Iker Lecuona (Team HRC, Honda CBR1000 RR-R) goes into his home race at the Circuito de Cataluña feeling injured after being seriously injured at the season opener in Phillip Island (Australia). In general, despite the new model and strong efforts, the Honda factory team still seems to be a long way from catching up with the competition (© HRC Honda).

Catalan premiere for WorldSBK’s European opener

After the European season took place in Motorland Aragon, with the exception of the pandemic season in 2020 with Jerez and 2023 with Assen, Montmeló near Barcelona will be the opening race of the Superbike World Championship in Europe for the first time. For neutral fans of the WSBK, however, the last two years on this track, which is also used for MotoGP and Formula 1, were almost unbeatable in terms of one-sidedness when it came to the decision for victory. Thanks to the privileges that FIM and Dorna have been granting for years, the advantage for Ducati’s MotoGP Replica was too strong. With around 1000 rpm higher maximum speed compared to the strongest competitors from Kawasaki and Yamaha, even the private pilots on the Ducati Panigale V4R were vastly superior on the long straight and also in acceleration. The results from the season opener in Australia give reason to fear the worst for this year, apart from the exceptional performance of Kawasaki ace Alex Lowes in the last race. The 33-year-old twin brother of rookie Sam (ELF Marc VDS Racing Team Ducati) won ahead of no less than 6 Ducati riders, of which only the second and fifth were riding a factory machine.

Championship leader Alex Lowes (Kawasakii ZX-10RR) came to Europe as the leader in the World Championship four years ago in his first season for the Greens. However, the fast man from Lincoln (England) lost his top position in the rankings at the European opener in Jerez. Unfortunately, it is feared that the history of 2020 will repeat itself this year. In any case, he already crashed several times during the two-day tests near Barcelona.

Similar picture to that in Australia after the test rides in Catalonia

If the reigning world champion Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Ducati) hadn’t crashed in turn 10 like many others during the official tests, the Spaniard would definitely have made it to the top positions. So it was only BMW newcomer Toprak with the second fastest time and the new Yamaha duo Rea and Locatelli who broke the Ducati Phalanx into the first 7 places. However, the fact that Danilo “Petrux” Petrucci and Andrea “The Maniac” Iannone, two private pilots on the Ducati Panigale V4R, landed in positions 3 and 4 and their brand colleague Sam Lowes shone with 7th place helps the competition of the Italian brand from Borgo Panigale Bologna and their fans are extremely threatening. Unfortunately, what happened last year and in 2022 has little to do with exciting motorcycle racing, as the winner was almost certain before the start. Except for the Ducatisti, very few people are happy about it and, as the last two years have proven, the excitement is almost completely lost.

The combined rankings from the official two-day test in Barcelona on February 14th and 15th, with the 17 fastest times. As is so often the case, with reigning world champion Bautista unexpectedly far behind due to a fall in training shortly before the end. As is so often the case, this is actually just proof that test times are generally not very meaningful for the race weekend.
Jonathan Rea (Pata Prometeon Yamaha) on his YZF R1, which is still very new and unfamiliar to him, during the test in Montmeló. Can the Northern Irish exceptional talent and record world champion forget his disastrous experience in Australia at this year’s season opener in Catalonia? In any case, that would be desirable for him and the real racing fans. Without him, Bautista would have won at will in 2019 on the then new Panigale V4R, before his true potential became visible in the following two years on the Honda, when only two third places per season resulted in the best result.

Little tendency for the situation to improve

After 6 clear victories for Bautista in the previous two years, everything still indicates that the superiority of the only MotoGP Replica in the field has changed almost nothing due to changes in the regulations by the FIM (albeit highly questionable in their effect). . For example, how easily Bautista won in Portimão last year, even though Toprak literally outclassed him in the winding part of the Autodromo do Algarve, is still well remembered by most fans. With its similarly long straight, the Circuito de Cataluña therefore plays a key role in terms of the trend for the 2024 season. If the factory riders of the competition once again have no chance even against private Ducatis here, the cheese is as good as bitten and the world championship is likely to be a stroll for Aruba-Ducati for the third time in a row. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Bulega or the Spaniard who wins the title in the end. This means there is very little tendency for the situation to improve, regardless of whether Toprak or Rea should excel in Barcelona.

The situation regarding the permitted maximum speed has not improved for 2024 either, which means that the Ducati Panigale V4R has a strong advantage over the competition with significantly higher achievable power and a wider speed range, as it has since 2019. The result is, above all, better acceleration and a top speed that is around 10 to 20 km/h higher than Kawasaki and Yamaha. In the previous two years, Alvaro Bautista was able to overtake up to 3 or 4 opponents at the same time on long straights.
Remy Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) is considered one of the best hopes for the Japanese brand after his rookie season. However, the 2021 Moto2 World Champion showed increasing form in the middle of last year’s season and had a lot of bad luck at the season opener in his home country in February this year. Can the Australian prove his talent at the European opener?

Varied program – disrupted by a scheduling conflict

It’s almost unbelievable how rights holder Dorna only pays attention to avoiding collisions between MotoGP and Formula 1 when planning the calendar, while they don’t seem to care at all about this when it comes to WorldSBK. In doing so, they are already cannibalizing the series-based World Championship at the European opener, to the chagrin of the fans, because the Grand Prix of Portugal is taking place at the Autodromo do Algarve at almost the same weekend. In any case, the organizers of the WSBK round in Barcelona tried to provide a very varied program for the fans, although this might be too much of a good thing for some tastes. For example, if you want to treat yourself to a ticket with access to the “Panorama Village Music Stage”, you will only have to shell out almost EUR 300 on Saturday, even though you will probably see very little of the racing action there. Everyone should decide for themselves whether catering from Spanish three-star chefs is worth it.

As always in WorldSBK, unlike MotoGP, there is only one entrance, which unfortunately makes access to the track a game of patience. Also be careful if you dream that the pit walk in Catalonia would become a leisurely stroll. The year before last, the queue was almost endless and the chance of even taking an interesting photo was almost zero, at least for those at the back (© SBM).

Favorable price-performance ratio in Barcelona is convincing

Although some people may find some criticism of the organization of the WorldSBK round in Montmeló, at least the price is right compared to other offers. Cremona (Italy), which has recently been added to the calendar, particularly stands out unpleasantly with exorbitant prices, which is definitely not the case in Catalonia. In this respect, the trip to Barcelona is definitely worth it for fans, and hotel prices in the region are extremely moderate in spring. If you can’t make it, we recommend Assen in April as an alternative. In contrast to MotoGP, we always found the WSBK visits to be extremely relaxed, without the huge and often almost frightening crowds in the Prototype World Championship. In addition, the food is probably the best in international comparison with all other events, whether WorldSBK or MotoGP and very reasonably priced too. This time we’re treating ourselves to both and, together with the real fans, we’re hoping for exciting races and hopefully an interesting world championship again, with several title candidates.

Alvaro Bautista on the way to his Aruba.it Ducati box at the Catalan test – as the reigning world champion, the little Spaniard could possibly face significantly more headwind this season than in the previous two years when it comes to the title fight. He still has a strong mechanical advantage and the few ridiculous extra kilos he was given under the new regulations are the least likely to slow him down. Only an outstanding Sam Lowes prevented him from winning in the last race of round 1.
Since the extremely dangerous Imola racetrack was on the calendar in previous years, it is not expected that there will be any problems with homologation for the two new courses marked with a star.
Our combined calendar of MotoGP and WSBK with the first clash of dates between the two series on the penultimate weekend in March. In red letters is the Grand Prix of Kazakhstan, which according to paddock rumors is once again in question and which did not take place last year.

Unless otherwise stated, this applies to all images (© WorldSBK).