Mike Baldwin on Bimota – one of the most popular riders of the 1970s and 80s. He won the Suzuka 8 Hours three times and was a five-time AMA Formula 1 US Champion. In the 1989 season, along with Raymond Roche, he also competed successfully in the Superbike World Championship, if only for 5 laps. The American had finished fourth in the 500cc World Championship on Yamaha three years earlier (© WorldSBK).

The second half of the 1989 World Superbike Championship

There were numerous surprises in the first half of the second Superbike World Championship. One of them was Davide Tardozzi, who had no World Championship points for the first 5 races of the season and after 6 of 11 laps was third overall in the previous year and was only 17th in the World Championship. Raymond Roche was able to surprise positively on the Ducati. At the latest after his one-two victory by Brainerd (USA), the Frenchman was one of the favorites for the title. Below is the intermediate result of the World Championship with the first 17 drivers before the series in Japan went into the 7th round.

Raymond Roche on the Ducati – after leaving the 500cc world championship, he immediately impressed in the near-series category. The year 1989 was only to be the beginning of a very successful superbike career for the southern Frenchman from Ollioules in the Var department. It is only a 20-minute drive from there to Circuit Paul Ricard (© WorldSBK).
Alex Vieira (Honda) – one of the many drivers who only took part in a few races. With a victory in Spielberg and a third place in Hockenheim, he was one of the most successful riders along with Doug Polen, Peter Goddard and Michael Dowson.

The 7th round of the 1989 season in Japan

Fred Merkel’s low point of the season
After the race in southern France, it went overseas for the second time in the 1989 World Cup. This time, however, to the country of origin of most of the bikes from the starting field to Sugo. With Doug Polen (Suzuki) the first run was won by a wildcard pilot and compatriot of Merkel, who finished only 16th for the first time in the season without any points. One should see and hear a lot from Doug Polen later in WorldSBK. The podium was completed by the two Australians Michael Dowson (Yamaha) and Rob Phillis in a Kawasaki. The best European was Giancarlo Falappa on Bimota ahead of the two Japanese Arata (Yamaha) and Iwahashi (Honda).

Rob Phillis on Kawasaki – the Australian only contested 5 out of 9 World Superbike races last year. Nevertheless, the Kawasaki driver was seventh in the 1988 World Championship (© WorldSBK).

The second run of Sugo
After the second run in Austria, there were also rain races in Sugo. This time even the same in both runs. This time the Australian Dowson won ahead of Iwahashi, Falappa, Polen and the two Japanese Sohwa, Phillis and the New Zealander Aaron Slight (all Kawasaki). With 12th place, Merkel only had 4 World Cup points as the result of her trip to Japan. The American could be happy, Mertens, Pirovano and Roche didn’t get off much better. With 8 points ahead of Mertens as the new World Championship runner-up, Fred Merkel arrived in Hockenheim in mid-September, where the eighth of 11 rounds took place.

Fabrizio Pirovano (Yamaha FZR-750R) – second best European in the first race in 7th place and in the second race with less luck, retired due to a fall.
Takahiro Sohwa on a Kawasaki – in addition to his home race for Sugo, the Japanese competed in the last two World Championship rounds in Australia and New Zealand. With 20th place in the World Cup, he was the most successful participant in his country. It would take another 6 years before the first Japanese would finish the Superbike World Championship in the top 5 (© WorldSBK).

The 8th World Championship round in Hockenheim

Presentation of three drivers in the program, from the left the Swede Anders Andersson (Yamaha), Suzuki driver Ernst Gschwender and the reigning world champion Fred Merkel in his second WorldSBK season on a Honda.

A total of 91 participants had registered for the German round. With his second double victory after Brainerd (USA), Sunday in Baden-Württemberg was his next double triumph for Ducati rider Raymond Roche. The world championship leader and reigning world champion Merkel did not get past places 4 and 8. Things went much better for Mertens with places 2 and 3, who was the new World Cup leader with 195 points. Fred Merkel followed with 193 points in front of Raymond Roche (172) and Fabrizio Pirovano (165).

Stéphane Mertens in front of his Honda brand colleague Fred Merkel on the pursuit of Aaron Slight on a Kawasaki. After the races at the Hockenheimring, the Belgian was the new World Championship leader of the 1989 Superbike World Championship (© WorldSBK).

The last European station in Sicily for World Cup round 9

Why Enna-Pergusa of all places was chosen as the venue for the first Italian round of the Superbike World Championship is still astonishing today. There was no Italian run last year, but tracks like Monza, Misano or Imola would have been more obvious. In addition, they were much easier to reach for the many participants from Europe than the route around the only natural lake in Sicily. Although his opponents won the two races in the fight for the title, Fred Merkel was again the most consistent with two 2nd places. Roche did not see the checkered flag in the first race and Mertens did not get past 7th place in the second. Merkel’s narrow lead over Mertens was two points before the trip to Australia.

Stéphane Mertens (Honda) – the Belgian was one of the closest favorites for the second WorldSBK title before leaving for Down Under. His lead over the closest rivals Roche and Pirovano was over 30 points and only a maximum of 80 were available.
The factory Ducati from 1989 – with Baldassare Monti and Raymond Roche, the Italians have already achieved numerous prestigious successes. You shouldn’t have to wait long for the big breakthrough (© WorldSBK).

The penultimate round of the World Championship in Australia

Raymond Roche – the Frenchman drove his first season for the Squadra Corse Ducati Lucchinelli Team on the Ducati 851 and was able to impress right away.
The Oran Park Circuit with its length of only 2.649 kilometers (1.646 miles) would be unthinkable for a World Championship run today. The beautifully situated Phillip Island circuit was therefore used for every Australian Superbike lap from 1990 onwards.

For the 2nd and last time on the track that was unworthy of the World Cup
Oran Park hosted the Superbike World Championship for the last time. Located southwest of Sydney, this course was to be replaced by the Phillip Island Circuit the following year. For Merkel and the Europeans, as at the season finale in New Zealand, there was a risk of being overshadowed by the many strong drivers from Down Under. As in Japan, this could also have a strong impact on the World Cup decision. In the previous year Michael Doohan had won both world championship races on a Yamaha. Mick, as he called himself shortly afterwards for the sake of simplicity in the Grand Prix scene, was no longer in danger in 1989. The Australian from Brisbane already competed in the 500cc World Championship this year.

Davide Tardozzi (Bimota) – the later Ducati manager was much more successful as a team boss than in his first career as an SBK driver.

The hour of the local heroes
The track was still damp when the first race started, but it was noticeably drying up. Promptly, the big hour for the local drivers struck again in the first race at Oran Park. With Peter Goddard (Yamaha) ahead of Rob Phillis (Kawasaki), two local heroes won ahead of Fabrizio Pirovano on a Yamaha and Raymond Roche (Ducati) as the best Europeans. Stéphane Mertens finished eighth and the results of the reigning world champion and World Cup leader Merkel remained in eleventh place even more modest.

A look at the rear tire of the reigning world champion. In the first race on Australian soil, things didn’t go as planned for Merkel, after finishing fourth and fifth here last year.

The second run in Oran Park
Roche made it to the podium again in the second race with his Ducati behind the Australian Michael Dowson (Yamaha). Mertens was fourth this time ahead of Merkel and New Zealander Aaron Slight. This should often make headlines in the WorldSBK in the coming years. Again the situation at the top had changed again and before the final in New Zealand the Belgian Mertens was leading again with 245 points ahead of US boy Merkel with 242 and Roche (222). Fabrizio Pirovano had only a theoretical chance of winning the title with 208 points.

Giancarlo Falappa (Bimota) – after 3 wins this season, the fast Italian was missing from the last two World Championship events in 1989. In the following year he should return as a Ducati driver for their factory team.
Raymond Roche (Ducati, note the motorcycle brands that were sewn on his station wagon in 1989 and then belonged together) was the most successful European in Australia in 1989. An optical relationship with Johann Zarco and Marco Melandri can hardly be denied in this photograph (© WorldSBK).

The decision for the world title in Manfeild

As in the previous year, the Superbike World Championship in 1989 remained extremely exciting until the very end. Again, Fred Merkel was only in second place when it went back to Manfeild in New Zealand for the World Cup final. At 3.114 km (1.934 miles), this route was also much too short compared to today’s usual courses. Englishman Terry Rymer (Yamaha) surprisingly won ahead of local hero Aaron Slight (Kawasaki) and Fred Merkel as the best Honda rider. Behind them finished the Australians Michael Dowson (Yamaha) and Rob Phillis (Kawasaki) as 4th and 5th. Because Stéphane Mertens crashed with his Honda in the 12th of 33 laps, Merkel suddenly had match point again, to put it in tennis jargon. Now the American was leading with 12 points ahead of the Belgian.

The Honda VFR750 RC30 from Fred Merkel – the American had won three national Superbike titles in the AMA from 1984 to 1986 on a Honda, before becoming the first world champion in the Superbike World Championship in 1989. Now, as in the previous year, the defense of his title was again very close.
Terry Rymer (Yamaha) – at the other end of the world the Englishman took his first Superbike victory and later also became world champion in the “FIM Endurance Championship” (© WorldSBK).

The last World Championship round brought the decision
Stéphane Mertens now absolutely had to win the second run in order to maintain his title chances. However, due to the points regulation at the time, Fred Merkel was only allowed to finish eighth in this case. It was not until 1995 that the winner received 25 points, while at that time a win only earned 20 points. The Belgian drove like hell in the last race of the season, but it didn’t help him in the end. Because his rival Merkel crossed the finish line 3 seconds behind runner-up Malcolm Campbell (Honda), he had become world champion for the second time in a row. With two victories in 1989 and now three, it was enough for the American to win the first two titles of the still young series-based World Championship.

Fred Merkel (Honda VFR 750 RC 30) – am 19. November 1989 krönte sich der dreifache AMA Superbike Champion in Manfeild zum zweiten Mal in Folge zum Superbike Weltmeister. Für Honda sollte eine längere Durststrecke folgen, bis erneut ein US-Amerikaner den dritten Fahrertitel der seriennahen WM für den weltgrössten Motorrad-Hersteller holte (© WorldSBK).
Fabrizio Pirovano (Yamaha FZR-750R) – the Vice World Champion from 1989 had to forego the last 3 World Championship races due to a fall injury in the 2nd race in Oran Park.

A small calculation example – according to today’s calculations

We took the liberty of playing a little numbers game and determining what the World Cup would have looked like according to today’s point system (which has been in use since 1995). Lo and behold, Fred Merkel can lean back and relax. The three-time AMA Superbike Champion in his home country would have been 3 points ahead of Mertens in the final World Championship even after today’s counting method with 298 points. This was not always the case in earlier years, as examples from the first decades of the motorcycle world championship show, see our history tab about riders like H. G. Anscheidt in 1964.

Stéphane Mertens (Honda) in conversation with the Australian Rob Phillis (Kawasaki). Much closer than the Belgian, you could hardly lose the already tangible title as World Cup leader at the final weekend (© WorldSBK).

The ranking of the second Superbike World Championship 1989 – P1 to 46

Ranks 47 to 99 – the longest ranking list in WorldSBK history

WorldSBK Season 1990: http://www.motoracers.eu/wsbk-history-part-5/?lang=en