Superbike World Championship
Superbike World Championship logo
|Riders' champion||Jonathan Rea|
|Makes' champion||Kawasaki Racing Team|
Superbike World Championship (also known as SBK, World Superbike, WSB, or WSBK) is a motorsport road racing series for modified production motorcycles also known as superbike racing. The championship was founded in 1988. The Superbike World Championship consists of a series of rounds held on permanent racing facilities. Each round has two full length races and, from 2019, an additional ten-lap sprint race known as the Superpole race. The results of all three races are combined to determine two annual World Championships, one for riders and one for manufacturers.
The motorcycles that race in the championship are tuned versions of motorcycles available for sale to the public, by contrast with MotoGP where purpose built machines are used. MotoGP is the motorcycle world's equivalent of Formula One, whereas Superbike racing is similar to touring car racing.
Europe is Superbike World Championship's traditional centre and leading market. However, rounds have been held in the United States, Malaysia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Australia, Russia, Qatar, Thailand, and South Africa and the series plans on keeping extra-European circuits in rotation. An Indonesian race was also proposed for the 2008 season, but this was later canceled by the FIM.
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The Superbike World Championship began in 1988, being open to modified versions of road bike models available to the public. For many years, the formula allowed for machines with 1,000 cc V-twin engines (principally Ducati, but later Aprilia and Honda) to go up against the 750 cc four-cylinder engines (Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki). For the first few seasons Honda won with the RC30, but gradually the twins got the upper hand. Using 1,000 cc V-twin engines benefited Ducati and it was able to dominate the championship for many years, but the 750 cc was second or third each year between 1994 and 1999.
Held under the FIM, the Formula TT from 1977 to 1989 once constituted the official motorcycle World Cup. Having proven itself both popular and commercially viable, it was decided by the end of the 1990 season to end the Formula TT and the Superbike World Championship would succeed it.
From 1993 to 1999 Carl Fogarty and Ducati dominated, Fogarty won the title a record four times and finished as runner-up twice on factory Ducatis. Troy Corser also won the 1996 title and finished as runner-up in 1995, both times on a Ducati.
Realizing that 1,000 cc V-twin engines suited the superbike racing formula more, Honda introduced its own V-Twin powered motorcycle the VTR1000 SPW in 2000. The result was clear right away as Colin Edwards won the championship in the bike's first year of competition. Ducati regained the title in 2001 with Troy Bayliss. Colin Edwards again reclaimed the title in 2002 on the same VTR1000 SPW bike.
Colin Edwards won his second championship in what was arguably the most impressive comeback in the history of motorcycle racing. The season started with Troy Bayliss winning the first 6 races and by the end of race 1 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca he had 14 wins and was leading the championship by 58 points. Race 2 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca was the start of Colin Edwards' comeback, he went on to win all 9 remaining races and (aided by a race 2 crash for Bayliss at Assen) Edwards won the championship at the final race of the season at Imola. The final race of the season saw both riders fighting wheel to wheel for the entire race. The race is known by fans as the "Showdown at Imola".
In 2003 the FIM changed the rules to allow 1,000 cc machines (twins, triples or four-cylinder) to race. Rule changes in MotoGP to allow four-stroke engines meant that the Japanese manufacturers focused their resources there, leaving the Superbike World Championship with limited factory involvement (only Ducati and Suzuki).
2003 also saw the entry of Carl Fogarty’s Foggy Petronas FP1. The bike was developed under the previous regulations and was powered by a three cylinder 900 cc engine. With most of the field running Ducati motorcycles, the championship received the derogatory title "the Ducati Cup". The factory Ducati Team entered the only two Ducati 999s in the field, taking 20 wins from 24 races in a season where all races were won by Ducati. Neil Hodgson won the title on a factory Ducati.
In an effort to create a more competitive field in 2004 organizers announced a series of changes to the championship. The most significant was that from 2004 the teams have had to run on Pirelli control or 'spec' tyres. The decision to award the control tyre to Pirelli was controversial. The Pirelli tyres were considered to be below the standard of Dunlop and Michelin that most of the teams had been using. Dunlop looked to take legal action against the decision while Pirelli claimed that Michelin and Dunlop were also asked if they would be interested in the one-make tyre rule contract. Partly as a result of the control tyres, Motorcycle Sports Manufacturer Association (Aprilia, Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki and Yamaha) announced that no MSMA teams would participate in the Superbike World Championship, later modifying their statement allowing Ducati to participate.
A few privateers chose to run Japanese bikes in 2004. Ten Kate Honda with Chris Vermuelen as its rider, won races and actually contended for the title that eventually was won by James Toseland and Ducati.
Following Ten Kate Honda's success Japanese motorcycles made a return in 2005 with major teams from all four Japanese manufacturers run through teams ran by European importers. Troy Corser won the 2005 championship, giving Suzuki its first Superbike World Championship title.
2006 saw the return of Australian Troy Bayliss to the Superbike World Championship after three years in MotoGP. The combination of Bayliss and Ducati proved unstoppable and they dominated the season, winning 12 races. Honda-mounted James Toseland and Yamaha's Noriyuki Haga battled for second with the British rider coming out on top. Defending champion Troy Corser on a Suzuki was fourth. 2006 gave the feeling that the Superbike World Championship was 'back' following the years of decline in 2003 and 2004.
With MotoGP machines reduced in capacity from 990 cc to an 800 cc maximum displacement, 1,000 cc Superbikes, both at World Championship and top national championships (AMA Superbike and British Superbike) become the largest capacity bikes (but not the most powerful) being road raced in 2007. While superbikes remained two or more seconds per lap slower than MotoGP bikes at most tracks where both raced, they had equal or more power. Troy Bayliss attempted to defend his title, riding once again a Ducati 999. Though 999 production ended in 2006 and the bike was replaced by the Ducati 1098, Ducati produced 150 limited-edition 999s at an elevated race specification to satisfy homologation requirements. Bayliss' main rivals in his title defense included former MotoGP rider Max Biaggi riding a Suzuki, 2004 champion James Toseland riding a Honda and Noriyuki Haga riding a Yamaha.
The championship was won by James Toseland in the season's last race. His 415 points put him two points ahead of Noriyuki Haga, with former MotoGP winner Max Biaggi following with 397 points on a Suzuki.
After introducing the Ducati 1098 in 2007 powered by a 1,099 cc v-twin engine Ducati requested that Superbike rules be changed to allow v-twins of up to 1,200 cc compete against 1,000 cc four-cylinder bikes. Ducati argued that they no longer produced a road-going 1,000 cc V-twin superbike and that the level of tuning now needed to make their 999 competitive on the race track was too expensive. Ducati said they would quit if the rules were not changed, while Alstare Suzuki team boss Francis Batta also said that his team would quit if the new rules gave Ducati an unfair advantage.
The FIM eventually included the 1,200 cc displacement limit for twins in the 2008 superbike rules. According to the new rules, twin-cylinder motorcycles would be 6 kg heavier than four-cylinder machines (168 kg to 162 kg) and would also have a 50 mm air restrictor fitted. The weight limit and the intake-restrictor size of twin machines would be updated, if needed, during the Championship, by a system analysing the race points obtained.
The new rules also changed the minimum number of bikes required to acquire homologation. For 2008 and 2009, all manufacturers, regardless of total production numbers, had to produce a minimum of 1,000 bikes to acquire homologation. From 2010 onwards, the minimum production number was increased to 3,000 bikes. In the past, smaller manufacturers were allowed to build as few as 150 bikes to meet the homologation requirements. Manufacturers took advantage of this by producing 'homologation specials'--highly tuned versions of their road bikes with performance parts designed especially for racing.
The 2008 SBK championship was dominated by Troy Bayliss of Australia, on his Ducati 1098, who concluded his season and his career with a double win at the brand new, 195-million-Euro Portimao circuit in Portugal, after which he retired.
During the offseason, Yamaha lost Noriyuki Haga to Ducati, who signed him to replace the retired Troy Bayliss. His place was taken by 3-times AMA champion Ben Spies, who was expected to give Haga serious competition.
Ben Spies took a record 11 poles in the 14 round series and 14 wins (17 podiums) in 28 races; his main rival Haga was more consistent, finishing on the podium 19 times but winning only 8 races. 2009 also saw the debut of BMW and the return of Aprilia. Aprilia took a fourth final place in the championship with Max Biaggi, while BMW finished thirteenth with Troy Corser.
2009 Champion Ben Spies moved to MotoGP. James Toseland returned to the championship after 2 seasons in MotoGP and took Spies place at the Sterilgarda Yamaha World Superbike team, partnered by fellow Brit Cal Crutchlow. The factory Ducati team retained their two riders.
Riders from all over the world compete in the Superbike World Championship. The championship is perhaps most closely followed in Italy because of Ducati and the United Kingdom where superbike racing has been the most popular form of motorcycle racing. National-championship superbike racing is conducted in several countries, including the United States, the UK and Japan. Riders from Australia and the United States have traditionally been successful in the world championship. No American rider had won a race since Colin Edwards won the 2002 championship until Ben Spies joined the series in 2009, but no Americans competed in the series between 2003 and 2007.
British rider Carl Fogarty had long been the most successful rider in the championship's history, winning the championship four times, and amassing a total of 59 race wins. Jonathan Rea cemented his overtaking of Fogarty in the history books by winning his fifth consecutive world championship title in 2019, amassing a new accord amount of race wins, too.
Many riders successful in the Superbike World Championship have gone on to MotoGP, such as 2002 champion Colin Edwards, 2007 champion James Toseland, and 2005 runner-up Chris Vermeulen. The championship has seen several former MotoGP riders move to it, usually after failing to earn competitive rides. The 2008 field includes five former MotoGP winners: Max Biaggi, Carlos Checa and Makoto Tamada all raced exclusively in MotoGP before joining SBK, while Troy Bayliss, Noriyuki Haga, and Régis Laconi had alternating spells in both.
Except for Frenchman Raymond Roche, who won the championship in 1990, all Superbike World Champions had been native English speakers, until Max Biaggi won the championship in 2010 and 2012 and also 2011 champion Carlos Checa and 2014 champion Sylvain Guintoli becoming the 2nd Frenchman to take the title. Italian riders Davide Tardozzi and Marco Lucchinelli won the first two races of the series, and Frenchman Adrien Morillas was also victorious in 1988; Germany had to wait for Max Neukirchner to achieve this in 2008, although Austrian Andreas Meklau was the first German-speaker to win a race, in 1993. Spain’s first race winner was Ruben Xaus in 2001.
Superbike racing motorcycles are derived from standard production models. In the past, however, manufacturers took advantage of loopholes in the rules to create "homologation specials" — motorcycles with low production numbers made especially for racing.
Current SBK motorcycle manufacturers:
- BMW Motorrad: S1000RR
- Yamaha: YZF750, YZF-R7, YZF-R1
- Ducati: 851, 888, 916, 996, 998, 999, 1098, 1198, 1199 Panigale R, V4R Panigale
- Honda: RC30, RC45, RC51, CBR1000RR
- Kawasaki: GPX750R, ZXR750, ZX-7RR, ZX-10R
Former SBK motorcycle manufacturers:
- Aprilia: RSV Mille R, RSV 4
- Benelli: Tornado Tre 900
- Bimota: Bimota YB4EI, Bimota SB8R, Bimota BB3
- EBR: EBR 1190RX
- MV Agusta: MV Agusta F4
- Petronas: FP1
- Suzuki: GSX-R750, GSX-R1000
Up to 2013 season
- 1st free practice (60 minutes) and 1st qualifying (60 minutes)
- 2nd qualifying (60 minutes) and 2nd free practice (60 minutes)
- The times of 1st and 2nd qualifying are combined and the 15 fastest riders qualify for Superpole. The rest receive a grid position based on lap time, starting with 16th. To qualify for the race, riders must record a lap time no longer than 107% of the time recorded by the pole-position rider.
- The first 15 riders of the qualifying practice on the track participate in a Knockout session.
- All sessions are 12 minutes each, with a seven-minute interval between sessions.
- The first round consists of 15 riders. The slowest three riders are eliminated and start 13th to 15th.
- The second round consists of 12 riders. The slowest three riders start 10th to 12th.
- The final round consists of nine riders. The top nine are set in this session.
- All times for riders advancing are wiped, requiring advancing riders to set a best time in every Superpole session in which they participate.
- Warm-up (20 minutes) Race 1 and Race 2
- Race distance must be from a minimum of 90 km to a maximum of 110 km.
- For the Manufacturers' Championship, only the highest finishing motorcycle by a particular manufacturer is awarded the points for that position, as in MotoGP and most other forms of motorcycle racing.
Supersport World Championship
Supersport World Championship has been a support class to the Superbike World Championship since 1990.
To be eligible for World Supersport, a motorcycle must have a four stroke engine of between 400 and 600 cc for four cylinder, 500 and 675 cubic centimetres for triples and between 600 and 750 cc for twins and must satisfy the FIM homologation requirements. World Supersport regulations are much tighter than in World Superbike. The chassis of a supersport machine must remain largely as production, while engine tuning is possible, but tightly regulated. As in world superbike a control tyre is used, although supersport regulations dictate that the tyres must be road legal and therefore race slicks are not allowed.
A World Supersport race takes place at every World Superbike round.
FIM Superstock 1,000 Cup
The FIM Superstock 1,000 Cup was a support class to the Superbike World Championship at the European rounds. Motorcycles with the same displacement as superbikes can run in superstock 1000 (though 1,200 cc twins were allowed for 2007). Superstock rules are much more restrictive and most components on the bike remain stock. The bikes run on Grooved Pirelli tyres. The Superstock 1000 championship is open to riders up to 24 years of age.
European Superstock 600 Championship
The Superstock 600 European Championship was a support class to the Superbike World Championship. The championship uses 600 cc production motorcycles and is reserved for riders between 15 and 24 years of age. Same rules as Superstock 1000 apply, but the series is organized by FIM Europe.
In other media
As the World Superbike Championship has grown in popularity over the years, video games have been developed to incorporate its growing fan base. Originally EA Sports held the licence to produce SBK videos games until 2001 when they discontinued the series. SBK returned to video games in 2007 thanks to Italian publisher Black Bean Games, deal signed in 2006 via RTR Sports. Black Bean has released 3 games to date with SBK X: Superbike World Championship being the latest installment of the series.
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