Raymond Roche (Ducati) – the third season of the Superbike World Championship in 1990 should be his year after the first two titles went to the American Fred Merkel on a Honda (© WorldSBK).

The 1st half of 1990 – 3rd year of the Superbike World Championship

In the first two years, US boy Fred Merkel had triumphed on the legendary Honda VFR 750 RC30. Twice in a row, the three-time AMA Superbike national champion from 1984 to 1986 won the title in the very last race. The American competed in the third season for Honda in the WSBK, but the competition grew stronger. First and foremost Raymond Roche on the Ducati 851. Last year, the Frenchman was third in the World Championship. At the season finale, he was eliminated with crashes in both races. In Manfeild (New Zealand), however, when he arrived at the age of 20 or 23 on the two leading teams, he had little chance of winning the title.

Fred Merkel (Honda VFR 750 RC30) – the reigning world champion had already become the first title holder of the still young world championship for near-series motorcycles in the first Superbike season ever with only 2 wins in 17 races. In the second year it was just as tight, but with 3 race wins he achieved his second title in a row (© WorldSBK).

Mertens – only slightly inferior twice in the first two years
In 1989, along with Merkel, Belgian Stéphane Mertens had better prospects for the title. In his first season in 1988 on Bimota he had only missed the runner-up by 3 points and was only fourth in the World Championship behind Fabrizio Pirovano and Davide Tardozzi. As a Honda driver, he traveled to the final in Manfeild (New Zealand) in 1989 as world championship leader with a 3 point lead over Merkel. However, a fall in the 21st lap in the 1st run cost him the title. Despite winning the last race, it was only enough to become vice world champion in the end.

Stéphane Mertens on his Honda – after finishing fourth in the World Championship on Bimota in the first year of WorldSBK, the Belgian narrowly missed the title on Honda the following year.

The second attempt by Roche and Ducati
In the 1990 season, he and his team set out to improve, especially in terms of consistency. In terms of race wins, he was the most successful driver in 1989 with 5 of them, ahead of Vice World Champion Stéphane Mertens (4), Fred Merkel (both Honda) and Giancarlo Falappa (Bimota) with 3 victories. The most promising competitors were defending champion Merkel, runner-up Mertens, Falappa, Fabrizio Pirovano (Yamaha, fourth place in the 1989 World Cup) and Terry Rymer (Yamaha) from England. Furthermore, the Australian Rob Phillis, who was now tackling his first full World Championship season. Last year, like his compatriot Michael Dowson, he had only contested the laps in Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Fabrizio Pirovano (Yamaha FZR750R), runner-up in 1988 and fourth in the 1989 World Championship. The Italian was also one of the favorites for the title in his third year in the Superbike World Championship (© WorldSBK).

1990 season calendar – 13 rounds for the first time

First nine rounds in the first season in 1988, 11 a year later and then thirteen. For the first time we went to Spain and with Jerez on the southernmost stretch of Europe, which was definitely not a bad idea in mid-March. After that, Donington Park and Hungary continued like the start of the first two years at the beginning of the season. In Italy, after Enna-Pergusa in Sicily, Monza, an internationally established route, finally came to choose. With Shah Alam Malaysia was new in the calendar, after which the last two rounds came with Australia and New Zealand. But there was also a change Down Under, because from now on Phillip Island instead of Oran Park was the venue for the event in Australia.

Season start in Andalusia on the Circuito de Jerez

The first Superbike event in Spain on the Circuito de Jerez saw all the top favorites in the first place in the first run. With Raymond Roche (Ducati) ahead of Fred Merkel, Stéphane Mertens (both Honda), Rob Phillis (Kawasaki), Giancarlo Falappa (Bimota), Fabrizio Pirovano and Terry Rymer (both Yamaha), there were hardly any surprises at the season premiere. The top ten were completed by Rob McElnea, Anders Andersson (both Yamaha) and the German Ernst Gschwender (Suzuki).

In the second run, Roche scored a double victory in front of Falappa and Merkel. The usual suspects followed with Mertens, Phillis, McElnea, Rymer, Pirovano and Gschwender.

Raymond Roche (Ducati) – the Frenchman from Ollioules in the Var département in southern France was the man of the hour at the season opener. You couldn’t start the new season better than him with his one-two victory in Andalusia.
Stéphane Mertens (Honda) got off to a good start into the new 1990 season. After finishing fourth in the first year of the Superbike World Championship and the runner-up world championship, the Belgian was aiming for the crown, but the competition was extremely strong (© WorldSBK).

Donington Park – the second round of the 1990 World Championship

The world champion struck back in England and won the first race ahead of Raymond Roche and Stéphane Mertens. This time a certain Carl Fogarty in a Honda classified himself in the top ten in P6 and the German Udo Mark (Yamaha) crossed the finish line in 9th place ahead of Merkel’s teammate Baldassare Monti. With the ranks 12 and 13, the two English riders Jamie Whitham and Niall Mackenzie also appeared in the list of results, of which one should hear more later just like Fogarty.

Stéphane Mertens (Honda) – the vice world champion from 1989 made a convincing start to the new season. Two third and fourth places in the first 3 races were quite impressive (© WorldSBK).

The second run saw Giancarlo Falappa as the winner. The Italian won this race a blink of an eye ahead of Roche and Merkel (just 0.67 seconds behind the winner) in one of the closest finishes in history. Niall Mackenzie shone with 4th place ahead of Pirovano, Fogarty, Phillis and Mertens. The fast Swede Anders Andersson came in ninth, ahead of Udo Mark as the best German, the Italian Baldassare Monti and Ernst Gschwender, another driver from Germany.

Giancarlo Falappa (Ducati) – the “Lion of Jesi” was able to convince with a strong start to the season, but in Austria later on fate struck mercilessly with him (© WorldSBK).

Third World Championship round on the Hungaroring

Fred Merkel won the first run in Hungary. Apparently the American felt very much at home on the Hungaroring. Here he had already won the first race two years ago and even landed a double victory the previous year. In the end, it should remain the only one victory of the sonnyboy from California. Raymond Roche finished second ahead of Fabrizio Pirovano. The Frenchman’s constancy became increasingly frightening for his opponents. The Australian Campbell was fourth ahead of Rob McElnea, Mertens, Andersson and Rymer.

The works Ducati 851 from Raymond Roche – in the second year the Frenchman made a strong impression right from the start. Actually it had 888cc and not, as the model name suggested, only 851cc displacement. Compared to the competition’s 4-cylinder engines limited to 750cc, the V2 Ducati turned less high, but had advantages out of the corners thanks to its higher torque.

The 2nd race in Hungary
Roche returned the favor in the second race with a win ahead of the Australian Malcolm Campbell and Stéphane Mertens (both Honda). For Merkel only 6th place remained behind McElnea and Rymer this time. The 3 Italians Falappa (Ducati), Pirovano (Yamaha) and Tardozzi (Ducati) finished 7th to 9th and their compatriot Baldassare Monti was 11th on his Honda behind the Swiss Edwin Weibel. The Australian Phillis had to cope with a less than good weekend on the track near Budapest. In the first race he had to be content with 10th place and in the second race he retired due to a misfire on his Kawasaki.

Championship round 4 on the Hockenheimring

In Germany, Fred Merkel struck again with his Honda in the first run. The reigning world champion won ahead of Rob McElnea and Giancarlo Falappa. The second placed Englishman celebrated his first podium in the Superbike World Championship. This time Raymond Roche and Baldassare Monti had less luck, both of whom retired with an engine failure. In addition to Davide Tardozzi, Mertens, Rymer and the two Australians Campbell and Phillis were eliminated this time due to falls.

The revenge of Stéphane Mertens and Raymond Roche
The Belgian, however, returned the favor for his bad luck in the first run, as did the French. Mertens won the second race ahead of Roche, Merkel, Falappa, Pirovano, McElnea and Rymer. Before the 5th round of the World Cup went to Canada, the defending champion was leading in the World Cup intermediate ranking with 3 wins. As many as with his 2nd title last year, but this time 13 laps had to be driven, compared to 11 in 1989. Ducati hope Raymond Roche was close on his heels, ahead of Mertens, Falappa and Pirovano.

The race in Canada for World Championship round 5

The Mosport racetrack was not unjustifiably very controversial. There was a lack of fall spaces and by today’s standards the safety was simply unacceptable. In the 1990 season, the world’s top Superbike riders were supposed to compete one last time before a scandal overshadowed this event a year later. Raymond Roche won the first run ahead of wildcard rider and Ducati brand colleague Jamie James from the USA and Fabrizio Pirovano on the best Yamaha. Behind the Englishman Terry Rymer, World Cup leader Merkel had to be content with fifth place ahead of Mertens, which cost him the lead in the interim ranking. While Davide Tardozzi gave up, Giancarlo Falappa fell out by falling.

Start of the 1st race at Mosport in Canada with from left Giancarlo Falappa (No. 6) in front of Baldassare Monti with Honda and No. 8, Raymond Roche (3), Jamie James (No. 34, both Ducati), Terry Rymer (No. 7, Yamaha); Rob McElnea (19, Yamaha) and No. 2 Stépane Mertens on a Honda. Tom Kipp from the USA, shown at the back with the number 35, should still play a formative role, especially in the following year (© WorldSBK).

The second race ended with the second double of the season for Roche. After the Andalusian season opener in Jerez de la Frontera, the Frenchman’s second double victory and his fifth win in the 12th race of the year. After the podium in the first race, Jamie James finished second again on Ducati and this time Mertens made it onto the podium behind the American. The reigning world champion Merkel did not get past 10th place and thus lost additional ground in the world championship interim ranking to the new leader Raymond Roche.

Rob Phillis (Kawasaki) – after the Australian had missed out on the points in the first race, things went much better with rank 8 in the second and he was still ahead of Monti, Merkel and Andersson (© WorldSBK).

Round 6 in the home of the reigning world champion

In Brainerd, the US-American run for the Superbike World Championship took place for the second time in a row. On a route that Fred Merkel knew very well, of course. The two-time world champion had won the AMA Superbike championship here in 1984 and 1985 against strong competition. In the mid-1980s there were a lot of later 500 cc world champions like Kevin Schwantz, Freddie Spencer, Wayne Rainey and Eddie Lawson, against whom Merkel was often able to prevail.

In the previous year, the Californian had taken fourth and third place here. But in his third WorldSBK season, the local hero was not inspired by luck, and he did not get past seventh place in the first race. Mertens won ahead of Roche and the American Doug Chandler on Kawasaki. Merkel was still leading in the first two laps before he showed more and more spectacular slides and drifted sideways through the curve several times. After the race, US-Boy reported that his Pirelli tires had given up the ghost, after which he was barely able to make it home. Stéphane Mertens secured a Honda win ahead of Ducati ace Roche and local hero Doug Chandler (Kawasaki).

Jari Suhonen (Yamaha FZR750R) – a fast Finn in the Superbike World Championship. With places 9 and 13 he was able to do more than just respectably in Canada (© WorldSBK).

Brainerd’s second race
Fred Merkel had to watch his compatriot Chandler win the second run while he himself barely made it into the top ten. The reigning world champion had tried harder tires in the first race after his disaster, which turned out to be even worse for him. More than 10th place wasn’t possible for the Honda driver, which meant that he again lost important points to his rivals in the fight for the title. Second place went to Stéphane Mertens, who secured the overall victory and the Englishman Rymer completed the podium.

Stéphane Mertens (Honda) ahead of Fabrizio Pirovano (Yamaha) – the Belgian was the overall winner of the US event. In the back of the picture, the Australian Rob Phillis on Kawasaki (© WorldSBK).

The other placements
Raymond Roche came in fourth ahead of Rob McElnea and Fabrizio Pirovano. He was followed by Scott Russell, another American on Kawasaki, who would later make a name for himself in the WSBK. Behind him, the Finn Jari Suhonen and Tom Stevens (USA), both on a Yamaha, crossed the finish line. Only then did Merkel complete the top ten. After 6 of 13 rounds, the reigning world champion was still in second place in the intermediate championship ranking. Roche was already clearly ahead of Merkel and Mertens.

Doug Chandler on Kawasaki – at the home race in Brainerd he stole the show from star and world champion Fred Merkel in 1990 and finished third in the first race before winning the second race. The following year he competed in the 500cc World Championship for Team Roberts on a Yamaha (© WorldSBK).

Round 7 at the Österreichring

There was a terrible accident during training that nearly killed Giancarlo Falappa. While avoiding an opponent who was driving more slowly in front of him, the Italian fell at well over 200 km / h and suffered serious injuries as a result of the collision with the guardrail that was much too close to the track. With 27 broken bones and one artery rupture, the Italian narrowly escaped death. After 12 days in a coma, it took the Ducati rider months to rehabilitate and the season was over for him. Against the advice of his doctors, however, the “Lion of Jesi” returned the following year. He was definitely made of tough wood.

Giancarlo Falappa – he was one of the most daring, tough and above all fastest drivers of his time. The Italian was adored by the fans and was an absolute crowd-pleaser.

The first rain race of the 1990 season
For Fred Merkel, Sunday started with 7th place anything but optimal, but at least he was able to stay just ahead of World Championship leader Raymond Roche. Until 2015, both races were held on Sunday. The first race was won by Fabrizio Pirovano (Yamaha) from Stéphane Mertens (Honda) and Kawasaki driver Rob Phillis. The reigning world champion lost a full 26.5 seconds to the winner. The Swede Anders Andersson (Yamaha) held up well with P4 ahead of Suzuki driver Ernst Gschwender (Germany) and the Englishman Rob McElnea on a Yamaha. The Swiss Robert Schäfli (Honda) narrowly missed the points with 17th place.

In the 1990 season, the Australian Rob Phillis drove his first full World Championship season on a Kawasaki ZXR-750. In the first race on the Österreich-Ring, the man from Down Under achieved the first podium of the year (© WorldSBK).

The second race on today’s Red Bull Ring
In the second race, which this time was held on a dry track, not only Roche but also various Honda riders were better classified than in the opening race. Stéphane Mertens won as the best of the VFR 750 drivers ahead of Roche on Ducati, Pirovano (Yamaha), Merkel and his Rumi Honda team-mate Baldassare Monti. The top ten were completed by Rob McElnea, Alex Vieira (Honda), Jean-Yves Mounier, Anders Andersson and Udo Mark (all Yamaha). Ernst Gschwender got two points with 14th place and the last point went to local hero Christian Zwedorn on a Honda. Now the almost 2-month-long summer break began after 7 of 13 rounds before the second half of the season started in Sugo (Japan).

Anders Andersson (Yamaha FZR750R) – the fast Swede was able to convince with two top ten placements in Spielberg (© WorldSBK).

Second half of the 1990 season: http://www.motoracers.eu/wsbk-history-part-6/?lang=en