WorldSBK: A new era begins as the Championship sets sail for Phillip Island
A few hours south of Melbourne in the Australian state of Victoria, Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit is a ribbon of tarmac standing alone by the sea. High speed, flowing and technical, it has been the stage for some of the greatest two-wheeled races in recent history. This weekend will see the track once more beckon the fastest and bravest to tackle the 12 corners and undulating layout on the way to the final push towards the finish line, reaching sixth gear as the track seems to disappear down the Gardner Straight and over the edge of the world.
2016 sees the dawn of a new era in WorldSBK: Race 1 will now be held on Saturday. To make the weekend of a WorldSBK Round as action-packed as possible, the top class will now face each other down on both Saturday and Sunday, with Friday times providing them with a shot at entry to the Tissot-Superpole 2 session to fight for the top positions on the grid. In addition, all other riders will now compete in Tissot-Superpole 1, ensuring that the fight for grid positions will be more exciting than ever.
The winner of the first race of the year often takes the crown. Phillip Island will see Rea attempt to defend his for the first time in 2016 as the lights go out and the new dawn arrives…
Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit sets the scene: sea, speed and a new season with new regulations. After a 2015 that saw Kenan Sofuoglu take his fourth title, the state of Victoria hosts the first round of the new era and Jules Cluzel is back.
The Frenchman on his MV Agusta was the closest challenger to Sofuoglu’s Kawasaki powered charge in 2015, with the title fight look set to go down to the wire between him, the Turkish rider and American PJ Jacobsen on his Honda. And then came Jerez.
In FP2, Cluzel crashed heavily, breaking his leg and dislocating his shoulder. The injuries sustained saw the Frenchman forced to sit out the rest of the season and watch his rivals go into battle without him. Sofuoglu, with whom Cluzel has had a hard rivalry, emerged victorious once again, taking another WorldSSP crown and cementing his place in the history books. But now the Frenchman is back, testing in preseason and trying to get to grips with the new electronics regulations in the Supersport class, as well as hoping he’s put the injuries behind him. Sofuoglu also faces down a completely new rival this year: WorldSSP rookie Randy Krummenacher, who moves in next door as his teammate.
The biggest change for 2016 in WorldSSP however is that traction control is banned. Bringing the machines more in line with the standard of technology found on the road, the adjustment in regulations is sure to shake up the grid. In addition, this season also sees the Tissot-Superpole qualifying format brought into WorldSSP for the first time. With the same format as the top class, the top 10 riders in practice gain entry into the shootout for the top ten grid positions on Saturday, with the rest given another chance to join the contest by going through Tissot-Superpole 1.