get a go aboard the GSXR. He was Suzuki’s development rider in 2004, including a couple of wild card rides in MotoGP, but that roles has been taken by Nobuatsu Aoki in 2005. He’s the last person to ride a factory supported Suzuki in WSBK, gets on well with the Alstare guys and is sitting around without a ride. Besides, he’s Spanish and any rider from Spain with a pulse can apparently bring in buckets of sponsorship cash. If he can find the fire he had in 2003, he could be a contender but I doubt it will happen quickly enough for him to be in the hunt.

  • Zongshen may be back with their re-badged Suzukis and riders:
    • 1a) Norwick Nowland - Talk about a let down! Prior to the Valencia race last season, a lot of PR material was spewed out about how the 2003 World Endurance team was coming to WSBK and would be a force to be reckoned with. Well, I reckon they wasted a bunch of yen, cause the Chinese team was nowhere to be seen in 2004. In 2003, they claimed they’d have their own bike in 2005 but I’ll be surprised if the come back at all. Then again, they claim to be working on a MotoGP bike, so they better learn to swim in the WSBK waters before going where the monsters be in MotoGP.

      1b) Piergiorgio Bontempi - Well, he barely made the top 15 last season. At least these guys make the Petronas team look good. The Zongshen team couldn’t convert World Endurance experience into World Superbike wins last season and if they’re back in 2005, they’re gonna get hammered even worse as the level of talent and equipment has jumped considerably.

  • Kawasaki is back in the mix with PSG-1 and riders:
    • 1a) Chris Walker - This would have been exciting news, if it had happened after Walker was sacked from the Honda Shell GP squad in 2001. The Stalker on a 1000cc version of his beloved Kawi in World Superbike?!?!? But after his 2002 season fighting the underpowered ZX-7RR and now two years struggling on the Petronas, its too little too late. Instead of signing with Foggy, perhaps he should have gone the Hodgson route and returned to the British Superbike series to regain his confidence and hone his skills. I think he’ll improve Kawasaki’s showing but won’t be able to challenge the Duc, Honda and perhaps Suzuki and Yamaha for the championship.

      1b) Mauro Sanchini - I think Sanchini has been racing Kawasakis in WSBK for so long that the factory couldn’t dare let him go now that they are coming back…I think he’s done remarkably well for someone who’s background was racing scooters but I don’t think he’ll beat his teammate, much less win races. Then again, maybe I’m just bitter than PSG didn’t hire Chili.

  • Yamaha are also back in the World Superbike arena with riders:
    • 1a) Noriyuki Haga - Like having Walker on a WSBK Kawasaki, this is total “Back to the Future” stuff. Wasn’t Haga supposed to be aboard a factory Yamaha in WSBK last season? Anyway, never ever underestimate Haga. His success aboard the Renegade Ducati, not to mention the PR effort brought on by his association with graffitti artist Koji, has to have Yamaha officials salivating. However, I think they probably busted their racing budget on their MotoGP “dream team” of Rossi and Edwards and won’t have the money to build a WSBK effort that can equal Ducati. That means Haga will, like last year, be fighting with second tier equipment. I think he’ll get a top 5 in ‘05.

      1b) Andrew Pitt - Pitt has landed in WSBK after his MotoGP outings on the Moriwaki and that experience is bound to help the 2001 Supersport champ out in ‘05. Still, I think he’ll be the “B” rider on the team and that’s going to hold him back. Then again, Yamaha will fight the same daemons as Suzuki in getting their R1 into WSBK fighting trim and figuring out the Pirelli tires…Expect him to fight a season long battle with Muggeridge and Walker.

    Rumors are still flying and they involve a few big names:

      1a) Frankie Chili - What has the guy got to do? For the past two season’s he has amazed everyone by winning races and being in the championship hunt while aboard a second tier customer Ducati. Hell, in 2004 he even did it on a 2003 998. He is a media darling, he has a bigger fan base in England that Toseland and probably a bigger fan base in Italy than some of the MotoGP riders (excepting Rossi and Biaggi, of course). In what parallel universe must I exist in which this guy can’t have a ride for 2005?

      1b) Ben Bostrom - Rumors of a second Honda team, including BBoz, continue to bubble up here and there. Personally, I don’t see it happening because Honda is always so stingy with their bikes. Ducati? They’ll sell to anyone with a check book. Suzuki? Just say Corona is involved and you’ve got a bike. Even Yamaha seems willing to provide bikes to privateer teams. But Honda? No friggin’ way. However, if the earth moves and hell gets frosty enough for Benny to get a Honda, I still think he’ll struggle. Maybe a year of Supermoto would build his confidence or another year of being fleeced by Mladin would get him focused but gifting him with another WSBK season isn’t gonna light his fire.

      1c) Giovanni Bussei - Alright, so technically Bussei doesn’t have a 2005 ride but after the show of sportsmanship he showed by giving title-contender and Honda rider Vermeulen a lift after his crash at Imola, he certainly deserves one. In fact, if Ducati severs its long standing support of Bussei because of the Imola incident, they should get the collective finger from the other riders. That said, Bussei hasn’t shown much spark as a 749R or a 998RS rider so won’t factor in the championship either way…

      1d) Sebastien Gimbert (Yam R1) - Gimbert made a big splash at this past season’s Magny Cours race and is expected to perhaps run as a privateer full time in 2005. Then again, he is the 2004 World Endurance champ and was riding on his home track so maybe it wasn’t such a big splash after all. I’m sure he’ll again be a force if he races the French tracks in 2005 but will probably be duking it out with Sanchini and the other wild cards at other race tracks.

[image from motorcycle-usa website]

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