Have dramatic new World Superbike rules introduced this past winter delivered as promised, or have unique circumstances at the opening two rounds of the series simply led to exceptional racing? Australia’s Phillip Island always guarantees close and exciting competition. Likewise, the Thai round in Buriram offers a unique setting and challenging conditions. It could be a coincidence but thus far we’ve seen three winners, seven riders on the podium, and 10 race leaders.
Let’s peer beyond the surface and look into the data, the sample size for which this early into the 13-round season is admittedly small. At first glance, the rules are a success. Ducati has won three races and Kawasaki one. Yamaha had a double podium in race 2 in Buriram. Honda is suddenly competitive, as well. But let’s wait before we uncork the prosecco and claim this as the beginning of a new era for the sport. Rounds 3 and 4 at MotorLand Aragón and Assen will be the proof of the pudding if this change is indeed real.
The signs, however, are encouraging. “It’s been great so far,” Alex Lowes admitted after his Thai podium. “When everyone is battling, fans get to see some great racing. I can’t wait for the next round.” The Englishman wasn’t alone in his thoughts. With Xavi Forés currently third overall in the championship on a private Ducati, change is clearly afoot. Forés, a former Spanish and German champion, built on his strong performance in Australia with another podium in Thailand.
While Forés stood on the podium, fellow Ducati rider Chaz Davies finally put to bed ghosts of the past. Buriram has been the toughest track on the calendar for the Welshman, and he finally got a win. “We have to work harder on the track now,” he admitted. “You can see what’s changed with the rules, and all the bikes are strong in different areas. Some have more power, some are more agile, some are better on the brakes. It’s a learning process because I’m not used to racing against a Honda or an MV Agusta, but it’s good. I think it will only be after a few European races that we know exactly what it looks like.”
Three-time and reigning World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea was less enthusiastic. After finishing second to Marco Melandri in Australia, the Northern Irishman claimed pole position and victory on Saturday in Thailand. In the second race, however, he was forced to ride at the absolute limit. Hamstrung on the straights, he had to make his moves under braking. The result of having to push so hard while attempting to overtake rivals was a string of mistakes that he attributed to excessive front brake temperature.
“Race 2 was very difficult,” Rea said. “I am little bit upset that I put myself in a position to commit to passes I couldn’t really do. Around lap 13, the brake pressure came back and I was able to understand how to manage the lap time. I enjoyed the excitement on track, but as soon as I had the problem I was worried. I would go for the limit and sometimes I’d have the brake pressure and sometimes I wouldn’t. Slowly but surely, I am building a better relationship with the bike. Aragón is a track I’m looking forward to but we will need to look at the gearing.”
Just off the podium today but 1-4 for second overall this weekend will do. Was an eventful race with brake issues from the start. Last 6 Laps it came back a bit and I was able to fight for 4th. Now leading the World Championship and heading back to Europe with a suitcase full of positives! But first, I might crack a beer! 📸 @geebeeimages p.s this pic was from yesterday, where I actually had brakes 😂
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Gearing is clearly the biggest issue for Kawasaki, which was hit hardest by the rules-mandated reduction in engine revs—1,200 rpm for the ZX-10RR. On Buriram’s long straight leading to turn 3, Rea was clearly unable to even contemplate moves on anyone other than his teammate, Tom Sykes. Some of that is outright power and some is the result of having to define gear ratios for the entire season. While Rea left Thailand with the point lead, Davies goes to Aragón with momentum on his side.
“I’ve always had to give 100 percent and ride my ass off,” Davies said after race 2 on Sunday in Thailand. “I can’t say exactly how the Kawasaki works because I ran too few laps against Johnny this week, and that’s why I don’t know in which areas they have lost. They lost revs but we also lost 800 rpm [from a smaller range] and had to deal with it. I think now it is more balanced and everyone is closer together. That makes it more exciting.”