World Superbike: Testing, Testing, 1,2,3
The 2010 season will feature no fewer than seven Brits in the World Superbike Championship with six of those seven riders campaigning for full factory or factory-supported teams.
Johnny Rea - Hannspree Ten Kate Honda
Johnny Rea will start his third season with the Hannspree Ten Kate Honda team and his second campaign in the World Superbike class. The young Ulsterman from Ballyclare will be hoping that he can add to his impressive tally of victories that he amassed in his debut season and have a shot at the World title. Rea finished the 2009 campaign as one of the form riders and has so far been the man to beat in pre-season testing after heading both Portimao tests that have taken place so far. After coming so close to claiming the British Superbike and World Supersport titles in 2007 and 2008, Johnny will be determined to win the WSB title in 2010, but he's sure to come up against a lot of stern competition from the other Brit contenders.
Cal Crutchlow & James Toseland - Sterilgarda Yamaha
Lining up close behind is Double World Superbike Champion and MotoGP exile, James Toseland and World Supersport Champion, Cal Crutchlow who have the arduous task of replacing 2009 rookie of the year and World Superbike Champion Ben Spies. Early reports suggest that both riders are settling in to their new surroundings well and you certainly wouldn’t count either rider out when it comes to a shot at the title.
Toseland’s pedigree in the class is profound, while Crutchlow’s consistency, speed and aggression in 2009 set him apart from the field in Supersport with only Eugene Laverty able to threaten his dominance on the 600cc. Cal has proven he can compete on a superbike in British Superbikes and now he knows the tracks, he’ll be looking to add move silverware to his mantelpiece.
Leon Haslam - Alstare Suzuki
One man who put in a heroic effort in 2009 was Leon Haslam on the Stiggy Honda. The team may have folded but Leon’s effort certainly didn’t go unnoticed with a host of teams interested in obtaining the experienced journeyman’s talents. The team who won Haslam's services was Alstare Suzuki, who will be looking to push on and win the WSB title in what will be the 25th year of the GSXR. Suzuki clearly see Haslam as a key component in their title assault, and after watching the way Leon handled himself with messes Haga and Spies at Assen in 2009 Francis Batta believes he has the right man for the job and who would disagree.
Leon Camier - Aprilia Racing
Another rider who will be competing in their first full World Superbike campaign in 2010 is the reigning British Superbike Champion Leon Camier, who has managed to secure the prized second seat alongside Max Biaggi at Aprilia. The RSV4 made an impressive debut to the championship in 2009 and has already proved itself to be more than capable of competing for race victories. Camier will be hoping he can transfer his scintillating form from the British domestic series on to the World stage. Leon debuted in the British series with an impressive second place at Brands Hatch in 2007. Don’t expect him to take long to get up to speed with his more experienced teammate or the front-runners.
Tom Sykes - Kawasaki Racing
One rider who will be hoping that he can reignite the fire in 2010 is Tom Sykes. We’re all well aware of Syke’s ability from his displays for Paul Bird’s Stobart Honda and Jack Valentine’s Rizla Suzuki squads in British Superbikes and although at first it might appear like he had a mixed bag of results in 2009 on the new crossplane crankshaft YZF-R1, it seems apparent that Sykesy didn’t benefit from having a very constructive relationship with his crew chief. Even still Sykes finished consistently within the top 10 and will be hoping to resurrect the flagging fortunes of Kawasaki in 2010.
Shane Byrne - Althea Ducati
Lastly but by no means least is two time British Superbike Champion, Shane “Shakey” Byrne, who will be hoping that he finally has the machinery beneath him in 2010 to display the talent that we all know he has. Shakey suffered at the hands of a team struggling with finance issues in 2009 as the Streilgarda Ducati squad crumbled under the pressure of the credit crunch. Original scheduled to be a two man team, the second rider Andrea Polita was dropped before the first round, while Byrne struggled on with inferior machinery. In 2010 Byrne has managed to acquire the second seat in the Althea Ducati squad, which will also front the efforts of seasoned veteran Carlos Checa. Early signs seem good and if Byrne is supplied with the right tools then there is no reason why he won’t be mixing it for race victories in 2010.
The Portimao Test
With the first official test complete there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic for a cracking season ahead. Rea and Haslam traded blows at the top of the timesheets over the three-day test, but riders like Crutchlow, Toseland, Camier, Byrne and Sykes were all extremely close behind making it too close to call. Add to the mix that experienced World Superbike campaigners like Noriyuki Haga, Troy Corser, Michel Fabrizio and Max Biaggi will all be right up there in the mix, as well as former MotoGP riders Chris Vermuelen and Sylvain Guintoli and you have a recipe for fireworks.
2009 was a fantastic season in World Superbikes and it appears like every year the depth of the field gets a bit stronger. But for all the talk in 2009 the two most played anthems in the paddock were the Japanese and the American anthems, with Haga and Spies winning a massive 22 of the 28 races. I think it will be a little more open in 2010, the field appears to have too much depth of quality for it to be a one-man show, but I have been proved wrong before and I’m sure I will again.
The testing times from Portimao will give fans around the world reason for optimism, but as a wise man once said to me – testing times are just that, test time. Certain riders may be holding a little back, unwilling to show their hand just yet, whilst not wanting to risk injury before the season has begun. If we all done timesheet journalism then Suzuki would have dominated the MotoGP championship in 2009. Even with that being said. I can’t wait to see when the riders hit the track again in Australia. I think this could be the most exciting and fascinating World Superbike Championship yet.