950 RACES OF WorldSBK: history, battles, emotions and a new era that keeps on giving

950 races, which therefore means 950 stories, battles, winning celebrations and magical moments, coupled for some with ‘what could have been’, disappointment and dejection. Race 2 marked a big moment in the history of the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship, with the 950th race being an absolute belter from start to finish at the TT Circuit Assen. In this feature, we’ll break down the eras in a different way, with particular focus on the modern era and the current generation of riders. 

BACK TO THE START: those early beginnings

Fred Merkel, Raymond Roche and Doug Polen were early dominators of the Championship, clinching the first five titles between them as WorldSBK found its feet in the world of motorsport. This new attractive brand of racing went across the world from the UK to New Zealand, Canada to Australia and everywhere in between. Come the end of this five-year period, one rider emerged onto the scene and a new era was about to begin with Carl Fogarty.

AFTER 100 RACES: the ‘Foggy’ era begins

Carl Fogarty became a poster boy not just for World Superbike but for motorcycle racing; one of Ducati’s first legends and one of Britain’s biggest sporting names, the Englishman packed out grandstands, raced harder than anyone before him and had some of the spiciest rivalries in the sport’s history, such as with Aaron Slight, John Kocinski and Pierfrancesco Chili, to name all but a few. The first ‘Golden Era’ of World Superbike, Fogarty took four titles with Ducati in 1994, 1995, 1998 and 1999, whilst the likes of Corser and Kocinski stopped him in 1996 and 1997 respectively. By the end of 90s, WorldSBK was nearing to 300 races with it being some of the purest motorsport around but new breed was coming at the turn of the millennium. 

PROJECT 2000: the start of new era

Whilst Colin Edwards, Noriyuki Haga, Corser, Chili and the like had been around for a while, the 2000 season saw them all go head-to-head for the title on new bikes and a new sound of Superbike. Troy Bayliss was the new kid on the block though and ripped up the form guide as soon as he landed full-time to replace Fogarty, who’s career ended after a crash in Australia. Bayliss’ addition to the Championship would form one of the great rivalries of all time with Edwards, with them duking it out in style, building to the crescendo of Imola and 2002 – one of the Championship’s most famous races. In this period, Neil Hodgson found a second wind and would go onto become 2003 Champion, whereas James Toseland became the youngest ever to be crowned in 2004. Troy Corser was back to his best as huge manufacturer support returned in 2005, picking up the title with Suzuki. After a spell in MotoGP™, Bayliss was back and took the title in 2006, Toseland doubled up – for Ten Kate Racing – with the title in 2007, whilst Bayliss took a third and final title in 2008, retiring. 

NEW LOOK: Spies, Biaggi, Checa, Sykes and Rea

2009 was a huge generational change for WorldSBK; Ben Spies came in as a rookie to Yamaha and with his own crew chief from America – Tom Houseworth – denied Haga the elusive first title in a classic year. A year later and it was Max Biaggi and Aprilia who once again ruled the world before Carlos Checa came good in 2011. ‘Roman Emperor’ Biaggi clinched 2012 by just half a point from Tom Sykes, who in-turn would go on and win in 2013 and finish runner-up to Sylvain Guintoli in a tense 2014 battle. However, the era of Jonathan Rea and Kawasaki loomed large form 2015 onwards, as he wrapped up title after title and won battle after battle against Chaz Davies and Ducati. A fourth title in 2018 saw him be the first since ‘Foggy’ to do so, albeit this time, it was consecutive. He also set a new win tally record but things were about to get different from 2019 onwards. 

A TRUE NEW ERA BEGINS: WorldSBK current ‘Golden Era’

In 2019, MotoGP™ star Alvaro Bautista joined the WorldSBK family and the Aruba.it Racing – Ducati team; he won the first 11 races and was looking on course to take the title before a series of crashes and an injury saw him reeled back in by Rea who took a fifth title. The Ulsterman took that title at Magny-Cours, where another star really emerged: Toprak Razgatlioglu. Already a STK600 Champion and WorldSBK podium finisher, Razgatlioglu won an epic last lap battle in both Race 1 (WorldSBK’s 800th race) and the Superpole Race – new since 2019 – to win from 16th on the grid. A monster had been unleashed and Toprak was soon on his way to Yamaha where the gloves really would come off.

Winning his first race for the Japanese manufacturer in Australia and Race 1 at Phillip Island in 2020, Toprak wouldn’t mount a title charge as he adapted to the bike but was back on-song for the end of the year. After parting ways with Ducati, Alvaro Bautista struggled at Honda, whereas Scott Redding replaced him at Ducati and took the title fight until the last round, ultimately being beaten by Rea and Kawasaki, who took a sixth title – and last – together. 2021 however, was different, with Toprak and Yamaha re-writing what was possible in terms of battling. An emotional showdown in Indonesia saw the Turkish rider crowned for the first time after a season-long fight with Rea, who saw his streak ended. One of WorldSBK’s greatest seasons and fiercest rivalries, who knew what was to come.

TITANIC TRIO ERA BEGINS: the greatest three-way rivalry ever

Alvaro Bautista back at Ducati, Razgatlioglu and Rea staying at Yamaha and Kawasaki respectively, we were in for a proper treat. All three knocked spots off each other like we’d never seen before, with Estoril in 2022 being a particular highlight of ruthless fighting and ‘never say never’ racing. Hitting the 900th race in Race 1 at Mandalika, Razgatlioglu won again to keep his title hopes alive but it was Bautista who was crowned Champion at long last in Race 2, 16 years after his first title in the 125cc Championship. 2023 and Bautista wore the #1 plate and successfully defended against Razgatlioglu, with both battling harder than we’d ever seen before. MostPortimao and Jerez all pulling at the emotions of all as the two provided some of the best motorcycle racing ever seen in this Championship and beyond. At the close of 2023, it was all change to halt Bautista. 

2024’s NEW ERA: new rules, new look, new line-up, new stars

With weight rules coming to balance performance, Toprak making a bold switch to BMW and Rea, after an unprecedented amount of success with Kawasaki, swapping to Yamaha, 2024 was always going to be spectacular. Add into the mix the return of Andrea Iannone (Team GoEleven), the graduation of Nicolo Bulega (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) and the addition of Sam Lowes and the ELF Marc VDS Racing Team), it was impossible to see how it could play out. So far, we’ve had five different winners, eight different riders on the podium, three last lap battles for victory, new race winners and a return to the top for BMW – and we’ve only had three rounds and nine races. WorldSBK is off the charts in 2024 with some of the most emotional stories, hardest racing and craziest finishes we’ve ever seen. Six points split Championship leader Alvaro Bautista and Toprak Razgatlioglu, with rookie Nicolo Bulega in third. We’re in for a truly unmissable grandstand finish. 

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Source: WorldSBK.com

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