World Superbikes return for 2016

Michael van der Mark of the Honda World Superbike team
Michael van der Mark of the Honda World Superbike team testing at Phillip Island

Ian Marsden looks ahead to this weekend's opening round of the World Superbike Championship in Australia

The opening round of the 2016 World Superbike Championship takes place at Australia’s Phillip Island circuit this weekend, with one race due to be  held on the Saturday and another on the Sunday, as opposed to the established format of both being held on Sunday.

It’s a move that series owner Dorna has introduced in the hope of rekindling interest in the ailing series, which has seen both TV viewing figures and track attendances fall in recent years.

Add to this the 2015 MotoGP series, which saw a resurgent Valentino Rossi and the best on (and sometimes off) track action for many a year, and the way British riders dominated World Superbikes last year, and you have the perfect storm.

World Superbike Champion Jonathan Rea talks about his 2015 season

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The top four finishers in the championship table were all Brits; great for us, but no so great for the rest of the world.

Indeed, eventual champion Jonathan Rea was so dominant that race day speculation normally centred around two questions: how much will Rea win by this weekend, and who will be second.

Hopefully, 2016 will be different. Teammates Rea and Sykes have a new bike for this year, with Kawasaki having redesigned it from the ground up, and this means that they will effectively be starting afresh each weekend with regard to settings.

Rea has the further problem that the bikes gestation began before he arrived at Kawasaki when Sykes was the undisputed team number one, and consequently the bike was designed around him.

Jonathan Rea dominated the World Superbike Championship in 2015

A new arrival in the World Superbike pits this year is Yamaha, who return after several years absence with their latest incarnation of the R1.

One advantage the Yamaha will have over the Kawasaki is development time. Being introduced last year and raced in several domestic Superbike series, the bike should be pretty well sorted. In fact, development went so well last year that in the hands of Australian Josh Brookes the bike won the British Championship.

With 2014 world champion Sylvan Guintoli onboard, Yamaha should have a package capable of pushing at the front. Guintoli’s new teammate Alex Lowes will be looking to push on after a disappointing year with Suzuki.

Probably the most significant arrival in the World Superbike paddock for 2016 is former MotoGP World champion Nick Hayden, who will be riding for Honda on its now ageing CBR1000RR.

World Superbike Champion Jonathan Rea gives his view on Rossi/Márquez incident

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The likeable Hayden will undoubtedly have on his mind the prospect of becoming the first man to win both the MotoGP and Superbike World Championships. Previously, Max Biaggi made a successful transition from GPs to Superbikes, winning the championship, but he never won the premier class of GP.

One other newcomer to the paddock this year is reigning British Superbike Champion Josh Brookes, who will be riding for the Millwaukee BMW team. A fierce competitor, the question will be whether the bike is up there with the Yamaha’s, Kawasaki’s and Ducati’s. He will be joined by former MotoGP rider, Karel Abraham.

Early indications are that Rea is getting to grips with the new Kawasaki, but that he will not have it all his own way this year. That might not be music to the ears of his fans, but ultimately should be good for the series.

Videos in association with Carole Nash, the motorcycle insurance specialists

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